Here’s a link to yet another idiot in love with the straight-line-projection, declaring that professional writers are doomed.
He makes the following assumptions:
- That 100% of people, given a choice between stealing something and paying for it, will steal it.
- That the shitbags who steal from torrent sites would have actually paid for the books had the torrents not been available.
- That quality has no virtue, and that no writer will be good enough to warrant the support of readers enthusiastic enough about their work to PAY them, rather than stealing from them.
- That publishers somehow PROTECT writers, and that left in the wild, no writers will be able to survive.
This article is generating some worried discussion on the How To Think Sideways Renegade Marketing board. (Members only, so no link).
Now read my counterargument.
Our objective HERE is to make sure good writers without publishers don’t get lost.
To do that, you:
- Write a story worth reading
- Price it at a price people with integrity will willingly pay
- Recommend other writers whose work is like yours.
- Get to know them, exchange site links, and promote each other’s work as well as your own.
- Interact personally with your readers.
- Thank them when they recommend you to other readers.
- Let them know they matter to you.
- Listen to what the people who LOVE your work have to say about it. (To hell with the ones who hate it—they’re not your market and you’ll kill your writing trying to satisfy them.)
Look. It’s always “the best of times, the worst of times.” If you figure out what really matters to you in life, decide on a plan of action to make it happen, and then act, for you it will be the best of times.
If you sit on your hands and bemoan the horrible state of publishing, you’ll live in the worst of times, and never get out.
Figure out who you want to be.
Figure out how you want to live.
Figure out what you want to write.
And then make it so with your effort, your determination, and your intelligence.
I could have let my career die any number of times when things were bad. Every series I ever wrote got cancelled prematurely. Having that happen ONCE has killed a lot of careers.
I found ways to remake myself, remake my writing, change genres, change from fiction to non-fiction. I have ALWAYS gotten paid. I have ALWAYS paid the bills (though sometimes it’s been scary).
And there’s always some dick-head saying from now one, no one will pay for whatever it is you do.
You know what?
There’s all sorts of free information on writing on the internet. Why are you paying to be here? (ED.: In my writing class.)
Because the information you pay for from recommended sources is better than the stuff that’s free.
Same with fiction. People will pay to read something good. The folks who just want “free” are willing to put up with a lot of crap. Let ’em have it.
The folks who steal wouldn’t have bought your work anyway. They’re thieves. They’re scum. They LIKE what they are. Screw ’em.
Be good enough to get paid, and the people worth dealing with will pay you.
And with that, you come full circle. This is why you’re here. To learn THAT.
And how do you know when you’re good enough to get paid?
When you put your work out there, and the first person pays you, then recommends you to one other reader.
This is not the end of publishing. This is the beginning of publishing the way it should be.
And some additional info. Most people have abandoned newspapers. But there are individuals making tens of thousands of dollars a month independently publishing single-topic newsletters.
Long-tail publishing will probably destroy the multi-million copy bestseller. But word of mouth works, folks, and if people like your work, they’ll tell friends. You can make a living by writing for your readers, LISTENING to them, and creating things that matter to both them and you.
Corporations that rely on manufacturing (like print book publishers) are going to have a hell of a time surviving.
In the wake of their passing, agile individuals have the opportunity to step up and make their own places. I’ve been doing this since 2006 now.
You can’t be lazy and succeed.
Oh dear, that article made me seethe. What a stupid, stupid man. What really stunned me was the insinuation that writers do it all for the money, and that if there was no money to be had then they would all stop writing. Please, get real.
Holly, thank you for this awesome response!! As I said to Debra Holland above, I am so tired of all the fear-mongering going on everywhere about everything. The way the media and talking heads spin it (it as in everything), we should just all give up and die.
You put things in perspective in your wonderful responses.
Wusses who like to throw up their hands and say the end is nigh – and the people who subscribe to their defeatist philosohpies – are simply giving themselves excuses not to try and are excusing their own failures by placing the blame “out there”. If there is nothing they can do, why try? Holly, thanks for the kick-ass response to the nilly nonsense and you keep on keeping on. I keep reading you – and yes, PAYING for it! Because you are exactly right in every point you make.
You are the one who keeps me writing Holly. Whenever I find an excuse to throw my first draft out the window because of everything that’s happening today you post something that pushes me back down and gets my fingers going on the keyboard.
It saddens me to see some people berate traditional books. I love holding a book in my hands, the feel of its papers’ texture and their musty smell that electronic books can never have are what keeps me going to bookstores. I KNOW that there are many others that feel the same, and thus whatever torrents are trying to do they will only get so far.
I fully agree! I could never own an electronic book. I love the course feeling of the paper between my fingers, digging furiously for my bookmark which has gotten lost somewhere on my bed, feeling the spine on my fingertips, picking it up and feeling its weight, and the feeling I get when I actually turn a page (not slide my finger) to find out what happens next. It’s wonderful feeling to hold a book, and not an iPad (although I do love the iPad. It’s so awesome.)
I often find myself coming here when I’ve hit a writing wall. When I can’t figure out how I’m going to get from here to there, I come here first, not to my dad, who was very close to being a grammar teacher.
I think the writer of that article doesn’t get books and authors. People will always want stories, no matter what form they are delivered in the future. Writing a book is hard work. Writing a GOOD book is even harder. I could see someone writing one or two for the joy of creativity and putting them up for free. But then he or she is going to need to be paid in some way before more are written. No money=no book.
I’m someone who’s definitely benefited by self-publishing. I had two agents try for 10 years to sell my sweet historical Western romances. The NY market for historical Western romance is small, and for sweet, meaning not sexy, romance, almost nil. It didn’t matter that the first book had won a prestigious award.
Therefore, my two books are hitting two niche markets ignored by New York and doing very well–almost 18,000 sold in four months and two days. I’ve recently self-published my Fantasy Romances (also without sex so they didn’t sell to NY.) So far sales are okay, not as strong as the Westerns, but still good for the beginning weeks.
There’s an interesting future in store for writers and readers. I look forward to seeing what’s going to come of it!
Wow, Debra! Thank you for sharing that – that really is happy news. I get so tired of all the fear-mongering going on in just about every topic right now!
