Changing landscape -- again
(By Claire Youmans)
When I first started publishing, you had to have a publisher. The publisher would prepare, issue and sell hard copies of books to brick and mortar stores. I had three books published back then, one by a major, and two by small presses. You were very lucky to get an advance at all, and over the moon if your royalty checks exceeded your dinner checks. Basically, you got a place in a catalog and maybe somebody who bought books would see your entry.
Words failed me for a number of years, for irrelevant personal reasons. During that time, things changed.
In late 2013, I returned to book publishing. I had a very good manuscript. But there were only something like six publishers left. Now it’s down to five. I looked for agents. There were perhaps seven who were interested in the kind of thing I’d written. Everybody wanted things exactly like the LAST bestseller. They thought, it seemed, imitation was the path to success. Books for kids have become almost exclusively “message” books, therapy lectures wrapped in tiny, barely there, stories.
That’s not what I was writing or ever planned to. I write historical fantasy set in Meiji-era Japan. I planned a series that would start with kids and grow up with the kids, until ultimately they were adult books. No, they wouldn’t be part of a recognizable genre. Historical fantasy? Nobody even knows what that is!
“Self-published” was a death knell. Anything “self-published” was bound to be awful, an unedited, thrown up mess. Many outlets, reviewers and contests wouldn’t even accept anything “self-published.” So I formed a publishing company and gave myself an imprint. I did what a real publisher does: I got editors, copy editors, publicists, cover art — all the things a publisher would have provided.
I just published Noriko’s Journey, Book 5 in the Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy series. We are quite clearly into YA, even NA, territory, closing in on adult. I still write historical fantasy, and I still don’t write romance, sex or much explicit violence. What I have are damned good books that get excellent reviews, but the market is changing again.
All I hear now is how “indie” publishers are making millions, MILLIONS, I tell you, by taking this course, reading this book, following this plan. For just $750 YOU CAN DO IT TOO. We’re back to my early days, when I was flooded with “contests” and “agents” that charged entry or reading fees, for services that cost a lot but promised little. Reviews? You have to pay for those now. Want Amazon or Facebook to even notice your existence? You have to pay through the nose for ads. All these outfits do what they say they will, but they do not promise that your book, no matter how good it is, will ever reach its intended audience, and they quite cynically do not care. That isn’t their goal. The only guarantee is that THEY will make money. We’re back to a “fleece the writer” industry again, this time in the context of independent publishing.
Let’s say you do everything RIGHT, take the course, buy the book, follow the formula, buy the ads — will it help? Probably not. Unless you’re in a recognizable genre and can somehow hitch your wagon to a star, it’s not going to help anything but make the people you’re paying better off.
It’s time to figure out a way to stop supporting this latest iteration of an industry that feeds off writers’ hopes and dreams. It’s facile to say the material would sell if it was good. There’s simply too much out there. We need to shut down the exploitive industry and bring back gatekeepers. Real gatekeepers, not “fleece the indie” divisions of formerly prestigious gatekeepers shamelessly profiting off of their former reputations.
How about a return of the magazine, the Mystery Magazine, the Science Fiction Magazine, and others for difference genres and non-genres? There’s a movement towards the “novella” again. That was formerly a staple of SF, and that and the short story were what the magazines published. I discovered many SF and Mystery writers I liked, whose work I followed thereafter, through the magazines.
We don’t need what I’ve seen happening: writers who use the shotgun approach, who think publishing reams of material will get them to their readers, putting up novellas and other shorter material up on Amazon at lower than novel prices, and hoping that one of their pellets hits the mark. They’re trying, but they’re missing the target. We need curation, we need gatekeepers. Magazines are one way to achieve that now.
So — anybody want to start a 'zine? I have a 9,000 word historical fantasy story ready for you. I’ll have another in a month or so, before I start book 6. I’m game if you are.
Also check out Claire's blog and FB page and available books here:
Facebook: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy
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