Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letting Lori Pollard-Johnson do the Talking

Publishing has changed.

Twenty years ago, when I first began writing professionally (i.e. making money from my words), publishing was a long, tortuous, but straight route. You honed your craft, networked at conferences, critiqued your manuscripts (and others), and then set about finding a publisher. It was not necessary to find an agent first; most editors looked at manuscripts (or rather their assistant read with an eye toward what the editor wanted). And when I say “looked,” I mean they wanted hard copies. Submitting was expensive, but so long as you provided an SASE, you usually got a response, sometimes with feedback. The feedback let you know you were getting closer to having a publishable manuscript. Self-publishing was usually done under a pseudonym, had little to no editing, artwork or copyediting done, and lacked any real way to earn sales; the print houses who published these folks were anointed “vanity presses,” to indicate that anyone doing this must be a closet narcissist. I steered clear from the title and the costs involved.

That evolved into an industry that required agents for all but children’s books about ten years ago. Agents, and the few editors who still looked at manuscripts (and the field for children’s was narrowing), still required hard copies with SASEs, and often complained about the enormous slush piles accumulating in their offices and mailrooms. Many could be heard at conferences saying, “I’ll never take email submissions.” (Wow, has that ever changed.) Those of us who were solicited were given codes to write on the envelopes and told that would get our manuscripts past the mail clerk. I sold my first book during this era. Self-publishing had picked up speed, and several presses were advertising in The Writer and Writer’s Digest; it was up to savvy writers to decide which one was worthwhile. I advised all of my creative writing students to avoid self-publishing. I told them they wouldn’t make any money, it doesn’t count as a publishing “credit,” and if by chance they ever got an interested agent or editor, they’d ruined their opportunity to sale by pre-publishing it.

In the past five years, ereaders have been on the rise, and writers with lots of experience (and sales), writers with midlist credits, and writers with no publishing history have begun to self-publish. We call this Indie Publishing, a nod to movie-making lingo. Some indie authors have had remarkable success: Amanda Hocking and John Locke were previously unpublished authors; JA Konrath and Barry Eisler were wildly successful previously. Other writers, as well as their publishing houses, began to take note. Now, a well-known author with a $9.99 paperback would be earning in the range of $ .60 per book sold (unless they had negotiated a truly amazing contract) and waiting for it to be passed through the hands of the retailer, publisher, agent; those of us with Kindle titles were earning $2.05 for a book we priced at $2.99, and getting the money within two months. I sold my second book at this time and made (and make, as both of my traditionally published books are available) $ .36 each.

See the problem?

It’s called the free market economy, and it applies to book sales, too. Ereaders like Kindle and Nook have accomplished the age-old axiom: Give the customer a better product in a faster method and for fewer dollars. Define “better” any way you want, but one look at a Wal-mart will tell you that too many people, an array of items priced cheaper and received quicker, is better.

As a result of these ebook successes, more and more people are self-publishing, and well-known authors are demanding higher percentages for their electronic works; some have even declined publishing contracts for the greener pastures of easy, fast sales via the internet. There is the good, the bad and the downright fugly; but there have always been those books out there. The difference is, we, the readers, can download a sample, delete it if we don’t like it, and purchase it for the price of a latte (I know, tired reference point, but valid). Most importantly, we can do it from anywhere in the world--the beaches of Bimini or under a bevy of blankets in bed. These factors, along with the economy have, sadly, closed down Borders, et al, changed the publishing industry forever, and for some of us who chose to indie publish, boosted our income substantially.

See the future?

Regardless of how any one reader feels about the feel of a paperback in their hands or their favorite bookstore, ereaders are most likely here to stay. It makes good economic sense, especially when electronic bestsellers are also discounted. And it makes “green” sense, too. Libraries have begun to loan books electronically and even remove them three weeks later so their patrons never have to start their car. It’s a confusing and exciting time for publishing. There will be good that comes of all this, as well as some disappointment. But that exists with all societal twists and turns.

And that’s why I chose to upload my third, and soon my fourth, books. Call it what you will, but indie publishing for many (not all) of us has expanded our readership, spurred our creativity with new methods of actually selling what we write, and made some money to finance our kids’ educations, our lack of work, or our dream vacations.

I'm a writer and teacher from South Prairie, Washington. I have three published novels, The Truth Test (kids), Recipe for a Rebel (kids), and Toxic Torte (adults)availible on Amazon and on Smashwords,and a slew of fiction and nonfiction publishing credits in national, regional and local publications. Check me out on facebook!