Thursday, May 12, 2022

From Rubber Bands to Algorithms, by Catriona

How has the book industry changed since your first release, and polishing your best crystal ball, where do you see the book industry heading in the next ten years? 

Next month in the US - details here

I think things are pretty much they way they were in 2001. 

Just kidding. 

For a start, I submitted my first book as a bale of paper, criss-crossed with rubber bands and lugged to the Post Office. I sent it out to agents I'd identified in that year's paperback WRITERS' AND ARTSITS' YEARBOOK, which I'd bought in January and would discard in December, before buying another one. When the top few pages got tatty from re-submission, I'd print out fresh sheets and keep licking those stamps.

Once I found a publisher, in 2003, the edits were done in red ink on those same pages. The proofs came in a parcel and returned the same way. Jacket mock-ups arrived through the letterbox. Advances came as actual cheques to be taken to actual banks. Launch invitations, in 2005, were printed and posted to people's houses. Reviews were snipped out of paper papers. It was all very physical.

This despite the fact that a company called "Amazon" had been selling books through a kind of email-ordering system for five years. They had even tried publishing, briefly, and failed. Also of note, the net book agreement in the UK had been struck down three years previously, making it legal to sell discounted books for the first time.

Still, British publishing felt like a rather stately, gentlemanly business. Most meetings seemed to take place over lunch and, before signing a contract, I was whisked down to London to be inspected (and fed) by an editor, a publicist and a sales manager. I don't think I even knew their email addresses. Why would I? If wanted to ask something, I phoned my agent and she had lunch with someone.

And there seemed to be a lot of money sloshing around. Books were hot - thanks to Oprah and Richard & Judy - and competition for debuts was fierce. To be offered a decent wedge of cash for two or three books was if not the norm certainly not as unusual as it is these days.

Then the economy crashed. I don't pretend to understand it in detail but everything broke and publishing is a thing. Around the same time, Amazon - who had survived the bursting of rthe dot-com bubble - launched Amazon Publishing and developed the first Kindle. 

That was the hat trick that changed the book industry. 2007 - the Kindle, 2008 - the crash, 2009 - self-publishing. And we've never looked back. And yet, more than a decade later, a lot of people spend a lot of time looking back mournfully at the New York/London hegemony, dismissing indie authors, and sneering about ebooks. 

Drives me nuts. I've only ever been traditionally published and I've never read an e-book, so if I can see and appreciate the vibrancy and flexibility of this new book industry, surely everyone can. 

I just made mself laugh out loud typing that. Twenty years of writing (heaven) and publishing (purgatory at times) and I'm still basically Pollyanna!


1 comment:

Josh Stallings said...

Brilliantly concise, both personal and still showing the overview. I published my first book in 2011, after the glory days, now I see why I hav no fond memories of them. :) I love the vibrancy of the book terrain today. So many fresh voices. And I believe that's why readers read, to meet new voices and worlds. Publishing is a really hard world to negotiate these days, cash continues to dry up, and yet great writers keep emerging. If that view makes me Pollyanna, so be it.