Will book publishing follow the path of the music and movie industries?
When people look at the future of book publishing they often draw parallels to music and video. In many ways this is instructive, but not in all cases. What does the future hold for digital books?
Digital Music and Video
Look at the history of music. With music, there were 78-rpm records, cassettes, 8 tracks, vinyl records, CD, and iTunes/iPods.
Next, consider the progression of the video. With video, there were Beta tapes, VHS tapes, video disks, DVD, and Blue Ray.
Music and video both show a user progression of format and consumption to the digital realm. One might conclude, therefore, that printed word will give way to the digital world that print books will cede to digital books, be it e-books or audio.
I don’t see that happening, at least not completely.
[bctt tweet=”E-readers and audiobooks will never completely replace the printed word.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
To say that e-readers will completely replace printed books is like saying iTunes will replace concerts or Blu-Ray will replace theater. It’s not going to happen.
True, e-readers may one day dominate the reading public’s preference, but just as there will always be demand for concerts and theater, so too for the printed word. The key for authors and publishers is to embrace both options, not pick sides.
Should You Bother to Pursue a Traditional Publisher?
Traditional publishing requires less of the author, will likely result in more book sales, and carries the prestige of a publisher selecting your book for publication. The negatives include the effort to find a publisher, the length of time to publish the book, and earning much less per copy sold—if anything at all.
A commonly sighted reason to not indie-publish is the requirement to market and promote our books. While it’s true that if we self-publish our books, we must market them if we expect to sell any, traditional publishers also expect you to help promote, market and sell your books. If you can’t or won’t do that, the publisher is unlikely to decide to publish your book. In short, they want authors who can move books.
There is no one right answer. It depends on the goals and priorities of each individual author. Also, some authors do both, depending on the book. They’re hybrid authors, going with traditional publishers for some books and indie-publishing (self-publishing) for others.
Consider both publishing options for your next book
For the past few years, there has been a great deal of press—and hence a great deal of excitement—about e-books.
Correspondingly, there is also significant debate about the relative merits of each option. The purists insist that the printed version is the way to go, nearly sacred. While the technologists say that e-books are where it’s at, declaring that paper is passé. Of course, the diplomat insists that there is room for both.
The price of e-books spans a wide range, from free to matching their printed counterparts, so it is hard to know their true demand. After all, if something is free or costs next to nothing, why not “buy” it.
Regardless of sales numbers, print is still driving the market. Author Annette Ehrhardt, in writing about e-book pricing strategies, once noted that “It seems that many readers value the printed word more than the digital world.”
[bctt tweet=”Consider both print and e-book publishing for your next book.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
While there may be viable instances where a book should only be in digital form or only in print, the vast majority of books need to be in both.
However, if for some reason you can only do one, go with print. Readers will apparently value it more—and what they value, they will buy.
If a blog has a specific focus, could you compile this information in a book and sell it? But some people say you shouldn’t sell anything you’ve offered free. They think you won’t be able to sell something you once gave away (and may still be giving away) on your blog. An agent or publisher will also be concerned, fearful there is no one left to sell to.
However, I disagree.
Though you may have lost some sales, you will pick up a new audience with a book. In addition, some of your blog readers will buy a copy because they want all the content in one place in a convenient format, while others who read some posts won’t read the rest online, though they will read a book. Although it’s best if you can add new content to the book, which isn’t in your blog, this isn’t a requirement.
There are many cases of authors who successfully turned a series of blog posts into a book. (Of course, you can do the opposite and turn your book into a blog.)
Despite Interest in Audio and E-books, Don’t Write Off Print
As writers, our books can appear in three primary formats: printed books, e-books, and audiobooks.
Audiobooks have enjoyed a resurgence of late. Gone are the days of books on tape. Now it is digital files that readers listen to from their smartphones. This form of consumption has soared in the past couple of years, especially among younger generations. Audible books have also received a lot of buzz in recent months among the writing community. It seems I hear more about audiobooks than e-books nowadays.
Reading books on devices is still popular. I hear the reader of preference has shifted from a dedicated reading device to a smartphone. However, many mainstream media have actually reported a decrease in e-book consumption.
Yet indie authors are quick to point out that a significant percentage of independent authors do not use ISBNs. This means no one tracks their sales as a whole. They maintain, though unverifiable, that e-book sales are grossly under-reported and are actually continuing their upward sales assent.
That leaves a print. For some 500 years, print was the only reading option. While prognosticators have predicted the demise of printed books for the past several years, its death has yet to take place. Yes, it’s market share has declined, but readers still consume printed books and many prefer the tactile, and even olfactory, the experience of reading them.
[bctt tweet=”Books have three formats: print, ebook, and audio. Which do you prefer?” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
Mainstream media also reports that younger generations are returning to print, apparently preferring to unplug and immerse themselves in the printed word. Besides, you don’t need a smartphone to read a print book. You don’t need charged batteries and you don’t need a signal to download content.
When pitching my book at a writers conference, one industry person said my length was perfect, while another wanted it 20,000 words long, and a third said it should have at least 25,000 more words. That’s a huge difference.
Finding the Ideal Book Length
There is no universal answer to the ideal book-length, but there are some generalities. To avoid wasting time and effort, we need to be close to industry expectations when we write. Here are some ways to find out how long your book should be:
If you have an agent or publisher, start there. What they say, goes.
Ask people in the book publishing industry who know.
Go to a library or bookstore and look at the length of books similar to yours. (A rough average is 300 words per page.)
Search online (like I did) and find a lot of conflicting information, but at least it’s a place to start.
