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The Tipping Point Has Been Reached: Authors Are Now Publishers (When/If We Wish To Be)

So, I was chatting with Hallie Ephron on Facebook today, when it occurred to me that I should really round up some of the thoughts I was sharing with her, which have dawned on me slowly over the past two years. So here we go, four big thoughts for you on the recent evolution of publishing:

Big Thought Number One: We have passed the tipping point. All Authors Are Also Publishers Now.

First there was J. A. Konrath carrying on like a character from a Shakesperean play (love you Joe, but you know you do sometimes).

Then there was Amanda Hocking, a pretty smart cookie and self-published author, who wants to parlay her self-publishing success into a traditional book deal. I wrote about her here.

And now there is Barry Eisler, walking away from a 500K deal and simultaneously telling the whole world why.

Is this alarming or confusing or both?

Not at all. It makes perfect sense. It’s been building up for a couple of years now.

Konrath has created what Seth Godin would call a tribe of self-publishing traditionally published and self-published authors, which will continue to grow.

I joined on a very small scale a year ago when I published my first e-book, Author Mama. It was scary as hell to publish myself but it was fun and exhilarating, as well. I was able to work with bloggers and fans to put out first a beta version of the e-book and then a final alpha version, proofed by initial readers.

The reason I bring up my own self-publishing experience, although empowering, is not because it taught me to say, “Screw the publishing industry! I’m out of here!” It didn’t.

I like and respect my publisher and the people who work for the company and have had a relationship with many of them for going on five years now.

Big Thought Number Two: Going With Traditional Or Self-Publishing Is A Choice & Authors Can Choose Either, Or & Both

Konrath had everything to gain by self-publishing and continuing to self-publish. And he has not only clearly gained but also shown us how it’s done (in his usual brazen style).

And Hocking has everything to gain that any fairly new author would gain from a traditional deal (think of J. K. Rowling once upon a time). Hocking would not likely get all the opportunities at once that she is likely to get (or the help navigating them) without a traditional deal (and good agent or lawyer, I hope).

I wonder if Eisler’s offer from his publisher was less than what he has gotten in the past? Either way, he benefits big-time publicity-wise from the timing of his decision to self-publish. And by allying with Konrath, he quadruples his reach (maybe more) and influence as a pioneer.

Bottom line, and not to sound too smarty-pants, but I have been following this subject all along, even as I have been busy writing my third traditionally published book. All authors are publishers now and we can choose either traditional or self-published or both any time. And so we should.

Both choices are valid. Both are proven. Both can work in terms of connecting authors with readership. And most importantly, and the part that no one is talking about, they can all work together.

Publishing Author Mama in between traditionally published books was a great opportunity for me to put some content to good use that would have gone by the wayside otherwise. The venture has been profitable and the rest of the money that comes in on the project is pure profit. Also, I wrote it as a kind of love letter to my readers and students because writing a traditional book when you are a mom is not easy. I recognize that and wanted to share what I know and have learned with my former students, who are now getting traditional deals or angling for them.

Yes, believe it or not, people are still going after and getting traditional deals. I know because I help them do it. And no, it isn’t any easier than it’s ever been. But, yes, you can still get a decent first advance from the right publisher.

Big Thought Number Three: Open-Mindedness To Variety In Publishing Is the New Hip

Open-mindedness to publishing choices is the coming wave. Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest Books, is the person who deserves credit for helping me understand this along the way. She is the one who gave me permission to explore the possibilities for myself. And in my opinion, every author should also be exploring the possibilities with his or her out-of-print backlist, unpublished work, and ideas that don’t lend themselves to traditional publishing.

I was very reluctant to see or participate in the shift a couple of years ago. I had gotten fairly comfortable in the black and white world of: you’re either traditionally published or self-published but once you are traditionally published, there’s no turning back.

But that’s OVER now. It’s been over ever since the day that Joe Konrath got up on his pulpit and started preaching the new gospel of publishing (still love you, Joe), which, I have to say, in case it’s not readily apparent, suggests more power to authors, especially to authors who make savvy choices and partner wisely and strategically.

Not that authors are going to all go crazy and take over the world now (like Joe), but I suspect that a better playing field is coming our way as a result of our having more choices and, hard-working as we are, I am happy to see the changes come. And whenever any author gets a good deal that includes this elusive thing called money, I’m all for it. Applause! Applause!

Big Thought Number Four: We Can All Put Down Our Pitchforks Now

Once every author gets that we now have a spectrum of choices on any given day and that there are no big, fat consequences for going one way or the other or choosing all of the above, then we will have publishing evolution not publishing revolution.

So everyone can put down their weapons now and stop pointing their muck at publishers because yes, there IS a new day dawning, but we are STILL all in this full-systems changing publishing world together.

And no, I don’t think Joe should be nominated for sainthood, but I do appreciate his willingness to take it on the nose for the rest of us (in his usual smart, shrewd, growling fashion). And I absolutely believe that he deserves to profit from his valiant and considerable efforts.

