Let’s talk about the future of publishing. This conversation usually looks like a self publish vs. traditional publish debate. I believe that is not the “bunny” we should all be looking at behind the camera.
The threat to traditional publishers are not ambitious, vain writers who can guerrilla market. The threat comes from new giants — Kobo, Amazon, Hyperink — who will redefine “traditional” by working with individual authors more efficiently.
Traditional publishers and agents respond to industry change by saying: “We bring value. We are a quality clearing house. We filter out crap, find brilliance, print, distribute to bookstores, and help market.”
Since bookstores struggle to stay brick and mortar, hard copy sales will fade in 50 years against digital, and marketing relies heavily on the author, their strongest argument (in my opinion) is the one about being gatekeepers for quality. However, there is a big problem with this defense. They rely on an inefficient strategy for gate keeping. If they do not change how they filter quality, if they do not speed up, they will be crushed by the likes of Amazon.
As a writer, over here working diligently on craft and platform, I don’t actually care who wins this publishing industry game. I have two jobs regardless – build a following of readers and write engaging, quality work.
But I predict, in five to ten years, one of two things will happen to me as a future successful author.
Scenario 1 – A traditional publishing contract:
After I have sent out hundreds of queries for several years, an agent or editor will ask for my manuscript and a detailed business proposal. That person will then take my submissions to a committee and they will spend several months to a year considering what sold in the last five years, the quality of my writing, their other author’s books (my place within the list), and my ability to market myself. Then, if I pass that test, I will be offered a contract and will get a small advance, which, if I am smart, I will reinvest into marketing my first book. They will take the following year to edit my manuscript, get a cover done for me, print it and distribute the book to bookstores. I will get a launch date and promote like hell, drive up my Amazon numbers and Kindle orders, reach a good goal for sales, earn back my advance, and earn a few royalties. Then I will start the process over for book two.
Scenario 2 – The new publishing contract:
An editor at Amazon publishing will find me online, notice I have a large following of engaged readers, and contact me after reading quality sample chapters on my website. They will offer a shared-profit contract with no advance, but will take on all up front costs for editing and printing (not many but on-demand print available), and will agree to stock the printed books on Amazon and offer it via Kindle (no bookstore distribution). I will make money only from book sale profits, a percentage much higher then I would get through royalties with a traditional publisher. The publisher and I will review our marketing strategy and then promote together (still leaning heavily on me for this) with both of us having equal motivation for quality writing, engaged readers and sales success. If it tanks, they move on. If it’s a winner, we all win and move forward.