Continuing good luck in your writing!
Thanks, Donna! I think this is the best time ever to be an author!
Great post. It just proves that speakers at big conferences can miss huge facts and spin spurious arguments as well as anyone.
What’s happening is that the digital evolution is changing the publishing business model. The entities to be hurt the most are the big publishing companies who have locked down the publishing world. Their response has been to “focus on the bestsellers,” as their defenders put it. Sell what they know works. But to most readers, that amounts to celebrity “authors” like Snookie and Justin Bieber, and to repackaging and rehashing of the same old crap.
Hollywood is going through the same thing: more retellings of the same old stories with dimishining returns.
The interesting stories, whether motion picture or book (whatever the medium may be) are not coming from the established big players anymore, but from independent producers and writers and singers and artists all around the world. So maybe they won’t make the big advances, but they won’t be producing for free, either.
No one works for free. The vast majority of writers work for far less than the glamourous advances that writers with connections to the New York and London publishers receive, but they make a living. Like you and me.
The music industry is a good example: MP3s and downloading are a problem for the big labels and the megastars like Metallica, but now iTunes and other sites are opening up opportunities for many other musicians. Eventually, the new publishing world will emerge.
Morrison ruined his argument in his introduction: the printing press did not destroy the Catholic Church. To the contrary: pretty quickly, the Church figured out how to use the new technology for its own purposes.
I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so maybe this is already covered. If it is, sorry.
I am not one of those people to buy a Kindle and download books, free or not. Once in a while, if I need to look something up, I’ll download a text file from Gutenberg.org, but it’s not to put on my Kindle or other reader, because I don’t have one. When I’m done, I delete it. It is unlikely I will ever have a reader, and it’s also very unlikely that I’ll ever sit and read an entire novel on a computer screen. I prefer books, and as long as there are writers worth reading (and there ARE), I will continue to buy books.
I think claiming you don’t own a Kindle and never intend to own one misses the point. A story is a story, no matter how you read it. The magic is in the words, not the delivery.
I sure hope professional writing doesn’t die out. That guy’s probably just a pessimist. 100% of people won’t choose stealing over paying. I know because I wouldn’t, and I count.
Good post, Holly.
So they think writers are just going to disappear like the dinosaur? While there are writers there will be books.Writers might like Kindle etc., but they also want to hold their babies in their arms. To display their hard work on the coffee table. Not all folk are techno savvie either, they like to buy books.
All this scaremongering claptrap out there is beginning to irritate. Yes there are changes, but I do not hear the death bell yet.
He’s farther off the deep end than that. He thinks writers are not going to be making any money off Kindle books, either.
Well, I have a friend who says “If you think it’s the end of the world, then it will be–for you. The rest of us will go on.” I guess we won’t be paying to read any more of his stuff.
As for other good writers, I’m all for paying for a well-crafted tale, in paperback or e-book.
I don’t buy into the article author’s view that we are about to witness the death of publishing. The idea that I will personally start to download free crap, just because it is free is ridiculous. I could do that now but I don’t.
But I am a little torn by the idea of a self publishing explosion. I love the idea that new authors can break into the market more easily if they are good enough and that authors I love will be able to write the books I enjoy without fighting their way through a publishers current market view or any previous death spiral numbers. The idea of being able to pick up a book for about half the current price is also very tempting.
But at the moment when I want a new book I go to the shop, browse through the shelves for 30 minutes to an hour. I read the backs, I read the first few pages, occasionally I read the last few ; -). I love the different smells and textures of the paper and the weight of a sparkling new hard back. It is a pleasant and enjoyable experience for me.
I have bought e-books before, but only when I know exactly what I want. I don’t think that browsing will be as easy or satisfying as in the store.
On the other hand, I do buy books on recommendation from certain people, Holly being one of them, without another thought. But like Pam, I am a little wary of internet reviews or recommendations. A couple of times while looking for an e-book I have been sidetracked into reading reviews, and for some reason started to read reviews of books that I had already read and enjoyed. The variation in the reviews was pretty amazing. People both loved and hated the works that I had enjoyed and everything seemed to have some 1 star reviews some 5 star and loads of other stuff in the middle which is not very helpful if you are trying to decide what to buy.
I know that the Holly/John Locke method involves recognising people with the same interests and tastes as you and listening to their reviews not just anyone who got into their head to post on Amazon, but that does require some serious effort and commitment to discover or form the relevant groups. I think it might be more of a time sink than the bi monthly hour in the book shop I currently spend. I wonder if I am too lazy to get involved with this at all? Am I too used to being the laid back spoon fed consumer to relish the challenge of discovering authors for myself?
My other thought is that if main stream publishing shrinks as predicted, I assume that the smaller sections of the stores, like my favoured Fantasy and Science Fiction section, will be the first to go, so there won’t be as much choice anyway.
Either way, I think I will miss the pleasant in store browsing experience if it does disappear.
I totally agree with you, hon. I would miss the experience of the bookstore. It isn’t JUST about the book, it is about the entire joy of searching and finding, and selecting that book. Picking up ones that look interesting, holding them, reading the beginning, a few bits here and there at random, and (sorry all) checking out the ending.
And, like you, the very thought of having to wade through the internet blogosphere morass in search of groups and sites whose recommendations will consistently steer me to worthwhile reads is gut-wrenching. A time hole I cannot currently afford to fill.
Nor has anyone (yet! I am still hoping dear Holly will one day explain this so I can understand and quit twitching over it, ha) explained to me how ANY such groups/sites can possibly assure that the truly talented newcomer isn’t going to be swallowed whole and lost in the sea of mediocrity. At least with traditional publishing I could find those no-name first-time no-real-publicity authors on the bookshelf next to some author I did know…and they had a good shot at my finding and possibly loving them.
How will I find them when the ‘shelf’ is gone and I can’t pick up their yet-to-be-discovered book and find I like their voice, their story, their characters? How tragic that would be.
Interesting post but aren’t you contributing to the thing this man desires; publicity? He is entitled to his view and in this fielfd there are lots of views but by highlighting his view you may even be helping it to come into being. There is a rule in sociological research that you cannot observe something without affecting it. By bringing this man’s views to wider attention you may even be contributing to some of them from coming true.
