Thursday, January 31, 2013

Little Miss Crabby Pants Explains Why Print And NY Aren't Dead Just Yet

This is a blog post I've been cooking on for a while, and one that I had to let percolate before I went off half-cocked with a full head of steam.  Why?  Because it's bound to bring out the self-publishing trolls.

You all know the ones I'm talking about.

I should preface this post by saying that I am a librarian, and librarians do not, generally, hate self-published writers.  It's just we've been on the front-lines for a very looooooong time.  Back in The Dark Ages before self-publishing was The New Black.  Fielding calls and visits from people who looked, and smelled, like the Unabomber and were "publishing" various "manifestos" in their basements.  There's still a crap-ton of dreck out there in the self-publishing world, but it's no longer just a territory for the crazy, delusional, and all-out kooky - although yes, they're still there.  So yeah, if you ever run up against a librarian who turns up their nose at self-publishing?  That would be why.  We have battle scars that the Knights Templar can only dream about.

Here's my problem though: If I hear one more thing about how digital is taking over the universe, print books are going to be obsolete tomorrow, that publishers are on their last legs, I'm going to punch the misguided soul who utters it in my presence right in their face.  And here's why:

If self-publishing is so super-gee-whiz fantastic why are so many self-published authors willing to sign deals with traditional New York publishers?

Yeah, riddle me that.

Bella Andre has signed a deal with Harlequin to release her originally self-and-digital-only-published Sullivan's series in print.  "New Adult" writers Cora Carmack and Tammara Webber have inked deals.  There's Amanda Hocking (of course) and the mother of all self-published authors jumping ship to traditional New York?  Yeah, E.L. James.

And these are just the folks I thought of off the top of my head without breaking out my Google-Fu.

So if self-publishing is so great and writers can make oodles of money that they get to keep all to themselves and don't have to share any of it with an Evil Publisher - why ink these deals with traditional publishers?

I'll tell you why: Expanding Your Reach.

Or in simpler terms, it's All About The Distribution Baby.

Because if the nightmare that is Fifty Shades taught us anything it's that print is nowhere near dead.  That series sold crazy tons of copies in print.  And no matter how much a segment of the self-publishing community likes to rail against Evil Publishers?  There's not a one of those folks that wouldn't cough up a kidney if Random House came knocking on their door promising them Crazy E.L. James Numbers.

Fifty Shades taught us not everybody is reading digital.  No really, they aren't.  These readers (active or casual) also aren't necessarily spending their free time online, mindlessly trolling Amazon, blogs, whatever looking for that next great undiscovered self-published author.

Shocking, I know.

You know where these people are?  Other places.  Oh, like WalMart and Target and Costco.  And even though there are less places to distribute books these days?  Yeah, publishers can still distribute the hell out of them (not only to brick and mortar outlets, but online ones as well).  I want to meet the first self-published author who cracks the WalMart nut as a self-published author.  Because that person?  That person will truly have changed the face of the publishing industry as we currently know it.

Here's what I think: I think self-publishing is very quickly morphing into a marketing gimmick.  A strategy that publishers can use to feed the hype machine.  To exploit the human tendency to love an underdog.  See!  E.L. James is just like you and me!  And she wrote this book!  And published it herself!  You go girl!  Publishers just need to sit back, wait to see what books are generating a modicum of buzz, swoop in, sign the deal, and they've got built-in, ready-made PR.

It's genius.

And for the self-published author?  I think we've already seen that they don't necessarily need to write a well-written book (zing).  They just need to write the book that generates enough of a buzz to get some publisher's attention.  Are the days of toiling on craft and working your ass off going the way of the dinosaur?  I don't think that will ever entirely go out of vogue, but I do think we'll see more Lottery Ticket Mentality creeping in to self-publishing.  "Let me play these numbers, throw up a digital version on Amazon and see what happens...."

Which, for the self-published author who truly feels that self-publishing is the right choice for them and genuinely feels that traditional NY isn't their scene (and yes these writers do exist)?  Yeah, I feel sorry for them already, because I totally can see this Lottery Ticket thing becoming really annoying really quickly (assuming my theory has any merit whatsoever).

