Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Changing Publishing Landscape

As there's more and more consolidation in the world of publishing, how do you view  - generally, and for you personally - big publisher vs small publisher vs self-publishing now? Have your views changed since you were first published? 

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

When I first looked for a publisher, way back at the start of the 2000s, self-publishing was considered the last avenue for serious writers. The unspoken and sometimes spoken implication was that self-published works were of lesser quality, the author unable to find a publisher because their manuscript was inferior.

Times have certainly changed. More and more, I pick up a book and the author has chosen to self-publish or has made their own publishing imprint. From what I can gather, the author behind such an imprint is the only one published under their logo. I know a few authors going this route.

I recently heard of another option called hybrid publishing. If I understand correctly, an author pays a publisher to produce their work (editing, layout, printing etc.) in exchange for distribution, some publicity, and other support. I'm thinking that the beauty of this and self- (now called Indie-) publishing is that the author keeps all their rights -- a huge incentive. I've yet to investigate Amazon as a publisher and hope someone else can enlighten us this week :-)

In any event, the average reader doesn't care who published what if the subject matter and writing attract them. Independent book cover designers are so good now that it is often difficult to differentiate a publishing company's cover from an Indie or hybrid book. I'm sometimes surprised to learn of an author who self-publishes since I believed them to be with a publisher based on the quality of their product.

The goal used to be to get a book picked up by one of the large publishers and I believe this still brings a great deal of status with booksellers and people in the book industry, including reviewers. To accomplish this, one needs an agent, a task in and of itself. A large publisher has money to put into advances, marketing and publicity not to mention great distribution. A trade off is that the big publishers will drop an author if sales are down and best-selling authors are expected to keep producing a quality product, usually once a year, and be available for lots of public appearances (when there is no Covid).

I went with the last option: small to mid-size Canadian publishers. My first series of Jennifer Bannon mysteries for middle grade were picked up by a very small independent publishing house in Toronto (Napoleon/RendezVous Crime)  that was eventually bought by a larger, mid-sized publisher (Dundurn). I was really happy to start with Napoleon because the publisher and editor were interested in developing their authors and gave a ton of guidance and support. I've written for a couple of other Canadian publishers (Orca and Grass Roots Press) and all were good experiences although I've come to realize that these smaller houses don't have the resources to create best-sellers. They don't have the money to invest in marketing and publicity is mostly up to the author. They do have decent distribution, however, and newspaper reviewers will review their books (they often do not review Indies).

All in all, the publishing industry is changing and authors are opening their own doors. I know a few authors who've told me they can't be bothered finding an agent and waiting for a contract with a publisher. They are happy self-publishing now and controlling the timing. Indie authors are now accepted in writing organizations (they weren't when I started) and are garnering much more respect in the industry.

Since I'm deeply into another manuscript that I'm aiming to have as a series, I'm investigating all these publishing options with an open mind. The times they are a changing as the song goes, and the book industry is no exception. The trick will be to stay ahead of the curve and figure out what works best for me at this stage in my life and career.


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Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good post, Brenda. You're right, in the end the average reader doesn't care who published the book if the subject and quality of the writing attracted them.

Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks Dietrich - There are so many independent imprints now that it really is difficult to tell if a book is Indie or traditionally published.