Changing Relationships

As the world of publishing changes and mutates, we all need to reconsider our industry relationships. This isn’t a bad thing by any means – it’s simply a sign that more things are possible.

One of the big changes that writers constantly remark upon, for example, is how freely indie-published authors exchange and share information. With indie-publishing, authors can work together more readily, rather than perceiving each other as competition. This is a big change from traditional publishing, in which every publishing house has a certain number of publication slots each month. Authors who are prolific often feel that they are competing against other authors with the house for those slots, as well as for release months which are perceived to be better for sales. Publishers assign their budgets for individual books on the basis of sales, so an author who sells at a higher level will get better covers, better sales support, better promotion, better publication months and probably more publication months.

In addition, some houses actively encourage this sense of writers competing with each other. For example, I wrote for one house which arranged a dinner for all authors attending RWA’s National Conference each year. This was a lovely event and might have been more enjoyable if seating arrangements hadn’t been made on the basis of sales – those authors who sold best sat near the most senior editor in attendance, and those who were new to the house or had languishing sales were assigned seats way down at the other end of the table with the editorial assistant and the intern from publicity. The hierachy of sales was inescapable at these kinds of events – and no matter how well you sell, there is always someone selling better. At a subsequent conference, this publisher actually arranged separate dinners: one for the superstars with all the senior people from the house, and one for the remaining authors, with the assistants and interns. (I halfway think that publishers might encourage this sense of being in competition to keep authors from chatting too much and comparing too many details about the house’s support of their books. The other half of me thinks this is paranoid.) This house was particularly emphatic about ensuring every author knew his or her place in the sales hierarchy. They’re not all that way. I’ve also written for houses that had the tables set up for 6 or 8 people, and the senior representatives from the publisher changed tables with each course, ensuring that they each talked to every author. Those were much more pleasant meals!

Because the house’s support of an individual title affects how that book is presented to the world, and because sales of books from traditional publishing houses are so focused on the first two weeks that the book is available, there is a justifiable sense that budget is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Books tend to sell as well as the house expects them to sell, which means that if they think your books don’t sell well and budget accordingly, it’s very hard to push your books out into the world and have them succeed in defiance of these expectations. As a result, it’s quite easy for authors who feel unsupported by the house to resent those who get more support from the house.

In contrast, in the indie publishing world, there is no maximum number of books being released each month. There is no hierarchy of slots. While some authors do get a promotional push from one portal or another, most are on their own. The indie-published author buys her own cover, pays for her own formatting, pays for her own promotion, etc. etc. There’s a welcome sense that there are enough consumers of digital books for all of us, and that we can cooperate instead of compete. Any book can go viral and sell like crazy. If a book doesn’t sell well, the author can change things up, maybe modify the cover or the copy, maybe do a promotion. That shift in both power and possibility totally changes the tone of conversations between writers.

I like this change a lot.

This change has even more interesting implications than just sharing information. It means that authors can market their works together much more effectively – and that they may be more inclined to do so. It means that authors can share information about what cover artists or promotions or portals work best for them, and maybe speculate on why. We might share information and experiences about other industry players – some publishers, for example, encourage writers to publish some work for the house and some on their own. Other publishers want complete control of the author’s brand. Some agents provide a la carte agency services, contracting to negotiate specific and individual deals. Others don’t. It means that authors can build support networks with other authors, and even create works together – like linked anthologies. As the world changes, the kind of data we can share, and its usefulness, is multiplying at an astonishing rate.

As a direct result of these very exciting changes, a group of writers and I have decided to organize a local networking event for authors and other publishing people. It will be pretty small this April, but we’re hoping it will be a success, and that we can repeat it semi-annually. We’ve tried to organize it so it will be a minimum of work for each of us. We won’t make any money – that’s not the point – but we won’t be out of pocket either. I think the exchange of information will be invaluable and am very excited about our experiment. I’m also curious to see whether other authors run with the idea and start similar networking events in their own areas.

We’re booked for April 20. I’ll let you all know how it goes!

2 thoughts on “Changing Relationships

  1. I’ll be very interested. This event sounds like fun.

    At AM101 we always suggest authors get together and share resources. It’s fascinating that you felt marketing expectations were self fulfilling in the old hierarchy but all bets are off now. I agree. Thanks for sharing!

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