In round numbers, five hundred years ago the world witnessed the invention of the printing press, changing the way people communicated. This innovation (along with advances in shipbuilding) ushered in the modern era. There’s a definite connection between the printing press and modernity.
Though the technology of printing has advanced greatly in the intervening five centuries, the modern publishing industry has changed little.
Currently, the modern era is yielding to the postmodern era. One of the chief catalysts of this transition is the Internet. The Internet is to postmodernity as the printing press was to modernity.
The Publishing Industry In the Postmodern Era
With this transition, the publishing industry is undergoing dramatic changes, a transformation that literally happens once every half a millennium. However, the postmodern era and the Internet that facilitated it, does not portend the end of publishing but merely its rebirth.
The publishing industry of tomorrow will have little semblance with its predecessor from yesteryear. It will emerge newer, better, and more exciting—for all who are willing to embrace change and hang on for a wild transition.
I’m not sure who said it first, but I’m not the first to say that “traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing.”
As writers struggle with the quandary over self-publishing or traditional publishing, many cling to traditional publishing as the preferred solution merely because they see it as validating their work. In their minds, finding a traditional publisher is an endorsement from the corporate world. This would affirm their book’s viability and ensuring it’s quality.
This might be a legitimate perspective. However, it could also be a form of vanity. This is especially if self-publishing has the potential to bring in more revenue for the author.
The old vanity publishing versus the new
At one time, vanity publishing meant paying someone to produce a book that no one was willing to publish. This was because it was either poorly written or possessed limited commercial value.
Now the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme. Vanity publishing is insisting someone produce your book merely to satisfy your ego or attain affirmation.
Whichever side of the traditional versus self-publishing dilemma you select, make sure you pick the right solution for the right reason. It should be based on what’s best for you, your book, and your future, not to appease your ego or out of vanity—there’s no future in that.
Now is a great time to publish a book and don’t let anyone tell you differently
What is your perception of the future of books? Is interest in increasing, maintaining, or shrinking? The media would have us believe the end is near, at least as far as the book business, especially print books, is concerned.
Eighteen to 29-year olds buy the most books, but those 30 to 44 are right behind them.
When combining age ranges, those 13 to 17, 18 to 29, and 30 to 44 buy more books collectively than those 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and over 65.
People over 65 buy the least number of books. I would have suspected the opposite, but I would have been wrong,
So, younger people are buying more books than older people. Who would have guessed?
Given this, there is much for writers and publishers of books to be excited about, despite the media’s dire pronouncements to the contrary—and if this trend continues, the future of books will be even brighter still.
So now is a great time to write and publish a book. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The future of books is looking up.
Will book publishing follow the path of the music and movie industries?
When people look at the future of book publishing they often draw parallels to music and video. In many ways this is instructive, but not in all cases. What does the future hold for digital books?
Digital Music and Video
Look at the history of music. With music, there were 78-rpm records, cassettes, 8 tracks, vinyl records, CD, and iTunes/iPods.
Next, consider the progression of the video. With video, there were Beta tapes, VHS tapes, video disks, DVD, and Blue Ray.
Music and video both show a user progression of format and consumption to the digital realm. One might conclude, therefore, that printed word will give way to the digital world that print books will cede to digital books, be it e-books or audio.
I don’t see that happening, at least not completely.
To say that e-readers will completely replace printed books is like saying iTunes will replace concerts or Blu-Ray will replace theater. It’s not going to happen.
True, e-readers may one day dominate the reading public’s preference, but just as there will always be demand for concerts and theater, so too for the printed word. The key for authors and publishers is to embrace both options, not pick sides.
For magazine publishers, there’s a lot of hype and excitement about reading magazines and books electronically. All variety of statistics are being bandied about to support the deluge of digital. Studies are being conducted and consultants are consulting. There is euphoria over electronic reading.
But is it warranted? While digital reading is a tantalizing development and may someday change the way people interact with the written word, that day is not yet here. Consider some stats that I have stumbled upon from the magazine industry:
One magazine found that 75 percent of readers would not give up their print magazine. That means, the magazine can’t risk going fully digital.
A survey of magazine publishers over the performance of their digital editions found that 38% were “somewhat dissatisfied” and 22% were “extremely dissatisfied.” That means that among publishers, a full 60% are not happy with digital.
In another study, 61.5% of magazine publishers aren’t even sure how they can generate enough revenue to cover the costs of digital.
So, based on these stats, the majority of readers don’t want to read digitally, the majority of publishers are not happy with digital, and the majority of publishers don’t even know how they can financially support digital.
Going digital may be exciting, but the numbers are not behind it and the masses don’t support it—at this time.
Several years ago, I received a telemarketing call from a well-known self-publishing operation, a division of a well-known traditional publisher. She wanted to talk about book publishing.
Although unwelcomed, the interruption didn’t surprise me, because a few years ago I had contacted them. Their business model intrigued me, but I dismissed them when I stumbled on a poorly produced book with their imprint inside.
At the time I was pursuing a traditional publishing deal and told the rep so. Not deterred, she keyed in on my excuse, telling me why my book publishing strategy was wrong. She spewed forth a well-honed tutorial of why I needed to self-publish my books first. I won’t claim she lied to me, but mixed in with the truth were some half-truths and over-simplifications.
It’s harder than ever to land a traditional publishing contract. (True)
Traditional publishers won’t even look at your book, but they will instead rely on a one-page query. (Over-simplification: If your query grabs their attention, they’ll ask for a proposal, which could lead to them looking at your book. But most likely they’ll only consider your query letter.)
