Monday, February 17, 2014

Publishing Is a Business

Since everyone has had something to say in the recent kerfuffle over traditional publishing vs. self-publishing vs. I dunno, narwhals or something, I thought that maybe I should jump into the fray with my opinion. What is my opinion?

Tommy, if you please:

Seriously, I don't care. Not much. See, here's my position. I want to do my thing. I want you to be able to do your thing. I'm excited that we have so many options these days to do different things. Yay for us! This is one of those times when I don't understand the forming of "sides" and the pressing need people feel to "convert" others. Is publishing a religion and no one told me? I don't think so. I think it's a business. An industry somewhere on the order of $280 BILLION DOLLARS (not including Internet, whatever they mean by that). If you're not familiar with business, let me clue you in. There are likely to be some varying opinions on how to get your piece of the pie.

I'm not talking about the art and craft here. That's a different thing entirely. And you know what? Art is a helluva subjective thing. It's quite possible that we could find the one perfect piece of fiction in the entire world and it wouldn't sell. Because that's the way life is sometimes. Van Gogh only sold that one painting in his lifetime. To a friend's sister. Sales don't equal quality. Quality doesn't equal sales. Cry about that all you want, but it's the truth. Everyone working on your art? Good. Stay on that. We need awesome books. But let's not bring the writing part into this discussion and only concentrate on publishing and sales because really that's the core of what's being discussed here - the disruption of an industry.

A few people have likened self-publishers to entrepreneurs, and I think that's a fairly accurate connection to make. If publishing is a business then there are a number of roles that need to be played. Prior to the boom of ebooks, if you wanted the "writer" role (and wanted the chance to make a good deal of money at it) you were probably going to need to work with a publishing house. That's because of the capital and connections required to do broad scale publishing. Quite simply, a model that used economies of scale was more successful. There is nothing inherently good or bad in that, it was just what the industry required. Then things changed. Among them, Amazon rather aggressively pursuing the question of "What if we changed the rules a little bit?" Primarily to horn in on the action. If you were to really analyze what goes into making and selling a book, Amazon is only working as the distributor for a self-published author. And making a heck of a percentage in that role. But it means that the key to distribution is accessible and now an author wanting to 'go it alone' only has to, you know, figure out all the other stuff beyond actually writing a book. Editing. Graphic design. Promotion. And managing all of it. A business. If you don't want to manage a business (small though it may be), then self-publishing is obviously not for you. If you salivate over the idea of running your own business, then maybe it's something you should consider. I'm not trying to convince you one way or the other, I'm just saying that publishing is a business and you have more options to participate in that business than you did before.

But do you know what this whole traditional vs. self publishing thing isn't going to do for you? Guarantee your success. Nothing is going to do that. New York can't guarantee that. Amazon can't guarantee that. Your religious figure can't guarantee that. No one can make that happen. Not even you. You can work really, really, really hard at it. But hard work doesn't equal sales, either. It just increases your chances. All of this is about finding the path that best optimizes your chances for being a successful author. Your path probably looks different than mine. That's ok, right? We probably had a different breakfast (unless you had Cheerios and a vanilla latte?) and will talk to different people today. Lots of things are different. Unless we choose to connect and celebrate our sameness, while also choosing to admire and respect our difference, there is just likely to be unpleasantness.

At heart what is my opinion on the trad vs. self fight? I think everyone needs to calm down. The people who actually should be panicking haven't yet. For the rest of us we need to take off our crankypants and take a nap so that we can wake up refreshed and ready to write or publish or fight narwhals, or whatever it is we need to do this afternoon.

In that spirit, here's Uncle Sammy with the exactly right bedtime book for the mood everyone has been in (NSFW or delicate ears):

Note: I have not discussed my opinion on writing or readers in this piece on purpose. This is only about business.

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