Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The State of Publishing

I am not an alarmist.  I am not someone who cries "The sky is falling!"  I make no accusations or prophesies.  I do not pretend to know what the future holds. 

However, I can smell a skunk when he is near.  I can see a rotten apple before I pluck it.  I can hear a train coming and know not to cross the tracks.  I can taste the spoiled milk and know to throw it out.

I began writing when I was young.  Before I ever took a college creative writing course, I had studied the craft of writing and followed the publishing world.  I submitted articles, anecdotes, jokes, and stories to magazines for 5 cents per word or less.  Sometimes, contributor's copies weren't even offered.  I knew then that writing was a pitiful career choice.  The potential for ruin for the shy, the fainthearted, the under-talented, was great.  I dared only to enter into the lake of publishing by dipping my toes in the water. 

My only other activity concerning writing for decades was to wait.  To watch.  To refine my skills, define my audience, and confine my art to a drawer and a hard drive.  Recently, with the advent of a new era in self-publishing, I have awakened the hope and wonder of my semi-dormant skills and faith in becoming a published author. It was a dream I didn't think would ever transpire.

As I continued to research, I continued to hold a fondness, a loyalty, to the legacy of the publishing world.  The historical behemoths of publishing, the massive, dinosaur-like monstrosities in New York and Chicago, in London and Toronto seemed impregnable, but rightfully so.  Not everyone DESERVES a chance at publication.  For God's sake, it is best that some are not given that opportunity to muck up the pristine waters of the lake.  What a bunch of baloney.

I don't write romance novels. I have only read a few.  Some were my mom's Harlequins, more than two decades ago.  However, I have always known that the market and the authors of these books made a pittance.  I read this post by famous self-pubbed, whiner extraordinaire, viciously enthusiastic supporter and trumpeter of self-publishing, JA Konrath.  Although I don't drink Mr. Konrath's kool-aid 24/7, he often makes salient points and gives some sound advice if you have the time to wade through the detritus of his arguments and rantings to find the scraps and nuggets of goodness. 

This particular post, though, was completely enlightening.  So much so, I had to share it and my absolute distaste for Harlequin and their poor business practices.  The post is written by Ann Voss Peterson, author of PUSHED TO FAR.  Her career is very impressive in terms of total books published and total books sold.  But, Harlequin publishing hasn't treated her fairly at all, if you read the post.

I don't believe them to be "evil," any more than coal companies in the early 1900's were evil.  Or Enron was evil.  Or Exxon Mobile and the offshore drilling are evil.  They are advantageous, as most businesses are, but they have overstepped the boundaries of good taste and fair business practice.  Poor taste and bad practice to the point that they should be made to stop. 

It is the Harlequin's of the world, and agents who support them through their contract negotiations, who are turning the tide of this war on publishing.  The first salvos from the self-pubbed camp have been pathetic, with a few scattered victories to lift spirits.  There have also been defections and converts, but now, the corrupted system (think Rome) is being exposed and it may not be too long before the lake of publishing overflows its dam and creates a new body of water altogether.  I am not intoning the death knell of the Big 6.  They aren't called the Big 6 for nothing.

Right now, only a chosen few are feeling the ground swell.  Some readers are beginning to sense the shift, but are just getting over their "free book" high and seeing their Kindles and Nooks full of unreadable dreck and overpriced Best Sellers.  Soon, though, the authors themselves, will be running for the hills, hiding in the woods, turning printing presses and hiring out cover artists, laid off publicists, editors, and marketing directors.  Soon, agents will be offering service packages for a flat fee and a smaller take of the royalties (5% of 70% on a $4.99 ebook is bigger than 15% of 2.4% on a $5 mass paperback, right? The agent makes 18 cents per copy rather than 2 cents!).  Soon, more print-on-demand stores will open.  Soon, vanity presses will lower their costs.  Soon, more online ebook stores will open, offering more to the consumers.  Bigger discounts, more selection, exclusive content, bundled purchases, merchandise giveaways, etc.  Jeesh, I am starting to sound like Konrath!

But, seriously, check out her book, give Ann Voss Peterson some props.  Support your local artists, whether they be musicians, artists, or authors.  I read PUSHED TOO FAR myself, and her writing is very similar to Patterson's.  Engaging, suspenseful, and interesting.

As far as writing goes, though, before you go skinny dipping in the lake of publishing, you better look close before you leap.  There are sharks and alligators waiting to eat you up, if you aren't careful.