Folks all over the internet are trying to figure out what's going on. Things are changing, and in a big way, but none of us truly knows how.
I don't have answers. But I do have hope.
When I started writing, I knew what I was getting into. I knew I'd struggle to break in, to stand out in a crowded field. That I'd have to write my ass off to get an agent, to stand out in a field crowded with wannabes. That every year publishing houses face hundreds of agented submissions for fewer and fewer debut slots.
I knew that getting published was only the first step: The death of the midlist made the writing life a Darwinian struggle, brutal and fierce.
I knew I'd have to do my own promotion. That I'd have to turn in manuscripts polished to the point they barely required an editor's attention. That I'd have to take the cover and the title I was given or run the risk of being labeled 'difficult'.
And I knew that for all my own effort, my fate was still out of my hands. My publisher could spring for coop enough to make me a bestseller, or a negligent decision on sell-through could doom me to a life of declining sales. A title readers wanted could be allowed to go out of print.
I knew all this, and I went for it anyway. I danced around the room when I got my agent, and I took the hit calmly when my novel was ultimately rejected by marketing (that's right, marketing) for it's lack of American focus.
After all, the game was rigged, but it was the only game in town.
Ebooks are changing that game. And none of us quite knows how.
But I have my hopes.
I'm not hoping for the demise of Big 6 publishing. That's actually the last thing I want. Like JD Rhoades, I don't believe that a cabal of three (Amazon, Smashwords and B&N) is guaranteed to treat writers any better than the cabal of six.
Novelists have never been very good at collective bargaining. Screenwriters have a strong union that fights for pay rates, royalties, etc. Novelists, not so much. As long as the oligarchy hung together and enough of us were willing to take a bad deal, just so long as it was a deal, bad deals were going to be the rule.
I hope ebooks give us a real alternative. For a long time now, the Big 6 have acted like a bullying husband who treats his wife like dirt because what's she gonna do without him? She's got nowhere else to go.
Well, now we do have somewhere else to go. Ebooks are already a viable alternative, and the market's got a lot of room to grow yet. Some folks are making plenty of money. Some, like me, are growing an audience by word of mouth, something I wouldn't be able to do in today's mainstream climate. And yeah, most are still sinking beneath the waves. After all, success is never guaranteed.
My hope, my great hope for the future of our industry, is that the ebook revolution will reform the Big 6.
They can't expect to act they way they have and survive.
It won't happen overnight. Likely, there will be a lot more pain before they change their ways. As ebooks find their natural, lower price point (and they will, whether publishers like it or not), they'll need to offer a better deal. After all, why should an author like CS Harris (for whom ebooks are ALREADY a quarter of her sales) accept 14.5% of $2.99 or even $4.99 when she could self-publish and take 70%? Yeah, she'd lose a lot of print sales going POD-- enough that right now the move doesn't make sense.
But there is a tipping point there, and it's coming fast.
At the point mainstream authors can make more self-publishing, with accurate and up-to-date accounting and no 'reserves against return', publishers will have no choice but to change their game.
Of course, they probably won't. Not right away. I anticipate a bit of bullying, bluster and outright pleading to keep profitable authors in their stable, but when the losses get bad enough, I hope we see a change.
Equitable royalties on ebooks. Small-batch, POD-style printing to keep booksellers stocked without carrying extra inventory (like Toyota's just-in-time manufacturing). Term licenses for titles instead of the current 'forever and ever'. And services offered that actually add value.
Imagine a world where publishing houses changed their game to actually court writers, to offer us good reasons to go with them instead of going it alone...
I can hope.