E-publishing for not-so-dummies

Less than a year ago, I took a young woman aside and quietly explained that I was worried the e-publishing trend she was following might harm her writing career. I’d like to officially apologize. I was wrong.

OK. I wasn’t just wrong, I was horribly horribly wrong. Fortunately, she’s a smart young woman and blew me off completely.

I read yet another article today about how the print publishing industry is dying. While part of my brain is still digging in my heels and fighting, I have to admit — the days of paying $20 for a hard bound book of dubious quality are over. The economy is conspiring with technology to push the publishing industry right over a cliff.

In my defense, I would like to point out that I have had some experience with the self-publishing industry. I’ve watched some folks do well with it while others got taken to the cleaners. In fact, I’d decided that all of the print-on-demand and self-publishers were sharks just out to take advantage of frustrated writers whose sanity had been eroded by fighting for publication. I know my own productivity has been destroyed by the unreasonable demands of the industry. "Cut this story to xxx thousand words" or its twin "you need to add another xx thousand words to this before we will consider it" have caused so much stress in my life and in the lives of writers I know and love.

I read a story in an early draft. Then I hear that some agent said, "oh, you can’t do it that way…you have to do this instead." OK. WHY? Because that’s what the publishers want. Hm. If the only venue for selling the book is a publisher, then … ok. But within a very short period of time — the revolution is happening right now — they may not be the ones calling the shots any more. Traditionally, an agent would sort through thousands of stories and pick a good one that he or she knew the publishing house would buy. The agent negotiated an arrangement with the publishing house and the writer got an advance on the sales of the book. If anyone thought you could live off that advance, forget it. Not in these days. The publisher then printed a bunch of books and the author would try to sell them…book signings, etc. If the books didn’t sell, they were destroyed. Many many many times, the publisher didn’t make back their initial investment in the printing and the advance. Few came away with a living wage. The industry is failing.

The real question is — what do people want to READ? What do your readers want?  In the past, I have believed that the publishers did know the answer to that question…but I don’t think so any more. What they now care about is what will move a book off a shelf, not what makes good reading. There’s a difference, and I think more and more readers are realizing that difference. I’ve worked with writers for years and know there are some amazing stories out there that have never seen the printed page only because the writers were beaten down by the industrial demands. (And yes, there are also some horrific ones that should never be allowed to see the light of day, but forget about those…)

That’s not what story telling is about. Remember back in the Middle Ages? People were entertained by wandering minstrels who wrote their stories in rhyme so they could be remembered. These individuals wandered the land, supported by those who would be entertained by their stories, always assured of welcome, a seat by the fire and a mug of ale. They were valued individuals.

Our world is going insane. Whole families are committing suicide because of the economy. People are losing their jobs, and the depression — the real emotional depression — seems to be at an all time high. Enter the creative bards of today. They have stories that will delight, entertain, encourage, distract…in abundance. These stories cover every genre, featuring every creed and nationality…and they are there, done, ready to be read and enjoyed. All that needs to happen is to get these stories into the hands of the readers so desperate to be entertained.

Technologically, this may happen on your phone, or your computer. The stories will even be available in the old-fashioned print form — you just may need to wait while the book is printed. But that printing and binding isn’t a month long process…it happens in days, custom created just for you, the reader. The printer gets paid for the paper, the writer gets their mug of ale, and the reader gets the book to hold in their hands. The readers of today may very well become the patrons of tomorrow, supporting their favorite artists by passing along a link in a social networking site and making a contribution towards a project they like.

Even better, though, the writing and creating process is running headlong into the social aspects of the internet. Now, you can actually sit next to your favorite author and comment on the story, interact with the creative process.

Stoke the hearth fires and pull the chairs into a circle. I’ve a story to tell…

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