The New Book Business

Here’s the thing. Yes, every writer should be pleased to be free of the shackles of the publishing industry. If you consider the industry to be like a bunch of evil plantation owners enslaving the poor writers of the world. It’s not, of course, but it is an industry and as in any industry it’s main purpose is to sell enough product so that it can sell even more product. Yes, there are some altruistic publishers out there. They should be supported, respected and deified. But like that joke about the airline business (If you want to be a millionaire in the airline business, start with a billion dollars), these people either started with deep pockets or are a better type of person ┬áthan you or me. OK, mostly they’re better than me.

Today, though, the industry has changed. Great. Great for the writers! Now THEY get to do all the work. They get to write and then they get to create the physical (or digital) product, market it, sell it and then find more time for writing.

I can see that working for some writers. (And don’t get me wrong, there are interesting developments out there for writers with new forms and formats and business models.) But I can’t see that working for all writers. And I would hazard to say that most writers don’t want to do it all on their own. They just want to write. It’s why artists have art dealers. It’s why some people talk about “art” and some talk about “craft” and some talk about “hobby.” And some, the few, talk about “business.” And I can’t help but think the type of work we see coming out is more “industrious” in a weird kind of way. The genre book is stronger than ever before and it’s not just Harry Potter’s fault. If anything, JK Rowling caught the zeitgeist early and rode it. The fantasy world of Hogwarts was waiting to be discovered because it was already there. And Hogwarts begat the vampire which begat the zombie which begat…

No one, however, talks about time. This new book business takes up a lot of time. I mean, writing takes up enough time already. Ask any writer why they want to sell lots of books and they will talk about buying time. Time really does equal money. Now time also equals a business plan. Meaning writers will have to come off their pedestal and join the real world. Writers often say that the real work is in the editing. That’s still true. But editing is just the start of the real work.

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