Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hate to be a prophet of doom, but...

Yes, Blond Knitter, I also called you a Prophet of Doom (POD for short) when you were predicting snow in, what was it, October? Check out that 50 degree December weather.

But that's beside the point. I am not here to dispute the possibility of snow in Chicago, which last February was host to the weather event known as Snowtorious B.I.G. (two days off! Woot!) No. I am here to explain why I am inching daily closer to a decision to self-publish the House of Closed Doors series before I've even made an effort to break into the traditional publishing industry.

So I'm going to talk about the future of publishing. An industry in which I have never worked and about which I consequently have only the knowledge of an attentive observer. So please feel free to take my opinions with a grain of salt.

But first, a story. Back somewhere around 2007, I happened to be working for a large retail chain. I got recruited into this just after I finished my master's degree, back in those heady boom days when stores were hiring like crazy, and I enjoyed the job. I got to chat to a lot of people and sell them pretty stuff, and I could walk out of the door at the end of my shift without a responsibility in the world. My co-workers were some of the nicest people I've ever met.

The downside, of course, was Human Nature as displayed by (a minority of) the customers. Talk about material for a book. In the end I realized I wasn't really made for retail, and had another job offer on the table (oh, the good times!)

But in the months before I left, I listened often to the BBC World Service News in my car on the way to work. And they kept saying that the USA was heading for a recession, and it was going to be a doozy. I relayed this idea to my co-workers and friends, and the response was always, "No way! Things are going great! We'll just go on getting richer and richer! The BBC is being a Prophet of Doom!"

Well, you know what happened next. By the time I was ready to leave, a black cloud was hanging over the entire retail sector. And the moral of this story is, sometimes the prophets of doom have got it going on.

And there are lots of them circling around the publishing industry right now. Although I don't really believe in the imminent collapse of Publishing As We Know It. My guess is that one or two large companies may go the way of Borders, but the rest of them will find ways to adapt and survive. The many talented people who work in the book biz will forge their own paths through the Wild West of the e-book boom; they may have to draw on different skills than the ones they use now, but some of them may even find greater prosperity and happiness in the process.

What worries me is what's going to happen to the new and newer writers who are entering the market hoping to get published the traditional way. The business is going to change; change takes time; mid-list writers who enter into contracts in 2012 may conceivably find publication of their book suspended or even canceled as  people move around and companies change hands. You could sign with Company A in March and find that your words belong to Company F by December. Again, I point out that I'm no expert. But I've been around long enough to see boom and bust a couple of times, and I know how things work.

And self-publishing is no longer considered the sport of losers. Every day the internet brings evidence--with book sales and earnings figures attached--that self-published authors are making anything from a very modest income, but still an income, to quite a decent income from e-publishing their books. Authors are moving between self-publishing and traditional publishing in both directions, and sometimes doing both.

And all this comes with greater connection between the author and the reader. And in the end, that's what it's all about. Whether you make a little money or a lot is a bit of a crapshoot, but the real thrill for me is being read. That's why I blog. I'm afraid that if I try to go the traditional route in this time of upheaval, it might be years before anything happens with my fiction. It would happen, I'm sure of it, but look--I'm used to a pretty fast-moving business world, and it's hard to adapt to the slow pace of publishing.

And if, by the remotest chance, any publishing industry professionals read this, no offense meant. I think that agents, editors and publishers have an enormous amount of added value to offer to writers who decide to keep control of their own work. I would have no idea how to negotiate foreign rights, for example, or get my book on the shelves at Wal-Mart (alas, the bookstore of the future). And I predict that in five years' time (or maybe a lot less) there'll be a whole new set of relationships out there between new writers and the industry.

By which time, I hope I'll have a few readers for my novels.