So play nice, people. And don’t forget to do your own work, while you spectate. People who let their creativity languish tend to start talking in extremes and acting absurd.

In other words, everything has changed and nothing has changed. And on that note, I’ll get back to my work, too.

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  • Bob Mayer March 23, 2011, 5:15 pm

    Succeeding at self-publishing will be as hard as succeeding at traditional publishing. I’ll be guest-blogging on Konrath’s blog on the 12th of April when I release my next novel, Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & The Civil War. I’ve had similar, and higher, deals to what Eisler is walking away from, yet I’ve chosen to go my own way with this book. In that guest blog post, I’ll explain why.

  • Brooklyn Ann March 23, 2011, 5:49 pm

    Fascinating post! I have friends who have been successful in self publishing and others who have failed. For now I am going to stick with commercial publishing because I feel I’m not business-savvy enough to handle it alone and I’d like the commercial support.

  • Jenny March 23, 2011, 6:31 pm

    As a writer who has been thiiiis close to a deal for a very long time now, and is thus considering both options–continuing to seek that offer from the majors, putting something out there in an alternate way–I appreciate hearing your balanced approach. It may take a Joe Konrath to get the ball rolling, but it’s nice to hear that both worlds may coexist quite smartly–and happily.

  • Peter Turner March 24, 2011, 2:19 am

    Great post. Thank you. My big concern is the sheer number of self-published p- and e-Books will make discovery for any particular author very, very tough. That’s not to say there won’t be stars who get big sales but–let’s be serious–there is only so much content that people can read, much less pay for. The new reality makes distribution close to meaningless; but marketing is everything. So, platforms that can deliver readers for authors will be the new “coin” of the realm.

  • Anonymous March 24, 2011, 1:21 pm

    Love your points about putting the pitchforks down as well as emerging openmindedness. Perhaps I’m too optimistic (particularly as I have yet to be published) but I think the opportunity for good content is increasing not decreasing. As one of the comments points out, authors increasingly need to find their own readers and as you point out, authors are also publishers – with so many tasks on our plates we will need new support tools and services to be effective.

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:16 pm

    Hi Bob,
    Congrats on the guest post. Sounds very interesting.

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:16 pm

    There are so many great reasons to stick with traditional publishing for so many of us. Good for you, Brooklyn. Best of luck!

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:18 pm

    Thanks, Jenny. It’s up to us to keep the balanced perspective alive. Best of luck with your goals!

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:19 pm

    Thanks, Peter. I’ve said similar things in my works on platform-development for writers. But I like the way you said it here:
    “So, platforms that can deliver readers for authors will be the new “coin” of the realm.”
    Best of luck with your goals!
    🙂 Christina

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:22 pm

    Honestly, Mary, what I think most writers overlook is not tools or services, but taking the time to clarify and launch a thoughtful mission. I wrote about this in Get Known but I think another good book on the topic that I’ve read recently is “The Art of Nonconformity.” I am late to the party reading it, but there was some good common sense in there for anyone gearing up to build a platform.
    Best of luck with your goals!

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:31 pm

    Sorry it took me so long to approve this comment, Porter!

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:37 pm

    Mission! You are bang on. Used to tell this to my consulting clients before I got into the writing business. I written several posts on being an author entrepreneur and one of them is Sound Investors Require a Business Plan. Central to a business plan is mission/vision/purpose and understanding the things that will differentiate you in the market.
    I have one of your books, by the way, Get Known before the Book Deal. Great ideas which I am trying to think my way through.

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 3:37 pm

    I wanted to add a couple of thoughts to this post:

    First, Guy LeCharles Gonzales is a terrific resource. Follow his blog here: http://loudpoet.com/

    You can follow both of Jane Friedman’s blogs: http://janefriedman.com/ & http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/

    Finally, I was really dismayed by some of the digressions in the Konrath/Eisler dialogue (beer? rape? derogatory comments by Joe about sex with his wife???)

    You are kidding me, right?

    And the only thing I can say is I am bordering on zero-tolerance for sexism, violence and misogyny online. As in steering clear off it and all of for good.

    And if that means I am no longer a supporter of Joe Konrath, then let the chips fall where they may. He sure doesn’t seem to give a rip.

  • Courtney Cantrell March 26, 2011, 4:49 am

    Thanks for the great thoughts and info, Christina. As an about-to-be self-published writer, I find the trend toward indie and self-publishing indescribably empowering. But then I read that someone like Amanda Hocking is going both the self- and the traditionally pubbed route, and it reminds me that one of the best aspects of the Information Age is the freedom to go whichever direction is right for us writers at any given time.

    And really, that’s what it’s about for me: Discovering the freedom to explore every aspect of the publishing world, without the fear of torches and pitchforks. That freedom is becoming more and more tangible, and it’s really a blessing. 🙂