Up until recently (Fall 2010) traditional publishing really was the only game in town. And more specifically if you wanted to have a serious writing career that meant being published through a big-six. Yes, I know there are exceptions to this but if we apply the 80/20 rule or even the 90/10 rule (and possibly even 95/5) this was the case. This is not to say that I don't like or appreciate small presses (I run one after all) but most small presses offer small or no advances and are happy if a few thousand books sold.
Advances in technology (ebook and POD) has brought to the stage successful self-publishers and small press publishers that are now able to get their books in front of thousands, and tens of thousands of readers. I've noticed a recent trend in the Top 100 List where there are now a few small-press entries there (which was once dominated only by big-six, then big-six and some self-published, and now all three). The most recent success story is Vincent Zandri, who joins Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and JA Konrath in he top of the list. He has two books put out by Stonegate Ink, The Innocent at #5 and Godchild #70).
Another small-press offering which has been on the list for some time is Live Free or Die by Jessie Crockett put out by Mainly Murder Press which only recently fell of the list after months in the top 100.
Making self-publishing and small press publishing more successful is without a doubt a huge boon for the author but it is maybe even more important for the reader. When traditional big-six publishing was the only game in town the reader only had options from books that they put out. Sure that still was hundreds of thousands of titles but each and every one of them was carefully analyzed not by "how good" the book was but by "how much" they thought it would sell for. This skewed many of the offerings toward those with mass appeal. One of the major problems with big-six traditional publishing (imo) was that limitation of the number of slots available for any given catalog period. Orbit just released their Fall 2011 Catalog (in which my husband Michael received a very nice two-page spread) but there were only 20 or so titles coming out in this period. This meant that many "worthy" books had to be turned away and can now be free to find their own audience. With the gatekeepers gone readers will now have a larger pool to draw from. Katherine Rusch said it very nicely on her blog:
What all of this means is that readers now control what kind of content they consume. Instead of easy access to the bestsellers and blockbusters, limited access to all other titles, and no access to the quirky unusual title, readers can now read whatever kind of book they want.
What is even more important than the choices, is the convenience factor afforded by ebooks. I've seen a tremendous amount of Michael's fan mail that repeat themes such as:
"As soon as I finished the the book, I immediately downloaded the next. I tore through all five of them in just a few weeks and am no anxiously awaiting the final book of the Riyria Revelations series."
The ability to immediately read the next book in a series is definitely coming into play with authors like Hocking, Locke, J.R. Rain (who is the first to have a Top 100 that is priced over $2.99 (The third in his Vampire for Hire currently sells for $3.99).
This brings me back to thinking about the big-six. Many are predicting its decline and eventual doom. There is no doubt that the viability of small presses and self-published books will certainly cut into their monopolistic hold of the industry but I don't think they will vanish completely. In fact, I'm counting on their ability to expand an author's brand by having Michael sign with Orbit.
I think the big-six need to wake up and realize that they are no longer the only game in town and adjust their business practices accordingly. This means
- Shortening the time to market for a book -
- Shortening the wait between books in a series
- Using low-cost ebooks as audience builders
- Developing a fair e-royalty split (52.5% to publisher and 14.9% to author is not fair)
- Encouraging writers to write more (not less) by doing away with non-compete clauses
I'm happy to say that Orbit is proving themselves to be one such publisher. While Michael still hasn't officially signed yet (just received the official contract a few weeks ago - after 4 months!! - and his agent (who has been at the London Book Fair) is just now sending back the revised edition. Some things they've done:
- Fast tracked his release (editing, covers, catalog, arcs are already done (well still a bit of editing but the "major edits" are complete) if we sign in May that means his time to market will be 6 months - much quicker than the 15-18 typical cycle for a newly acquired author.
- The entire series will be out in 3 months rather than 3 years. Book 1: Nov, Book 2, Dec, Book 3, Jan
- They recently put Iain Bank's Consider Phlebas at $0.99 and got it into the Amazon Top 100.
- Still using industry standard of 75%/25% but their contract does concede that if the industry standard changes then Michael's share will increase to that new number
- Jury is still out on the last point - their non-compete severely limits Michael's ability to put out other books but this was boilerplate language that is being countered and based on their willingness to allow a Percepliquis only version of the sixth book, I'm confident we can get a contract that works for both them and Michael.
So things are changing...and choices are greater. I've sad it before and I'll say it again - now is a great time to be a writer.