Sunday, January 22, 2012

The winds of change in the publishing industry

Up until the last year or so, being a writer was a mix of pleasure and frustration.  Example:  I would get a good idea for a book.  I would write the first few chapters and an outline for the book, then I would prepare a full-blown proposal.  I would send it to my agent who would read it and decide if it was marketable – based on his knowledge of the industry. 

Sometimes the book got killed right there.  If my agent did decide to try and sell it, it might take a year and a half of him knocking on doors to either sell it or come back with rejections.  After all of that time if it didn’t sell, my agent would give up.  I’d be left with a proposal, an outline, and the start of a book.  By then, I’d already started work on the next great idea. 

This is the cycle of traditional publishing.  Writers have great ideas, sink time and effort into them, but risk rejection.  That doesn’t diminish their ideas.  It also assumes the traditional publishers know what is going to sell and have a very tight pulse on what the consumer wants.  For years we have been forced to contend with this or seek out a risky paid-for self publishing option.

I don’t want to knock traditional self-publishing, but it is hard to not do so. Most self-publishing houses and their business models stripped wannabe authors of their money and often (in the older models) left them with a garage full of books to try and sell.  Yes, I know there are some more dynamic models now – but I find that their business is more about taking money from the author than putting out a quality book.  In that model, the author often becomes disillusioned, financially drained, and frustrated. 

Those days are over folks.  Things are different thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). is changing the publishing paradigm – make no mistake about it.   What Amazon offers with Kindle Direct Publishing is a chance for an author to publish a book with no up-front costs for the Kindle.  You format the book and upload it and in a few days your book is available via for Kindle users. 

So what?  Well, there are some incredible success stories out there of people who have made a ton of money (hundreds of thousands of dollars) on books that traditional publishers and agents killed.  New authors have a venue for their ideas – and established authors can finally get those wonderful ideas that might have been rejected years ago…out the door. 

From a writer’s perspective – you no longer have to worry about a book being rejected.  If you like the idea and are committed to a quality product, your book can come out – to hell with the traditional publishers!  You say you don't own a Kindle and feel your market is narrowed by this option - wake up and smell the coffee people.  More digital books are sold than physical books now.  The Kindle is changing how people buy books too - more on that in a future blog.  Don't fight the wind - go with it! Amazon also offers a self-publish model that you can get into for almost nothing as well, if you favor physical books.  On every front, Amazon is aiming to change the stoic and stale ivory towers of traditional publishing. 

The Kindle Direct Publishing program can net the author upwards of 70% of the royalties on a book, minus some incredibly minor data size/transmission costs.  No publisher out there gets close to this.  Yes, there are some rules you have to follow to get that royalty rate, but trust me, there is gold in them thar hills!

Now, there are some downsides to this concept.  Anybody can publish a book.  That includes people who can’t string three words together.  There are some books I’ve paid for that were pure garbage, their editing had to be nonexistent.   Some are simply crap.

Once more though, is freaking brilliant.  They don’t try and weed out the horrible books.  The market does that for them.  Bad reviews protect readers from purchasing garbage.   In the meantime some very good books that normally would not make it to market are now available and the authors are making good money from them. Amazon seems content to let the market guide what sells and what doesn’t. 

This is a game-changer. is not just changing how we read books with the Kindle (more on that in a later blog).  They are altering the very nature of the publishing industry.  Agents are going to face some real pressures.  Amazon is shattering the illusion that publishers somehow mystically can pick books that sell.  The truth is they reject a lot of books that are proving to be of great entertainment and value.   Some of the publishing houses are attempting to get in on this – but it is far too little far too late. 

I’ve been researching and following this trend for the last year or so and trust me, the world of publishing is changing and Amazon is making that happen.  It’s an exciting time to be a writer.  I am going to be leveraging this program in the coming months myself.  I have a few books I know are fantastic in their market, but have been rejected by agents and publishers alike.  I’ve hired an editor and an artist (for the cover) and I’m jumping into this pond.  I will share with you my experiences, good and bad, as I go through this process. 

Some tips I have already learned in my research that I share for my fellow authors:

You really do need to have a good story to begin with.  Duh.  Have some brutally honest friends give you feedback before you embarrass yourself.  Let them read it and tell you if it is any good or not.  Be prepared to make changes. Now, more than ever, the market is going to guide what works and what doesn’t in this new model. 

You have to know the market you are writing for.   While this should go without saying, you’d be surprised how many first timers attempt to write for a market where they don’t know the proverbial landscape.  This means knowing who your reader/audience is, what they expect, and ensuring your book delivers them what they want. 

Hire a book editor.  Sorry, having Aunt Martha reading your book doesn’t count.  The biggest complaint that readers have about KDP books is that many authors don’t hire editors to improve their books.  Yes, it will cost you some cash up-front; it is also money well-spent. 

Covers do count.  Even the thumbnail of the counter on helps draw in people.  KDP has a cover building application.  I suggest finding an artist that can come up with a cover that looks like other books in the market – not some home-done attempt at art. You can spot a self-done cover pretty quickly.  Get a professional – it is worth it. 

You still have to market and promote your book.  Don’t think you can just sit back and that the money will come to you in wheelbarrows.  Even the big publishing houses don’t do a good job any more in promoting books – so you have to be proactive in promoting yourself and your work.  It’s the part of being an author that none of us like but is required. 

The publishing world is changing folks.  You can either be a part of it or watch it pass you by.  I for one intend to try it out.  Who knows, maybe I'm wrong....but I'm willing to try it and find out for myself rather than sit back and watch from the sidelines.  I will keep you posted as I move through this process - so stay tuned!


  1. Good article, Blaine, especially coming from a published author. BTW, I'm learning a lot about WWI flyers in your "Terror of the Autumn Skies." It's one of the first books I bought for my Kindle. My only frustration is that I can't figure out how to easily move to the end notes.

  2. Candace - I'm glad you are learning a lot. That book was fun to write. I'm still pretty proud of it.