Thursday, May 27, 2010

Novelist Cutting Ties with Traditional Book Publishers

Until a couple of years ago, I had been a newspaper journalist. Then in a matter of a year or two, I watched my career vanish before my eyes. The newspaper industry as a whole has been in decline for decades, but the ball has definitely been rolling downhill the last few years.

Now, over the last year or so, I’m hearing many of the same grumblings in the book publishing industry that I used to hear in the newspaper industry. No one is reading anymore. None of the publishers are making any money. Technology, mainly through the Internet and e-book readers, is destroying the publishing industry.

There’s probably some truth to all that, but I don’t think the major traditional book publishers are going to keel over and die anytime soon. Maybe in the next 20 years, but time will tell. Meanwhile, someone somewhere is making money from print books; there’s just too many book stores and online purchases to deny this. Still, books in electronic form have made and are continuing to make major headway into the publishing industry.

So much so that lately there’s another front in the conflict between traditional book publishing and electronic publishing. Some writers, even some known writers, are turning away from the traditional publishers and going it on their own.

The biggest brouhaha has been brought about by author J.A. Konrath, probably best known for his Jack Daniels police procedural series of novels and his horror fiction. Konrath has been in the public eye for at least a half dozen years now as an author, his first traditionally published novel having been Whiskey Sour in 2004.

Since then Konrath has gone on to have about a half dozen novels published in print. He has also become known for his blog about publishing, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, and the extremes he has gone to to promote his work, including mailing 7,000 letters to libraries and personally visiting more than 600 book stores in 28 states in one year.

Konrath has also become known for being outspoken of his opinions concerning the publishing industry. On his blog he has stated “I love print publishers. But the traditional publishing industry is flawed, and I don't see any signs it will be fixed anytime soon.”

Those flaws seem to have driven him away entirely from traditional book publishers. Konrath has announced, after years of working with traditional publishers, he will now go it alone without the industry. Barring a handful of books he is contractually obligated to provide publishers, his future in publishing is now turning toward Amazon’s Kindle. Konrath has announced his upcoming novels will be published electronically first on the Kindle and at Smashwords for other ebook readers, then will be made available in print through Amazon’s CreateSpace program.

Why would an author do this? The more important question might be, Why not? Konrath claims to have sold nearly 47,000 ebooks through Amazon over the last 13 months, the best-selling of the lot being his novel The List, which was never excepted for print publication by a traditional book publisher.

In other words, a professional author is making money without a print publisher. Will this lead to a trend of more authors dumping print publishers for electronic publication? It just might. If an author is able to bring in readers without taking a cut in potential earnings from publishers (and possibly even literary agents), it’s possible more authors will go this route.

Konrath’s outspokenness on his own publishing venture, and his recent announcement of dropping traditional print publishers, has drawn attention. An article recently in Publishers Weekly sought opinions from literary agents concerning Konrath's actions and words; some responses were negative while others not so much, but Konrath himself on his blog took exception to the article’s tone, calling it an “epic fail” and then going on to outline the article’s possible failings.

And readers and writers are paying attention. Hundreds have commented on Konrath’s blog, some urging on his success, some not.

On a related note, Garrison Keillor recently wrote an article for The Baltimore Sun titled “When everyone’s a writer, no one is.” The headline isn’t completely accurate to the article’s subject matter, but Keillor is not likely to blame as columnists don’t always have a say in the title to their articles. Keillor does go on about some of the positive aspects of self-publishing, but more than anything he laments the days when writers used a typewriter, mailed off their manuscripts and got paid for them. He calls it “the Old Era.”

For good or ill, it seems the Old Era has passed. Electronic publishing seems here to stay, and it’s changing the face of the publishing industry one book at a time.


Percy Trout said...

Thanks for linking "I'm not from here."

Ty Johnston said...

Thanks. Actually, he likely doesn't remember me, but back in the day Minter and I went to the same high school and worked at the Kernel at about the same time.

Joe Konrath said...

Good article, Ty.

Quicki correction--I've sold 46,000 ebooks in 13 months.

And actually, it's now almost 47,000. I'm selling 1000 ever four days.

Ty Johnston said...

Thanks, Joe. Correction has been made.

Joe Konrath said...

The Keillor article is disappointing. Lamenting the loss of the good old days, and complaining the the new ways aren't nearly as wonderful, is sort of sour grapes.

Nostalgia is fun. But who wants to write on a typewriter? And not every send in a manuscript, and gets a big check. Most get rejection letters, or small checks.

We're entering a world where the readers are the gatekeepers. This really evens out the playing field, and it is a 100% good thing.

And if it gives hope to the hopeless who can't write? Well, they'll fail in ebooks just like they would have failed in traditional publishing.

Lauren said...

I enjoyed this article, as well as the Garrison K article, and learning about Joe Konrath. As someone who is a closet writer, and trying to make the decision whether or not to seriously try to give it a go (which would mean giving up my full time job and dedicating myself to this for 6-12 months), I find this discussion fascinating and depressing. I'm not very good at self-promotion, internet marketing and all that. It seems like those who aren't willing to be their own marketing and social networking manager just as much as a writer are at a disadvantage today. I like the convenience and structure of Keillor's view on "old era" publishing, and while I am in awe of what Konrath has done for his career, I'm also discouraged by how much of his time he will have had to spend promoting instead of writing. I just can't imagine getting off one rat wheel to hop on another unless you really enjoy that kind of thing. I think my head would explode.