Having said all that, don’t worry, I think he’s wrong. In the end I don’t think you can beat good writing and you are contributing to making us all better writers. So keep up your good work and we’ll try to prove him wrong.
I’m going to quote Harlan Ellison on this.
If you see an opinion that is total bullshit, and it is offered by someone who is in a position to do damage with his opinion, you need to say his opinion is crap, and demonstrate WHY, to keep people you care about from throwing themselves off a cliff in despair.
I’m not looking at what he’s said and saying, “Gee, this is an interesting point of view.” I’m saying, “He’s a moron and he’s wrong, and here’s WHY.”
Since I make my living doing what he’s saying can’t be done, I have an informed opinion.
I agree 100%. After all we are humans. We adapt to change. That’s how we’ve survived. It’s in our nature to evolve. I recently got a recommendation from a friend about a book called THE HUNGER GAMES, the person who recommended it to me said it was very good. I thought, what the heck. I couldn’t put it down and I went on to purchase all three in the trilogy. I would probably not found that particular series for a long time on my own so word of mouth does work I’ve since told several other about the series. Check out dying for something new in discussions on amazon. I posted it a few months ago and I keep getting tons of suggestions.
Downloaded the “Kindle for PC” program from Amazon last week. One of the first ebooks I bought was “The Tyrannosaurus Prescription” by Isaac Asimov, a collection of 101 of his essays. In the introduction, Dr Asimov says “I don’t pretend that my view of the future is necessarily correct. In fact, if the misadventures of past futurists are any guide, my vision will prove laughably incorrect”.
If a brilliant man whose entire professional life was spent looking into the future could still doubt the accuracy of his vision, what makes Mr End Of Publishing think he can do better?
Dishonest people steal, honest people don’t. The dishonest will steal anything just because it is their nature. I am frequently prevented from buying books due to geographic restrictions. This makes me furious but I don’t then buy a pirated version, because then the author doesn’t get paid and it goes against my values. I could care less about the big publishers getting paid when they are the ones preventing me from buying. I much prefer it when authors self-publish or else publish with smaller houses who sell worldwide. I have found many great authors that way. As far as the big publishers go – if the ship is sinking why tie yourself to the rail?
Bottom line: writing is a business. For the entire industry to suddenly start giving away “free” product is like a farmer handing his crop out for free.
Does this clown understand free-market? Does he even know anything about the economy?
Yes, there will be “free” sites where writers of varying talent will have their works. There are some now who pay in issues of their works or just for the mention of your name on their site. They are handy but they are just a step toward real publishing where you get an advance and maybe even a contract.
Tell me, how would that work with a Hollywood script? Is Professor Know-it-all saying that Hollywood can have scripts for free without worrying about paying the writer?
Yeah, the WGA will be real happy about that.
This was just one of those wise-ass “experts” wanting to stir controversy. A tale told by a fool, full of sound and fury (and charts and statistics that are questionable at best) signifying nothing …
As for the “shit-bags” who use bit torrents: I’ve been shouting to the rooftops to anyone who would listen that the Copyright law has to adapt to this. Stealing a work is stealing a work. As far as I’m concerned, if a person is unaware that their work is on a site and that it’s being downloaded, regardless of the intent of the person downloading it, it’s theft! I’ve told friends who use bit torrent the previous statement and they seem to think I’m a loser for not taking advantage of “free” material.
As we say in Spanish “Oy vey, Mir!”
Absolutely. And it’s wonderful to see you again, Robert.
Holly, great post. I agree on many points, and what is more it has some good marketing tips for self-publishers in it. I blogged about that very fact, and I am going to spread the link around. After that, I’ll give the article you are responding to a looksee, just for kicks 🙂
Way to stick to your guns, Holly! I myself, would rather pay for a good product than a cheap free ripoff. Take the Yugo for example, A cheap car cheaply made…see any of them around lately? The same will happen to badly written stories, word will get around on how bad they are and (almost) nobody will read them.
You keep writing them, I will keep buying them.
I find this bit an oversimplification though:
“That the shitbags who steal from torrent sites would have actually paid for the books had the torrents not been available. […]
The folks who steal wouldn’t have bought your work anyway. They’re thieves. They’re scum. They LIKE what they are. Screw ‘em.”
In my experience there’s a lot of “thieves” out there who are just people who aren’t willing to shell out their hard-earned money for crap. They’ll use bittorrent sites to try something, and if it’s good they’ll go out and buy a copy to support the artist. In some ways they’re using the sites as a more convenient and comprehensive version of the local library.
You do, of course, get people sampling a product who don’t have the money right now to buy it – just as they would from a library. And you’re quite right that these people aren’t a “lost sale” because they wouldn’t have bought it anyway (although if it’s really good there’s always the possibility they’ll buy a copy when they have the money).
Mostly it seems to represent a shift of onus to the artist. People will continue to pay for products – but only if they’re good enough to merit paying for.
P.S. I doubt the long tail will destroy the multi-million dollar best seller. The power law seems pretty entrenched in most things, probably due to the positive-feedback effect. And there’ll always be some version of the Oprah effect around, even if Oprah herself has retired.
As I noted in an earlier post, it’s very simple to determine what is theft and what isn’t.
If you download something from a torrent site, try it, like it, then BUY it, you haven’t stolen it.
If you download something from a torrent site, try it, hate it, and delete from your hard drive, you haven’t stolen it.
If, HOWEVER, you download something you don’t pay for, you keep it, and you use it, you’re a thief.
Torrent sites have legitimate uses. Sometimes. In some cases.
I love you, Holly! 🙂 The Passive Voice has a post on the same article. I read the original speech last week, got depressed for about 15 seconds, and then reality set in. When change is afoot, someone always predicts the end of the world.
The same here. I read the article too and pondered it for a long time. I don’t agree with it (tried to make that clear on the Forum as well). What I took from it is that I have to make those people I want to reach understand a) my stories, b) my pricing system and the need to pay for my content and c) me as a person. Because if people like me, they usually like my stories too and vice versa. Yes, publishing as we knew it is going to end but the future is much, much brighter than the article suggests.
