Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gazing into the Future

By Martha Reed

As I get closer to finishing my manuscript, I’m starting to move my focus toward selling it. This presents some new ground to cover since the publishing business is in such turmoil lately. I’m not even sure which business model to follow since I’m not sure which one is going to survive.

Being a writer nowadays is a little like living in a contested village during a civil war when neither army is particularly friendly. I’m in the middle still trying to feed the chickens and milk the cow while praying the soldiers don’t burn down the barn.

All around me I see bricks and mortar bookstores closing at both the national and local independent level. I read of traditional publishing house editors getting down-sized to become agents and of agents transitioning to become freelance editors. I even know of one editor who became a writer who is now an agent. Shazooey! No wonder I’m confused.

I think the trick here, as I gaze into my crystal ball, is to keep your eye on the technology. Technology will tell us which direction “progress” is going to go. It’s an historic pattern: faster, cheaper, easier, successful. The younger generation has already adapted to it; quite possibly the Baby Boomers may be the Last Generation of paper book readers.

But that doesn’t mean doom and gloom.

I like to think publishers may migrate back to an older business model my grandfather knew: quality acid-free paper versions of books with marvelous engravings and fine bindings. I think there will always be a market for the reader connoisseur who wants a fine copy of a favorite novel. Illustrators have been starving for more than fifty years. Maybe this is their turn to re-enter the book-making marketplace?

So what do I see? Ebooks, trade paperbacks for under $15 and luxury bookmaking. That’s my best guess.


Annette said...

I like your comparison to being in the middle, feeding the chickens and milking the cows. So true. I'm right there with you, Martha.

C.L. Phillips said...


I've been at SXSW this week taking in a slate full of sessions on this very dilemma. Jane Friedman (formerly of Writer's Digest) moderated a panel on the #futureofnovel, and she also led #pubcamp. Check out the twitter feeds on these two hash tags to see what she and others were saying.

Soak down the barn with water. It's getting hot and Sherman's on the march.


Martha Reed said...

Alright. I'll soak the barn and bury the silver! I'm afraid this is going to get interesting.

Martha Reed said...

P.S. Maybe out of all of this we'll come up with an intelligent and rational way to compensate authors including transparent royalty records.

Patg said...

The fact of the matter is, there is no right way. Everything used to be in a proper place before because everything took so much longer. There is room for everything in the vastly overpopulated planet. Traditional publishing will stay in place for the collectors, the luxury presses and you will pay through the nose.
But for the reading population, paper books will be a something they love and think they might keep forever. More like, so their kids can sell it as an antique.
I have no sympathy for NY and its rituals they want to hold on to and keep authors chained to. There's a lot more freedom in the new ways, but the definitely demand more of the author. If you visualize a life of quiet contemplation, daydreaming up all your new and creative ideas, well, I'm sorry for you. Yes, creative writing classes and critique work is still necessary, but you'd better get yourself some heavy duty marketing classes and small business management classes too. The changes are creating a whole new environment and our kids and grandkids won't miss a thing of what we loved. Who here misses killing their own food or the whole days of making something as simple as cakes or cookies?
Besides, no one is going to be lugging paper books into space.
Does that sound like a rant?
Sorry, bad day with this new fangled thing called a computer and the lecture I got from a snot nose kid who probably was in his 20s but acted 12.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I like your view of the future--it looks like there's room for everyone. And I certainly agree with your confusion. I went shopping at the close-out sale for our local Borders, then came home and worked on my mss to get it set up for an eBook. There's nothing like being the "transition" generation.

Anonymous said...


Great post!

I too dream of a renewed interest in luxury bookmaking. Something along the lines of William Morris. Wouldn't that be amazing?

Yet at the same time, I'm also completely intrigued by the idea of doing picture books on the Nook and the ipad. Two opposite ends of the spectrum.

The thing is, I think that people will always want good stories, no matter what form they come in. I remember thinking that digital art was the spawn of Satan and lamenting the end of hand drawn movie cells. But I have to say that Toy Story 3 was one of the most wonderful, moving and delightful films I've ever seen.