The Stock Market of Traditional Publishing

I’ve been thinking about New York lately.  Not only because we’ll be submitting Red soon (and yes I finally got The Pink Hammer’s approval on that final fight scene–BOOYAH!), but also because Susan‘s Talent Chronicles is on submission,  and pal Jessica Corra recently got a book deal with Dial for her After You.

The book business looks very different depending on your vantage point.

As a reader, there’s an immediacy to things because readers are not generally part of the process of submission, rejection, acceptance, editing, revision, etc.  They only come in when the book is FOR SALE (usually) and their only perception of the glacial pace of publishing is of a holy crap, I have to wait a whole YEAR for the sequel! nature.

It’s different still for authors who are or hope to be traditionally published.  Because there IS the delay for the submission, rejection, etc.  We are told Don’t write for the market.  Why?  Because the stuff that’s on the shelves today was bought 1-3 years ago.  So the insanely popular vampire or fallen angel novels that are flying off the shelves today might inspire a lot of spinoff, derivative, or tangentially related books that hold little interest for editors.

Why?

Because editors, I have decided, are like stock brokers.  In particular brokers who deal in futures.  Because it’s not just about reacting to the market as it exists today–it’s about trying to predict what the public will want 1-3 years in the future.  Sometimes they’re right.  Like whichever editor took a chance on the Twilight series.  Sometimes they’re horribly wrong.  Like whoever it was who initially passed on Harry Potter.

Editors (and, by extension, publishers) are in the business of making money.  Foregone conclusion, necessary evil and all that.  They might love a book personally, but if they don’t believe that book is going to appeal to the public, that it might not earn out what they invest in publishing it, then there’s a really strong chance that they’ll pass (or that their boss who is in charge of acquisitions will pass).  Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the book.  It might be a paragon of gorgeous prose and unique plot twists and turns.  But if it is not perceived as marketable in this unknowable future of books, that’s the end of the line (often) for that book.

This is why I think indie publishing has come to fill a valuable place in the publishing paradigm.  Because with indie publishing you don’t have that 1-3 year wait.  If vampires or werewolves or fallen angels are hot right now, then you need only wait as long as it takes you to write the book and get it properly polished and edited and in the best shape it can be before you spend a weekend formatting it right, attach your professional cover art, and send it out into the world right now to take advantage of fickle public interest.

Not that I’m using this as justification for writing to the market.  I think you should write the books your heart tells you that you must write.  But if it’s between selling to New York and moldering in a drawer because New York thinks vampires will be over in two years (and how many years have they been predicting that one?), certainly I’d think most authors would find indie publishing to be a palatable alternative.  And as more and more indie authors are picked up by big houses based, not on queries and submissions and the traditional system, but on established sales records, it could be a viable alternative to a frustrating and, at times, broken system.

Food for thought.

13 thoughts on “The Stock Market of Traditional Publishing

  1. I like how you present well-thought arguments on the trad vs indie debate. I recently read an article by a used-to-be-trad-and-is-now-indie author on the subject that was so vitriolic it put me off the author’s books forever. While I’ve never blogged on the subject (or rather not that I can remember), it’s interesting to read about and you always come up with good ideas. Thank you for being a voice of reason 🙂

    • People tend to get all het up about it. It’s a very personal decision and, in the end, I think the thing that matters most is what makes us happy and what makes writing a viable option for employment!

  2. I agree with you. Add to that, as an author, the whole query process is practically emotional cutting. It’s time consuming and takes you away from writing. You can see why so many authors are going the indie route. There have been so many articles how the publishing world is changing. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out! I’m excited to say I’m an indie author!

    • Regardless of how things turn out with Red, I’m an indie first, and I’ll be an indie after. In my mind, that gives me more power than I’d have in traditional legacy negotiations. And that’s an exciting thing!

