Thursday, July 19, 2012

Do Writers Still Need New York?

Publishing is in flux—an understatement if ever one existed. The industry is in the midst of some of the greatest changes and challenges since Gutenberg sent us into the modern era. One issue of huge importance revolves around whether or not traditional publishing will even exist as we know it in the very near future.

The digital age, and all of its advances in technology, has revolutionized this business in a mind-bogglingly short time. Such a short time, that NY is scrambling all over the place, and as is often the case with big publishing, the tail is truly wagging the dog. Now major publishers are chasing the e-book phenomenon like a puppy spinning after that tail.  Many are releasing e-book serializations as teasers before the hard or soft covers come out.  We’ll see how well that works—the jury is still out on it.  But the point being, NY is trying to get creative.  Even if the traditional industry found itself fifty yards behind at kickoff.  

Will initial print runs soon be a thing of the past?  Returns a distant memory?  What if nothing ever goes out of print (digitally speaking, anyway)?  And what does that mean for the writer? 

Plenty. And much of that is good.

The publishing world up to now has been a quite small one, actually, centered in New York, and even before the digital age zoomed off, acquisitions and mergers of major houses narrowed that world more and more. Ten years ago virtually every editor in NY I talked to told me, “The fiction market is shrinking.” And it was. And it did. And in NY, it’s still tiny, even after e-books hit and everything went insane. 

Even before e-books, the big houses shrinking their lists opened up a huge window for small and regional publishers. Of course, those got caught in the quickly changing quagmire, and many have gone belly up.  Then again, many of those (with more arriving on the scene daily) have opened e-book “publishing” houses, some partnering with writers, some charging flat fees.  

Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea PartyAn author of mine was quite prescient on this topic a while back. Ginnie Bivona (Ida Mae Tuttweiller and the Traveling Tea Party, also made into a Hallmark film), was then an acquisitions editor at Republic of Texas Press, and now is the publisher of Atriad Press   We were having this conversation ten years ago and she said, “Writers no longer need New York. Period.  Bookstores will all be buying the same product—books—whether they’re from Simon & Schuster or a regional press. The difference is now in the way those books are printed and distributed.”

Or, for our purposes, published in print to begin with. This was before anyone could even conceptualize the e-book revolution.  And although the book-and-mortar stores still don’t stock self-published books, they do buy from small and regional houses all the time.  

The digital age has sure leveled the playing field. Of course, right now there’s this vast sea of self-pubbed books, and the marketing of those is difficult to say the least.  But unless your name is E.L James to begin with, you have to do almost all of the marketing yourself anyhow, even if your book came from one of the NY biggies. 

In the future, the house that sells the most books may well indeed not have a traditional name.  But it will be the house that knows how to target the audience for its authors, bringing the very real consequence of more and better books being published.  And where we go from there is anybody’s guess. 

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

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  1. Susan: Until I read this post, with your personification of the city of New York, I'd never stopped to think that both of my great passions, publishing and dance, had both been so city-centric. While dancers still dream of going to NYC to "make it," dance started its great migration across the country earlier than publishing. Rocky years ensued, but it seems to be making a bit of a comeback. I have a similar optimism for publishing, but only if authors still demand of themselves the very highest level of work. If great books fade away, the demand for all books will fade as well.

  2. Very helpful post, Susan. I think some people have a hard time letting go of the traditional way for anything, and they miss new opportunities no matter what their business or passion is. I know I have always been resistant to change. Don't even rearrange my furniture. But all these changes in publishing have been a real wake-up call for me. I moved a chair the other day. LOL

  3. What not so long ago seemed a "cut-and-dried" process has evolved into a complex scenario that brings hope to a plethora of writers who had nary a chance of being picked up by a NY house. It also brings a whole array of options that didn't exist in the days of only NY or the vanity presses.

    I particularly appreciated your mention of "the very real consequence of more and better books being published." The poor quality of so many independently published books almost buried us under the mountain of sludge. Now, hope that quality will one day reign supreme on our end of the playing field makes the battle worth the effort.

    Great post, Susan!

  4. It's an amazing and scary time for authors these days! Lots of choices and freedom, with lots of decisions to make.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Maryann, I hear ya! Changing is difficult, and especially as I get older. LOL. I think what Kathryn and Linda are saying is the crux: our business depends now on good books. And I agree 100%--so much schlock has been published of late, readers are having a tough time finding something decent to read. But I've always held to the hope (often insanely so:) that the cream will rise . . .

  6. I'm still boggling over the idea of nothing ever going out of print.

  7. Interesting times, eh what? Here's a thought: the publishing and distribution of content is in flux, but what never changes is the need for marketing ... and effective marketing ... at least mass marketing ... takes bucks. It seems to me that this is where the trad pubs still have an advantage: they have the means to big time marketing that us indies will never have. I may be published, but I still find myself cruising the periphery of the market, hoping to snag a reader or two who shops outside the traditional market ... and I ain't alone ... seems there are more sellers than shoppers.

  8. The ever changing world of technology is difficult to navigate at times and it's important to seek a publisher that will evolve with the times.

    All the best,

  9. The thing is, Christopher, that you're not much better off going with a Traditional house, as per the marketing. They use their marketing $$ on books by already big-name authors. Mid-list folks (which have pretty much gone the way of the horned toad) rarely got much support. So, unless your last name is King, etc., you have to do it yourself anyhow.


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