Read the publishing news these days and there’s so much doom and gloom and anxiety about e-books and print books and booksellers and publishers in trouble and authors getting squeezed and the midlist dropped and it’s enough to make you want to hide under the bed lest a stray Kindle impale you in the forehead. You’d think an infectious disease is sweeping the land, an e-virus that is going to pollute the land with readily available books and increased author entrepreneurship. Run for your liiiiiiiives!
But hey. You can either be scared of the future or excited. I’m pretty excited.
Look, the last few hundred years have been great and everything. Some of my favorite books were written then. We had bound books, novels, bookstores, the smell of the binding, and librarians shushing everything above a whisper. Publishers filtered everything for us, then agents filtered most things for the publishers, and all that resulted in a choice of a few thousand titles in a bookstore. Which sounds like a lot, until you happen to be looking for the Definitive History of the Drunken Monkeys of the Caribbean (in which case, thank goodness for YouTube).
And guess what: that era isn’t going away, at least in the near term. All of those things will still exist, and thank goodness. Those things are really great.
But as I outlined in a past post, in order for a book to become a bestseller in the current era, so many different publishing people have to agree about it before it reaches readers in big numbers. And if anybody in that chain is wrong, poof, that bestseller may not happen.
In the e-book era, everyone will have a shot. And I refuse to believe that’s a bad thing.
Yes, there’s going to be a lot of dreck out there that we’ll have to find a way to sort through. Yes, publishers will be challenged by lower price points and will have to change and adapt to the digital era. Yes, my job will probably change some too, even if I don’t believe agents will go away, especially as they fight so that authors get their fair share of e-book revenue. And yes, this new era will require more of authors than just writing a book in a cabin in the woods and shipping it out for someone else to do the rest. It will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a whole lot of virtual elbow grease.
But what better time to be an author?! All any writer wants is the chance to reach an audience and see what happens from there. Just a chance. And it’s looking like everyone’s going to get that chance.
To be sure, the vast majority of books will only be read by a few people. Riches and celebrity are not in everyone’s future, I don’t care how many drunken monkey books there are. Established authors and the traditional publishing industry will still have enormous advantages. Eyeballs will be key, and those eyeballs will have a whole lot of shiny objects attempting to distract them.
But soon everyone will have their shot. Books will catch on out of nowhere through word of mouth, probably even books that publishers may not have taken a chance on in the past. Readers will decide what they want to read rather than having those choices constrained in advance. Authors will have more control over their own future than ever before.
And I think that’s pretty great.
Thank you for the great post, Nathan.
I'll copy and paste your headline, print it in XL fonts and pin it on my board. Danki!
anne vinsel says
on the nostalgia theme, you left out mildew, foxing, mold and rodent urine! gawd, i'll missem 😉
Hmmm…. you really think leaving it up to the public to decide is a good thing, in terms of quality?
I don't mean to be Debbie Downer (well, okay, I do) but this whole thing makes me instantly think of the music industry. Shows like American Idol, The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, etc, where 'everyone can have a go' and the public decides who's good and who's not.
No offense, but American Idol's been going for what- 10+ seasons now?- and we still haven't seen the next Aretha Franklin.
The other thing that concerns me is the part about 'readers having to wade through dreck to find something good.'
Correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of agents don't exactly seem to enjoy wading through slush piles and thousands of queries to find something good, and they're getting PAID (sort of) to do that.
You think a casual reader is going to be bothered with it? People are lazy enough finding books as it is. I know as a music fan I can't be bothered searching through 20+ pages of purevolume.com to find a good band; why would it be any different for books?
I'm a huge fan of Deidre Knight as a writer and as an agent.
The story behind her publishing with Samhain is Deidre's book had problems fitting in with traditional publishing houses. She investigated top epublishers and chose Samhain.
The editor she worked with is now with Carina Press, Angela James.
The book is Butterfly Tattoo and it just came out in print. If you haven't read her work, give it a try.
TKA is in the top five agencies I'm submitting to for representation. Deidre and her staff understand the publishing world is changing, along with Nathan. As writers, this is the kind of agent a writer needs. One who sees the possibilities.
I write in more than one genre: romance, children's and young adult, so I'm going to need a literary agent who knows the industry.
I wish you the best, Marilyn.
