Musings at the end of judging…

I just finished judging the MORE THAN MAGIC published book contest that our RWA chapter, Romance Writers Ink, puts on each year.  Among the books I was assigned, I received traditional print, small press, and an eBook.  I have to admit, in years past, I had to force myself to read some of the books I got, especially the eBooks.  One of the things that keeps me going in my own writing is seeing the stuff some editors will buy.  (That’s my inner B**ch speaking.)

But this year, there wasn’t any book I didn’t enjoy.  I’ll admit, I enjoyed some books more than others, but there wasn’t one that I wanted to throw against the wall.  (Especially the eBook since that would involve throwing my new laptop!)  And as I thought of this phenomenon, I realized there has been some major growth in the publishing business.  A growth I’m not sure everyone has recognized.

We all know how the big mainstream publishers have merged, tightened the market, and generally gone into recession mode.  This has lessened the market for mid-list authors and newbies.  You really have to write a superior book or have a great sales history to sell consistently to them.  But have you noticed the growth in small press and ePublishers?

Used to be, if you couldn’t sell to New York, you could ALWAYS sell to someone on-line.  Oh, they may not have been very good, but if you were desperate to sell…  But as economic times got tougher, so did selling to small publishers.   Just as there have always been wannabe writers, probably there have been wannabe editors.  These are people who can’t write worth crap, but have a vision of the kind of stories they would like to see published.  Before computers, there was no way most of this people could live their dream.  I mean, there were even fewer editor slots than writer slots.

But between digital files,  Print on Demand, and the Internet, if a wannabe editor wanted a job, they could get one.  Even better, they could afford to set up their own publishing company with a modest investment.  The ladies of Belle Books did it.  True, when ePublishers started, they came and went like dust storms.  However, when they develope an eReader as cool as the iPod, eBook publishing will take off with a flash.  And even the big mainstream publishers will have to take notice.

There will be a vast market, but it will still be discriminating.  Mainstream publishers won’t be able to charge print book prices.  Quality writing is what will sell and if your company gets a reputation for putting out junk, forget it!  At first, authors will probably not make much money; most small presses and ePublishers don’t offer advances.  But as the market shakes out, the top tier authors won’t be able to turn out enough books for all the publishers and those who want those authors, will have to pay.  Eventually, electronic publishing will be where mainstream publishers are today.  There be a few publishers who publish general books and a middle group who publishes genre or specific theme books.  Finally, there will be the “fringe” publishers who won’t be the bottom or the second-class publishers, but will meet the needs of the few readers who want very specific, cutting edge writing.   As long as there is a profit, there will be a publisher for each reader.  Heck, there might even be “Primary” publishers that specialize in “growing” authors…publishing books of newbies for minor pay that allows word-of-mouth to introduce the writer to the reading world.

What do you think?

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10 thoughts on “Musings at the end of judging…

  1. While they do say that romance novels is one of the few recession proof businesses I think the next few years may be lean ones for those of us trying to break into the business. What I hope is that once the economy bounces back some people who spent money on non-renewable entertainment will stick with the gift that keeps on giving – books. According to some reports many people are going back to reading as it is cheaper than movies or nightclubs and vacations. Gosh, I hope so!!

    But I think you are right that the market for those books that are definitely outside the box is expanding by leaps and bounds. I’m not sure if I am ready to go e-pub yet, but I am not counting ANYTHING out!

    • Louisa, I’ve always heard that in a recession, people will buy more books. I have to say, two major publishers — Harlequin/Silhouette and another whose name escapes me — announced big numbers in their 4th quarter earnings for ’08. Hopefully, that is the case.

  2. The books I judged this year were just so-so. Not bad, not great.
    And I like the idea of e-pub. I think it might be something I target. And taking a step off the beaten path is a good idea, Lynn. You never know, it might pay off. 🙂
    Ashlynn

  3. I think that publishing is going to go through a big change in the next few years… but I don’t think it will be ebooks that push that change. I think it will be ‘print on demand’ publishing and the whole Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) phenomena that makes the change possible. Right now, you never see paperback books ‘on sale’ or marked down. Because if a book doesn’t sell, the bookseller/bookstore strips the cover off and mails it back to the publisher–then the publisher is forced to buy back the unsold book at full price. Imagine the waste! In the newer ‘green’ society where folks are concentrating on reduce/reuse/recycle, I think this huge waste will become the next big thing. When you can order a book online and have it in your mailbox within four days, why should that amount of waste be encouraged? In this electronic age, why shouldn’t a publisher be able to take a winger on a new author without some wild amount of investment that might not be recoverable? I think THAT will cause a sea change in publishing. I’m not sure that ebook readers will be the change in the industry. Books are still prized as solid possessions.
    Just my $ .02. spw

    • I’d like to think the publishing industry would have cleaned up on their act on returns/stripping YEARS ago, but they seem clueless.

      In my early years with Silhouette, the line I was writing for could be expected to sell X number of books each month. So what did they do? They printed 2X. Their logic was that if the books sold extraordinarily well, the copies would be there. If not, well, they’d do what they always did: strip ’em and destroy ’em.

      I asked my editor why they did that since it was so wasteful, and she said, “That’s business.”

      When I learned that the stripped copies received full credit from the publishers, I asked why they did THAT, and she said, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

      Which is probably the dumbest reason to continue doing something that’s not working.

      I think print-on-demand will help some, but I agree with Jackie that the next big change is going to be fueled by e-books. Way back when the first e-publisher came along, people climbed onboard the bandwagon and said, “This is the end of publishing as we know it. Books are obsolete. E-books are the future.”

      I didn’t believe it, and it didn’t happen. A few years later, another e-publisher, another bandwagon, books were obsolete again, and I still didn’t believe it.

      These days, I’m starting to believe it.

      One thing that will hurt print-on-demand is the time required. Bookselling is an industry that has always been driven by impulse buying. Ever try to go into a bookstore to pick up ONE book? Ha! Last time I went with a list of three books and came out with ELEVEN.

      For people who are accustomed to ordering online already, a few days’ wait is no big deal. (I don’t buy online as a rule.) But for people like me, who want a book NOW, e-books are looking darn good. I don’t have to get dressed and drive 20 miles to the nearest bookstore. I can sit in my recliner and download a book, even on dial-up, and be reading 20 minutes later. It’s just too easy.

      And there are no books on the shelves to dust!!

      And you can read ’em on your iPhone, if you have one! I swear, Jaci’s iPhone won me over with nothing more than the book app. I want one!!

  4. Jackie, great topic. I finished some contest entries and had two good ones, two pretty raw ones — all electronic. Even the lower two weren’t BAD books. They just needed a better editor to tighten things and point out holes and inconsistencies, and a copy-editor to catch the typos and other mistakes. The authors had talent; they didn’t have any editorial support.

    That’s one of the problems I have with a fair number of the e/small-press books I read: bad editorial. Being a good editor requires talent, patience and a good understanding of story, language, characters, etc. It’s not a job that just anyone can do, though it appears with some publishers that just anyone is trying. (Some, not all. There are some great e/small editors out there.)

  5. I agree with you, Sandee. POD is definately going to change the face of print publlishing. But I still think eBooks will the books of the future. Not for you or me (thank God!), but to the kids born today who won’t know a life without computers, iPods, etc.

  6. Marilyn, it wasn’t Jaci’s iPhone I lusted after. A friend had her Sony Reader at Conestoga that she let me play with. I want one! Though I have to admit the idea of having a reader that holds 1500 books like the new Kindle 2 is tempting also.

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