Hmm. Thanks for bringing that to our notice. I didn’t read all that person’s lengthy article because I closed my mind. Wrong of me, perhaps, but I’m too old to go reading stuff written by someone who seemed to want to put a stick in and give life a little stir to ginger-up everyone.
Psychologically, story-telling is part of who we are. I cannot imagine people will ever stop making up stories and writing about them. If people have stories there will be those who will be willing to pay for them whether they are on paper, papyrus, kindle, or scratched in the sand.
I wonder if Homer and his ilk got paid for telling stories? I’d put big money on it.
Long live writers. Long live readers. Down with miseries who write doom and gloom because they haven’t got anything better to write which would bring them to everyone’s notice.
A few thoughts:
1) I once had an assignment in History at school, to answer the question: ‘Why do historians disagree?’
Our teacher gave us some pointers, among them that controversy is often key to being read. The same applies to journalism. Indeed, traffic has been driven to the Guardian website from here, and the internet is all about advertising and hits.
2) People predicted the death of painting when photography was invented. Others said video cassettes were the death of cinema. Yet people still buy music on vinyl, because they like the sound and/or the physical product.
3) My parents fondly recall a time when people didn’t steal and you could leave your house unlocked, but when they were young, almost everyone in the town had broadly the same: no plasma TVs, no appliances, no stereo systems, etc. People stole coal from coal-bunkers though – that was where the disparity of wealth would manifest itself. Piracy and theft usually stems from ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. This does not defend it, and is merely offered as an observation. Ideally, if a product was excessively priced, it simply wouldn’t be bought, forcing the vendor/creator to adjust. But of course that doesn’t happen. Stealing music and video and now books is easy, but people regularly steal much more awkward items too. People will always steal where there is discrepancy in wealth. And the digital world is global, meaning there is greater discrepancy than ever.
4) Until recently, music albums were often outrageously priced (I remember finding an album I wanted priced at £17.49 in HMV). So extortion is part of the problem, and drives a lot of piracy. But the executives driven by profit/greed* are being forced out by an era whereby creators and consumers can interact directly.
5) There are those that will steal, and there always have been. But if they were even a majority, music and cinema (and possibly painting too) would already be dead. In the world envisaged by the writer of the above article, there would be no paid market for the work, and consequently the work would almost cease to exist, because without ANY possibility of earning a living, creativity would be stifled. It would still exist, because creativity is an instinctive thing, but people could not pursue creative careers in the way that we are accustomed. But this death of art hasn’t happened because people value and admire creativity. And when people feel that they are paying a fair price for the product, consumers are happy to support artists, ESPECIALLY when they feel the money is going directly to the creator. Likewise, people pay in excess of high street prices to support cottage industries.
6) As long as humans have interacted, stories have been told, because people love stories. This digital age means more people are telling them, and there is a greater spectrum of quality available to readers now, but all that means is that people will be willing to differentiate by paying for the magic of compelling story. The difference is that more writers will need to find and engage their readers for themselves.
A little haphazardly written, but we’re ranting, aren’t we? 😉
*delete according to taste
I can’t agree more. Sure, I download free books on my Kindle all the time, but that leads me to writers who put our a quality product that I then PAY for by buying their other books. Most people are always going to be willing to pay for a good product, and those who aren’t willing don’t concern me-they’ll find a way to steal content regardless. Libraries are available all over the place, but people still buy books…
Some of us buy books to donate to the library to read so we don’t have to find a place to put ’em when we’re done 😉
The end of the world is always with us. When I was young, a computer was a profession, as was a calculator. Where are they today? Where are the wheel wrights? Where are the makers of steam engines? Where are the doomsayers?
Oh, wait. I guess the doomsayers are always with us too. Death and taxes.
Since there have been people, there have been storytellers. We may carry the stories in our heads, or write them on paper, or write them with electrons, but as long as people are people there will be storytellers. How storytellers are supported by their society may change, but we serve too fundamental a need for storytelling to die out.
Here’s the thing. There is a lot of dreck getting self-published out there right now. It really is horribly written stuff. But there are tell-tale signs that can warn the discerning reader that they’re coming up on the crap. It’s there. Once you’ve read widely enough you’ll be able to spot it.
It can be as simple as reading a sample. You can tell it’s crap from the first few pages.
And just because the prognosticators are chanting their gloom and doom of the tree-killing publishers may force authorship into a different medium and metric (note: this is not something I believe, but it is something that many do believe), independent e-publishers are springing up everywhere. They are still vetting the work before setting it up on the net to sell. They are still going through the approval and editorial process. They are still waving their e-publishing wands and making a word doc now available in several different formats for e-readers. They are still marketing and handling the money and advertising and encouraging.
We still have ‘gatekeepers’ out there.
Even in the form of talk around the web as readers blog their reviews and discuss what they’re reading.
If you buy something blind, a pig-in-a-poke, you’re bound to get more crap than usual. Discerning readers will still be able to find the good stuff out there, regardless of the form.
We’ve heard it before. Radio would be the end of live concerts. It did kill vaudeville, but then that was likely a mercy killing, but live music goes on. Television was supposed to kill movies. All it killed was an abusive studio system that enslaved a lot of actors. E-mail and the Internet were supposed to kill the post office. Instead eBay and Amazon keep the USPS, Fedex and UPS busy as bees in a tar bucket and forced the US Postal Service to actually improve service in order to compete.
Now e-books are supposed to kill publishing. Well, as with each tectonic shift in how we do things, some will die – the buggy whip manufacturers, nickelodeons and monolithic publishers. Borders Books is dead, but Barnes & Noble and Amazon have figured out how to thrive. I think the opening up of publishing is going to benefit authors. We may have to learn more about the publishing side of our craft, but I suspect writers will thrive because writing, when you come right down to it, is something not everyone can do well. Don’t believe me? Teach a creative writing class. Like any skill, people need people who can do it. The trick is to figure out how to work for yourself instead of some self-righteous New York editor who got the job because of what school they went to with whom who things she know all about what people want to read. That’s why so many brilliant novels, movie scripts and stories were rejected so many times before someone finally took a chance on them. JK Rollings, for instance, would have sold Harry Potter books to whatever publisher because they were good, not because the publisher was an especially brilliant layout artist or marketing whiz. It was because the woman wrote amazing books. It’s nice to see that writers are helping each other learn the craft and how to make a living at it. It’s something you don’t learn in college especially well. Perhaps an on-line university degree in free-lance writing taught by actual successful writers. Give the ivy-covered walls a little competition, huh?
