On the second day, the contrast between two of the sessions at StoryDrive was vivid. First session—a platform discussion with a representative of a traditional publishing house and a literary agent. The topic was what benefits do publishing houses and agents bring to an author’s journey toward publication and marketing?
Such a question shows the extent of changes in the past few years. It seems the traditional world feels the need to justify the value of its services in this new world of publishing. Is it acknowledging that other forces are at work?
Authors now have choices. They are not entirely dependent upon getting an agent and publisher. But as I have said before, we are now all in the same wild and woolly marketplace—the Internet. For years authors of the self published variety have struggled to find ways into the bricks and mortar bookstores. But what is the advantage in doing so when those bookstores are closing? In fact, you can publish online without the need of anyone at all. I’m not suggesting that this is a very attractive route for a serious author. Everyone, in my view, could use an editor.
Some call these changes the “democratization” of the industry. Anyone and everyone can get their writing out there. But all authors must now grapple with promotion. The global marketplace is a great leveller but it presents writers with a new problem. It’s not a matter of getting published. It’s a matter of getting heard above the din. And that is a matter of effective promotion.
Who is best at promotion? Are the traditional publishing houses better than an individual who is adept at using the new technology and creative in his or her approach? Many businesses have suddenly appeared offering the writer promotional services. Some are better than others, but no one really can claim that any particular course of action will be successful. It’s all too new and the technology is constantly growing. We are all scrambling to find what works.
But back to the sessions this morning. The agent and the publisher perhaps seemed in a state of denial of the changes underway. In the Q&A, I asked if they saw future co-operation between the traditional and indie publishing worlds. The answers I received were mostly a restatement that self published novelists did not have their work properly edited and were thus second rate. There seemed to be a failure to comprehend the fact that the world does not need the gate-keeper. The new gate-keeper is the competition of the global marketplace.
The next session was very illuminating. There was a panel discussion with two men, one an author, and the other a filmmaker. Both of them had gone the self-marketing route with great success. The author had found Amazon’s 99 cent offer to be extremely helpful. He had written three books but had very few sales. No agent or publisher would touch him. Once he offered the ebook on Amazon on this basis, his readership shot up fantastically. And then he found that the money from his sales was at least what he would have earned through a traditional publisher.
Soon he was picked up by a major publisher. He felt that this major publisher could take him to the “next level” and expand his base throughout the world. The filmmaker had made a short film for less than one thousand Euros and had successfully caught the attention of major film producer. He reasoned that to develop his work further, he would need to collaborate.
This could be an answer to my original question—how will the indie and the traditional worlds work together? Clearly, the traditional publishers cannot take chances—or very few of them. In business terms, I can understand that. Creative writers and filmmakers are, by their natures, failures and successes, the risk takers.
If a writer cannot attract a traditional agent or publisher for whatever reason she can still—with time, talent and some money—create and promote the work. It’s better than withstanding perpetual rejection. Why experience the pain of forcing yourself through the eye of a needle when it saps your creativity.
Perhaps the picture emerging is this: the traditional and indie worlds will continue function. When the writer creates a work and actively promotes it, he is giving it a trial run in this highly competitive market place. Perhaps that’s when the traditional world of publishing should step in, bringing all its resources to bear. The indie author no longer has to sit on the sidelines and the traditional publisher need not take risks it can’t afford. Do we have the beginnings of a two tier or two stage system?