So yeah, Little Miss Crabby Pants is just about full up on the whole Publishers = Evil Goliath, Self-Published Writers = Shining White Knight David.  Until I start reading about droves of authors telling New York to go screw themselves, which I don't see happening anytime remotely soon, I refuse to believe traditional publishing as we know it has boarded the Titanic.

Because.....they haven't.

Oh sure, they'll continue to engage in practices that piss me off (Hello, Digital Content Practices For Public Libraries) - but they do these things because, for right now, they can.  There is no incentive to change (well, until Barnes & Noble goes belly-up and then maybe they'll start being nicer to libraries since, you know, WE DISPLAY AND HAND SELL THEIR PRODUCTS).

But yeah, color me skeptical that self-publishing is going to take down the Evil Traditional Publishing Empire.  Unless New York Publishing has a vulnerable exhaust port I'm unaware of.....


Lynne Connolly said...

I'm seeing publishers moving from acquiring and developing authors to becoming marketing companies. It's been happening for years, ever since the marketers had a say in acquisitions.
Now they're going for the ready mades, someone who has already made a name somewhere else, whether it's a smaller company, self-publishing, or even notoriety in the media.
With distribution moving from specialised bookstores to supermarkets, emphasis has changed. Profit per square inch is the god, as it always has been in fmcg, and God help us, print books are becoming fast moving consumer goods, just as much as packs of ramen noodles. So a book with a proven track record, or an author with a platform is what they want.
Me? I puddle along, doing a bit of this and a bit of that. If I hit the big time, it'll be luck.

Maureen said...

Sing it Sister!!! If the reserve shelf at the branch library I work at is any indication, print ain't in ICU just yet. & agree with you on self publish authors, 9 times out of ten they are not great & when you get that rare one you love to get the name out there( although I would like to go back in time & tell EL James no cause I am one of the rare birds who thought the greys were crap)
I noticed you wrote about "new adult" personally I hate that term keep it Young Adult, so what if you are a 50something reading YA(ahem, maybe me ;0)... a good book is a good book.

nath said...

Agree with everything you said, Wendy. Love your post, because you said it better than me LOL.

Seriously, people can call me a snob, but unless it's an author that I know, I'm most probably not going to pick up self-published books. I still prefer picking up books from publishers, because I know they have a standard... even though it's been slipping a bit lately.

azteclady said...

I have nothing else to say, 'cause I agree with you wholeheartedly. Thank you for articulating my thoughts so well! ;-)

LynnD said...

I don't disagree with you that print is even close to dead or that it will entirely die or that self publishing is the cat's pyjamas. I mostly read in "e" and mostly read books published by the big houses (there are some books that I still buy in print because if/when it all goes to hell, I want physical copies of those books :-) - I suspect ther there are many others like me). Having said that, I think that the big publishers and the big bookstores are doing everything that they can to effectively kill print distribution for most authors unless they are "proven" sellers. I went into my local Chapters at Christmas looking for print books to buy my family and I could not find half of the books I wanted even though they were all current releases and it was Christmas. The store is now mostly filled with lifestyle items and toys. The Targets, Walmarts and grocery stores only stock a limited number of books so the only place that I can find some of the midlist authors that I wanted was to order them online. If a customer is going to have to go online to order a print book which they will then have to wait to have shipped to them or go online to order an ebook which they can download to their device in a matter of seconds, I would suspect that more and more people are going to opt for "ebooks" for many books they would have previously bought in print. The effect of this is that more and more good authors are going to be forced into self publishing because the big houses just aren't going to give them contracts or the terms of those contracts will be so bad that authors will strike off on their own (perhaps they will form co-operative type groups to pool resources to publish their books or publish with smaller presses(and in 50 years those co-operatives and small publishers will become the big publishing houses of their day, just like the small publishing houses of 40 - 50 years ago are now part of the big publishing conglomerates of today).

Anonymous said...