Traditional publishers want you to self-publish first. (Half-truth: If your self-pub book is a breakaway hit, then you’re in a great position to sign a book deal. If you have a well-written, carefully edited, and appropriately laid out self-pub book, they’ll have less work to do should they decide to publish it—but they may also wonder if you’ve already made all the sales you’re going to make.)
She guaranteed their parent company would look at my book if I self-pub with them. (Over-simplification: What they will likely look at is sales numbers of my book, not the book itself. Once a certain threshold is reached then someone may actually look at my writing, but not until then. Of course, I’m speculating on this, but it’s not practical for them to give every self-pub book full consideration.)
The book publishing industry changes continually and fast. What was true last month may not hold true next month. We must be in a continual learning mode, but as we consider new information, we must exercise discernment, because we can’t believe everything we hear.
In Guy Kawasaki’s new book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, he advances the term “artisanal publishing” as a new way of looking at self-publishing. The vanity publishing of yesteryear can be smartly rejuvenated with a fresh perspective of artistry, hence the concept of artisanal book publishing.
As the distinction between traditional publishing versus self-publishing fade, the evolving consideration morphs into mass-produced book publishing versus artisanal publishing. After all, who are writers, if not artists? So why not extend artistry to the production and dissemination of their work?
The concept of artisanal publishing opens new doors and opportunities for innovative writers who seek to share their writing with others. Authors should begin to think like an artist and publish books like an artist.
An anthology is a collection of selected writings by various authors. It seems anthologies are popular. Why is that?
Readers Enjoy Bite-Sized Passages in Anthologies
Anthologies focus on a theme, but within that subject, each author’s work is usually independent of the other contributors. Each chapter or section contains an autonomous thought. There’s no storyline to remember and no lesson builds throughout the book. Readers can read an anthology as their schedule allows without concern over continuity, can skip chapters without consequence, and can read sections in a random order. Reading an anthology fits the lifestyle and preference of many of today’s readers.
Anthology Writers Share the Workload
Each writer’s contribution to an anthology is minimal; it’s quick to write and easy to manage. While a book may take a single author months or even years to complete, anthologies come together quickly, with the content assembled in a few weeks. Writing for an anthology benefits writers, with less work required, a quicker result, and a published work to add to their resume.
Anthologies Minimize Publisher Risk
Publishers like anthologies because each of the contributors will promote the book, sell the book, and buy the book. For example, assume an anthology has twenty contributors and each author facilitates the sale of 200 books through their personal network of contacts. That means 4,000 in total sales. With the majority of published books selling only a few hundred copies, several thousand is a good outcome. It doesn’t make the publisher rich, but they won’t lose money on the deal, either.
With anthologies offering benefits to readers, writers, and publishers, we can expect to see more of these compilations in the future.
Failing to stay current on writing trends hurts writers and lessens their work
It seems everything I learned in school about writing was wrong. Okay, that’s an overstatement. But many of the lessons I mastered in school no longer apply or are just plain wrong.
However, I don’t think my teachers were in error over their instruction. Instead, the conventions changed.
Unfortunately, too many writers assume they work within a set of incontrovertible writing rules. And they are offended when told otherwise.
1) Two spaces to end a sentence: I’ve witnessed the transition from using two spaces to one to end a sentence. It happened over the past ten to fifteen years. This rule harkens back to the typewriter. Now we use computers, or should, and one space rules. Only someone out of touch would space-space anymore. And if they do, their writing skill is judged as less than.
2) Five spaces to start a paragraph: I hesitate to include this obsolete rule, but a couple of years ago the submission requirements said I must start each paragraph with five spaces. I couldn’t believe it. The five-space rule goes back to the days of manual typewriters and before the invention of the tab key. Yes, I have seen such beasts, but they were already antiques when I was a teen.
3) Don’t start sentences with conjunction In school, we’d get marked down if we failed to follow this rule, but ten years ago a college professor gave me permission to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And sometimes it feels like the right thing to do.
4) Don’t end a sentence with a preposition: This was another rule drilled into me, which some people claim was never a rule in the first place. Rewriting those preposition-ending sentences resulted in some of the most awkward-sounding constructs. Yet, I still see writers do just that.
5) You must have at least three sentences per paragraph: I remember being taught that a paragraph should have five to eight sentences. The minimum was three: opening sentence, one sentence for the body of the paragraph, and the concluding sentence. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short.
One sentence, or even one word, is acceptable.
6) Always use complete sentences: Sometimes an incomplete sentence more effectively communicates than a complete one. Do you think?
7) Use semicolons to connect two closely connected sentences: When I learned this neat trick, I used it a lot; maybe I used it too much. Now my revered semicolon is fallen out of favor, and I understand some editors prohibit it; that’s so sad.
8) Add color to your writing by inserting adjectives and adverbs: Yes, my teachers encouraged me to beef up my writing with the frequent use of adverbs and adjectives. Nowadays we call this purple prose, and there’s no place for it anymore.
9) Don’t use said for a dialogue tag: “It’s boring and unimaginative to always write said after a bit of dialogue,” my teacher said. Then she passed out a sheet of creative alternatives. “Use these instead,” she interjected. Now the trend is back to using said, even though it’s repetitive.
10) Do not use contractions: I never figured out why we’d have contractions if we couldn’t use them. But my teachers prohibited them, even for dialogue. Once I avoided using a contraction to add emphasis to a sentence, but my editor said I sounded stilted.
There’s more, but these ten will get you started.
The point is that writing evolves as does most everything and if we’re to stay at the top of our writing game, we better evolve, too.Save