I started this blog and website a few weeks ago, Phase Two of my new “career” in publishing. Phase One was in May, when my new agency presented their clients with an opportunity to bring our out-of-print titles into the Ebook Era. I went along with it, even though it’s self-publishing, a.k.a. “vanity” publishing, something I swore many years ago that I would absolutely never do. But here I am, nonetheless, doing it.
Why? That’s a good question. The simple answer is, I want to be published again. I need to get back to some semblance of a professional career, being paid for my work, and this is the only way I can do it at the moment. The industry I knew has all but vanished.
Once upon a time, there were hundreds of publishing houses in America. With the advent of the Internet, the new reality in publishing is electronic books, and it’s put many of the smaller houses out of business. We’re down to a handful of traditional publishers, mainly the “Big Six,” a half-dozen NYC-based conglomerates that have multiple imprints under one roof. The “Big Six” are fighting for their lives against the new reality, and their only weapons are cutbacks and overworked bestselling authors. They’ve reduced their staffs, so fewer titles are being brought out. Most of those titles are from a small group of Very Big Names (VBNs) who are now being encouraged to produce two, three, or even more titles per year. It’s the only way the publishers can stave off obsolescence.
I’m not a VBN, and neither are most of the writers I know. We are that vanishing breed of rare birds known as “mid-list authors.” We write good books that people like, but we were never big moneymakers. How do we survive in this new reality?
We self-publish, just like the amateurs.
In the old days, aspiring authors had to find agents, who would present the most promising manuscripts to editors, who would cherry-pick the very best of the most promising, then work with the authors to clean and polish them for publication. By then, you could be reasonably sure of their quality. Now, with the decline of traditional publishing and the rise of instant ebooks, anyone with access to a computer can simply upload anything and slap a price tag on it, and that’s what unprecedented numbers of people are doing. Amazon and the other online outlets are currently teeming with starry-eyed first-timers, proudly presenting their work directly to the public without benefit of professional editing or, in most cases, any discernible talent, like some endless community theater production of Hello, Dolly! Vanity publishing, once dismissed as an annoying footnote, has gone viral in the Computer Age. It’s the main event, the triumph of the ordinary. The new reality.
In the midst of this carnival, you’ll find…me. And many of my mid-list colleagues. We’re bringing our books back into print without publishers, and some of the more adventurous among us are even presenting their new works this way. I haven’t resorted to that yet, but the night is young. I’m still hoping for a publisher, one of the “Big Six” or the few remaining smaller houses. In the meantime, I’m self-publishing my backlist titles; I’ve even designed the covers for them. I’m placing ads in national magazines. If I can work up the courage, I might even get on Facebook. Maybe I’ll make a trailer, a live-action pitch for my wares. Whatever I do, I’ll be doing it all by myself. This is my new reality.
I’ll let you know how it goes.