This has been a popular interview question for the past few decades. It is one of those goto questions interviewers use to pad the time/space. In theory it allows a writer to spout off about what is wrong with the industry, but a traditionally published author who isn’t looking to be out in the cold any time soon can rarely afford such a venting. While it may be filler on for the interview, it has been a question which has created heated debate within the ever shrinking walls of traditional publishers. One needs a frame of reference to understand any answer though.
Long before my great grandfather was even a gleam in the eye traditional publishers used to invest in a new author. An author was nurtured and promoted. The publisher built a franchise around the author. These people were few and they were cherished. A publisher endeavored to produce a product high enough in quality for it to still sell many years/decades after the author was no longer. Basically they wanted that product to still be in demand up until the day the last copyright extension ran out.
Our current industry has basically Walmartized publishing. Gone are the days of mega advances and mass marketing campaigns. Your own personal press agent isn’t going to happen unless you either outsell Stephen King or hire them yourself. There was a great article in the Writer magazine talking about public relations people. One traditionally published author found out the publicist assigned to their work promoted 40 different titles each week. Given a standard work week of 40 hours you can guess just how much publicity each title got. That advance? Well, if you get one don’t expect to quit your day job and write full time. In fact, you will need your day job to help fund your own marketing efforts so bank that vacation time if your company will let you cash it out instead of forcing you to take it.
Now we are at a tipping point. The pervasiveness of businesses allowing writers to upload work and make it available in numerous electronic markets has pulled writers with resources out of the slush piles publishers receive daily. It has also changed the stigma. When I first started writing computer books it was considered a mortal sin to self-publish. The industry rule is that no publisher would touch you if they found you put out even one title without using a dignified publishing house. Not any more. There are various tracking services tracking actual reported sales numbers, not free downloads but the ones which actually sold and the retail price range. Now we have numerous stories of publishing houses pursuing indie authors who sell above X units over a given time frame. Some jump, but more and more do not. In fact, a growing number of authors who “made it” working for a traditional house are jumping ship to self-publish and get a larger share of the money.
This tipping point is quite fragile. A butterfly flapping its wings on a continent far away will determine which way the industry goes and that determination isn’t far off. The pervasiveness of the downloadable book services is also the problem with them. I have yet to find one which has any requirement a work have had professional editing, let alone multiple rounds of professional editing. I am seeing a growing number of people who purchased reading devices post rants about how they are not going to download anything (free or otherwise) which doesn’t come from a known publishing house because they are sick and tired of wasting their time on titles rampant with spelling/grammar/plot line/insert-error-type-here errors.
So. If one or more of these pervasive services wakes up and smells the iced tea brewing (coffee is nasty!) they will wipe the slush from their servers and institute professional editing requirements. Paying for professional editing will remove most of the free and 99 cent titles from their stores. One simply cannot spend thousands of dollars on professional editing and give the work away. Once a vendor takes their cut of the 99 cent fee an author has to have a run away hit to break even. Simple economics ensure there won’t be much on the virtual shelves which suffers from poor editing.
Then we will see if people come to the realization an industry cannot survive giving it all away for free. If they do, traditional publishing houses will cease to exist or will be down to just a handful who now specialize in taking wildly successful electronic titles to print markets.
What is more likely is that people will be too addicted to “free” stuff to pay a fair price. They will continue to suck down low quality free stuff until they overdose on it and leave the reading world forever. When that happens we will see a dramatic shrinking in the size of the eBook market. The physical print market will then either stabilize or begin growing in size because that will be the last place people can toss a stone and hit a quality product.
“John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars” is one big interview. It is a transcript of a dialogue between “John Smith” (who, as the title of the book implies is the last known survivor of the Microsoft wars) and the interviewer for a prominent news organization.
Genre – Dystopian Fiction
Rating – PG
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