The Tipping Point of Publishing – We’re All Hybrid Authors Now

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Malcolm Gladwell argues that the tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.  Yeah, I know the book came out 12 years ago, but it’s almost as if he foresaw the power of social media, for example … that moment when something like an ALS ice bucket challenge hits critical mass and suddenly everyone and his/her dog is doing it.

I’ve been thinking about the challenges in publishing since Angry Robot Books YA imprint shut its doors less than three years after bursting onto the scene with great fanfare. A bunch of authors I know with book deals wound up having them cancelled. Other author friends of mine are hanging in limbo. We are all waiting to get word on whether we have a fight on our hands to get our rights back. (My hunch is that we probably will have to fight because nothing is ever easy, is it?)

Hachette is fighting with Amazon. Amazon is fighting with Hachette. One group of authors has an open letter asking Amazon to lay off while self-published authors are openly supporting Amazon’s position.

2014 has been a crazy year in publishing and I have to wonder: are we nearing a tipping point that changes publishing forever? Have we already tipped and is the new paradigm starting to take shape? Is the future of publishing one of hybrid authors? Is it just self-published books and will authors ever make the kind of money they made a generation ago?

So much has changed so fast. Agents are offering publicist services. Some agents are developing their own in-house imprints for their client’s back lists. Smashwords is a bona-fide phenomenon. Kindle Direct Publishing is kicking ass everywhere and Amazon OWNS … they freaking OWN 90% of the ebook market world-wide.

That’s a staggering figure.

And I don’t know how the existing traditional model can continue when there is so much uncertainty. Nobody has a clue where things are going, but if you look closely you might see some writing on the wall.

I think the phenomenon known as “showrooming” where people go into a show room, price the product they want and then go home and buy it online is starting to hit the traditional retail sector in a big way. (Best Buy has been hit hard. Sears. In Canada, Chapters-Indigo, our largest book retailer is dramatically increasing their non-book stock to make up for the losses to Amazon purchases)

We already know bookstores are closing. People are shopping on their iPads and laptops. Out with the old ways and in with the new.

This stuff has happened so goddamned fast. I can’t even keep up with the changes … nobody can!

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t think traditional publishing is going to survive – at least not in the way we’ve grown accustomed. This will have a dramatic impact on everyone involved in getting books sold under the old paradigm. It’s already hard as hell to find a literary agent … but … does an author even need one anymore if the traditional model is going tit’s up?  Does an author really need a publisher like he/she used to? My two Strange Chemistry titles, POLTERGEEKS & STUDENT BODIES … outside of fantastic cover art and editing, the lion’s share of the marketing was done by me and me alone. The first book wasn’t even in Canadian bookstores until the second book came out … a full 12 months later! Not that it mattered … the bulk of my sales were ebooks by a WIDE WIDE WIDE margin.

And so if digital sales are outselling traditional sales and authors are being asked to do all the marketing for their work … what’s the point, right?

Well, see … we are a vain bunch. Unpublished writers and people like me who’ve been around for a few years … we still cling to the notion that the old model somehow legitimizes our worth as authors. That holding a book in your hand for the first time or seeing it on the shelf of the local bookstore (assuming you can find one) makes it more real.

We want recognition. We really do … because it’s so fucking hard to write a book. We pour our hearts and souls into our work. We are taking something so deeply personal and putting it out to the universe. We want to feel the love, you know?

For me … I still like a lot of what traditional publishing offers in the way of good cover art and of course, professional editing. I like to think I had a relationship with the two traditional publishing houses that thought my stuff was good enough to make offers on. I connected with their authors. I made friends. I traveled to England twice (on my dime – that’s what my advance paid for) and took part in a big shindig to launch my 1st Strange Chemistry title (my agent organized this). I along with another author who is a good friend organized all my author visits last September during my second trip to promote STUDENT BODIES. Very simply, I’ve been alone for a long time when it comes to getting the word out about my books. We are all of us, alone to promote our work because publishers aren’t really that interested anymore unless you’re an established brand.

Over the past few months I’ve come to the realization that this is the new reality. Things tipped or are in the process of tipping or possibly crashing into the ground with a great big wet, sticky sounding SLAP!

I still believe in traditional publishing, but I believe even stronger now that for me at least, a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing is going to be the way forward.

What a freaking learning curve. An entire industry is driving down a dark winding highway with no idea where that road is leading. Oh, and the headlights just conked out.

As John Lennon once sang, “strange days indeed … most peculiar Mama.”

I started a writer’s group here in Saskatoon with more than 40 members now. I’m going to be telling the everyone  the future of publishing is in being a hybrid author. 

And that’s not a bad thing. Not bad at all.

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