Got a few treats for you. Over the next couple of weeks, my father, Alton Gansky (he gets his good looks from me) weighs in with a few words about publishing traditionally and self-publishing. An experienced novelist, Al’s spent years publishing traditionally. Recently, he self-published a novella entitled Plot Line. You can find out more about the book’s *ahem* plot line from an interview he did with Edie Melson.
This post is doubly timely, because I just got word from my publisher, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, that two of my e-books are now available for download at amazon.com. The first is called Firsts in Fiction: First Lines. As you might expect, it’s a book on how to craft an effective first line for your novel or short story. the second, Write to Be Heard, is a collaborative, comprehensive look at the craft of fiction. The brilliant Diane Sherlock and I worked for quite some time putting it together and polishing it up. Both books are full of some really good tips, and well worth your $2.99. Click on the image to pick up your copy today, and please be kind enough to to leave a review, if you would.
Because there’s so much information here, I’ve decided to break the interview over a couple of weeks. The first will focus on Al’s experience in the traditional publishing industry from a writer’s perspective, and how that’s changed over the course of the career.
1. You’ve been writing for more years than you’ll admit, and have published 23 novels, as well as 9 nonfiction books. Each of these has come as the result of traditional publishing. Talk for a minute, if you would, about the highs and lows of the industry, the advantages and disadvantages of print publishing.
Traditional publishing is here to stay. It continues to thrive. The way print books are sold has changed since the advent of Amazon.com and the others who have joined the Internet bookstore movement. Publishing with a traditional house still means something. It’s having someone say, "I believe in this project enough to pay an advance, provide editing, create a cover, put it in our catalog and sales portfolio, and maybe even hire a PR firm to help promote it.”
Writing is a lonely profession. Having professionals come along side to make the project better is always a plus. The amount of work done by the publisher is mind boggling, and well beyond what most writers can do for themselves.
But there are downsides. Let’s face it: there are downsides to almost everything. Traditional publishing is a slow process. It can take up to two years from contract to the time the book hits the shelves. There are pitfalls too. For example, a book can be "orphaned" when your editor quits, is fired, retires, or is promoted to some position that has nothing to do with your book. The new editor won’t have the same enthusiasm. The publishing house can go through a change of leadership (such and a CEO switch) and chart a new course, one that doesn’t include your genre. (Trust me on this.)
2. Have you seen a change in traditional publishing over the years? If so, what kind?
Publishing, like many industries, has changed over the last decade and the rate of change seems to be increasing. Three significant changes come to mind. First, publishers are shifting much of the marketing work to the authors. Some insist that a new author have a "platform." This is fine in nonfiction, but it doesn’t translate to fiction. While the author should do his/her best to promote the book, most lack the training to do the job right. In some cases, the publisher has pushed the author to promote anyway possible only to have the authors inadvertently create negative buzz about the work.
Second, some publishers have entered the "self-publishing" arena, capitalizing on what used to be called "vanity press." It remains to be seen how well this works. An author enters into an agreement with the publisher, paying for publication. The author benefits by some publicity in web and catalog presence. If the book does well, the publisher may pick it up for a traditional contract.
Third, is the elephant in the room: digital publication. Most contracts grant digital rights to the publisher, rights that include e-books. The transition to e-publishing was fairly smooth, with most of the hubbub centered on royalties. At first, no one knew what a fair royalty was for an e-book. Publishers, agents, and authors knocked heads for awhile. The standard became 25%. The newest twist on this is direct-to-digital where the publisher buys a book but runs it as an e-book only with the option to go to a p-book (print book) if it sells well. With print-on-demand (POD) technology, this is fairly easy.
3. How has the proliferation of e-publishing affected traditional publishing houses, and, in-turn, writers?
First, we need to remember that publishing has always used other media to sell content. For example, some books were serialized in newspapers or sold in installments. Audiobooks were embraced quickly with books being sold in abridged and unabridged forms on cassette tapes, then compact discs, now as digital downloads to our smart phones. The sudden popularity of e-books seemed to catch the publishing industry (and that includes writers) off guard. The first Amazon Kindle debuted in November of 20007 and sold out in less than six hours. It was not the first e-reader, but Amazon made getting the books on the device quick and easy. Of course, others have joined the fray, creating competing devices and distribution models.
Publishing might have been a touch surprised by the sudden popularity but it responded quickly. Part of the problem rests in the behind the scene problems such as royalties, price points, and a dozen other important issues. That has been hammered out. Now publishers plan on e-book publication for their product. It’s expected by readers and authors.
Publishers have been wise about this. They recognize that they are in the "content business" not the "print book business." That might seem an insignificant distinction but it’s much more. The railroad industry suffered for a long time because they failed to realize they were in the transportation business, not the train business. The system of interstate highways almost put them out of business. Publishing has adapted quickly and will continue to do so.
That wraps up the first installment. Next week, I’ll ask him a bit more about his experience with self-publishing. Until then, you can find out more about my father and his writing here.