Nathan Bransford says
There are a lot of bad restaurants out there too, but we manage to find the good ones. There are a lot of bad websites out there, but we find the good ones. Etc. Heck, there were a lot of bad bands when Aretha Franklin was big and people found her.
Things will organize themselves. I can't tell you precisely what it will look like, but it will work itself out. Humans are good at organizing things.
And besides – my experience is that people don't often go hunting for what to read. It's more that the book comes to them – they hear about it from a friend, read a review, word of mouth, etc. and they go looking for where to buy it. That won't change.
I like your thoughts – very optimistic and encouraging.
J. M. Hunter says
Great perspective – I was really feeling the pressure of all of the doom and gloom, but this post helps me to keep moving forward!
Although….like Thermocline said and Nathan confirmed, it doesn't seem to be a GREAT time to write query letters…. I've never had so many form rejection in such a short turnaround.
"All any writer wants is the chance to reach an audience…." and my audience is going to be women ALL OVER THIS WORLD!! and perhaps some of their husbands as well…. THAT's what I want! and you know what Nathan? YOU are at the TOP of "the top ten most queried agents!" Congrats!
Dawn Maria says
I've often wondered who has the harder role right now, the emerging writer or an established one who is watching the paradigm shift. In a way, those of us trying to break into publishing already understand the new dynamics present and are probably comfortable with them.
You're right Nathan, this is a great time to be a writer.
ryan field says
It is exciting, and keeps getting more exciting.
Actually, I'm not sure I agree with the idea of it being a good thing that authors will have to market themselves and be able to maintain a great web presence to be successful. Not saying I wouldn't put the effort into it and try, but I guess I've worked darn hard to improve my skill and hopefully get up to a point that is publishable, and it makes me cringe to think that I could potentially have a good book that no one would read just because I don't blog well.
Heck, I'm the only person I know without a Facebook page, and I find Twitter to be pretty silly, and I don't have anything interesting happening in my life to warrant either. Though in a fun note of irony, my last story relied heavily on social networking. 😛
Anyway, thanks for the positive note. I get what you're saying, and while I agree with some of it, I honestly hadn't been worried about the publishing industry at all, and this actually makes me a tad nervous. At least I can hopefully get into the game before all the changes happen.
What can I say, I'm weird! 😉
In the face of all the doom and gloom, it is nice to hear a little good spin. Hate to hear that about the queries…
Marilyn Peake says
Susan Quinn –
There are already quite a few websites that review and offer book awards for indie and e-published books. I think one of the best is the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. For example, Amity Gaige originally published O MY DARLING and THE FOLDED WORLD through the indie publishing house, Other Press. In 2007, THE FOLDED WORLD was named a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year. After seeing the award, I purchased a paperback copy of THE FOLDED WORLD published by Other Press. Soon after, THE FOLDED WORLD was picked up for publication by Random House. Here’s the website of Amity Gaige that includes her very impressive Bio. And here’s an interview she did with ForeWord Magazine. There are many ways to find great indie and e-published books online, and it’s always fun to find the treasures.
Good post. I like the current environment because as a new author I feel I have so many options now. There was a time when if you couldn't get past the gatekeepers, that was pretty much THE END. But not any longer. I will take my chances with the gatekeepers first, but now I can push ahead knowing that there's a good plan B if I need it.
Nathan or anyone else, have you seen any kind of projections as to when ebook sales might equal print sales? Or do you know of any kind of statistics or research that would help put that projection together? Thanks in advance.
Nathan Bransford says
I think it's too early to know for certain and there are lots of variables involved.
T. Anne says
Thanks I needed the lift. Good times lie ahead, and I cannot wait.
Stephen Prosapio says
Thanks Nathan. I needed to hear this today!
It really is amazing. At no other time in history has such a host of men and women been able to seek an audience. Nearly every human being has a platform in this new age of information and open technology.
It has pulled our world together in an incredible way as well. Communication is one of the first keys to understanding, and we've unearthed a source of communication with unbelievable potential and breadth.
This digital age for publishing is really another facet of this, although tough to work out in these beginning stages.
I like the "cabin in the woods" scenario, or more to my taste, the "tree house in the tropics." But, yes, there may be more options on the horizon.
How good they prove to be, that's the question. The 70 percent Amazon lure, is so enticing. But is it a case of mermaids tempting the sailors?