You had me right up until you put J.K. Rowling with “amazing books.”
Really? J.K. Rowlings? She’s the George W. Bush of authorship. I don’t care how many Harry Potter lunch pals are sold on eBay.
I’d disagree with you there. JK Rowling’s particular brand of fantasy might not be everyone’s taste, but she’s a damn good storyteller. Her plots are rich and complex, and (in my opinion) perfectly formed. She knows how to foreshadow, and she nails those kind of twists that make you think “Of COURSE, it’s so simple, now it all makes sense.”
I understand a book’s popularity can sometimes be a stigma that works against it (dan brown, cough, twilight, cough) but I think JK Rowling is one of the few who made it big because she’s genuinely talented and works damn hard. And I think that is because her books can be enjoyed by people who just want entertainment, AND by those who want to be challenged by thought provoking themes and complex characters.
Just my two cents.
I read the first harry potter book when I was seven or nine, and loved it because it transported me to a different world. I’m reading it now as a literature and philosophy undergraduate and appreciating all the things I didn’t see before.
Speaking of those “ivy-covered walls”, you better act fast; in a non-surprising move – as MIT’s OpenCourseWare site (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm) shows – some of those colleges are known to have smart folks there, for a reason.
“JK Rowling, for instance, would have sold Harry Potter books to whatever publisher because they were good, not because the publisher was an especially brilliant layout artist or marketing whiz. It was because the woman wrote amazing books.”
Not quite true. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone got rejected by 12 publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury. Yes, they are amazing books, but this is another case of traditional publishing not recognizing the gold that came to them.
The more I think about it, for this guy’s vision to have any chance of coming true it would require ePublishers to sever the relationship between reader and author. But if anything, I think ePublishing can potentially strengthen that.
I could advance the argument about art and entertainment: with freeware and cheap printers nobody will pay for artwork anymore; with video capture in every smartphone nobody will watch movies or television anymore.
If everything that was produced were of the same value, I’d bet my empty 401(k) in heartbeat. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I’m still willing to trade for value–if you offer me something I’ve value, I will give you something of value. Otherwise, I expect you to stop offering a fair exchange.
In order for the aforementioned “end of publishing” to work the world would have to be primarily composed of parasites and narcissists. I’ve often paused, but I don’t think we’re there quite yet.
The death of books? What about the death of art? Who bothers to buy those wonderful, hand-painted canvases anymore, besides collectors? Especially when you can find the same thing, free, on the internet, to have on your desktop, where you’ll see it more often anyways.
And yet a good friend of mine is living off of commission artwork – good artwork, of things she loves to draw, that people pay her for. Things they could find free, somewhere on the internet, but they pay HER for it because they like what SHE can do, and it’s WORTH IT TO THEM.
I largely agree with you (of course) and yet there is a kernel of truth beneath the other assertions. For one thing, he is right about the mountains of ‘crap’ being loaded into the system even as we speak. Certainly ‘best sellers’ will survive and rise to the top, but it is worrisome that with no source for reliable ‘sorting’ of the chaffe from the wheat, a lot of otherwise fine books are going to get buried under the ‘anyone can be a writer’ flood.
I have a large family, college, work, writing…I don’t have time to go through a zillion mediocre attempts at writing in search of one truly fine read by a first-time self-published author. Even though I would love to find them. And support them.
Just as I hope someday someone will find and support my work.
Not arguing, you certainly know this business far better, just making an observation that is of concern to many of my writer friends and a topic of conversation in many circles.
You don’t have time to filter through the sludge to find something worth reading. Neither do I. I don’t mess with the sludge. If I’m looking for something to read, I’m usually looking for something SPECIFIC that someone RECOMMENDED to me. And that’s what Holly’s saying. It’ll be word of mouth, rather than publisher representation (which, to be honest, I always ignored the latter, anyways) that draws in readers.
I cannot tell you how many people recommend junk to me JUST because their ‘dear friend/sister/mom/fill in the blank’ wrote it. They can also get those same people to ‘recommend’ that same book to high heaven on Amazon and the internet.
I suppose I can still search for recommendations at places like the SFWA. Doesn’t seem like much fun, though, lol. And I don’t have time to dig through a dozen websites trying to find something to read when just grabbing a book off a shelf is so much faster.
I find good reads primarily by knowing which authors and, yes, which publishers HAVE authors that I enjoy. And if I must trust in peer ‘recommendations’ that still leaves me to wonder how vast a number of new/not name authors I will ‘miss’ because I don’t know anyone in their reading circle.
Most of us would kind of like to be read by many thousands of people…right? Not just the ones who happen to know us or know someone who knows us.
That’s what I love about GoodReads over Amazon Reviews. I look for bookworms or better yet authors who are also bookworms and see what they are reading. You can’t get a better recommendation than that.
You should see of the banter between Patrick Rothfuss & Brandon Sanderson.
And while we’re at it, Holly should use her influence to help Card get Ender’s Game made into a movie.
There are millions of web pages out on the internet. How do you find the sites you like? What makes a “gatekeeper of quality” any more qualified to tell you what you’ll like than anyone or anything else? There are thousands of books in a brick and mortar bookstore–how do you find a book you like there?
Have a little faith in people–we’re a clever bunch, when there’s no alternative. 😉 We will figure out our own filtering systems to weed out the crap, and I’m willing to bet good money and good time that the next generation of “gatekeeping” is going to be a lot better than what we have now…and also be nothing like we expected–that’s what makes this such an exciting time!
This is the brush fire that sweeps away a lot of deadfall *and* finally pops the seed pods of a whole new generation of flora that will reshape the landscape of the entire forest!
