Meet Me in the Middle

I recently attended the Novelist’s Inc conference and learned a tremendous amount. Wow. This is a great organization for writers and if you are one, think about joining. NINC’s membership is restricted to multi-published authors, but authors of all genres of fiction can join. As a result, discussions are very informative and include perspectives from many different angles. They’re also at a more advanced level: there are no “how to format your manuscript” workshops – instead there are “improving SEO on your website” workshops. This most recent conference left my brain bursting with new ideas and possibilities. You’ll see some changes being made to my sites etc. over the next few months as I put these new lessons to work. But I also noticed an intriguing trend, and thought I’d talk about that today.

At this conference, there were two strong voices. Currently, there are many authors who have found great success by indie-publishing their works. Naturally, they are pretty enthused about this option, and – perhaps predictably – they believe indie is the only way to go. At the other end of the continuum were the various representatives of traditional publishing – which included agents, editors, and to some extent, authors continuing to publish by that route. The industry professionals were convinced that the only way to ensure a good product (i.e. a quality book) was to continue to publish in the traditional manner. Under this perspective, authors should not indie publish ever because they risk compromising the quality of their work.

What intrigued me was that we heard about one end of the spectrum or the other, with not very much about all the zillions of points in between. It’s not true that an author needs to choose either route to the exclusion of the other, so why is it presented this way? Is this a response to a rapidly changing and increasingly complex marketplace? Is it just easier for us to pretend that choices are simple? Or is it that the end points on a continuum are easier to define? Certainly the stakes are high for the various players: the successful indie authors have become advocates (if not evangelists) for their method of publishing. There is a level of affirmation gained by them in persuading others to follow their path. The strongest voices for traditional publishing tend to be those people in publishing who are not authors – like agents and editors – who don’t really have a place in the exclusively indie model. In a way, they’re arguing for their own survival in the future of publishing.

In reality, there are miles of space in the middle ground. There clearly will be authors who choose one option to the exclusion of all others, but I think they will ultimately be a minority. No matter what it is that you do, diversity is more likely to lead to stability. That’s true of authors and publishing, too.

In most of the writers’ groups that I belong to, there is a joke about me – whenever someone asks me a question about the business of publishing or about the craft of writing, my answer is often “It depends”. Or I might say that a particular issue is “squishy”. This is because I don’t see any absolutes in this business. (Actually, I don’t see absolutes in much of anything.) Making a living with creative work allows for the accommodation of different goals, characters and styles. We each have strengths and weaknesses, as well as different resources at our disposal. Even more, we all have different stories to tell, often in different ways.

So, what’s a good choice for me might not be a good choice for another author, and vice versa. That applies to publishing partnerships and to writing choices (like whether to include an epilogue in a novel). So, I believe that it’s not simple and that there are no easy answers. We each have to evaluate the options and choose what is best for us. Sometimes we’ll be wrong and can learn from that choice. Sometimes we’ll be right but swimming against the tide of the “right answer”. My answer is invariably not what the person who is asking me a question wants to hear – they want an easy answer, yes or no, do this or do that – but the ensuing discussion always gives them a better understanding of what they’re asking, maybe even of what they want. I hope it helps them to make better choices.

Additionally, different genres perform differently in each publishing model – beyond traditional publishing and indie publishing, we can add digital-first publishers or small presses as options for authors. In reality, there are many, many choices available. This is very exciting, and I don’t see any reason to dismiss any of those options in order to defend a choice that supposedly is right for everyone.

The other issue is that diversification is the key to stability, no matter what we’re doing. It works for stock portfolios. It works for books. I believe that a blend of different styles of publishing is going to give individual authors greater stability in the marketplace over time, even if all of those books are in the same sub-genre. Having full length novels with a traditional press, for example, and digital-first novellas with either a digital-first publisher or indie-published will increase the number of releases per year for the author, and also increase the visibility of the author’s work overall. The middle ground of mixing and matching from a buffet of choices is already being shown to work well, and I think it will only continue to gain strength. Of course, diversifying over different genres or sub-genres will only add one more level to that diversification, and even more stability to the author’s sales numbers.

At issue is that these two groups of advocates don’t have that perspective right now – they insist that authors need to choose one way or the other. Will they come around to my way of thinking and give the middle ground some love? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What about you? This isn’t just about publishing – thinking in black and white is a question of perspective. Do you find yourself drawn to extremes – this or that, right or wrong, black or white – or do you think a balance in the middle is best? Do you believe that the answer can change, as a result of who is asking the question? My answer to that is “It depends”!

One thought on “Meet Me in the Middle

  1. I dislike exclusionary absolutes. I agree, the gathering of voices at the opposite ends of a spectrum has something to do with the ease of presentation. Crafting a knowledgeable workshop involving squishy concepts is a much more difficult proposition (albeit more useful to the majority of authors who are in the business to be published, no matter the format.). Also, evangelical voices tend to shout a bit, reasonable discussions are quieter (and more useful, imo).

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