There are no good rough drafts, only good rewrites. I rolled my eyes at this statement before I began editing Skinshifter. Now that my beta readers have finished hacking and slashing at it, I’m proud to say that the book is currently on rewritten draft number six. Why would I put that much effort into a single manuscript? The answer is that I believed and still believe that this piece of writing is worth the investment of my time, resources, hard work, and money. From an artist’s standpoint, I believe in the power of this story. From a business viewpoint, I see it as an excellent product and a wise investment. Time will tell if I am correct in my assessment of this particular product, but I do at least know that if I am passionate about my characters and my story, then other readers will be, too.
The reader’s want is the endgame in this business. Whole corporate chains rise and fall because of it. Borders is gone largely because it could no longer satisfy readers’ wants. The corporation heavily invested in physical stores and outsourced its online presence at a time when more and more readers began shopping online for their books. With the convenience of shopping online for books, most readers stopped frequenting physical bookstores. Now the simple convenience of buying and reading an eBook almost instantly on your pc, tablet, or phone has upended the giant puzzle board called the publishing world once again. No one is quite sure how the pieces are eventually going to reorganize, but I have been watching the shifts of the industry enough to make a fairly educated guess. First, however, we need some business background.
In traditional publishing, there are at least ten steps to get a single novel to change from a writer’s manuscript into a paperback book in the hands of a reader. First, the writer has to write her first rough draft and, second, she has to edit it multiple times with the help of beta readers and informal editors. Once the manuscript is cleaned up, it can be submitted to a publishing house. Every publisher has its own standards and rules for manuscript guidelines and so the writer must pay careful attention to every last rule when submitting his manuscript to a specific publisher, otherwise her story will be rejected unread. The manuscript still might be rejected if the receiving editor found major flaws in the manuscript or did not think it a good fit with the house’s overall publication theme. In the tradition publishing model, manuscript rejections are an unfortunate normal part of a writer’s life.
Once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, the author signs a writing contract which essentially sells his manuscript to that publisher for a certain period of time in exchange for an “advance” payment of a specific amount. Advances vary as much as the publishers which pay them, but you can expect very little money when you first start writing. Once the legal stuff is finished, the author and his publisher’s assigned editor will go through their own editing sessions to perfect the manuscript. Once all editing is finished, the publishing house will send the book to a cover artist to design the book’s cover. Depending on the publisher, the author may or may not have much say in how the book cover looks. As the cover is finalized, a marketing budget will be determined. Again most new authors can expect very little money in their book’s marketing budget and so most of the marketing will be done by the author himself. The book is then registered for copyright, ISBN number, and Library of Congress catalog number. Once its page formatting is finalized for the physical printer, the book is sent to press, printed, readied for shipping, and shipped to distributors all over the country (and maybe the world). Many but not all modern-day books are also made into different eBook formats for distribution to major online retailers. Once all of the hard copies and electronic copies are distributed to the various book stores and book sellers, then the author has to swing into full-time marketing mode to try to launch the book. If the book does not gain enough popularity among readers, the book will be dumped by bookstores. I have been told that the grace period for a new book is about six months in stores, but having never gotten this far in the traditional book publishing process, I could be wrong.
In recent years, the rise of electronic media and its simplification of self-publishing has caused a lot of concern within the traditional publishing industry at large and some downright panic in the fantasy and science fiction publishing industry in specific. The reason why is because bookselling tycoon Amazon.com and its industry rivals have begun streamlining the publishing process for authors who wish to self-publish their works in eBook and print-on-demand formats. Amazon has essentially created a free way for authors to directly upload the Microsoft Word document version of a manuscript and a book cover image to Amazon’s distribution website. Amazon offers no monetary advance because the company does not take possession of the author’s work at time of publication. In other words, the author owns the publishing rights to his own work and can therefore decide how to edit, distribute, and market his work at any time during the publishing process. While Amazon has pioneered the eBook form of self-publishing, other competitors have begun perfecting it. Smashwords, for example, has devised an automated system to create multiple eBook formats out of the same manuscript so that an author can sell his manuscript in .mobi, .pdf, .epub, and many other popular e-reader formats.
The independent or self-published author has always been his own writer, editor, cover artist, publisher, and marketer. Such multitasking was horribly difficult, but now the advance of technology allows the self-publisher those vast abilities and responsibilities with the clicks of a few buttons. Currently Amazon’s royalty rates are much higher than that of traditional publishers, which dole out 10-25 percent of a book’s profits to its author. Part of this is because Amazon accepts less responsibility for the actual production and marketing of the work. The higher royalty rates of 30 and 70 percent in combination with cheap upfront publishing costs and easy distribution are making self-publishing very enticing to new authors—a fact that has made traditional publishers quite nervous.
At this point there is still a social stigma toward self-published authors because it is so easy to publish any quality of content on Amazon’s and other online booksellers’ sales websites, but I have seen that perception begin to shift with the success of eBooks such as Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga series. Howey has proved that a self-published author can still be a polished author of skill and technical brilliance. Like many in the new crop of successful self-pub authors, Howey invested in his work by having it vigorously edited and critiqued with the help of a few free beta readers and a paid independent editor. The industry shakeup between the old publishing method and the new is by no means resolved, but I think I can fairly accurately predict how the puzzle pieces are likely to reorganize.
Think about this. Technology always drives industry. Anytime a new technology makes something more convenient for people to use, that new technology will replace the old. A few examples of this include: the horse verses the automobile, the tape versus the compact disc, the cd versus the mp3, the typewriter verses the computer, and the physical bookseller verses the online bookseller. There will always be small niche pockets of the old technology left, but most of these hold-outs will likely be considered more collector’s items or high-end art than they will be viewed as actually functional. Therefore it is fairly safe to assume that in the competition of print books verses eBooks, eBooks will eventually win since they are cheaper to produce, faster to make, simpler to buy, easier to store, and more convenient to carry and replace than print books.
Most experts are doubtful that eBooks will overtake the overall book selling market anytime within the next couple of years, but I have no doubt that they will eventually overtake the market as readers become more and more comfortable with reading on a screen. If eBook sells continue to rise and eventually overtake the book sells market, then self-published eBooks and print-on-demand may also eventually win the competition between traditional publishing verses self-publishing. The only ways this will not happen is if Amazon and like distributors do something to cheat independent authors or the publishing houses find a way to streamline their own publishing models and add extra incentive to authors. Both options are not only possible, but likely.
Time, of course, will always be the final judge of what succeeds and what does not. This is why the creation and publishing of books is, by its very nature, a long-term investment. In each step of the creative process, you must do what is necessary to make your product the most valuable and cost-effective good possible. However you do that, always remember that since consumers (your readers) drive product sales, revolutionizing convenience will always change the industry. Always watch for the newest technology to revolutionize people’s ease of doing something and try to adapt to it.
Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!