This talk was originally given at Voice Literary’s ‘Lost in the Amazon’ event on the 14th Jan 2014.
Today was one of those days. We’re well and truly back into January. I’ve finished playing publishing techno-word bingo with the CEOs’ predictions for the year (mobile – tick, spotify for books – tick, discoverability – tick, e-books continuing to plateau…(can something continue to plateau? I guess it can) – tick). And a tweet even came in from one of our beloved clients reminding us that most publishing start-ups fail.
So in the here and now, I want to make some suggestions as to why you, as a writer in the UK in 2014, should be cheerful:
1. If you want it, you have control
Gone are the days when writers were like good children – meant to be seen and not heard. Now you are the marketing and the PR, and everyone chants the same mantra that the only things that matter are writers and readers. So, hell, be happy that at least you are one of those two.
2. There’s no such thing as out of print
Books are forever. Which means that a year after it has been published, your book can be as relevant as the week after it was published. Your window of opportunity no longer has to be dictated by a bricks and mortar retailer who may have had no enthusiasm for ordering your book in the first place.
3. The supermarkets are coming
2014 will see Sainsbury and Tesco both seriously enter the fray in e-books and tablets. Can they start to represent serious competition to Amazon? They have large sheds. They have data. And they have families who come to them every day of the week, as opposed to slumped individuals absent-mindedly scrolling during their lunch break.
4. You are not alone
You have plenty of peers in the same boat – you just need to connect to them. You have a community.
You are stronger as a group than as an individual. This is just an extension of what has always happened inside publishing companies. One very successful editor I know calls it getting writers to “gather around a book“. But you don’t need a publisher to do that for you.
5. Publishing is still not a science
However many algorithms and data geeks inherit our world. There is still serendipity, word of mouth that is influenced by the quality of the content and not the efficiency of the marketing. And when publishers say less is more… well, they don’t control the tap any more.
6. If you don’t want to go it alone, then good news…
There will be more publishers not fewer – it is just that those publishers may well be authors or disaffected agents or editors cast adrift by old publishing houses. Because all you really need in this new publishing landscape are good acquiring skills and a dedicated, relentless PR and marketing focus.
7. There’s now a myriad of talented support out there
And they’re unencumbered by endless back-covering meetings, being cc’d on barely relevant emails and enormous overheads. whitefox don’t have a warehouse, but We do have a database, within which lie the details of the people who actually make a difference in publishing in the UK today. Not that accountant. Not that MD or Sales Director with his rapidly declining influence. But all the editors, marketers, publicists, digital experts and specialists to help anyone DIY. And as trade publishing squeezes out good talented people, from traditional salaried roles, so we are waiting at the gates to see whether we can make them available to anyone who wants to access their services.
8. Authors are learning Bookcraft
Bookcraft. I love that word (which, I know, I stole from Philip Jones in the Bookseller last week, but which he stole from Minecraft, anyway). How empowering is it to be learning new things at what ever stage you are in the publishing process.
No one has to be in their box anymore. If you want to you can be your own creative dedicated digital marketing expert, designer, marketer or publicist.
9. Global opportunities
The world is your oyster. You are only at the beginning of e-reader and tablet consumption in so many territories around the world, and those are all potential markets for your work. You just have to reach them.
The ones that you might take on are having to do more than have lunch and gossip. They have to adaptfast or become irrelevant faster. Skilling up, offering more services, running courses, understanding and translating more for their clients to represent real value added.
Even the best, most innovative publishers will be squeezing you into slots so far ahead in the future schedule. You might as well not bother knowing how to spell ‘zeitgeist’. If you want to, you can DIY publish properly, thoughtfully, and in a considered and planned way, and do so in a quarter of the time.
12. We’re only at the beginning
(Bingo cards ready) This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We’re only just beginning to learn what structures and models might work in the future. So you have the advantage of being able to experiment without being tied to full term of copyright deals if you don’t desire that.
I could easily be convinced my glass should be half empty at the beginning of 2014. I’ve just read yet another piece about the death of the mid-list author and the reliance publishers have on established author brands.
But the good thing is that writers in my experience have to write, whether they are adept at finding their readers or not. And people involved in the publishing process, like any humans involved in any collaborative activity, want to feel they are making a difference and that they have an influence. We want to feel needed.
So that heady combination will propel me forward in 2014. Content that has to be created and good people trying to make a positive difference to that content. That, it seems to me, matters as much as it ever has.