Two-Face versus Harvey Dent… The Challenges of New Media Publishing

First, welcome to AetherBound Creatives. That’s the good news.

Second, welcome to a time when you really can put the destiny of your writing career into your own hands. Which, technically, -should- be really good news, too… But it’s important to know that it’s not -all- good news.

Why not, you say? Well, think of it like this. For most of the history of published writing, there have been some pretty thin arteries, feeding out from the heart of the industry out into the vast reaches of the general public. It has never been an easy world to break into, and everything was filtered through the small network of publishing houses who had gained legitimate access to that circulatory system. The system worked for a very, very long time. Except for the fact that it was a brutal ravening maw that swallows potential authors up and, to be frank, spits most of them out without much more than a taste. And the fact that if you made it past the ‘taste’ stage, your career hinged less on the quality of your work than it did on whether or not the publishing house was able to effectively market what you had created. (In other words, just because an editor likes you, don’t think that means you’re going to be a success.)

For the longest time, though, putting yourself through the grinder of those teeth was the only legitimate way to participate. If you tried to publish and sell your own work, at best you were shunned as an outsider. At worst, if you ‘paid to play’ and chose the wrong venue to publish through (a vanity press), you were shunned as a talentless hack with no more skill than a kindergartener just learning to put letters into words. Not to mention having spent hundreds or thousands of dollars for publishing a book that you now had no mechanism to market and which nobody would so much as deign to review.

Then… All Hail the Revolution. All of a sudden all of the technology that had become part of our everyday lives caught up with the publishing industry, and suddenly, there were options. And some people who had been part of the big, bad Publishing Industry and had been successful at it started seeing those options as viable… talking about them as viable… started demanding that the Publishing Industry recognize them as viable. The Successful, for the most part, were looking for leverage to break the hold that the Publishing Industry had over their work. They wanted to regain a foothold where they were paid more respectfully for their creative endeavors, and where they held on to more of their creative rights for their work. Both of these were very, very worthy goals. And even the worthiest of goals have unintended consequences.

For the Publishing Industry, those unintended consequences were the slow legitimization of alternative tracks to publication… and a steady trickle of writers who started using Alternative Publishing as a way of tearing down the barriers between writer and reader. A steady trickle that grew. A steady trickle that is now a torrent.

In the past several years, the number of new books being published through electronic media publication (Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, etc.) with no paper publication has grown exponentially. And a lot of these books are really, really good. The trend is crossing genres and affecting the Publishing Industry on a huge scale. And, at some point in the past couple of years, Harvey Dent fell in a vat of battery acid, and this amazing opportunity to break into publishing has become a nightmare of epic proportions that has become as difficult to navigate as the former classic Publishing Industry for a large number of authors.

So… what happened? Well, a couple of things. The first thing that happened is that a lot of the independent authors had no clue about how to bridge the gap between their idea and getting their idea out to readers. So instead of a publishing house bridging that gap for them, the slack, for independent electronic media, became the selling organizations. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple — the booksellers — became, in effect, not only the storefront for new authors in Electronic Media but became their agents. Oh, it started out innocently enough.

“Okay, you’ve finished your book, but you don’t know how to market it? Well, let’s put together some marketing packages and we’ll sell them to you to help you get your book out there for a mere $129.99.”

“Oh… you don’t have anyone to design the cover for your book? You don’t even know what a well-designed cover should look like? Well, that’s okay. For $49.99, we can provide you with three designs to choose from out of our vast cache of royalty-free artwork that you can use for your cover.”

“Oh, you want reviews? Well, if you sign up with us exclusively, you will have access to our millions and millions of readers and a near-instant ‘review process’ that will make traditional reviews irrelevant because pretty soon everyone will be looking at our Star Levels as the real test of your book, not whether, say, Kirkus will give you the time of day.” And somewhere in the shady distance, a voice whispered from a corner… “Pssssst… I have five-star reviews over here in the back of this truck for just $300 for ten…”

Somewhere, in the midst of all of this, this new venue that hooked a reader up directly with a writer and started a relationship between them was lost in translation. If nothing else, the readers now had literally MILLIONS of books to choose from every month. So we were actually on the opposite end of the spectrum and in exactly the same quandary, as writers, as we were under the classic Publishing Industry. HOW, in the midst of this chaos, can you become a successful author?

New Media Independent Publishing has become Harvey Dent — he was supposed to be Our Hero. Instead, he’s become a crazy, tragically-flawed hazard that we will have to navigate, somehow, in order to be able to answer that age-old question… “How do I get my work out to the people who -want- to be my readers?” And that, my friends, provides the fodder for future discussion.