Tuesday, October 12, 2010

EBooks: Time for unpublished novelists to change strategies?

A Revolution Blowin’ in the Wind
By Mark Young
Every unpublished novelist shares this dream: One day a publisher reaches out and taps them on the shoulder. Someone out there read the struggling writer’s pride-and-joy, their sweat-drenched manuscript. A letter arrives. The writer tears open the envelope and reads, “We are pleased to inform you that we have decided to publish …” or something to that effect.

Most unpublished novelists, however, often share this kind of letter: “Thank you for your query submission. After careful review, we have decided (insert name of novel) is not a good fit for us at this time.” Worse yet, the aspiring novelist never receives a response.

It’s a tough business—on the publisher and the writer. Publishers cannot spend precious time on concepts or ideas that that will never get traction in the market. Time is money. Unpublished authors—like their manuscripts—may find themselves at the bottom of a slush pile, slowly drowning. No one wants to gamble on the unknown.

As novelists, they’ve tried to prepare themselves in order to survive—even excel—in a highly competitive market. Spending years learning the craft, perfecting their writing, joining critique groups, and attending writing conferences. They may have subscribed to a plethora of writing magazines, attended university creative writing courses, read piles of how-to books, and painstakingly studied the craft of published and well-respected writers. Maybe they entered writing contests for short stories, novellas, or novels while writing articles on whatever subject might sell. Anything to get their name and writing out there.

One day they pluck up enough courage to start sending out those query letters and submissions—day after day, year after year, novel after novel. Each day they trek to the post office hoping for word that someone out there finally decided to take a chance. Letters of rejection start piling up, the writer beginning to recognize these rejections by weight and feel of the envelope—without ever slicing it open. Almost fatalistically, these rejections are tossed into a growing file. These rejections will be living proof someday—when dreams comes true—that this writer paid the price to become published.

Always tenacious, the writer trudges home from a day job, tiredly flopping down at the desk to begin another page, another story. Maybe this new novel will be something publishers simply can’t turn down.

This process is not unique to aspiring novelists. Through the years, now published authors fought this same fight, shared this same dream. You are not alone. For these novelists, the dream finally came true. They broke through and made it to the other side.

At some point, writers begin to toy with the idea of self-publishing. They compare costs, look at all the options, at the same time recognizing this self-published stigma might stifle their chances of traditional publishers ever picking up their work. Reluctantly, the unpublished novelist decides to wait, to be patient, to keep putting words and stories together.

Still no word comes. The words come harder and harder to write.

Meanwhile, the publishing market begins to shift—for the worse. As recession slowly grips everyone’s pocketbook, publishers begin to draw back, selecting fewer and fewer debut authors. Even multi-published authors begin to find contracts harder to win. Understandably, publishers need to invest their limited funds in projects that are most likely going to give a return. Publishers begin to hedge their bets, going for the sure thing, less and less inclined to gamble. After all, it’s all about survival. They—like writers and agents—are in business to make money. So, unpublished writers watch the market slowly dry up as fewer and fewer opportunities emerge.

Then a shift begins in the industry’s paradigm like a refreshing breeze. Technology—specifically eBooks and everything this digitalized revolution brings to the table—begins to rumble and shake the market. Everyone in the writing industry starts eyeing changing percentages as eBooks become more viable to cash-strapped consumers and a mobile society. Writers read where Amazon.com announced in July their eBooks are outselling their hardcovers, estimating that by 2011 eBooks will be outselling their paperbacks.

Authors –like Joe Konrath— start beating a drum that a new revolution is coming our way. They tell us that writers can economically step into the role traditionally held by mainstream publishers. That writers can begin to manage their own destiny, their own dreams. They can compete—granted, much like David and Goliath—in a digital market where consumers are more directly involved. Where readers are offered a wider variety of products at a lower cost. Where authors can make choices about price, title, and marketing of their novel.

Everyone watched as big-named publishers and Amazon.com started sparring in the ring like heavyweight champions struggling for the title. Publishers landed the first punch—not yet Round 1—with what they call the “agency model.” Under this plan, publishing houses will determine the price eBooks—generated from the publisher— will be sold in Amazon’s marketplace. As if to counter this blow, Amazon comes up with services for authors willing to sell directly to that company in both eBook and print form. Other companies—like Barnes and Noble—come out with self-publishing platforms for authors, offering generous royalties far and above those given by traditional publishers.

And so the war continues.

Hope begins to emerge. Writers begin to see a possibility that their novel just might reach more than test-group Beta readers or friends and family. That their writing might emerge into the light of the open market. Their dream just might survive.

So what do they do? Keep writing and trying to get their work recognized by traditional publishers and agents? Or, do they start changing strategy, venturing into this new world offered by the eBook revolution?

This new world will still require well-written, well-edited novels. However, this new world of consumers appear eager to sample new authors at a price affordable to almost everyone. The survival of the fittest still continues, but the playing field may have leveled just a little.

Here is the question that every unpublished author must start asking themselves in today’s market: Do they continue pursuing their dream down the same road they been traveling, or do they take the path not yet traveled?

A revolution may be Blowin’ in the Wind.

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