Every author knows that producing a book requires an extreme act of concentration, discipline, organization and stamina. It is an achievement requiring enormous effort, time and isolation rarely matched by other forms of artistic creation.
Despite all the revolutionary changes that roil the publishing industry and are currently upending the old methods of presenting books to the public, the bedrock fact remains that a published book, whether presented on paper or on screen, still carries with it a measure of prestige and achievement.
Despite the difficulties involved in a book's creation, there is no shortage of people determined to produce works that reflect their own vision, whether they are motivated by chasing the false gods of fame and fortune or simply satisfying their overwhelming need to be heard and their views, talents and interests projected beyond the confines of their own minds and imagination. There are perhaps millions of people worldwide currently bent over their desks composing works they hope to share with others.
A few short years ago, the pipeline for these endeavors was strictly regulated by time-honored methods of filtering. A band of business-minded publishers, fed by a gaggle of first look agents, would submit choices to publishing houses whose editors and marketers filtered out their own choices. These choices were then cataloged seasonally, and an army of salespeople was dispatched to book buyers of independent and chain stores who subsequently made their own choices based upon past sales, and perhaps a few gut choices of their own.
The road to marketing and publicity channels was well rutted. Mass media outlets had their own filtering process to determine which books they would feature in their review columns, and advertising sections of books were well established. A few well-respected critics could be relied upon to filter their own choices to public scrutiny.
Media outlets hit upon the idea to record book sales as a kind of horse race of popularity, which helped them with their advertising, and kept the sales pot boiling for those authors lucky enough to be included.
Roughly, this is the way the system worked for many decades. Publishers supported their prolific authors with advances based on projected sales and future royalties, and those books that didn't sell went back to the publishers in an arcane system of consignment.
For those authors who didn't make the filtering cut, the only solution was "vanity" publishing, which meant that an author could pay to have his book published, and for the most part, try to get his book into the system. A camel through the eye of the needle is a good analogy. While there is no real statistic on author rejections by agents and publishers, the real figure based on the amount of self-published books being shoe-horned into the current offerings on e-readers indicates that those numbers must have been staggering.
That publishing system has been completely overturned by time, taste and most of all, technology. The industry itself has been sliced and diced into categories and sub-categories and sub, sub categories. In fiction, hundreds of genres and sub-genres have been created and built around categories to appeal to specific tastes; categories such as romance, mystery, fantasy, zombies, vampires, graphic novels, erotic, young adults, children, etc. with new categories emerging like ever thin slices of salami.
In non-fiction, the slicing and dicing has reached epic proportions in areas such as politics, religion, popular culture, race, memoirs, exposés, diatribes, self-help, pop psychology, nutrition, diet, health, and sex -- especially sex. On that latter subject the recent Fifty Shades of Grey category has jumped the fiction and non-fiction categories by building a kind of story around a 'how to' guide to sado-masochism performance.
Because of technology and the remarkable innovation of visionaries like Jeff Bezos whose Amazon currently dominates the book sales landscape and other innovators who produced readers like Sony, Apple, Kobo and new devices coming into the picture, an author can self-publish and put his or her book in cyberspace without necessarily suffering the stigma of having been "rejected" by the once vaunted filter mavens of the industry.
In a nutshell, we now have a system best compared to a global warming analogy. The ice floes have melted into the sea. The ice mass is disintegrating.
Big box chain bookstores are shrinking. Independent storefront bookstores are becoming extinct. Book review critics in the mass media have given way to thousands of book review bloggers on the internet, each with their own following. Some may now receive remuneration for favorable reviews, an ugly trend. Smaller publishers who had followed traditional methods are disappearing. Libraries are under increasing financial pressure and are cutting back on their book buying.
The big publishers have drastically shrunk the amount of advances given to authors. Marketing has morphed into glomming on to current celebrity names as instant authors, probably ghosted, and leveraging their names as selling ploys and publicity angles before these names lose their increasingly temporary luster.
Publishers are still getting financial traction from "factory" books meaning books carrying names of popular authors like Patterson and Cussler, written by others and supervised by those still living authors. Sequels of popular titles by dead authors written by living ones have also sustained a brief rally and will be tried again and again.
This is not meant as a tale of woe but an observation of swiftly changing times. In a dynamic and creative society like ours, change means new opportunities and new challenges. The fact is that the reading public is expanding globally by leaps and bounds.
The author, too, must adjust to the new reality. The term "self" in "self publishing" will eventually disappear as more and more authors will have to take the marketing and selling plunge on their own. Even if one is published in the traditional way by known publishers, one will have to market one's books on one's own hook, in imaginary and often costly ways. The self-published author will, in effect, be forced to become his own entrepreneur.
An industry to help the presently self-published author is growing at warp speed. Every conceivable step in the "authoring" process is now available from embryo to finished manuscript to cyber conversion to being listed along with every other author.
Making a book "discoverable" is now an industry in itself as thousands of alleged social networking "experts" try new ploys to get authors known through the burgeoning channels of so-called person-to-person networking.
Indeed, the new business plan for the self-published author offers manuscript conversion to a downloadable book along with a royalty percentage on all books sold. Some of these new entrepreneurs offer marketing and advertising plans for a price as well. While they calculate that a new author might sell about 50 to 100 books maximum to friends and family, the objective is to enlist as many authors as possible since their ultimate survival depends upon how many authors they can collect under their banner. Do the math. A small piece of thousands of authors makes a profitable business.
It is, of course, possible for a self-published book to "breakthrough" to the fame and fortune category but by and large the self-published author's success will be measured by what can best be described as, "circles of interest," those networks of various dimensions made up of people who share the author's interests and appreciate his or her talents.
Many authors will be more than satisfied with these circles of interest. And many will be overjoyed and comforted by their own sense of achievement, having created a work of artistry out of the whole cloth of their own talent and imagination.
In the end, as far as this scribbler is concerned, this process of creation is all that really matters.
(Originally published on The Huffington Post)
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