Funny but I just recently purchased 4 books in a series that someone loaned to me for free. (one of which I had to order and wait for.) Why would I do this? I finished the first one and just had to own my own copies to read and then give out to others. When it comes to a good story; share the wealth!
Just an Amen to what Holly said!
I agree completely with Holly’s analysis.
I usually don’t buy music albums because I don’t like most of the songs, but I do when it is a great album, and otherwise buy music by the track. I do believe the recording industry is going to die, but remember that there was no recording industry in the 19th Century, and musicians did just fine, with live performances. That will happen again. I predict a new non-profit organization will be set up to distribute money musicians & singers make so everyone from them to the technicians gets proper payment.
The movie industry is surviving nicely, because they provide the money to make the movie so they are needed, and and they distribute the profits (if there are any) relatively fairly. Movie theaters are another story, since they get only 10% of the ticket price, the only thing they have to sell is the ability to watch with a lot of people instead of privately in your home.
I won’t reiterate Holly’s remarks about writers except that she was right on with her criticism of the bulleted items she was referring to. Publishers will survive although it will be a tough slog at times. Most bookstores are now going extinct, since the only people who patronize them are those who like physical books and want to scan rows of books and see what is hot or at least looks good.
An additional comment on the music industry. I buy indie stuff on iTunes. So do a lot of other folks.
And again, people can steal music online. Some of us don’t, because we value the effort of the person who created it, and we want that person to create more.
If you steal, you kill the goose that lays your eggs.
“If you steal, you kill the goose that lays your eggs.”
Yet that’s exactly what happened in the music industry, and the music industry transformed to produce eggs in different ways. And the best bands still go the “traditional” label route.
I think the fervent defenses of both extremes are both wrong, and miss the point. When something is made easier to access, and made less tangible, people really *do* value it less. That’s *exactly* what happened when music started being distributed digitally.
And, it’s been shown repeatedly that people will both “steal” *and* buy something in music. That’s why a lot of music is given away now, or priced at pennies–to build an audience, and because musicians who stick around just want to make music. The real money in music these days (and for along time) has rarely been album sales–it’s been *performances*.
All that to say–the music business has some valuable, proven, hard lessons here for writers.
My prediction? The near future will see e-book writers giving away their work in droves to attract readers in hopes of future sales. The race to the price bottom is still going on, and I get the feeling that it won’t stop until it hits zero–or books are simply packaged and given away with e-readers.
And as many folks know, Amazon makes most of its money in e-books from the Kindle, not e-books. E-books for Amazon are still loss-leaders.
With the introduction of the agency model, ebooks are not a loss leader for amazon.
There will always be people who shoot for making sales through undercutting others, but the competition won’t be between who can make their books the cheapest or who can give away the most stories for free. Ebook authors have been giving away free reads for about as long as there have been epublishers, AND there are places online that host free fiction in competition with them–and people still buy ebooks. What happens is that if you give away free stuff, you will attract people looking for free stuff (and not necessarily books, or *your* books in particular). If you put value on your writing that is reasonable and what the market will support, you will attract the people who ascribe value to your kind of work. I believe Holly did another post somewhere around here that says just exactly that–your audience is not *every* reader–your audience is the people who like to read what you write.
Cheaper books won’t lead to more sales or more millionaires, but neither will they force every writer into the poorhouse. And with indie publishing…you’re free to change your pricing as you see fit. You’re in charge of pricing your own books.
I have a highly limited income, being on disability, and so I’ve been reading a lot of free and low-priced ebooks from legitimate sources such as Amazon.com. I think once ebook prices come to a logical level (i.e. lower than paperback since there is no book-printing cost involved) it will be a great thing for the impoverished reader.
I think there is a great opportunity out there for new writers who are willing to work hard and willing to publish some initial works online, perhaps on an online magazine. If you can’t interest an online magazine, try publishing some short fiction on your blog or elsewhere to get feedback. I think that the writer who has developed his writing skills enough will always find an audience, once he starts to make his work available. And as for the others, they must keep on working on their writing until their skills increase.
I agree. I’ll sell the majority of my work, including new work, at $2.99.
Should I get the rights back for them, TALYN and HAWKSPAR are going to need to be 3.99, because they’re so big I’ll be paying significantly more for the size of the file and the download.
Change is scary for a lot of people.
Ever since I got my hands on a Kindle, I’ve been seeking out self-published authors. The first fiction novel I read was awesome. For $.99 I can try a lot more new authors than ever before. And I was trying new authors in the stores with new books. As a reader, I’m in heaven.
As a writer working on my debut novel, I love the idea that I can go straight to readers without someone in the middle being a gatekeeper. Anthologies can only accept so many stories, publishers can only buy so many novels, agents can only represent so many authors. I’ve had stories returned for that very reason.
Do I want freebies? Of course I do! Will I pay for a more complete version of a freebie? I have already. I tried the Create A Plot free clinic and I have bought just about every writing course on the strength of that. I think of freebies as the free rolls some restaurants bring to your table before you order. It stimulates your appetite and gives you an idea about what you’re about to sink your teeth into.
My opinion? The floodgates are opening and it’s a positive thing.
You took the words right out of my brain! 🙂
Sometimes the only logical comment is to stand, clap, and cheer enthusiastically.
Thanks for reminding us what we live for. 🙂
I think what you will see is an end to the publishers as we know them, not writers. It is going to be hard to evolve and adapt, but change is one thing in life that is certain. Writers will have to work harder to develop their market, since there aren’t a lot of display tables on the Internet.
I think this man has forgotten that America was built by the entrpreuer. We are ingenious and people will certainly find a way to move forward with their careers. The truth is that publishers did weed out poor writing, but a ding letter didn’t end writing as a career and neither will the ebook.
“I think this man has forgotten that America was built by the entrpreuer.”
Well, remember he *is* a Brit, so he’s prolly not aware of much about America at all. If he wants to live and die under some sort of “literary patronage” system where he writes what he is paid and ordered to write, he is welcome to it. I intend to write fiction *I* like with excerpts so compelling that some people feel a desperate NEED to throw money at me just so they can read to *rest* of my story.