[bctt tweet=”Know how long your book should be before you start writing.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
The main thing is don’t waste time writing a book that is way too short or too long for anyone to ever publish it. The closer our book is to our publisher’s expectations, the easier it is to tweak to meet their requirements.
Have you ever written something that was the wrong length? How are you at editing something to hit a word count? Even if you’re good at editing to hit a target word count goal (like I am), it’s a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor.
That’s why it’s best to make a book the right length to start with.
A common part of many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched competitive titles for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.
Traditionally Published Books
To research competitive titles, I first looked at books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was good exercise.
Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought—until I looked at some indie-published books.
[bctt tweet=”Our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
Indie-Published Print Books
Next, in my competitive titles research, I looked at some print books that were indie-published. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good.
The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words—and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not is a tool they used to publish the book. It is the author. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.
Last, in my competitive titles research, I considered a pair of indie-published e-books. They offered no print options.
These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good, and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I didn’t include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.
From all this, I’m reminded, once again, that indie-publishing (self-publishing) is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill-conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.
Regardless, if we choose to indie-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.
Have you ever flipped through a book and sensed there was something odd about it? Though you couldn’t identify what was different, you knew something was off. It felt wrong. This has happened to me.
Perhaps the feeling was so strong that you opted not to read the book. Again, this has happened to me. Because my reaction to something in the layout was so negative, I have decided not to bother reading it.
When this happens it is most likely because the book deviated from some standard publishing practices. Though most readers are unaware of what these principles are, we subconsciously know when they aren’t followed. That’s when we get this unexplained feeling that something is wrong. If the feeling is strong, we might not read the book.
This is why indie authors should follow all of the time-honored traditions of book design, but there is nothing to say that we must. We can break from tradition. Sometimes we may have a good reason to not follow the rules.
The key is to be aware that the more book publishing practices we break, the greater the likelihood our finished product will produce a visceral reaction in potential readers that pushes some of them away.
[bctt tweet=”As indie authors, we should follow publishing conventions whenever we can.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
As indie authors, we should follow publishing conventions whenever we can. If we do decide to break a rule, it should be for a good reason and with full knowledge that it could hurt readership.
Yes, rules are made to be broken, but they are also there to guide us. Choose wisely.
Consider all the really great books that don’t sell. Consider some of the poorly written books that do. Although this is unfair, it is also a reality. Fortuitous timing aside, these two situations point out the fact that producing and selling books is part art and part business.
I’ve been in business much of my adult life: managing businesses, owning businesses, starting businesses, running businesses, and buying businesses. Being a businessman is in my blood; it’s part of who I am.
[bctt tweet=”Producing and selling books is part art and part business.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]
Writing is Art
I’ve been writing even longer, but in the past years, I’ve taken writing seriously, moving it from hobby status to professional. I’ve worked at improving my work, communicating clearer, and at understanding the craft. Along the way, I realized writing is art. For a person who didn’t think of himself as creative, seeing writing as a form of art is huge. I embrace the role of an artist who writes. Writing is my passion. It’s in my blood; it’s part of who I am.
Publishing is Business
In accepting the reality that writing is art, while publishing is business, it would seem that as a businessman writer, I have the best of both worlds. My creative side produces content and my business side turns it into a product that sells. Unfortunately, I have trouble connecting the two, at least as far as my work is concerned.
Many writers also struggle with the business side of their art. And while I am closer to connecting the two, my struggle is no less real.
Though the reason why I have this issue still evades me, the solution is clear. As Nike says, I need to “just do it.” And with all the evolving technology in the world of publishing, it has never been easier to do.
Some authors start writing their book, focus on it until completion, work to publish it, and then promote it. Then they start their next book—assuming they have an idea for one. They have one book in their book pipeline.
Other authors are working on so many books that it’s hard to accomplish anything. I fall into that trap. I have about a dozen books in various phases of development. In reality, the number is much higher. It is insane.
One successful fulltime writer works on three at a time. Even though I don’t spend all day writing books, I tweaked his advice about having four books in my book pipeline:
The Planning Stage
Starting with a book idea, be it a title, a concept, a lead character, a plot, or an ending, we gather information. This includes research, making notes, taking pictures, outlining, and writing the book proposal. This activity is not our focus, but it must be intentional. Our goal is to be 100 percent ready to start writing when the time comes.
The Writing Stage
For this phase, we write the book from start to finish. We work on it every day. This is our focus. We don’t switch books. Bouncing from one project to another dulls our concentration and lengthens the time required to finish it. When we finish the book, we start writing the next one right away because we have already done all our prep work.
The Publication Stage
If we are seeking a traditional publisher, this phase entails writing query letters, fine-tuning our book proposal, and seeking representation. Once we have a publisher, we need to work with them to finalize the book.
If we are indie-publishing, this involves hiring an editor (or two) and reviewing their edits, having a cover designed, finding someone to do the interior layout, and so forth. This is our book, so we must be involved with every step.
Regardless of which publication path we pursue, there are lulls in activity as we wait for others to do their work. Our involvement happens in spurts. When it is time for us to act, we must make it a priority, all the while writing our next book.
The Promotion Stage
As the publication date nears, we switch into promotion mode. This could start six months in advance but at least one. Our involvement for this stage looks like a bell curve: there is a little bit of work leading up to the month before the launch, things peak—requiring much attention, and then a month or so after the launch things taper off. However, for as long as the book is in print, we should be promoting it to some extent.
Having four book projects in our book pipeline at all times ensures we will have a steady stream of output and hopefully some income to match.
How many books are you presently writing? What do you think about having a book pipeline?
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.