Friday, February 18, 2011

The End Has No End

So, we’ve covered the “revolution,” the chains, and the new mindset agents, authors and editors should be looking to adopt as digital products take the stage. What does it mean, practically, for authors and their representatives?

It means doing more than writing a book, unfortunately. Agents frequently say to their authors “You write the book. Leave the rest to me.” That’s partly truth and partly left over from when publishers shouldered the brunt of publication, including promotion and marketing. Stuff that now falls almost completely to the agents and authors—both have had to diversify from “selling the book” or just “writing the book.”

Consider digital the next wave of responsibility reverting to the agents and authors. We’ve learned to get online, create buzz, and keep selling the book after it’s “sold” in the traditional sense of an agent’s job. That’s largely back-end stuff, post-pub. Now we have to add some front-end stuff. We’ve got to think about the book plus, the PPP, from the get-go.

That doesn’t mean that authors come in with set-in-stone demands on the digital avenues they want to take, any more than they should come in having designed their own cover. But it means giving apps, etc thought. Ideas. Having started a blog. Even fiction authors should have an eye toward platform.

I’ve heard people say that the migration of responsibility from publisher back to author is “unfair.” Like we should hate publishers because they don’t send all authors out on book tours like they did in the Golden Days. And where did all the scotch and cigars go?!

That’s ridiculous. Not only have challenges facing publishers changed, but the way books are sold have too. Book tours? Not the best way to make $$ on books (but that’s another blog post). Marketing and promotion are now grassroots—getting the word out online has to have a voice. The author’s voice.

Authors can’t just “be artistes” anymore, just like agents have to find time to act as publicists (among other things). Your first job is to write the book, but your job doesn’t end once you type “fin” and land an agent. Not by a long shot. Bummer, because most authors have full-time lives outside of writing. But these days embarking on the publication journey means being willing and able to take on the front- and back-end responsibilities. They’re no longer optional.

Thanks for following the series, everyone. You’ve all made great points and asked great questions in the comments—those have become fodder for future discussions.

18 comments:

max said...

But don't forget to exercise regularly too. It's important.

(Mostly because the entire publishing world has been overrun by vampires, zombies, and other bitey critters.)

If you can't outrun your fellow authors, you will be eaten first.

Maxwell Cynn said...

When writers take on all the new responsibilities of researching markets, promoting, and selling their work, where does that leave publishers? As printers? It's easy these days to publish your work - electronic and print. So why do we still need publishers? There are self pubs hitting the bestseller lists. Maybe you should write a series on why we should still care about NY publishers.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'd love to build a time machine just to see how Hemingway would handle Twitter and a blog.

:-P

Monica said...

You down with P.P.P.? Yeah, you know me.

Elizabeth May said...

This is a great post, Meredith. I think along with knowing the ins and outs of networking is also how to do this EFFECTIVELY, in a way that sells books to readers without directly asking them to buy.

I've seen many talented authors who have Twitter accounts, blogs, and Facebook accounts, but these are pointless if an author doesn't know how to translate what they say on networking accounts into book sales. Some authors I know let their accounts languish, or only post book reviews/writing updates.

I don't know about everyone else, but I love when writers are witty and accessible via their networking sites. I'll buy for that reason.

So yes, I'd say having networking sites is important. And I think writers get that, but not all of them necessarily know how to maintain them. So if authors are going to be more encouraged by publishers to have them, they need to learn how to use them in a way that appeals to readers.

Livia said...

I'm so glad you're writing about these things, Meridith. We need more agents talking about the new world of publishing. I do think Maxwell has a point here. As more of the responsibility for selling moves to authors, and as the market goes more digital, publishers will be harder pressed to prove their value to authors. Don't get me wrong -- as a young writer, I dearly hope to be able to put out a book with a full editorial team of professionals behind it. I still have much to learn about craft and career, and I would love to have the guidance of an agent and editor. On the other hand, 45% royalty for the duration of copyright (that's the diff between a 70% self publishing percentage vs. 25% traditional royalty), is a high financial price to pay for that support structure. And if publishers no longer help with selling the book, well, you can see why going indie can be tempting.

Nikki said...

Meredith - thanks for this series! I'm looking forward to the future discussions, too, even though the thought of creating buzz makes my teeth hurt.
;)

Jordan Summers said...

I think you have a lot of valid points. Writers and agents have had to take on many more responsibilities over the years. I'd say starting about five to seven years ago. The responsibilities are nothing new. What has changed is the writer's ability to get distributed. That was the one thing that NY publishing had that writers couldn't access. The digital world has changed that--thank goodness. I agree with Maxwell. I'm not anti-NY publishing. I have multiple books published out of N.Y. I want them to survive, just like I want bookstores to survive. The question I think publishers need to ask is 'What do they have to offer that an agented writer can't get for themselves'?

Nathalie said...

It's funny how a writer puts blood, sweat and tears into a story, tolls away the wee hours of the morning to sneak in some quality 'alone' time to write and spends all-nighters trying to finish that darn scene that keeps nagging at your muse only to finally finish and think the hard work is over.

It seems the hard work has only begun. Yet, whereas the writing was a labour of love, I would think the marketing and promotion of the result of said labour would be the icing on the cake, as hard and difficult as it may be.

Great post with great insight into the post-agent/publisher realm!

