When I started learning about publishing, it was over twenty-five years ago and the internet was just a twinkle in someone’s eye. Now though, writers truly have a choice in how they publish their work. And before you can say anything about quality, let me tell you about a few things I’ve seen over the years.
First, print wasn’t the be-all-end-all to quality work. Publishers could be terribly homogenous in what they put out and what they wanted from writers. Guidelines from days long ago would look ridiculous today but trust me, they were real. When I started writing romance, there were enough do’s and don’ts that would fill a entire how-to manual. It was writers who broke those so-called rules that kept the genre moving forward and kept readers in the fold because of it.
Second, in addition to publishers being gate-keepers, most publishers wouldn’t look at any potential new author unless that author had an agent. Here’s the thing: anyone could, and still can, hang a shingle outside their door and say they are an agent. Yes, there is an organization for agents that has established criteria for accreditation but there’s no regulation other than that. And just because someone was an agent and was successful didn’t mean they knew everything and the price of it. There were agents who deep-sixed books and de-railed careers because they thought they knew best (though honestly they were either off their rockers or just didn’t have the guts to end their relationship with the author they were sabotaging).
Third, just because a writer published their book with a big New York-based house and got a ton of money for marketing and promotion didn’t guarantee success. I saw a lot of big-hyped books tank on the shelves and it didn’t matter if they were good or bad because despite the hype-campaign, they didn’t connect with enough readers to make back the money spent.
In the end, if a book is meant to do well it will. And for some books and their authors, that success can be right out of the gate but for most, it’s a slow and steady climb. It’s a lot of hard work writing well and trying to build a relationship with readers. And that relationship with readers was changed most by the internet.
Romance authors and readers were some of the first to embrace the internet as a means of sharing their favorite books and authors embraced the internet as a way to reach readers directly. Then with the rise of Amazon and e-books, suddenly print wasn’t the be-all-end-all. Because when romance authors got into electronic publishing, they brought a strong work ethic of putting out quality books and direct marketing campaigns that are still the playbooks for success even after a decade of electronic publishing.
Because for the first time ever, with electronic publishing, a writer could control every single aspect of the writing and publishing process.
THE AUTHOR could decide what to write and how to write it.
THE AUTHOR could decide how their book was going to be edited and they had the final say in those revisions.
THE AUTHOR could decide how the cover was going to look, and how the cover copy was going to read.
THE AUTHOR could decide how their book was going to be marketed and promoted.
And most of all, THE AUTHOR retained all the rights to her books forever.
Yes, that’s a lot of decision-making, but romance authors are smart and savvy women and they have created cottage industries not just of writing books, but editing, graphic design, and marketing and promotion. Some have set up their own publishing houses vowing to be different than the big New York publishers with great success.
Has every single book worked out? No. But like I said earlier, even big New York-published books didn’t work out either. The good thing about electronically-published independent authors is that if something isn’t working, they can make changes and keep going.
And that freedom and independence are why I will be pursuing independent publishing. I won’t rule out conventional publishing because if a writer can get a good deal then it’s a good thing. But since I’m doing my bumbling best to live an independent life free of as much needless stress and bullshit as possible, electronic is the way I want to go. Sure, I love the feel of a print book in my hands and would definitely get a thrill out of seeing my print book on a bookshelf in a bookstore. But like the changes to publishing itself, bookstores are nowhere near as numerous as they used to be.
Times change and so do business models. As I like to say, if a business model still worked well then there wouldn’t be a need to change it. But the business models that are being upended, like traditional print publishing, have had these changes coming for quite a while. Because even back in the glory days of print publishing and bookstores galore, the model didn’t work as well as it could have. Or better put, the house always won no matter what happened good or bad.
Now the author is the publishing house, and there’s no going back now.