I largely agree with you. But also what needs to be factored in is the same problem as music and movies… People have ALWAYS shared media, the trouble (for movies and music) was that sharing became too easy.
I have borrowed paper books and loaned them out. I don’t think that has ever been frowned upon really… But I still only had one copy. Digital formats make it easy to turn one copy into a hundred in the blink of an eye.
That being said, I believe that your position is closer to the truth. But it probably will eventually have at least some effect on writing as a profession, but it is far too soon to make the kind of doomsday judgments this guy is making.
Have you ever paid for something because you wanted it and it had value to you?
My husband used to go out and by every new edition of books he already had by writers whose work he loved, just to support their careers.
People like him are not the majority. But people who value not just the work but the person who creates it are out there. And they aren’t going to vanish.
Yes, I do agree. I am not sure that things will always remain the same, it just won’t be as drastic or anywhere near as fast as this guy predicts.
I think though that the traditional print publishers sometimes go out of their way to create bad blood as well though :-p
For example, every time a new Harry Potter or Dark Tower book came out, there was another brand new bundled set that you knew was going to be as “obsolete” as the last boxed set in a year :-p
But I think you hit the nail on the head by identifying that the audience for books is NOT the same as the audience for music and movies. So while there are potential problems, they won’t happen the same way that it happened for music and movies, which I would argue have more similarity in their consumer audience.
I once borrowed a book from someone because I liked the first paragraph. Then, after I finished it, I bought it and gave it as a present to my mum. There are films that I first saw at other people’s houses, and later bought myself. CD’s I bought after I’d listened to the same few songs on youtube over and over again. But I also found that, when I really wanted a certain book, CD or film, brick-and-mortar stores usually wouldn’t have it. Places like amazon would. So yeah, physical stores might get in trouble, because they only have the latest stuff and don’t have the sequel to a book you bought from them a year ago (which happened to me with one of Holly’s series; thanks to amazon I eventually got the whole series anyway). I fear those stores will eventually, indeed, die out (which saddens me, because I love bookstores, for the simple reason that there are so many books there), but I also know that music, film and writing won’t.
My husband is the same way, so yours isn’t alone! 🙂
The thing that musicians (eventually, and I do mean *musicians* and not *the music industry*) is that if people feel they’re being gouged, they will fight back by taking what they think they’re owed. When albums at 17.99 were your only option, then a lot of people found it worthwhile to search Napster or wherever to find only the songs they wanted. When songs went to 99 cents, it became a lot easier to just buy legit at an impulse-buy price, be guaranteed a good quality recording that paid the artist, and get on with your life.
Books, like albums, do hold a lot of built-in costs, and the least of them is the raw materials that go to produce the physical product. It’s the end product that supports an entire chain of industry, not every cog of which may merit that support (or even be related to the end product–media conglomerates used publishers’ profit margins to prop up other medias’ losses, forcing publishers to maximize profit beyond what the markets would happily support). My indie book only needs to be 2.99 to support me, whereas my publisher book might have to be 5.99, 7.99, or 9.99 to support the publisher, the editor, the copy staff, the printer, the warehouse facility, the sales rep, the million-dollar advance for Snooki’s book, and float the bookstore free inventory that they could then use for credit for other free inventory.
That’s a lot of weight to put on softwood pulp and glue.
As long as we keep teaching people to read, they will keep buying books.
I am curious to know (and please do not take this as an approval of piracy because I agree with you they are scum) does it bother you as a writer that many of us get our books from the library and sometimes purchase them used from places like amazon and used book stores? I know when I do this that none of the money is going to the author but sometimes I cannot afford to buy a book new and I’m also a tree hugger who believes in recycling. I just wonder how you as an author (or anyone else on this site) feel about libraries and used book stores.
I found most of the writers I later spent a LOT of money buying when I was a kid reading in libraries.
And used book stores are the ONLY way most folks can find my older work now (though I’m working my ass off to change that even as we speak.)
It bothers me that people STEAL work. If I were in charge of the world and had superpowers, everyone would have integrity.
(And integrity is what would then cause me to step down and resign being in charge of the world. People get to be whomever they CHOOSE to be. Including crapbags and thieves.)
How do you define stealing? If I borrowed a book from a library and read it, surely that isn’t stealing?
Now, blatant torrent abuse of course fits the bill, but I think the key to winning the war for hearts and minds is to get people to recognize and police themselves. I don’t think people can be effectively browbeaten into compliance, that actually makes them more likely to steal I think. The opposite of the effect you mention where a reader has a personal “relationship” with a writer.
Stealing is taking something that isn’t yours. Same definition it’s always had.
You borrow a library book (unless you don’t return it–then you’ve stolen it).
This is a very simple thing.
If you take what does not belong to you, keep it, and do not pay for it, you’ve stolen it.
The only problem with that definition is that if someone torrents hundreds of ebooks one at a time, reads then and deletes them, it wouldn’t seem to match the definition of theft (if we assume that the original owner who is sharing them out purchased them).
I don’t like that people steal, either… my day job is in software development. 🙂
However, if they like it enough to steal it, chances are, they’re also spreading the word about how much they like it, so perhaps it’s not a *total* loss.
It doesn’t excuse the stealing, that’s still unlawful and immoral and unethical and just plain wrong. But since it appears to also be inevitable, perhaps we can look for the silver lining.
There will always be assholes who take things that aren’t theirs. Not a lot an individual can do about that. But what an individual can do is make sure that the people stealing their work really are thieves and not simply people resorting to their only option. The easiest way I plan to do that as an author is to make my book reasonably priced, available no matter where you live, and available in the format you want to read it in, all to the best of my ability.
There’s a portion of the ebook downloading crowd who are doing so because, for one reason or another, the books are not available to them otherwise. In this day and age, there should be no good reason why a digital version of a book is not available everywhere in the world at the same time, and in as many formats as is reasonable. If you’re still working with a publisher, cut down on your ebook piracy by renegotiating the geographical limitations in your contracts and getting rid of DRM (it just annoys legit customers anyway–the pirates already have non-DRM copies).
There should be no good reason why you cannot purchase a book the way you want to, if you have the resources to do so.
