I normally dedicate Mondays to talking about the craft, but it’s my blog and here I reign supreme. Mwah ha ha ha! Oh, no pouting, we’ll talk about craft plenty more later on. I think you feel encouraged by what I have to say.
Friday’s blog got a lot of great discussion going about publishing and the sweeping changes we are seeing to the industry. Over the weekend, I watched the movie “The Social Network,” which gave me the courage to share with you my solutions for the problems publishing is facing. People are reading more now than they ever have in the history of humanity, which means there are more readers than ever before. Yay!
So, today I want to give my vision of how those in the publishing world could solve some major problems. Writers, agents, editors could work together for the bigger win. Let’s call it, The WANA Plan, because in my world, we all work as a team. We are not alone.
Yes, call me Pollyanna. You guys wouldn’t be the first.
Any proposed solutions must accept reality. The future is now. Everything is going digital. We cling to the horse and buggy, and we’ll get run over by the automobile. We need to move with change, adapt and reinvent. Those willing to work their butts off and innovate will behold a world of wonders never before imagined.
Think I am overselling? Who would have thought ten years ago that a person could have friends they talked to daily on every continent…for free? Facebook did it. So let’s embrace some of the entrepreneurial mojo and get excited.
Times Are Changing…FAST
Virtually every creative industry has gone digital. I have argued this for years. In music, the record labels were decimated by NAPSTER. Record stores are a quaint relic, and CDs are losing the battle to digital downloads. Photography has also gone digital. Kodak had to reinvent or die. Now movies are going digital. We sit in the comfort of our home and watch a movie from Netflix, or we download one from iVideo or Vudu.
Three years ago, I argued that this was the future of publishing, that eBooks would start to dominate the market in the next five years. I caught a lot of criticism. People loved paper too much. It was too expensive, too technical, etc. They told me, A decade at least!
I countered that technology had hit a critical mass and now innovation was taking off exponentially. Software developments that once took years now were happening in weeks and months. Technology was also getting far more affordable. It was going to happen faster than anyone could imagine. Books, I challenged, were next to experience this mass transformation, and faster than the mediums before.
Then the iPad launched and redeemed me. Nooks and Kindles only reinforced this idea that eBooks would be a force to be reckoned with.
Publishing will be wise to take lessons from other industries and reinvent. Be architects, not artifacts. Either we will define change or it will define us. And we don’t have the luxury of time, either. Change is no longer linear…it’s exponential.
Four years ago, I proposed that it was possible to market fiction. I posited that social media had the power to generate word of mouth and build a following for an author by building a network that could expand exponentially based on relationship. Most agents didn’t believe me. I even had big authors tell me that social media was just a time suck and that it was just better to spend that time working on the novel. Twitter was a waste of time.
You guys have no idea how hard it was to get anyone to take me seriously. I thought, for a brief time, that We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media would never see print unless I self-published.
Agents said they couldn’t sell it. In a way, I can see why. First, I was new and unproven. I will grant that. Also, my book was just a bad fit for a publisher that couldn’t get a book out right away.
My book highlighted a HUGE problem that the big publishers are working to remedy, but they aren’t there yet. As things stand, the big publishers are too slow. A social media book would be irrelevant by the time they could get it on the shelves. Also, if the technology suddenly changed, any unsold books would be as good as trash. I was writing about a hot topic, but traditional publishing was not tooled to accommodate.
The Advantage of Speed and Efficiency
Indie Publishing and self-publishing currently have a major advantage. JIT, which stands for Just in time. They are fast. They can keep pace with changing events and trends and only print as many books as are selling. Fiction authors can take advantage of reader tastes and preferences. If vampires are hot, an indie press can get a book out to market before the trend cools off, and only print what sells. Since they don’t face the same waste, they can take more risks.
Same with non-fiction. Technology books and science books are able to get to the reader while the information is still germane. POD allows for books like these to be updated regularly to keep pace with innovation. Waste is minimized.
Additionally, what if you are a soldier in Afghanistan who writes your story? Or happened to be caught in the crossfire of these riots in Egypt? If you are a decent writer and get professional editing, your book can be on the market while the topic is still sizzling. Indie press and self-publishing are great options, especially if you have a platform.
