Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Shape of Things to Come?

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.


Ah, the 70s. Things were quite different back then. Leisure suits. Platform shoes. AMC Pacers. (Who came up with that design?). And the publishing industry was a bit different back then as well. Jackie Kennedy was working as an editor at Doubleday. I know that only because, somewhere, I have a rejection letter with her signature on it.

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.

Time passed, and somewhere along the way we entered Phase 2. Things changed. The Personal Computer (PC) became popular. Bill Gates became famous and ended up rich. Or the other way around. Steve Jobs developed the Apple, and our word processing and desktop publishing programs improved to provide us significantly more power and higher quality. Formatting became simpler. Text could be copied and pasted effortlessly.

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.

Then Phase 3 arrived when someone was smart enough to take the vanity press idea and merge that need with the new digital printing technology. The days of costly typesetting of manuscripts, creating page dummies, keylining multiple-page layouts, shooting film and burning metal plates, (and the exorbitant cost involved in each of those services) ended.

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.

My crystal ball is in the repair shop right now, so I can't predict the future with any degree of certainty. But, what is likely to occur during the transition to the Next Phase is that savvy entrepreneurs will step in to fill the roles previously held by publishing company employees. And that's already begun.

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?


  1. Hi Michael, I decided to jump on the POD self-publishing train. So far, I’m happy with the results, and I’m selling my books on Amazon. Okay, so I have to network on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, plus email and word of mouth, but at least my stories are out there.

    I have another book coming out with another POD publisher, and I’ll be adding two more books to Amazon in the near future.

    I only queried Velvet Ball and The Broken Fairy to a couple of agents before publishing with Amazon. The same with my other POD book, but I queried My Molly series with no luck and sometimes with no reply at all.

    I’m selling my fist book cheap to get me started ‒ after all, I’m an unknown author. Hopefully someone out there will buy it and give me an honest review. It’s early days yet though and only been on sale for two days.

    The link to buy my eBook is on my blog, and if you read it, you'll be pleasently surprised. Plus you'll definitely get your moneys worth. :)

  2. Michael, I think you are right the industry is reaching tipping point with POD and ebooks. My chances of getting picked up as an educational picture book author in Australasia? 1 in 3,000.Now I publish myself, will prove my product with a market following then sell it to Scholastic or such. (If I want too.) Times are changing.

  3. Trish! I think it's fabulous that you've decided to go the e-pub and POD route. Your writing is great, and it needs to be out there where kids can read it. I'm so surprised that no agent has picked up Molly's episodes yet. But I'm still holding out hope for her. She deserves to be out there.

    Please keep us informed on your successes.
    (Damn brickfield!)

  4. Kimbery. Thanks for the comment. Be sure and let us know your success if and when you go the e-book or POD route. I think we're going to be seeing more of this as time goes by (play it Sam).

    I'm thinking this might be an excellent time to get into the POD business or some aspect of it, i.e., editing, proofreading, digital design services for pre-press layout. Lots of options and possibilities.

  5. There are a couple of considerations before you jump onto the POD/self-publishing bandwagon. First of all, neither will get you into bookstores, so if that is an immediate goal you may want to check out an indie publisher who will give you the benefits of self-publishing along with the distribution of traditional publishing. There are a growing number of them. Also, look at who is the audience for the book. Where and in what format do they typically get their books? Meet your readers where they are.

    Now, if stepping up into a traditional deal is a goal of yours and you are a newbie author you should know that publishers will look at past sales that are recorded in Nielsen bookscan. You can claim to have sold thousands of books direct, but if they can't see a verifiable sales history through their trusted resources they are going to look negatively on your history. Of course, there are a million other caveats associated with every publishing option. I say really dig deep and do your homework before you spend too much time or money. We see so many mistakes at the publishing house that could have been avoided with a little research. One last side note. If you decide to break any publishing "rules" make sure you can justify your reasons for doing so in case you ever need to plead your case to a publisher or corporate book buyer.

  6. Thanks Michael, don’t worry about Molly, I have two Molly books coming out soon, but the original Molly stories have all been put into a chapter book – I couldn’t fit all the stories in there, so there will be a series. The first one, Star-Crossed Rascals will be available in a few weeks with another POD Publisher. It will be available as a paperback and an eBook. (All your favourites are in there, Michael, the bubble-gum, the darn brickfield, the bicycle, and the spaghetti.) That book is so gross, I’m sure kids will love it. (She’s not called Molly in this series though as my other Molly stories evolved into the rescuing of animals and I wanted to keep them separate – she is Pollyweena Grubble.)

    Velvet Ball and The Broken Fairy is available as an EBook. It’s only been for sale for a couple of days and I’ve had many sales already. I’m just glad it’s out there. If a regular publisher want's to give me a chance,they still can. I have hundreds of stories in my head, but I just hade to get some of them out there.If I waited, it may be too late. Look what happened to Irene. Well, that was too sad, and it made me decide not to wait any longer. That could have been me.

    Of course I would have loved a regular publisher but they haven’t offered so far, and I’m not getting any younger. My mind is a spring chicken, but my body is not ‒ although I plan to live to at least a hundred and twenty. LOL. Too many stories to write.

    Brass Knuckles, thanks for your informative advice, but what publishing rules were you referring to? I'm just curious.

    I've done a little research on how children read. Mostly it seems they read the traditional books, but I’ve found many now have kindles and spend their pocket money on eBooks too. Maybe the cheap price helps, not sure. I have young nieces and nephew that read eBooks on their computers using the free kindle download.
    Well, I may not get rich by selling my books on the net, but at least kids can read my stories and that was my aim. To make money would be a wonderful bonus, but I just want to make kids laugh ‒ oh and cry too, they have to have a cry in the sad parts, and then they can celebrate with my happy endings.


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