If you are still compelled to illegally download, after I’ve priced my book reasonably and with a choice of formats, there’s not much I can say to you. You’re not really my reader anyway, although I hope that someday you will become my reader and respect my creative efforts with a modest recompense.
However, if you have illegally downloaded my book from a country where you are forbidden to read, then by all means, do so with my blessing, and pass it on to another person who is also forbidden to read. In fact, teach someone to read with it.
Erin, the idea of thousands of books being printed then their covers stripped and the body of the book relegated to the dump has always appalled me. With Print on Demand, we KNOW the book has a home when it is produced. I feel much better about my book going to a home than the chance of it going to the land fill, even if my royalties build more slowly.
If that person writing the article isn’t a flustrated writer why would they care about the fate of published writers? People are being published every day. AND, PEOPLE are paying them to do it.
If there’s going to be no more published authors then where does that leave all these “One book wonders” like politicans and movie stars and all the famous people that write and published books?
No one is twisting my arm and making me keep pounding on those computer keys writing. No one can twist or break my arm trying to keep me from buying books and reading.
aloha holly, publishing certainly has changed and it still has changes to come in the (near) future. one of the changes is something you’re well aware of. the several major publishing houses (only one is american – cbs) has changed the way they look at marketing which means they’re looking for stories which they think will make money. the problem with this is that they are more likely to pass on something or someone new since there is no quanitifiable measure to new. but the e-book industry now being developed may alter how a reader can find stories that are of interest to him. one may not become wealthy thru e-books (amazon kindle has several writers who have sold more than a million e-books, tho) as i’m finding out with my own work but it does allow a writer to continue to write which can only increase that writers craftmanship. the one drawback to e-books is getting qualitly editing and analysis of your work. but i suspect as things eveolve that may not remain static. peter
The Doom and Gloomers have been available for comment on every topic from the chariot to the buggy whip to the transistor radio. We have survived and will survive this. In fact, I choose to believe that writers will thrive. Not all will succeed. Wait! Not all writers made a living under the previous system either.
Those willing to work and adapt are usually the ones who survive and thrive no matter the area of endeavor. With the technology available to writers now, I think more will make a living. Not posh maybe, but a decent living.
I intend to make it.
Bingo. I think folks with interesting voices and something to say will have a MUCH better chance in the new world of self-publishing.
Thanks for the interesting article. However, and this is just a comment, calling people “idiot” and “moron” just because they don’t think or view life as you do, isn’t very nice or productive. I don’t mean to offend in any way, but I think that taking the time to read and discuss with people who have a different point of view (even if it’s one as pessimistic as the article you linked) could be an enriching experience. (sorry for the broken english, I’m still learning)
I understand where you’re coming from. A lot of people are taught to believe what you’re suggesting.
Sometimes people are just morons, and you aren’t doing anyone any favors to respect their poorly thought-out, sloppily researched, inadequately reasoned opinions.
Sometimes being “nice” just means you’re giving credence to an opinion that isn’t worth consideration.
And this is one such case.
Thanks for bringing some balance to the discussion.
You are absolutely right! Poppy cock to “the end of publishing”! There will always be a high demand for professional writers. What’s dying is the idea that the only way to be validated and successful as an author is via a large publishing house. I also believe mass printing of books is fading, but will still never die. Someone will always want print copies.
And that’s an idea that NEEDS to die.
Mark Twain was a self-publisher for some of his work. It’s time folks of his caliber get past the Guardians of the Gates of That Won’t Sell A Million Copies To Readers With No Taste.
I’m definitely a person who will always want print copies. I don’t have an e-reader right now, so all I buy are paper books. I’m sure eventually I’ll switch to an e-reader, but for books I really love, especially if they have a gorgeous cover, I’ll still buy a paper version. Paper books might become more rare, more expensive, more special edition-y, and that’s OK with me. For books that I dearly love, it’ll be worth it.
Forgot to say that one type of book I would ONLY want in print form is a pop-up book. You can make digital pop-ups, but the hand-made paper ones are so much cooler. I’m always amazed at the paper engineering.
The world is coming to an end. I’ve seen dates come and go, and we are still here. I can’t predict the future. Maybe it will, and then again, maybe it won’t. Therefore, until that happens, I will continue with my plans. When a change occurs, I will change my plans then. How wise would it be to make a change now waiting for something that may happen ten years from now?
Live for today my friends.
And always remember… Always stay in your write mind.
Thanks for the great post. As an author, I think the changes in the publishing industry are fantastic. I’ve been published a number of times by traditional publishers but now I won’t submit to anything that wants the rights to my work for any length of time. For the first time, authors can reach readers directly. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there. Authors aren’t bothering to pay to get their work edited properly and are rushing to put books out, but at the end of the day the reader will decide what they like. If they don’t enjoy what they’ve read, reviews and word of mouth will soon put an end to that author’s career.
You’re right on, Holly. I read that article not long ago and it was a load of sensationalistic crap. Honestly, I think people like the author of that article must get a kick out of depressing people who don’t know any better.
Doom sells. How many idiots have created movies, books, and other crap about the end of the world in 2012.
Every night on the news, it’s the end of the world.
The solution is to turn off the news. What has it done lately to make your life better?
Turn off the news, Holly? Well, I guess I can now. Happy Feet has gone home.
Writing as one of the many good writers for whom traditional publishing did nothing, I’m less than devastated at the idea of the End Of Publishing. It may well turn out to be rather a good thing, both for readers and writers – the only two essentials, let us not forget, in the whole equation.
Ewan Morrison’s most bizarre idea was that writers would no longer bother to write. Oh please.
Yeah. I laughed my ass off at that one, too.
I read manga online. I also go purchase the ones I really love as soon as they are available in this country. At about 13 dollars a book which for the ones I like, is a lot of cash when I can scrape it up. Yes, readers who love what you write will purchase it if it’s available online. And since when were writers a preserve protected species????
Some writers have also found it beneficial to have a portion of their writing on the net. If people like what they read, they will often seek out and pay for other writing by that author.
And as a follow up to this kind of doomsaying nonsense, here an article you might be interested in:
“The death of books has been greatly exagerated,” Lloyd Shepherd