Sunday, October 26, 2008

a shift in thinking

Yesterday I attended the QRB Write2Publish event -- the panelists included a literary agent and an Algonquin editor, and the attendance was excellent. I always enjoy attending such events, and I almost always run into someone I know, which is even nicer.

The discussion was interesting, as always; but as I listened, I found a series of thoughts going through my head: I'm doing ok. I'm right where I need to be.

I'm the first to admit that I don't know a whole lot about the publishing industry, or the business side of writing. But it seems to me that the face and dynamic of the industry has changed drastically, thanks to technology, but those in traditional publishing either haven't noticed it or haven't figured out what to do w/ it. There are so many more ways to be published now, in a variety of media; and yet, the industry is clinging to the idea that traditional is still the only way to go, that it is the only avenue that carries any sense of value or credibility. Months ago, I would have agreed w/ that. Today, I'm not so sure.

I agreed w/ Chuck as he described his love of books -- not just reading them, but the tactile pleasure. Oh yeah. I know that -- just holding a book in my hand, smelling the pages, seeing them lined on a shelf, or stacked on a table... ooooh, feel my happy pulse rising! "Tactile" books are still alive and well, but the gap between author and audience has closed, thanks to You Tube, Facebook, podcasting, and other such outlets. I was happy to hear that Chuck gave a thumbs up to Lulu (although the agent opined that publishing fiction through POD was not as viable as nonfiction; I disagree, and not just because I'm publishing my novel this way), but he seemed stymied about technology's place in 21st century publishing in terms of "solutions."

When the discussion ended, many attendees scrambled to talk to the panelists, no doubt to give a quick pitch, or hand off a card, or something. I had come armed w/ a stack of business cards, yet they never left my purse. Instead, I opted to talk to my friend Susan, and went to Caribou Coffee afterwards to do some writing and catching up w/ her. Some may think I gave up a big networking opportunity, and maybe I did, but I simply didn't feel the need.

Maybe it's because I've been aligning my thoughts w/ my intentions, but I'm feeling satisfied w/ my current path. And this is not to say that I won't consider an agent in the future, especially when my current manuscript is query-ready. But I'm no longer convinced traditional publishing is the only way to make it as an author. In fact, I probably have less confidence in it than ever. Still, I was very appreciative of this particular panel, as I'm sure many were.

I didn't get much writing done at Caribou (but I did figure out what I wanted to write for the chapter); but last night I finally uploaded the corrected PDF file on Lulu, and am awaiting yet another test copy of my book. In hindsight, I wish I could've better formatted the book to minimize pages and cost. Depending on how the test copy looks, and the opinion of a manager at QRB (I've gotten to know one of them well), I may have to change it again; but I'm hoping it won't come to that. I'm really, really looking forward to finally releasing my novel to the public.

(P.S. Happy Birthday, Stacey!)


Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, Elisa. And thank you for coming Saturday. It's interesting to hear your perspective...

I, too, came away from the discussion feeling very satisfied with my career trajectory. In fact, I'd even say it was a break-through moment for me with regards to my thoughts on self-publishing.

I think for the past 4 years I've not really been sure that self-publishing was the way to go... even while doing it with 3-4 books.

Hearing the sort of general financial malaise of a company like Algonquin confirmed for me that I would rather establish a readership through self-publishing, podcasting, TV show, etc., first before landing a book deal with a traditional publisher.

In fact, I think setting clear sales # goals might be wise. That is, I'm thinking it's probably best to sell 5,000 copies of your own self-published book first and perhaps be able to duplicate it a couple of times with subsequent self-published books before going the traditional route.

In the past year, I have had a couple of writer friends who have seen their book deals come and go with a traditional publisher. When they fail to break even after two books, the publisher doesn't ask for more writing, the agent then goes cold, and the writer's career stalls.

I think a way to prevent this from happening is to do all of the stuff we're talking about with self-publishing before going the traditional route.

And I think a number like 5,000 copies is a good mile-marker because most traditional publishers will most likely make a debut author's initial print run 5,000 (sometimes as high as 20,000 for a paperback run).

It just makes sense to me, business-wise, to know that you can and have sold this many books completely on your own. There's a security in that knowledge.

The Purple Panda said...

I agree all the way, Stacey. Self-publishing is only as successful as the plan you carefully craft to go along w/ it.

And yes, I, too, was surprised to hear about the financial status of traditional publishers (I'm sure Algonquin is not the only one). It makes me wonder if perhaps it would be a good idea to start their own POD company, or take advantage of what technology has to offer, especially when it comes to netoworking sites like Facebook and Myspace.

Stacey Cochran said...

It's already here.

In fact, I'd argue the train has started leaving the station. Publishers who aren't on board with the new distribution model are going to fall behind dramatically in the next 4-5 years.

Chuck mentioned on Saturday that Random House is planning massive lay-offs in the next 6-12 months.

Harper-Collins once again impresses me by being out front of all the traditionals.