These days, people have high emotions and short memories. Hit while emotions are still piqued, and a writer could have a runaway hit. But, if your book can’t expect to hit shelves until two years after the event? Who knows? How many great books have been passed over for this very reason? The big publisher couldn’t get it to the reader while the topic was still all the rage…so they had to pass. These non-traditional publishers are filling the market gap.
Ah, but what about quality? The WANA Plan
This is where traditional publishing now holds the advantage. Ah, the dreaded deluge of awful books. But I have some solutions.
I posit that there is a new career field for authors. In the past, authors like Tom Clancy wrote book after book, success after success until they had this huge fan base that expected a new book a week from Tom Clancy (yes, I am exaggerating, but you get the point). These writers get so big that they even have other people who help them write the books. They are the “bread and butter” of the big houses.
What if these authors, instead, did what many singers in the music industry do? They start a record label. Or what many big actors do? They become producers—Clint Eastwood, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey to name a few. Why not create the literary equivalent?
As it stands, the big concern with indie and e-publishing is this perceived lack of quality. There are a lot of genuine reasons for this, but we won’t go into it today. Self-publishing is something we will talk about later.
One of the greatest advantages that traditional publishing has to offer, aside from distribution (which is also changing) is that they offer a solid, time-tested brand. They are a Nike shoe or a Prada handbag. Their name stamped on the spine offers at least the promise of a certain degree of quality.
Branding is probably the largest hurdle an indie book or a self-published book has to overcome.
But if we trust Clint Eastwood for great films and we trusted Michael Jackson for great vocal talent, then why wouldn’t we trust Sandra Brown Publishing for a great romance? Or Stephen King Publishing for a bone-chilling horror? These mega authors could, conceivably, become the new gatekeepers to ensure quality.
Mega authors can keep writing, or they can do like actors do and branch into a new area of their field. Some actors act until they drop dead from old age. Others want to learn new things, explore new areas of their craft from a different side of the production line. Also, many midlist authors have new options to broaden their reach and profit margin.
New Career Options for Authors
First, these authors could form their own indie press. Use their best-selling status to build their own label. Bob Mayer is basically doing this with Who Dares Wins Publishing. Not only did he publish all of his backlist (which were still excellent books), but he actively sought out writers he thought showed promise. I am one of them. The fact that my book hit #4 on the best-seller list on Amazon in Computers and Technology shows he might have a good eye for talent.
Do you think Bob would put any NF author up with his best-selling Novel Writer’s Toolkit? Do you think Bob is going to put any hack military thriller up with his Area 51 series that sold millions of copies? No, because he has a “label” to protect.
But a lot of writers are introverts and love to write and create and don’t want any part of that. It’s a lot of work. Ask Bob. Fair enough. I don’t blame you. Not my style, either.
What if a big author wanted to continue writing? She likes her publisher and doesn’t want to break off on her own. What now?
Author and publisher can work together to do what traditional publishing has failed to do for years…actively support new writers. Groom that next level of celebrity authors.
Big authors could become the celebrity endorsers of new talent. Say Tess Gerritsen wants to keep writing awesome thrillers, and she doesn’t want to run her own indie press. Couldn’t traditional publishing come out with new “celebrity lines” of books?
If Paris Hilton can endorse perfume? And Kim Kardashian can endorse butt-lifting shoes, then why couldn’t a big-name author endorse new books? Why can’t they have their own imprint? Or at least their own line? Why couldn’t Ballantine launch its new thrillers as the Tess Gerritsen Line? A newer author has to meet a certain watermark to carry the prestige of being in this mega-author’s designer line of books.
Agents can pitch editors the writers they feel will be a good fit for the Tess Gerritsen Suspense Series. Now this new author doesn’t have to build her reputation from scratch in the readers’ eyes. She automatically has an advantage in that she is part of an elite line of books. Fans of Tess, once they have read all of her latest books, now can feel safe to read her Tess Gerritsen Suspense Line.
Ms. Gerritsen now can earn money off not only her own work, but the works her name is endorsing. I mean, Ms. Gerritsen can only write so many books, and now she can make royalties off books she hasn’t written. Who wouldn’t dig that? She gives her star power in exchange for a percentage of the royalties of the books in her line. Now Ms. Gerritsen is vested in the future success of these new writers.