Mary Malcolm says
While I am excited about this new wave, I find myself nostalgic and sad, too. I love print books. I love the thrill of pulling a book off the shelf, curling up under a comfy blanket and reading by a window. Now, I realize I can do this with an e-reader as well, but it isn't the same.
I really hope some talanted, so far unseen writers get their chance to provide the world with their stories, it thrills me…
But at the same time, I worry about what this new word will mean for brick and mortar stores and their devotees…me.
Ashley A. says
Wow, Nathan. I've never peed my pants in excitement whilst also weeping with gratitude.
Thank you for this post.
J.J. Bennett says
Very true. Today it came to me in a vision… If I want to get an agent to love my book and want to work with me it needs to be something extraordinary. So much so, that anyone who reads it will want to shout it's lines from the roof-tops. I think I'm getting it…
Lady Glamis says
What a fantastic, upbeat post! Thank you for this, Nathan!
Marla Taviano says
Oh, the HAPPY! I like.
Kristin Laughtin says
I'm glad you find the positive in everything, especially since (as you said) there is so much doom and gloom out there.
Thank you for this post. 🙂
Dawn Simon says
Lovin' the positivity!
I believe the query letter will be a dead form within the next 1-2 years.
Agents will be trolling the indie community on Kindle, Smashwords,etc to find new talent . . . in fact they already are . . .
Marilyn Peake says
Wow, small world. One of my writer friends who started out being published by the same small press that publishes my books went on to be represented by The Knight Agency, and another one of my writer friends won a writing contest at that same agency. I’ve known about Samhain Publishing for years, and remember it being known mostly for eBooks, and I purchased a few of Deidre Knight’s earlier books that were published by the large publishing houses to see what her writing was like. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors!
Charlie Eve says
Love this! Thanks for the positive note. I love looking on the bright side of life and publishing.
'Oh happy day . . . oh happy day!' (with gospel clapping please)
Finally I feel that a tough decision between mainstream and indie two years ago has been vindicated.
I think you've got a great outlook on it! How can it be a bad thing that everyone gets a shot?! I do wonder how we'll be able to sort through the bad stuff though! What are your thoughts on that?
Marilyn Peake says
Michael @2:45 PM –
There always seem to be writers, both those published traditionally and those published primarily in eBook format, who manage to succeed without massive book promotion. Cormac McCarthy, published the traditional way, doesn’t do much book promotion at all. In 2005, the Fictionwise eBook Author of the Year – for most books sold and highest ratings by readers – was Darrell Bain, a small press author who does very little book promotion. He won over all the famous authors on Fictionwise after someone brought his books to Science Fiction/Fantasy Conventions and they caught on like wildfire, resulting in a large fan base.
Elizabeth Rushing says
Nathan, what powerful and positive words. As a writer and a reader, you've given me hope that amazing works will surface through this calamity.
Marilyn Peake says
One more post, and then I better stop for tonight. I realized one more way in which I’ve found indie-published gems on the Internet. Sometimes genre writers will write for small press anthologies even if they’re already writing for major publications. One of those writers is Keith R.A. Candido. He’s written official books based on STAR TREK, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, DR. WHO, SPIDER-MAN, ANDROMEDA and many other well-known TV shows. Here’s his AMAZING Bibliography. Well, he also contributed to an anthology titled BAD-ASS FAERIES, published by a small press, Marietta Publishing. I purchased the anthology because it sounded intriguing, and was delighted to find that Keith R.A. Candido had contributed to the book.
Marilyn Peake says
Ooooooops, I’m tired. I meant "Keith R.A. DeCandido", not "Candido".
So it's a great time to be an author, but a bad time to query? 😉
Donna Hole says
I enjoyed both those posts the first time, and they gave just as much inspiration and positive feelings this time.
And the monkeys was way cool! Really brightened an otherwise gloomy day.
word verif: rensuato. Not sure what it means, but I think its my new word for the day. "Hey man, that really rensuato." See if they try to explain it.
Nathan, thank you.
This message carries weight when it's spoken by an industry professional.
I'd love for every writer to feel as hopeful and thrilled and empowered about the future as I do.
To have direct access to readers no matter what – no one can stop you from having access to readers – whether they don't like your work, or they think it's too controversial, or they just don't like you personally – no matter what – you can reach readers – that's true freedom for the writer.
