When e-readers came onto the market some years back, the book world was, at first, only slightly affected. Purists scoffed and made comments about preferring to hold ‘actual books’ in their hands. Publishing companies saw a new way to earn money, but didn’t change their business practices much.
Then a strange thing happened.
It seemed like all at once the entire industry was completely and irreversibly altered. Book prices dropped because offering an electronic copy of a new novel was a cheaper alternative. People who were against it before began buying Kindles in droves. The popular debate was whether or not print books were on the way out.
Naturally, this sudden and significant change brought about other rapid developments in publishing. With the increase in e-book buyers, the allure of only making a new novel available electronically was a real possibility. Since the main requirements are much less involved than publishing a physical book, the process was cheaper and easier for the publisher. In time, small presses began to open submission calls in popular genres for quick-release novels. New e-publishing companies were being incorporated regularly, and turnaround time on submissions got a little faster.
Of course, there are many other factors that added to this phenomenon. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter made it much easier for writers to get their work noticed. Organizations like Authonomy surfaced where you could post your book online to get feedback or enter contests. And so, agents and publishers alike had to adapt to a fast changing industry or face the unthinkable: authors with real talent electing to self-publish rather than go the traditional route.
You can agree that this concept has its appeal.
In bypassing the huge hurdles that new writers face in finding a suitable agent, publisher, or both, and often the years it takes to do so, a writer with marketing sense and a lot of determination can see their book in print much quicker than their peers. All it takes is a finished, polished, manuscript to get the process started. After that, you can choose to have family, friends, colleagues, and critiquing groups read and review your manuscript. Once the inevitable revisions have been made, you hire a relatively cheap editor to clean it up, find someone to design the cover, register for a program like Smashwords, and, apart from some basic formatting you are good to go.
Obviously it’s a little more involved than that, and actually completing a saleable novel is a huge challenge to begin with, but if you are motivated it is certainly achievable. And some writers have done well with this method.
Granted, wild commercial success for the average self-published author is much less assured than, say, a contract from one of the illustrious Big Six.
That’s because as a self-published author you will have to do the work of several people all at once. You don’t just get to be the tortured writer. You also have to be the marketing savvy professional who gets the word out, the industry aficionado who knows what’s hot, the dutiful social media contributor who supports other writers as well as promoting your own, and finally, the law-tastic reader of fine print who makes sure everything is on the up and up.
It’s not something that every person can do; let alone every writer, because many of those requirements are highly specialized and mandatory to success. Furthermore, many writers are extremely uncomfortable with promoting their books and networking. For all their ability to examine social nuance and fashion a character so real you know them better than yourself, writers are often fairly solitary people.
Which is of course the reason why self-publishing doesn’t dominate the industry in sales…yet.
A colleague of mine who chose the self-publishing route once told me that she believes literary agents simply won’t exist in as little as ten years. While I think that’s a radical opinion, and wonder whether her bad experience with one agent tainted her view of the profession as a whole, the concept has merit.
With technology improving and changing every single day, and the publishing industry not far behind it, how long will writers need to rely on someone else to shop their manuscript and negotiate their contracts? If you can already upload your book into a program for the entire world to see, and gain recognition completely on your own, what would be the purpose of giving away some of the profits that are rightfully yours?
Regardless of your opinion of traditional publishing or self-publishing, hard copies of novels or e-books, you can certainly agree: we are in the midst of a changing literary world.
I for one am interested to see what’s next.