Everyone Wins with the WANA Plan
Now, the traditional publishing house has a better chance of its new authors getting recognition, and selling more copies, and building their own loyal fan base. Why? Because a celebrity endorsed them! Everyone wins. The big authors make money off their name. The publisher makes money off the big author they helped create, and the new authors get a chance to grow and thrive under the shelter of a big name until they are strong enough to strike out on their own.
Newer authors now have a far better chance of selling more copies because the existing fan base for Ms. Gerritsen now can also support the authors in her line, which makes agents all around happy. Now agents can feel like they are investing in new authors’ careers…not playing craps with their future.
Yes, Even the Indie Press Wins Under the WANA Plan
Indie presses could actively recruit successful authors to have their own lines of books. There are writers who don’t yet have mega-author Dan Brown status, but they do have a massive fan base. Say you have an author who has hit some best-seller lists, but his career is stalling in the current paradigm. He wants to write and not be bothered with all that other business stuff. He can still broaden his portfolio.
This midlist author could approach an indie he knows and respects to put up his backlist and send him royalties. But…this type of author has two additional advantages (aside from rights to his backlist). An author of this caliber has an established reputation (his name) and likely knows good books when he sees them.
Couldn’t this indie publisher make an offer to this hypothetical mid-list author? Editors at the indie press would weed through the queries, select the best manuscripts and then let the celebrity author take a look. He chooses which ones, if any, can carry his name. He gives a celebrity endorsement and, in turn, gets a royalty off what sells. Now a new author at an indie press can have an established stamp of quality….which should improve sales. Why? Because the endorsement removes the stigma and changes consumer perceptions.
I know I have thrown a lot out there. I had to get this out because, no matter what way I looked at, it is a great time to be a writer…for all concerned.
You no longer hold a monopoly. Big deal. AT&T no longer controls all things telephone, but they aren’t exactly hurting either. Reinvent, get up to pace with technology and then play to your strengths….lots of celebrities. Traditional publishing has star power. Use it! My solution makes money for the big author and supports the little guy who now will stand a chance of thriving because now he is being genuinely nurtured and groomed for success.
Indie press is going to thrive simply because of inherent advantages of speed and efficiency. Now I have posited a way to give building your own brand a boost. Approach a well-known author and see if they would be willing to lend their name for endorsement. Create a line of books bearing their name. It helps build their brand and yours and the newbie author’s. Again, everyone wins by working together.
Mega-authors, you now can do something different if you want to. Five years ago, launching your own indie would have been suicide. Now? Want to be the Clint Eastwood of publishing? It is doable. Go talk to Bob.
Mid-list authors have the same options. You guys have a name too, and your stamp matters and is what a lot of new authors need to gain some respect now that everyone can be published. We need a new benchmark for success now that the traditional barriers have fallen away. Making a “Celebrity Author Line” is a good substitute.
New authors now have more options, and all the ones I listed give new guys far more chances at actually succeeding than the traditional model ever has. Your agent might be able to get you in a celebrity line or, if you go to an indie, you might make their cut for their celebrity line. It also gives us something to aspire to…that one day we would be a big enough deal that a publisher would offer us a line of books bearing our name.
These days, consumers are inundated with choices, and they are going to cling to brands more than ever. My suggestions make it where we can help each other, and new guys and indies don’t have to start from ground zero. We all play to our strengths, and everyone can come away happy.
Now that everyone can publish, we need new watermarks of quality and new benchmarks of success. All I suggest is that we change our focus and work together.
Readers in the end will benefit because this vast sea of new books will now be manageable. Not only can Harper Collins sell lots of James Rollins books, but now they can sell his celebrity line of thrillers. Readers benefit because they feel confident that the publisher will select books that will fit their tastes (sort of like when Netflix suggests movies).
So what do you guys think? If you like the WANA Plan, pass in this link. Maybe someone will listen. My solutions might seem overly simplified, but experience has taught me that people tend to make things too complicated (*cough* social media). I believe simple is better. But what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.
And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home