As a Librarian and an indie bookstore manager, let me thank you for your article. As much as some people want to think that print is on the way out, I can tell you for sure that it is most definitely alive and kicking. Pre-orders and orders, browsing, book swapping- it's all happening and most of it is happening in print. Yes, ebooks are doing well - because there are print houses to back them. I fully support independent authors who are trying to get their book out there, and if self-publishing is the way to go, then fantastic. However, never underestimate the power of a publishing company to change a self-published author's mind about "doing it themselves". I agree with the comment above about publishing companies doing much more for marketing than before; perhaps that's the new evolution of book buying???

Wendy said...

Lynne: Agree with so much of this. By the time Random House jumped on board, Fifty Shades had already marketed it's damn self. So they just had to turn up the hype a little louder and distribute those books EVERYWHERE. I literally saw that book on sale EVERYWHERE.

What I'm looking forward to is seeing where book distribution is headed in, oh, the next five years. I'd love to see publishers experiment more with "non-traditional" book outlets.....

Wendy said...

Maureen: I think librarians have such a different perspective on the whole digital or print debate because.....we really see all walks of life. I see people every day where computers and the Internet are one giant mystery to them. Downloading an ebook? They'd probably drop to the floor and curl up in the fetal position ;)

Wendy said...

Nath: Right there with you. At this point the only self-published books I'm reading are by authors I have a "relationship" with. Because I know going in, that chances are, I'm going to get a "readable" product. Yes it's snobby of me - but damn, have they not heard of my Giant TBR Pile From Hell?

Wendy said...

AL: You are welcome! And I hope you are feeling better!

Wendy said...

LynnD: I think it totally depends on the reader. Yes, for folks like you and me who generally know what we're looking for - when we don't find it in a store we go online, and maybe opt for digital because it's instant gratification. But there are so many readers out there who either 1) pick their books based on hype 2) pick their books based on bestseller lists or 3) walk into a store and pick up the first book that looks interesting. For them the death of the midlist writer? Probably not a big deal unless they're already reading said midlist writer.

I would LOVE to see more co-operatives pop up in publishing. I actually think it's a really smart idea - and if a self-published person ever does crack the Walmart nut? It's going to be in a set-up like this one. Writers working together, pooling their resources, working at a grassroots level first - then expanding their reach.

Wendy said...

Lost: I know an author who publishes with some of the small digital-only publishers and her exact words were, "I want to write - and I want a good publisher to take care of all the other 'stuff' so I can focus on writing." I think the possibilities with self-publishing are exciting, but damn - it's a TON of work to take on by yourself.

LynnD said...

One of the problems with libraries though is that the publishers are making it so difficult and expensive for libraries to acquire a good, diverse ebook collection. I wonder if that would change if libraries were able to acquire all ebooks at an affordable cost?

As I said above, I don't think that print books are going to die, I just think that there will be more and more authors forced into self-publishing in e format and hopefully being able to sell enough in that format to get a publishing contract from a major publisher. If that is the case, I hope that somehow librarians will look at those self or small house ebooks and maybe put some of them into their catalogues.

Wendy said...

LynnD: It's starting to soften somewhat, but yeah - not really. In a lot of cases publishers are selling their digital products at such exorbitant rates to libraries that libraries with financial difficulties (uh, most of us) start making hard decisions about format. Do you dump your money into two digital copies or take that same amount of money and buy like 10 print copies? And while digital has been a boon for us - at least where I work our print circulation is still heads and tails above our digital circ. Of course we've been collecting print A LOT longer than digital - so that has a lot do with it (my library system just celebrated 90 years. 90 years of collecting print, and what? Maybe 4 or 5 years of collecting ebooks?)

I don't see the day soon where libraries begin collecting a lot of self-published authors in digital - at least without better professional journal review coverage. But the smaller presses that play ball with libraries in regard to digital content? Can be well represented. Also, backlist has been key. Yes it would be great to get the latest, greatest, hottest new releases in ebook. But in the meantime we've been quietly building halfway decent backlist collections - which has it's own benefits.

I figure it's eventually going to work out in the end. It's just like most things in life - it's going to take some time, a fair amount of gnashing of teeth, and pulling out of hair.