James JosephWriting can be difficult and it can be fun. Here, I can write about anything that comes to mind, modern or ancient. I hope you'll join in with your comments.

July 30, 2009

Are Publishers Really the Best Judge of Books?

The latest trends in publishing indicate that both major and small press publishers severely limit the quality and variety of newly published books coming to market. Granted, a large percentage of self-published books are of very poor quality, and often unreadable. But many best selling books are not exactly of the highest caliber.

For a new writer to break into the fiction market, they need to have different talents than authors of the past. They need to have television presence. They need to be comfortable with public speaking. And, they’re generally required to make book tours. Due to the expanding influence of television on the publishing industry, an author must be ready to interview on Oprah or one of the morning shows. The problem with this is some of the best authors are introverts.

In the past, that was completely acceptable. But now, if you’re not a highly animated extrovert, you’re unlikely to get off the “maybe list”. 

New writers are encouraged to write mini-novels, or to write what the publisher in their area of interest likes to publish. I know an author who writes romance novels in unique historic settings of 13th century Europe. She writes one every year, and has gained a following. But her royalties fetch her somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 – $4,000 each year. It doesn’t seem likely that she’ll make a good living as an author.

The fact is, the vast majority of authors make next to nothing. We all hear of the highly paid authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham and a handful of others. I’m very glad someone in the modern era is being recognized for their literary contributions. But there aren’t many. Most people can’t even name 10 authors of fiction from this century. Most professional sports figures earn substantially more than writers. Most professional actors make more than authors.

Imagine that! People who throw a ball a certain way are much more highly valued that a writer who can spin a 50,000 word tale. People who act like other people – characters that are most often contrived by writers – are revered on the screen, and receive some of the most lucrative contracts in the world. People who drive cars around in circles racing other drivers are more highly valued than writers.

It’s not all about money, but as you can see, the modern publishing conglomerates have not done a very good job of promoting authors, creativity, and interest in the writing field. It is a labor of love, and the vast majority of aspiring writers will never get beyond the “starving artist” stage. There is hope, though. With the advent of print-on-demand, it has become affordable for authors to publish their own works. And with the internet, authors have also gained a new, more affordable marketing avenue.

June 1, 2009

New Fiction Will Be Dominated By The Internet

The internet has had a phenomenal impact on publishing houses. Most people already realize that many newspapers are struggling and converting to online news centers. Likewise, magazines are becoming more expensive, and losing circulation as they’re replaced by web-based counterparts. For these two venues, the cause is related to advertising revenue.  For publishing houses, the problem is related to marketing avenues, choice, and control.

Knowing how publishing companies work (or, have had to work in order to succeed) is key to understanding their “devaluation” in the internet age. Typically, major publishers do not publish fiction that falls outside of mainstream genres. They prefer romance, mysteries, historical novels, science fiction, fantasy, detective and a few other very limited categories. In fiction, publishing companies do not necessarily choose their authors and books for originality, or even the quality of the writing. They choose fiction based on how well it fits into their marketing programs.

For instance, science fiction must fit into a certain formula that appeals to a small but predictable audience. These novels must get good reviews in a number of sci-fi magazines in order to sell at a profitable level. This is due to the way business works. In literature, there’s a reversal of value from concept to sale. To demonstrate this, the author who comes up with the concept and writes the entire novel gets the smallest share. Next, the publishing company that edits the novel, lays it out, creates the bookcover, pays for the printing, and markets the new novel, gets a larger share. Next, the distributors that send the books out to retailers get a very sizable share. And the largest share in the sale of any book? That goes to the store that puts it on their shelf and sells it.

As you can see, the books you end up with are those that have a marketing and sales avenue from beginning to end. As a reader of fiction, you end up with an endless stream of the same stories told in different styles with different characters. Readers have to wait for mutations and fiction-evolution to slowly get new material.

Consider the murder mystery novel. Most of us would be shocked if a murder occured within our own personal circle. Yet, we expect a murder and solution as to how it was conceived or hidden in one of these novels as part of the entertainment. At one time, this was shocking and new in the publishing world. That was way back in time, when quality writing and originality were of great value. But now, it’s a form of entertainment, because a marketing avenue was developed.

It does seem quite strange as to how it would become normal for a human being to read stories about murders, and buy them on a regular basis. And, it’s not just the novel. It goes on to movie and television rights. Many of the most popular television shows revolve around murder and deception. If you think about it, it’s very similar to what most would consider the very gruesome and barbaric “games” played out in the Colliseum during the height of the Roman Empire.

The internet is now having it’s way with Publishers in the same way it has with Newsprint and Magazines. It’s changing everything. It’s eroding the heirarchy. Authors can now have their own books printed … one at a time … no high upfront costs, no waste. They can hire an internet marketing firm on a very reasonable budget. Or, they can market their book themselves. And, they can sell their books from their own web site. Indefinitely. Most large publishers will mothball a book if it doesn’t succeed in the first year.

It seems we’re coming to a time when authors will most often become their own publishing company. Consider that most publishing companies are not interested in what the author writes best unless it fits neatly into their marketing program. Consider that a first time author must limit the size of their first novel, whether it fits their style or not. Consider that all the things a publishing house used to do can now be done by the author, with less money up front, and practically no overhead. My guess is that the publishing industry is extremely vulnerable right now. And, readers are in a position where they’ll have an infinite selection of fiction, but no guarantee of quality. But, we’ve lost that anyway.

It is the authors who rise to the top on their own that will truly make it in the coming years. In the near future, publishers will become obsolete, and broken down into specialists. Internet rights will become more important than book, television and movie rights as we move into an age where just about all of these mediums will be controlled by your computer. Good or bad, big changes are coming, and most are already in motion.

May 7, 2009

The Last Minute Book Title

Filed under: Book Publishing — Tags: , , , — Jim @ 12:59 pm

Shadow of the Serpent/A Coyote Moon Story is far from the original title of this book. Very far. The actual title I planned for this book was The Ancient Parable. I can’t be certain, but I think it would have worked much better. Many people who’ve read this book have told me the title actually put them off, but they read it anyway at the insistence of a family member or friend. They were generally surprised that they really liked the story.

Prior to publishing it, I was told that “The Ancient Parable” seemed a bit pretentious, and perhaps I should choose another title. To me, it’s exactly what the book was about, but who was I to say? What did I know about publishing, or the daunting task of trying to market fiction. The book was praised and rejected by many prominent publishers because it was too long for a first novel, and didn’t fit neatly into a genre. But, as an author, I write what I write, not something that fits neatly into a marketing scheme.

So, The Ancient Parable became “A Coyote Moon Story”, and I revised some of the book to reflect the new title. 3 weeks prior to publication, while it was still in print production, another new book came out with the title “Coyote Moon”, and coincidentally, it was released in Maine, the same state where we’d be releasing “A Coyote Moon Story”. It became apparent that the two books could easily become confused, so I had to change it again.

With some effort, I came up with “Shadow of the Serpent”. In many ways, it was in line with several of the themes laced throughout the story, so it seemed appropriate. However, it also presented as a very dark fantasy, and in some scenes, that was true. But all of the fantasy related elements are actually allegorical. It was perfect for teenagers who relish adventure, and it provided a whole different level for more advanced readers.

I believe most people who saw the book kept away due to the title. And, I think the original title would have been a much wiser choice. If I had it to do over again, I’d go with “The Ancient Parable”. If you’ve read Shadow of the Serpent, I’d like to hear your opinion.

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