Today finds the world in a bit of uproar over two impending storms — the first, of course, being Hurricane Sandy. The second, smaller and less life-threatening, being the publishing merger between Penguin and Random House. The merger is likely due to the pressures of the changing book market, compounded by the effect of Amazon and its enormous reach into all parts of the publishing world.
In truth, I don’t blame the big guys for scrambling into bed with each other — the publishing floor is mighty cold and lonely these days, and I imagine that snuggling with your competitor under the covers is far nicer than dying a slow, gasping death under the bed.
That being said, all of these changes up top mean big changes for those of us down below (namely: the authors). We’ve seen this storm coming — it’s not new, and it’s not news. But it is important. Authors (inadvertently or not) are going to get crunched in the middle, and it’s probably going to hurt.
I was on a panel recently at Woodstock Literary Festival and there was a brief conversation about publishers. All of the other panelists were published with small publishers, and they raved about the attention given to them by companies who cared, who took time to support their authors and make beautiful books. When asked how authors could survive this storm, they all recommended going with small publishers.
I wholeheartedly agreed. And then I added, “AND you need to go with the big publishers. AND you need to self-publish.”
There was only a little bit of silence after that. Which was good, because it allowed me to continue my point, which was, “because, truly, the only way that I see us authors surviving this is by knowing all of our options, and using every one of them to the fullest.”
Of course, I don’t believe in “rules” when it comes to writing or publishing, so this isn’t a rule. It’s just my own point of view, and it’s one that consistently seems to work for me.
The majority of my work (80%) has been published by medium and large publishers.
Some of my work (10%) has been published by very small presses.
Some of my work (10%, mostly reprints) has been self-published.
The income numbers break down very differently:
45% of income from medium and large publishers.
10% of income from small presses
45% of income from self-publishing.
Recently, I started a publishing company (Stone Box Press) with writer and game designer Monte Cook. I said that I’d never start a publishing company. Too much work. Too little reward. No chance of success. And did I mention too much work?
So why start one now? Because I did my research, and I understand some of the ways in which the publishing world is changing. Because I have a big enough name that my books will sell without the “big name” of a publisher behind them. Because I’m willing to do the work. And mostly because I believe in taking control of my future as best I can, and in supplying opportunities for myself.
Do I see these mergers and Amazon’s attempt to take over the world as having an impact on me as an author? Yes. Do I see them destroying me? No. Because I’m taking matters into my own hands in a way that was never an option to me in the past.
Am I leaving the large publishers? No. They’ve been good to me, and good to the industry for a long time. They helped make my career, and I want to continue to support them. Ditto with the small presses — they do great work for talented writers who don’t fit the mass audience, and they’re wonderful to work with. But I do see myself increasing the amount of self-published work that I’m going to offer, and that number will probably continue to rise in the future.
Do all authors need to go this route? Of course not. But they should be aware of their options.
Winter is always coming for authors. Prepare yourselves.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.