[written for the Jungle Red Writers blog in 2013, and still relevant today]
Sometimes I think I should just unsubscribe from all my publishing listserves. This past week (written January 12th) I read three different stories about Barnes & Noble going under. I know I was not alone in noticing, because there was a great online yawp of anguished response from mid-list and wannabe authors, smugness from self-published authors and their adherents, and indifference from those authors who sell enough in Wal-Mart and airport Hudsons and W.H. Smiths to hit the printed list every time, so they don’t give a damn.[2020 update: Not to mention one of the Big Five up for sale, both of the major book printers in bankruptcy, the industry running out of essential supplies like wood pulp, and let’s not forget covid.]
In the face of all this continuing doom and gloom on the publishing front, I persevere! I refuse to give up on the notion that stories are necessary, that you and I and all of us scribblers are direct descendants of that guy sitting around the fire, hoping to get a few coins in his bowl before everyone rolls in for the night.
Recently I mentored a young friend through a high school lit class. The reading list was politically correct to the ne plus ultra and dozingly boring, but one of the titles was The Odyssey, and in this one instance I was amazed by how well the story had improved since I had had to read it in high school. Athena had a sense of humor! Who knew?
Homer knew. He was that guy, sitting around the fire, trying to keep people awake long enough to pitch a few drachmas into his bowl. Comedy and sex, The Odyssey has plenty of both, and that’s what kept people up at night. Still do.
So if stories are necessary, if Homer proved it three thousand years ago and Michael Connelly and Diana Gabaldon are still proving it today, it follows that people will seek out stories wherever they can find them. On the bookshelves of local libraries, on the shelves at indie bookstores, at used bookstores, at bookfinder.com, yes, at Barnes & Noble, and on e-readers, studies and statistics say again and again that people are reading more than ever before.
Ah. E-books. You knew I was headed there.
Two years ago I had sixteen books out of print. This year? None. And once all the books were again available, this time on Kindle and Nook and iBooks and Kobo, you know what happened? Everybody bought them, and at a time when print sales were dropping like Wile E. Coyote over a cliff the e-book sales drove the sales of my next print book onto the extended NYT bestseller list. My titles were available for the first time in the UK, and everybody bought them there, too. A UK publisher took note and is now bringing the others out there in e and in print. I’m now a bestseller in Italy, and last I heard I’m about to be published in France. [2020 update: The bad news is my French publisher has since out of business, alas. The good news is I’m now published in the Czech Republic, and selling well enough to have signed a contract on the next two books.]
It’s a whole new world, folks. Writers have never had choices like these. You can write, design and publish your own books direct to Kindle, like John Locke or Amanda Hocking. Like Hocking you can then abandon self-publication for a four-book contract with my publisher for $2 million. (They never offered me that kind of money.)
You can co-publish with an associate to do the heavy lifting for you (aka “the grunt work,” as mine refers to it), like I do, where that associate handles the design and the uploading and collects all that lovely lucre for you. You have to pay them a percentage but it will be a lower percentage than you had to pay your publisher and you’ll have that much more time to write. Like I said, choices.
Or you can go the traditional route, and sign on with a print publisher. Some things traditional publishers still do better than anyone, like produce actual books and get heard above the noise. If you’re lucky you get a great editor who loves your stuff and makes sure it gets good covers and good promotion. I’ve been that lucky, and it’s a nice place to be.
But it follows that if so many authors are publishing in so many different venues, it must be worth our while. Which means readers are still coming to us for stories, still curling up next to us by the fire. Barnes & Noble may not survive, but the need, the hunger for good stories always will, and readers will always seek them out. All we have to do is write them and make them available.
Stop reading those listserves and newsletters and tweets and posts and get back to work.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.