I love the publishing industry and have spent my life finding and supporting new talent; I love sharing what I have learned along the way.  This weekend I got to do that once again speaking to a large crowd at Author 101 – my reason for being a day late with this blog.    It was a wonderful weekend in LA with several hundred authors, some top agents, and book publishers exploring and explaining ways for authors to either self-publish or break in with traditional publishers. I represented the more conservative view that this is not the best of times for authors and publishers, but many speakers disagreed. Their logic was that since more books are being published than ever before and since more money is being generated from book sales than ever before, this is a wonderful time for authors. They also pointed out correctly that the cost of entry to self- publishing is down to almost zero from twenty-five thousand dollars or more just a decade or two ago, before the invention of print on demand.

I see things differently. The statistics do show a modest twelve percent growth in total book revenue over the last five years. However the statistics also show that the total number of books published annually has increased six times in that same period of time. Quick analysis of these numbers shows that revenue per book published is only twenty percent of what it was five years ago. Of course, this is due to the explosion of self-publishing where the average title sells fewer than one hundred copies. Executives at the print-on-demand publishing companies do not even consider revenue from book sales an important line item; their primary income is generated from set up fees and upselling of marketing services for in some cases tens of thousands of dollars which, in most instances, sells perhaps an extra one thousand or fewer books. The math works for the POD companies; it does not work for the author.

Of course there are many reasons to be an author, and making money from actual book sales is not, in fact, a primary reason people write books. If the only goal is to see a book published then you might say this is the best of times, but that is not my only goal. Both as an author and a literary agent my goal is to see each book published in the best possible way to reach the widest possible audience and have the biggest impact possible on readers and the world. I would like each book to be properly edited, copyedited, and designed. I like covers which captivate the eye and quickly convey the message or feeling of the book; interior design should make reading enjoyable. I like books which once read are remembered and shared and become living books for generations to come.

If you are PD James and have just written the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy, no doubt these are the best of times and certainly Random House is not unhappy about the windfall they are receiving from your work. Unfortunately take away that trilogy and even Random House is not having its best year ever.

Publishing is changing and writers do have many new ways to establish their careers. I am not sad to see certain gatekeepers lose their ability to block a young author with a crazy new idea from being published. But there has always been a way to get published for dedicated authors with the will to keep going no matter what. Today with POD self-publishing perhaps it is easier to break in and keep going once published, especially for authors who have genuine interest in using social media to increase the visibility of their books. But in the end I still hope that it will be quality and not marketing and internet savvy that will determine future bestsellers. And when that is the case, it is the best of times.

No doubt the next five years will be notable for determining the answer to that question

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  1. Dave Reineke says:

    I realize how hard it is to get published. I wrote a book over 2 years and love every moment of the process. But I got to say getting published frustrates me no end. I ended up having to make an ebook. It cost me nothing and I’ve sold a few so I did make some money. But the racket in publishing is so pricey.There is NO way I can afford it.

    I wrote a book on personalities. Just thought I’d put that in… Love writing it and in a lot of ways its not really finished. That the thing about writing. it for me, never really stops. Maybe someone can relate…

    Thanks for the article. Really helpful

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