Ever since Amazon legitimized self-publishing, small publishing houses and Big Publishing have been reeling from the impact. Big Publishing's answer was to first discredit authors who took control of their careers, then sought to keep prices high on e-books so agents and publishers could continue to reap profits.
Small publishing continued as if nothing really changed. Indie houses have been ignored by book chains and small press authors are often barred from panels and signings at conferences and conventions. But, many small publishers embraced both trade paperback and e-book editions of their titles, finding room for both formats.
As acquisitions editor of a mid-sized publishing house, I'm experiencing a different dilemma. Authors now expect/demand that I somehow get their book out within three months of submission. Impatient, many pull their books before I even get a chance to read sample pages. There is a feeling that authors now have the upper hand in the book world and publishing has to dance to their tune and time frame.
In the past, an author HOPED that their query letter would be answered within three months. Tales of the bottomless slush pile and form rejection letters made the process harrowing. True, Big Publishing fed into this idea, dangling visions of advances and best seller lists only to dash hopes and careers against a wall guarded by agents and editors.
It was a cruel system. Beginning novelists were made to doubt their talent and often gave up too soon. What smaller publishers offered was hope and a shot. While Big Publishing grew too large to see authors as individuals, smaller houses with less staff invested not just time and money producing books but took an interest in the personal lives of their stable of authors.
But, small means just that. With Print On Demand technology, publishers don't need a large staff or huge office to churn out books. Overhead is kept low so books can be produced and sold cost effectively. In a tough economy, books become a luxury. Nobody in a smaller house is getting rich anytime soon. Just as penning a book is a labor of love, so is seeing that books get into print and into the author's hands.
With the power shift, authors know they are in control of their careers for the first time. I applaud this change. But, that doesn't mean my in box isn't still swamped with queries. I can't push my publisher to hand out contracts any faster. We can't expand our output of titles to accommodate everyone waiting in the wings. It's still takes about a year to go from query to publication.
The wall that ambitious authors hit now is one they never saw coming: promotion. With an onslaught of books on the market all vying for the few dollars people spend to read, success comes to the author who conquers marketing. Too many authors feel the hard part is behind them when they put their soul into satisfying their muse. They've invested their time writing, but not a cent of their money. Profit is suppose to flow to the writer. It's somebody else's job to actually sell the book.
Brass tacks: It costs about $200 to produce a book in paperback. That covers artwork, lay-out, editing, ARCs, printing and distribution. Much of the work is done via email so we work from our homes all across the country. It takes the sale of approximately 300 books before publishers begin to see a profit. Industry stats show that 82% of the books published don't sell more than 100 copies.
The odds are against publishers more than authors. The house operates in the red until the book starts to sell. There's no money in the budget to do individual promotion for each author. It's on the author, whether they indie published or self-published.
So, the new politics of publishing justifiably puts success squarely in the hands of authors. Marketing is on their shoulders too. Only those who show drive and initiative, not just talent, will see any profit from their efforts. Readers don't come cheap or easy and thousands of novelists are scrambling for the same dollars. The adage “He wins who wants it most” has never been more true than today.