Today's post is somewhat of a follow up to yesterday's. But before I propose the question that's burning in my mind, let's hop into the Wayback Machine and take a trip back to the early 1970s. I want to start there and come forward. We're going to pass through two additional environments before we make it back to today.
During what I will call Phase 1, writers typically used either an IBM Selectric typewriter. After you had printed a final copy of your opus, you could mail it to your publisher of choice. The great thing was that in those days most publishers were much more open to unagented solicitations and would willingly accept manuscripts from anyone who could write one and mail it to them. The query letter wasn't that big a deal or a hard-and-fast requirement in those days either. You just mailed the manuscript, along with a SASE, and waited to hear back.
Agents arrived on the scene and, somehow, mysteriously, became a necessity if you were ever going to become a published author. Publishing houses all but stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Some even began nixing query letters from unagented writers. But we stopped using the postal service at some point when email came into our lives and became the primary delivery method for our work.
POD was born. It offered writers a new and marvelous opportunity to bypass the agents, the editors, the publishers, and even the offset printer. An eager author could get their manuscript transformed into a printed, bound book and into the hands of their reader in a very short time span with little or no upfront cost. What a concept!
And that's where we find ourselves today. So let me play the Devil's Advocate in my conclusion. Are the days of the literary agent numbered? Are the brick and mortar publishing houses going to crumble and disappear as technology moves us further into the digital domain? Would writers and readers prefer to have their book on the shelves in two weeks rather than waiting 18 months? Possibly. And it's highly probable that is the direction in which things are going. But it's not going to happen overnight.
Editing and proofreading services have been available on the Internet for some time now. (I offer that service myself, as do many others.) In addition, you can easily find a design firm that will take your Word document and import it into Quark or Adobe InDesign and create a beautiful, professional document, along with a custom cover, that you can forward to Lulu or CreateSpace and have your book for sale within 24 hours. These digital POD services can also furnish you an ISBN, a bar code, and a Library of Congress listing number as well as distribute your books to Ingram's, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. What's missing? Other than the traditional advance on royalties (which I understand is still continuing to decrease) not much, really.
At the same time, ebooks continue to grow in popularity. In fact, you can download a free Kindle for Mac from the Amazon site. It takes less than a minute and you can then download free books or buy anything that's available from their ever-expanding digital library. It's all instantaneous in today's fast-paced world of high technology, and it's extremely affordable.
So where will we be a year from now? It's really anyone's guess. But I'm betting the self-publishing and POD market segment is going to increase dramatically during that span of time. In fact, I'm thinking about looking into the POD option for a couple of manuscripts. Or maybe buying some stock in one of those POD companies. What are you thinking about?