Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Publishing Myths

by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Publishing is a changing world and it stands to reason that writers and publishers who are adaptable have a much better shot at survival than those who aren’t.

But how should writers and publishers adapt? One way, I think, is by realizing there are industry myths that might cause them to make poor choices. The danger is in not digging deeper for information and simply adopting these beliefs (some of which may have varying degrees of truth) as complete truths…and then being disappointed in the results later.

Indie publishing myths:

Online, I frequently find the fervent belief that indie publishing is the savior for those who haven’t been able to break into traditional publishing. Among writers pursuing e-publishing, I’ve noticed some misconceptions.

Myths that authors cling to that may make them choose indie publishing:

I will get rich with e-publishing. Even some formerly traditionally-published writers who decided to publish an ebook have run into problems or have found their books haven’t taken off the way they’ve hoped. As writer James Maxey put it in his post, Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing :

It’s easy to talk about success. But the thousands of writers who self-pub their ebooks and sell less than 4 copies a month… they aren’t blogging about their failure.

Most readers have e-readers. Although they’re experiencing huge growth, e-readers are still working on making the inroads to younger readers that they have for middle aged to older readers. Bottom line is that by publishing straight to e-reader, you are cutting out some of your potential audience.

Artistic integrity trumps editing. Editing is incredibly important. You can either use a gifted friend or an independent editor but it’s important to have your manuscript checked for mechanical problems like typos and grammatical errors, as well as global problems (characters that act out of character, POV problems, plot problems, continuity errors, etc.) You’re not compromising your art by having it looked at critically—you’re opening it up to improvement.
Traditional publishing myths:

There are also writers who won’t even consider going the e-publishing route. It seems to be the learning curve for digital publishing that’s the biggest turn-off. Among these writers I’ve also noticed different misconceptions.

Myths that authors may cling to that may make them seek out traditional publishing:

Publishers take care of promotion. This is definitely not a reason to seek out a traditional publisher. Although traditional publishers will submit review copies to trade publications (and some may even have a list of book bloggers they send copies to), the promotion pretty much stops at that point. Publishers expect writers to set up their own book tours (if they go on one at all); buy their own bookmarks, business cards, and postcards; and set up their own interviews.

Publishers will fix all my manuscript’s editing errors for me for free. If your copy isn’t pretty clean to begin with, you won’t even make it that far. Editing costs a publisher time, which is money. Most houses won’t want to spend excessive amounts of time editing a manuscript that’s in terrible shape, even if the story is good.

Being published makes an author well-known. Readers, entering a bookstore, are faced with thousands of books. Barnes and Noble, in an average 25,000 square feet of retail space, shelves up to 200,000 titles in a store. Readers, clearly, won’t know who all those writers are—most remain fairly unknown.

Publishers’ myths:
Writers aren’t the only ones who believe industry-related myths. Publishers do, too. Unless publishers eschew these myths and adapt to 21st century challenges, they’re cutting themselves out of potential sales and readers.

Myths that publishers cling to that could cut them out of readers or income:

Readers will shell out as much money (or nearly as much money) for an ebook as they will the hardcover new release. I think most publishers have found that reader expectations for ebook prices are that they should be much lower than print releases. Publishers who ignore this pricing expectation will be cutting themselves out of some serious sales.

Traditional marketing works better than online methods. Although many publishers seem to feel that they’re doing enough to connect to potential readers via trade magazine reviews and bookstore placement, the reality is that more readers are looking at book blogger reviews, word of mouth on social media like Facebook and Twitter, and Amazon-esque algorithms (“if you like this, we recommend this”) when purchasing books.

The industry needs gatekeepers. In the e-reading world, readers will make the decisions about what’s readable and worthy of the purchase price. This does mean there will be a large pool of unedited or poorly-crafted stories available, but readers will likely cut through most of those and choose good stories for a good price (likely gravitating to books that have high download rates).

Libraries and ebooks don’t mix. Publishers seem concerned about losing out on ebook sales by allowing libraries to lend their titles. Recently, when Harper Collins put a 26 loan cap on library ebook circulations, they heard back from the reading public in droves. The fact is, the public library is one of the best places to foster new readers. Many readers, as they pointed out to the publisher, will take a chance on a new author or new series when they can try it for free at the library first. Once they find they like the book, then they become future buyers for that writer’s new releases.

What do you see as popular misconceptions in publishing today that might cause publishers and writers to make poor choices? What’s your opinion on how writers or publishers should adapt to modern challenges?

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), and the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. Her next book, Finger Lickin’ Dead releases June 7, 2011. You can find her on Twitter as @elizabethscraig.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011. (Or sign up to be notified of its release on Amazon.com)


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