Vacuum Queen says
So, what is the vision? People go straight to epub and IF the book catches on, then agents come and take over? That's sounds harder than the impossible query/slushpile. I'm also confused as a reader just how to figure out which books I'll be buying as well. I know everyone will say their work is a masterpiece, so how will I know who to believe? I do see the good, but I'm wondering how it'll all play out. The ideal.
Steve Fuller says
I will keep saying it: It's all about perspective. Mourn the past or embrace the future. Those clinging to the old ways will be left behind. Future generations will be handed a Kindle-type device in the first grade with all their textbooks preloaded. College kids will download textbooks from the university's e-store. By the time they are ready for recreational reading, e-books will be as natural as breathing.
It's a great time to be a writer.
I am new at all of this and my head hurts! I just finished my
8th edit on a book I finished January of 2009. It is as perfect as I can get it and I am very proud of it. I learned how to write a query letter and synopsis by studying like crazy and obsessed over both for months, changing it I don't know how many times until I was satisfied with it(sounds familiar, yes?). I finally began sending it to agents with some marginal success but no taker yet. I've been keeping tabs on the e-reader deal, wondering how this was going to possibly impact not only me but the industry as well. Now I read that queries are soon to be history and I'm suppose to do…what? E-publish it myself and hope that an agent/publisher will stumble across it out of the tens of thousands that will be floating around out there? Yikes…. And to make it more enticing, I need to do…WHAT?? I need a website and/or a blog–and I'm suppose to promote myself shamelesly and by the way, how does one do that? What do I do to promote myself? And who would stumble across an obscure blog that I would create? I am confused and my head feels like it's gonna explode! Hey, I am up for it but HELP!–Sharon
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
Re: "And to make it more enticing, I need to do…WHAT?? I need a website and/or a blog–and I'm suppose to promote myself shamelesly and by the way, how does one do that? What do I do to promote myself? And who would stumble across an obscure blog that I would create?"
Think of the transition from being a classic "writer in a cabin" to a shameless cyberpromoter (hmm, maybe that looks too much like teleprompter – but hey, I think I like that – a cyberprompter, since you're prompting people to buy your book and associated merchandising) – think of the transition from cabinwriter to cyberprompter, as analogous to "Dylan going electric" –
Cute quote from wiki entry, apropos to the dismay and disdain cyberpromptin' elicits:
"To Robbie Robertson, 'The Dylan's gone electric' debate seemed irrational: "It seemed kind of a funny statement to me at the time, that somebody's gone electric. It was like, Jeez, somebody's just bought a television.""
Karen McQ. says
Great post, Nathan! As someone who's had some success as a self-published Kindle author, I find this to be an exciting time.
My hearts racing, I have to be honest. I'm scared.
I own a kindle, but still find myself buying books. I actually feel bad paying a lower price?
Sometimes it feels like Im stabbing my kind (wanna be authors) in the back.
The future will happen regardless, and am all in for progress–POSITIVE yeah.
BUT…I guess its hard to know where I'll fit in when its my turn (oh I will have my turn) to get published, especially if almost ANYONE who can string a few sentences together will be able to be published in the "e" world.
Fiona Ingram says
As we have progressed, so have our means of communication. It was inevitable that books would 'go electronic.' But just as some people enjoy e-books etc, so will many other people continue to read 'real books.' (Me for one) I think things will settle down and books and their readers find their place in the grand scheme of things. When Gutenberg invented movable type, I am sure many people shook their heads and muttered,"It's a fad; it won't last." (BTW, that's what they said about the first car and the telephone) Before the printing press, books were written out by toiling monks sweating over parchments. Things have to change and we change with them. But reading (aha! that's the important thing!) will never die out.
I used to have a cell phone.
I used it when our daughter was a teen to stay in touch or when I was traveling.
My daughter and my husband still have cell phones.
But I don't need one unless I am traveling.
In this economy, there is little reason for me to have one and little excuse for the expense.
What was once necessary, is now only "if needed."
Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe says
It gets me excited and hopeful. Of course I selfishly wonder how to fit into all of this. I guess I’ll continue slowly.
I can only hope we will indeed get a chance.
Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe says
You know what. That last response from me doesn’t cut the mustard. What I should truly do is ask…
“But how? How, dear Nathan, can we 1st time authors get our voice out there?”