Book Publishing Milestone in a Changing World

by janbking on May 18, 2009

According to R.R. Bowker as reported in PW, over the past year more than 500,000 new titles were published in the U.S. For the first time, more than half of these were published independently, meaning that more and more new author/publishers were entering the market for the first time.

It has finally happened – over the past year more independently-published titles came out than those with established commercial publishers. Frankly, I’m surprised this took as long as it did and I’ve been expecting it. What does it mean to authors and independent author/publishers? I think it means three things:

1. The book publishing business model will be under even more pressure to change. (As if not making money wasn’t enough). At present, the main two reasons to publish with an establish commercial publisher, other than the perception of prestige, is to get into bookstores and to get them to pick up the tab for the development of the book. This change means that either bookstores will have to find a way to take independently published books, not today, but over the next year or so, or face more rapid extinction.

2. More people will see the opportunity for financial gain and convince more naive authors and author/publishers to fork over their money for very little benefit. Right now, the promise of a “New York publisher”, “Getting major media” and “Getting the book into bookstores” and “Selling millions” are the big promises. Getting a quality publisher who will champion your book has a lot more to do with what you as the author bring to the table than what someone else can do for you. Believe nothing unless you check it out first with a knowledgeable book-publishing expert. Expect a lot more scams and get-rich-with-your-book schemes and scams by successful authors and others. They can’t help you duplicate their success because they only understand the options they used, but they can take your money.

3. The players will change. The evaporation of the literary agency system will continue. Agents will be replaced by publishing strategists who can help you either independently publish or find the right established publisher (not just the latter). Publishing-company-employed editors will be replaced by freelance editors and publicists will be replaced by book marketing strategists who can help evaluate and plan the right marketing strategies for book marketing, online, to volume buyers, through retailers as well as traditional PR approaches. Author’s assistants (for those with mega book success) are now virtual author’s assistants, available for hands-on work in manuscript creation, independent publishing and online marketing.

All of this is good for the reader and the author. As the business model is sorted out and a new definition of “professional” is created for book publishing, the emphasis, we hope, will return to great books that introduce us to amazing people and new ideas and transform us because we have read them. As an author, your best long-term strategy is to focus on writing a great book, for an audience who needs you. Find a place in the market that is yours.

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