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Even though I don’t have an agent, I’m still an advocate for having someone who knows the publishing industry to guide me through the complexities of becoming a published author. But I’m also becoming increasingly aware that I can do, with some time management, patience, and education, what an agent does. I think a shark’s circling me. Do I want to? I think that’s the question writers should be asking themselves. It’s obvious that ebooks will continue to outsell print books, and there are already established pathways of distribution writers can use. I don’t believe self-publishing will have the stigma attached to it once big publishers and the media relinquish control of best seller lists. We’re already seeing self-published authors pressuring those lists. Can a newbie do it? Why not? If the agency model changes, and offers editing, formatting, marketing, and publicity services, training and support, what’s an appropriate and ethical fee for this service? A writer can pay a flat fee for all these services, or continue to pay an agent for a lifetime. Ebooks make a book forever. If writers are comfortable building a platform, willing and able to, research, acquire, and pay for (or learn) editing, formatting, and everything else, how will agents and publishers sell themselves to writers in the digital age of publishing? I’ve noticed that there are some questions that writers shy away from in blog comments, but I can’t be the only one thinking about this. I also think that to build an online platform we have to be honest and not politicians.
Janet is an online mentor, and I love the reef, so by default ;) I love you too. Janet’s branded herself well and is a good example for all of us to emulate. She’s generous on query shark, entertaining on her blog, professional, and a real person. Writers shouldn’t shy away from social media. All we have to do is be ourselves and don’t hard sell. Don’t do the things that annoy us online. Thanks for the series. See you somewhere in the world one day :) Kristin Kathryn Rusche has some good articles about this.

Meredith Barnes said...

Everyone, great thoughts!! A series on NYC publishers would be a great one. Consider it on the list.

I will say, briefly, that publishers add A LOT of value, and not just the ones in NYC. It's just that NYC publishers have been doing it longest. They offer prestige (not to be scoffed at) because they turn out quality books--as far as layout, design, and editing.

Things are changing, but publishers aren't out of the game yet. They certainly have some competition though! (And we're America; we LOVE that.)

Super D said...

A prize, for end has no end? like the song from The Strokes? (or is it a horrible line from one of those Big Momma's house movies)

Maxwell Cynn said...

Thanks for the great series, Meredith. I'd love to read the one on publishers, sooner rather than later. From what I hear the value added by publishers is shrinking and the demand for rights is increasing. It's not a good combination. As some have said, many sevices, including profesional design and edit, can be aquired ala carte and the better POD services put out excellent products. So the reasons for chasing big publishing is declining. I'm on the fence at this point as to continuing the quest for NY publishing or striking out on the Indie path.

sprunty said...

As with all businesses, the ones who don't continue to move forward will die.

Thanks for the great information. The time and thought is appreciated.

Debra L. Schubert said...

I'm grateful my background is in marketing. I look forward to the "post" sale activities.

David said...

There may come a day when many publishers go the way of Borders. There will be reciprocity, somehow, as publishers have earned a certain amount of karma for the way they're unfairly leaning on digital book sales.

More writers will have leverage, because it costs so little to epublish. But another problem, which is more important, is that it's also too easy to epublish--and the market will soon be flooded with crap.

It's already hard enough to find great books that are wonderfully written. I'm afraid that John and Jane Q Public won't be able to wade through the swamp of deplorable ebooks unless a system is instituted that ensures some quality.

We have to protect the readers, too. That was one of the biggest jobs of publishers. Filtering out the crap. Not that they've done the best job of it lately. But the mass of books would be even worse if there were no filter at all.

Imagine a world of high school creative writing classes epubbing their class projects and posting them next to your piece that took you 4 years to finish.

Yeah, cream rises to the top, but the future of epublishing may obscure that cream with too many speckled cow turds.

Then there will be hardly any achievement in writing a "novel" anymore, as Nanowrimo has made painfully clear.

There are "novels" and then there are novels. Yeah... air quotes still work. (And they will be around longer than this fad. of. excessive. pauses.)

Scott Clark said...

As I read these posts, I can't help be mention that getting out among the masses, your fans, via many varying types of trade-shows, becomes a large part of the enjoyment.

Yes, I've spent years honing my novel. I've spent many more creating the world in which the story takes place. But the beauty comes when we come face to face with the public. We get to answer questions about our stories. We get to re-embrace that which we have loved and will continue to love for years after.

Yes... it would be great if we got to "Just write our Novels," but this is no longer the case. We must take active participation in our success. Doing so, we meet more new and interesting people along the way. I believe the key is to think outside of the box, on this, and truly and compassionately engage your audience.

http://www.scottclarkvision.com/

Scott Clark said...

As I read these posts, I can't help be mention that getting out among the masses, your fans, via many varying types of trade-shows, becomes a large part of the enjoyment.

Yes, I've spent years honing my novel. I've spent many more creating the world in which the story takes place. But the beauty comes when we come face to face with the public. We get to answer questions about our stories. We get to re-embrace that which we have loved and will continue to love for years after.

Yes... it would be great if we got to "Just write our Novels," but this is no longer the case. We must take active participation in our success. Doing so, we meet more new and interesting people along the way. I believe the key is to think outside of the box, on this, and truly and compassionately engage your audience.

http://www.scottclarkvision.com/

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