Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Gail Z. Martin as our Guest Blogger for Friday, July 24th, 2015. Gail wrote for us last year and you can check out her post on Writing an Epic Fantasy Series. This time she’s talking about the nitty-gritty of publishing. How it is, how it was, and how it may become.
Also as a quick note, her new book Iron & Blood just came out this month! It is a steampunk novel set in an alternative history Pittsburgh chock full of airships, supernatural creatures, amazing inventions, and lots of explosions. What more could one ask for? Here’s the scoop (yes, I’m making you read an advertisement before getting to the article…but it sounds so cool!):
New Pittsburgh, 1898 – a crucible of invention and intrigue. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, the city is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the swarming streets, people of a hundred nations drudge to feed the engines of progress, while in the abandoned tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging only to feed.
Jake Desmet and Rick Brand travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique LeClerque. But when their latest commission leads to Jake’s father’s murder, the three friends are drawn into a conspiracy where dark magic, industrial sabotage and the nightmares come to life will ultimately threaten not just New Pittsburgh, but the whole world.
The Changing Business of Publishing
Technological change has destabilized the publishing industry, creating a structural upheaval that extends from top to bottom, from the way authors get paid to the means to produce and distribute their work. Not only does this mean that publishers must re-evaluate their role and value in the process of creating books and bringing them to market, but it also means that authors must begin to see themselves as part of the production process beyond the writing itself, to embrace an unprecedented level of entrepreneurship, and to navigate the changing relationship with publishers and the public.
Not too long ago, book publishers had a clear role. They selected books for publication, bankrolled the book production process, maintained relationships with the distribution channels of stores and libraries, and did a bit of promotion. Self-publishing before ebooks was difficult and expensive and without access to bookstores, was difficult for authors to do successfully, even ignoring the stigma attached to the process.
Four big things changed the status quo: the rise of ebooks and the decline of traditional bookstores, as well as the increased accessibility of professional-quality graphic design and publishing software plus the shift to print-on-demand technology.
The combination of good design software and the advent of ebooks meant that it was less expensive and much easier to produce a good-looking book without going through traditional publishing channels. The decline of physical bookstores and the rise of online booksellers gave ebooks a whole new audience, and print-on-demand meant that authors no longer had the financial barrier of purchasing an entire print-run of their book. Individual authors and small presses now had the ability to compete with traditional publishers in a way that hadn’t been possible since the Gutenberg Press.
So here we are, about a decade into this publishing revolution, and no one really knows how to maximize the new system. Big publishers were slow to adopt ebooks and print on demand, and ended up scrambling as profits fell. Small publishers and individuals scrambled to seize first-mover advantage with the technology, but didn’t find the golden egg. Big national chain bookstores have made poor decisions–many of which had nothing to do with books–and gone out of business or cut the number of stores. Independent bookstores, which had largely been driven out of business by the big chains, are starting a comeback. Library spending is struggling as local budgets are cut, in part as an aftereffect of the 2008 recession, and in part because of our current cultural shortsightedness about spending any money that benefits the average person.
And in the middle of the chaos is the individual author, trying to make valid career decisions. It’s no secret or surprise that even many well-known authors keep a day job, and that other established authors have been developing their own publishing capabilities and side businesses as publishers cut advances and shrink book deals. Just like the merger mania and downsizing in Corporate America taught every employee to think of himself as a temporarily hired freelancer or contractor, the shakeup in publishing has led to authors wondering how they can plan a future where they continue to publish and yet also can make a living doing so.
Increasingly, authors are adopting a hybrid career where they take contracts with traditional publishers, develop other projects through small presses and self-publish additional work. The rise of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding mechanisms to offset the risk of funding a publishing project and the advent of platforms like Patreon to pay authors to produce work have attempted to fill in some of the gaps left by big publishers, though imperfectly.
Authors today need to possess not only the skills to produce a good book, but also be savvy marketers, fearless entrepreneurs, and intrepid self-promoters. The days are long gone when an author’s job is done once the manuscript is turned in to the editor. Self-publishing can generate higher per-book pay, but it takes relentless effort for an individual author to achieve the kind of unit sales common in traditional publishing. Authors who have been in the game long enough to get rights reverted from out of print books now have the task of reformatting those books for ebook release. No one has found the magic formula.
Writing has always been considered to be an uncertain way to make a living, much like the arts and theater. I’d argue that in the long run, the net gain of ebooks, online bookselling and print on demand will work out for the best, although there’s a lot to be mourned in the lack of the stability that landing a contract with a big publisher used to provide. And until a more proven, stable business model emerges from the chaos writers and publishers are going to continue to muddle on, doing the best they can to make a living while creating the books they can’t live without.
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Check out more of her work (and blog) at AscendantKingdoms.com.
Larry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.
Find them at www.JakeDesmet.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin or @LNMartinauthor, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.