For publishers, the times are a-changin’

March 20, 2013 § 3 Comments

Unless you’ve been living at your desk, so completely immersed in your writing that you’ve not tuned into book news in several months, you’ve probably heard of Hugh Howey and his novel, Wool. You may have also heard that he self-published the book electronically as a serial, and made a great deal of money doing so before finally selling the print rights to Simon & Schuster—after turning down seven-figure deals from other publishers because he was already doing better on his own.

Howey’s story is one the one everybody points to when they talk about the new publishing paradigm that’s currently taking shape. Over at Wired, Evan Hughes published a fascinating look at how publishers are reacting to authors like Howey and the growing sales of e-books. SPOILER: They aren’t reacting well:

Still, it’s not clear that traditional publishers are well positioned to own the digital future. They are saddled with the costs of getting dead trees to customers—paper, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping—and they cannot simply jettison those costs, because that system accounts for roughly 80 percent of their business. Ebooks continue to gain ground, but the healthiness of the profit margins is unclear.

My dream has always been to publish a paper book with a well-known house for a huge advance. But after seeing Howey’s numbers (as quoted by Hughes), perhaps my dream is outdated. I’m starting to wonder if the Dickensian serial model has found new life in the e-book world; Dickens and other writers of that time often published their novels piece by piece in the newspaper before they were published as bound books.

In the classic film Ghostbusters, Egon states categorically, “Print is dead.” And that was in 1984. Was he ahead of his time? Is print dying? I look at the success of Wool, and I have to wonder.


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§ 3 Responses to For publishers, the times are a-changin’

  • lnahay says:

    It’s freakin confusing, is what it is! Traditional or self-publish? You read stories like this and then the opposite, self-pulished authors doing great, but publishers and agents still won’t touch them so they can’t get their book into print. I go back and forth to where I’m just not getting anywhere!

    • Each author has his or her own experience in publishing, whether it’s traditional publishing or self-publishing. For every Hugh Howey, there are hundreds of self-published writers who weren’t as successful, or found themselves unable to land a print deal.

      At the very least, I would think (hope!) that successful self-published authors might find it easier to find a traditional publisher and agent for their second books. Their first book might be “untouchable,” but they should be able to position themselves as an author worth taking a risk on, based on their indie sales when they shop around their second book.

      It would be interesting to hear a publisher or agent weigh in on the topic. Has anyone seen an article or blog from those folks about the Hugh Howey phenomenon, or the “new publishing normal”?

      • lnahay says:

        It seems so scattered, doesn’t it? However, having choices is always better than having none or being confined to only one path with the rest of the billions. As you said, what works for one person won’t work for another, reasons unknown. But I sincerely wish you- all of us- success.
        Your last paragraph is immensely interesting. I’d also love to hear agents’ opinions and their experiences. That seems to be largely missing, or I’m not looking for them correctly.

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