If you ask a reader walking into a bookstore if they were coming in looking for a ‘Random House’ or a ‘Tor’, I doubt a single one would say yes.
More and more, marketing is about branding. As technology rapidly changes the playing field, a fundamental understanding of the big picture of the book business is being misunderstood: I submit to you that publishers are not a brand; authors are. Ask readers why they are coming in, many will tell you they are looking for the next Nora Roberts, Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, etc.
Publishers understand that. But they don’t quite understand what it means. They have been the gatekeepers of the book world for so long because they controlled production and distribution of the product.
They don’t any more. I have a trade paperback on my desk that just arrived from Lightning. It’s one of my backlist books I just brought back into print (mostly in ebook format) and I produce it and distribute it myself. I can’t do placement (not yet), but I can do marketing via the Internet.
Publishers (and even more so, agents) give a stamp of legitimacy to a book. Any traditionally published book has gone through a vetting process, first by an agent (again, not a brand), and then by the publishing house. That is one of the key factors that must be factored into the future of publishing. This book on my desk has a ring of legitimacy because it has NY Times Bestselling Author above my name and excerpts from reviews from PW/Kirkus/Library journal in the cover copy. It was vetted years ago by the old system. What is the new system?
Despite the braying of the dinosaurs in the tar pits the business is changing. Resistance is futile. Publishers, authors and agents need to embrace the changes, not fight it.
We are all trying. I see numerous conferences springing up to discuss the changes and what they mean. I’m sure there are numerous late night meetings in NY at publishing houses and literary agencies to try to chart a course through these rapidly changing waters. But let me ask something: at how many of these meetings or conferences is there an author sitting at the table or on the panel, to give input from the creative producers of the product?
One of the solutions to the current problems is to value the author—the brand– in the process. How many literary agencies and publishing houses have some type of formal training program for their authors? How many have authors involved in the planning for the future?
Not a single one that I know of. But, expecting a newly signed author to know what they are doing would be like my expecting a civilian to become a functioning part of my elite Special Forces A-Team because they played paintball four weekends last year. The expectation is that authors will learn how to be part of the business by osmosis—go to some writers’ conferences and sit in on some workshops. Network with other authors. The current marketplace has little time or mercy for such an inefficient system.
When I try to explain my one-day Who Dares Wins: Warrior Writer program, which teaches writers how to be successful authors, to agents and editors I get at best a blank stare, if not outright resistance. One editor told me they don’t hire authors, they contract for manuscripts. True. But the manuscript doesn’t get the 1099. More importantly, a trend is to put more and more of the marketing burden on the author. The author has to have a platform, a plan, a social media presence, etc etc. If authors have to do the jobs of the publicity departments, then what do they need a publisher for? I’ve already pointed out that two key components in the publishing flow are slipping out of traditional publishing hands: production and distribution. If I have to do the marketing myself, then what exactly is the publisher doing for me? Legitimizing the work and placement (although if you are not a top tier author, placement equals simple physical distribution, particularly in brick and mortar stores, which is losing its value as ebooks grab more and more of the market share).
The true indicator of change will be when the first big brand name fiction writer bypasses traditional publishing—that is when the Perfect Storm will have arrived. A few non-fiction writers have already done this (Stephen Covey’s deal with Kindle comes to mind).
Are there solutions to the current perfect storm in publishing? Yes and I ask for your input here. And I will be blogging my thoughts about it in the current weeks using my Who Dares Wins strategy. We will cover everything from authors, to agents, to editors, to publishing houses, to distribution, to the bookstore and the reader. Let’s build a winning A-Team of authors, agents and publishers and, most importantly, readers.