Publishing is in the midst of a revolution and, like all revolutions, some people will lose their livelihood and some people, often people you’d never heard of previously, will prosper. That is the nature of revolutions. And why, for authors, this is both the scariest time for many, many years, and the best.
So how does an author keep their head in these revolutionary times? The obvious answer is to ‘write good books’ but these days even that’s not a guarantee against being dropped by a publisher who themselves are being squeezed. It’s not uncommon for the editor who bought and championed your book to be suddenly replaced or ‘downsized’. And then it’s down to luck as to whether your new editor loves your book, or thinks there should be substantial changes – maybe even a change of genre – or is so stretched working on other books that they hardly appear to notice that you or your book even exists.
The switch away from buying books from bricks and mortar bookshops to online retailers has exacerbated the problem. The major publishers used to know the market and how to play it. They’d tailor their covers to please the big chain buyers, they’d have co-op deals, they’d have a good idea where to spend their marketing money and a good idea of the benefits in book sales they’d harvest in return.
The market has changed so much. Book bloggers have largely taken over the role that the newspaper book reviewers used to hold. But there are so many of them, they’re often genre specific (paranormal romance only, steampunk, vampires!) and they come and go so quickly. How do you keep up with them? And then there’s Facebook and Twitter…
In response, many publishers have offloaded the responsibility for publicity to the author. With ‘helpful’ advice like ‘join Facebook, blog, and tweet.’ The truth is no one really knows how to successfully market a book these days. You can use hindsight and study a book that broke out and maybe point to the key factor or factors behind that book’s success. But you can’t re-create it. What worked for one book will not necessarily work for another. And if everyone piles in following the same strategy that worked for one book, then sheer numbers will make it harder for anyone to get noticed in the morass of tweets, posts and whatevers.
And here we move into ‘The Best of Times.’ There’s never been a better time to be an author. We can publish our own books without the fear of stigma. And, more importantly, we can get them into the hands of the public without knocking on bookshop doors, cap in hand, and pleading for them to take a chance with our self-published tome. We can do it easily and cheaply. And, at the online store, our books are given the same prominence as a book from the largest publisher on the planet.
Take a look at Amazon’s bestseller lists and you’ll see many self-pubbed books and many names you’ve never heard of. Will that be the case tomorrow? Again, no one really knows. Revolutions again – no one knows when a revolution has finished until many years later. Are we in ‘The Terror’ phase or has that yet to come? Is Amazon waiting to do a Napoleon? What would happen to the self-pubbing dream if Amazon lowered its royalties to 35% – unless you published exclusively with them? Or started taking money for preferential placement in their ‘customers who bought this book also bought x’ lists?
The wily author has to be flexible and make sure they don’t become too dependent on a single source. Especially one whose goals do not accord with yours. One option – and I’m biased here – is to join forces with other authors. You’ll get support, advice and, if you want to take the next step, you can get … opportunity.
There used to be a long list of benefits an author would receive by going with a publisher or an agent compared to going it alone. Even though most of those benefits have disappeared, there were still important ones. Foreign rights, editing, good covers, getting your books into libraries.
All those are disappearing. It’s easier now to find really good editors. We have them at BVC. There are many talented artists whose work does not cost a fortune (check out these BVC covers by Gillian Standing). And, by working together like the guilds and trade unions before us, a group of authors can get access to places a single author would struggle to. We have BVC books in libraries all over the world – USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Singapore. And, very soon, we’ll have a major announcement about foreign rights.
It really is the best of times.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – the international bestseller – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?
Resonance – “This is one of the most original new science fiction books I have ever read. If it is as big a hit as it deserves, it may well be this book which becomes the standard by which SF stories about … are judged.”