  3. One of the biggest problems with trad publishing is definitely the timing. It takes so little time to get ebooks up and running. And I just finished formatting one of my books for print, sent the files to CreateSpace, and got a proof copy within days. Now it’s ready to go live. It took almost no time. With trad publishing, you can wait a really long time to get published even after the contract is signed. I think a publisher would have to offer me a very big advance to make me want to publish traditionally. I’ve made enough money being indie to buy a LOT of things I’ve wanted.

    I do want to say that I support any author who decides to go the traditional route. If that’s the dream, then go for it. It really bothers me that some indies think that indie authors are “selling out” when they have an opportunity to publish traditionally. It’s a personal choice, and we should be happy for fellow authors no matter how they decide to publish.

    • I’m inclined to think those particular indies are going indie for reasons other than just making a living in a dysfunctional system. They are trying to make some kind of political statement and treat it as a big “movement” and believe anyone who has a different plan or path is, as you say, a sell out.

  4. I’ve decided to try the traditional route for one main reason: I’ve only got one book ready to go. If I’m going to self-publish, I need to have at least two or three close to being ready so I can release every few months. I just don’t have that right now. So while I’m working on The Prophet, I’ll be querying Light and Dark. I don’t expect much. Because the industry is in such turmoil, very few are going to want to take a risk on an unknown and unproven author. But I’m still going to try because it’s always been a goal. We’ll see what happens.

    Like Lauralynn said, the timing of traditional publishing IS a turnoff. If I had two books ready to print, I might approach things differently. And queries are no doubt soul destroying.

    The good thing is we have choices available that new writers didn’t five or ten years ago.

    • Well that’s not necessarily true. You can do quite a lot with only one book. My crit partner Susan Bischoff has had her single title Hush Money out for just over a year now (she’s just finished the sequel), and she’s sold over 20k copies of it, gotten the attention of a major New York agent and is currently on submission for her series. It all depends on how well you build your platform (which, of course, you have to do regardless of whether you choose to go legacy or indie).

  5. One of the issues with my book- is that while I think it’s marketable right now- it’s also 120,000 word YA so I’m going to self-pub. i love the choices we have today.

    • It’s definitely nice to let the actual market determine the success of our work instead of a semi-informed opinion of one or a handful of people. The market will often surprise us.

  6. There is another side to this length of time issue, that nobody ever address. I’m not sure anyone even thinks about it. You touched on it briefly here. You said that books being released today were bought 1-3 years ago. I think the average is 2 years years. So if an unpublished author were to sell right now, their book wouldn’t debut for two years give or take. So my question, when I started thinking seriously about this time lag was “What’s the climate going to be in 2 years?” If I were to sell right now, where would my book sell? But likely, I wouldn’t sell right now. It might be a year, or two– which pushes when my book would debut back even further. So where do you think a debut author is going to sell in 2-4 years?

    The Tipping point will be here by then, or close. Right now 20% of books sold are e-book. As we get closer and closer to the tipping point and less books are bought through physical places where debut authors find the bulk of their readers is going to change. Those avenues that made traditional publishing so attractive are going to dry up. It’s already drying up with every bookstore that closes and every retail chain that goes to a “best selling authors only” policy. In 2-4 years, new authors will be debuting on the huge online books stores along with their self published counterparts. Once I realized that, I started wondering how a debut author will be able to stand out? 99% of debut authors don’t get any adverting from their publishers. They are expected to market their books, they are expected to find their readers. At this point self-published and traditional will have the same advantages, but the traditional author will be under a huge disadvantage. She/he won’t have any control over the things that can catch a reader’s eye.

    This is when I seriously started looking into self-publishing, because the only things that I could see making a difference and helping an author find a reader base– are things a traditional author will have no control over. And if you look at our industry now, and then project where it will be in the future, all the sign point that we are headed into an online sales model. When that happens, I am very much afraid that traditionally published midlisters and debut authors are going to get screwed.

    • This was a REALLY marvelous and thoughtful comment and I’m totally stealing it to talk about later this week!

  7. Didn’t think of it that way. It’s a good idea to be indie, too. After all, we’ve seen people defy the odds of publishing. It’s a way to take charge of our lives if we want to be published.

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