Publishing’s Paradigm Shift-An Introduction

(Over the next several days, I’m going to share a presentation here on my website that I gave at a recent writers retreat on changes the publishing industry is currently experiencing. I am no expert. Far from it. However, I have done a lot of reading and researching and have pulled together a lot of information useful to writers as we look into the future of a business very much in flux.)

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolution, in which he popularized the concept of “paradigm shift.”

What is a paradigm shift? Kuhn described it as a “series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions,” wherein “one conceptual world view is replaced by another.” It’s usually driven by agents of change. Think of the advent of Agriculture (the plow), the Copernican system (telescope), Newtonian physics (discovery of the law of gravity), the Reformation and Education (printing press)Then think of all that has come into being since the advent of the Internet.

In our own generation, we have witnessed (or are witnessing) three big paradigm shifts in terms of the arts–first with movies, then with records, and now with books.

Hollywood started out with big movie studios like Warner Brothers and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, many of which have devolved into many smaller independent producers, but the really big change for the industry came with TV. At first, they worried that television would mean the end of the movies, but the studios got smart and aligned themselves with TV and cable networks so that, by the time everything went digital, they were still in control, reaping the benefits of TV and producing feature films as well as DVDs of those films. Producers and studios are still in control, but the more movie-making becomes computerized and digitized, the closer movie makers will come to dealing directly with their fans through the Web and bypassing studios altogether. Think YouTube and beyond. Video stores are already no longer necessary. The movie business is undergoing a paradigm shift.

In the recording industry, for years we had records, and artists needed to be signed with major recording labels to get published, so to speak. The cassette tape only provided another way to package those recordings, but the real change came as music became digitized and Napster and then Apple (think iPod and iTunes) made it possible for artists to bypass the big record labels once they had their audience, marketing directly to their fans. There are no more record stores. The music industry has experienced a paradigm shift.

As with film and music, books are being similarly affected. The distance between the creator (i.e., the author) and his/her audience is shrinking through digitization. Bookstores are closing across the country. The publishing industry is undergoing a paradigm shift as we speak and all aspects of the business are being affected.

As Jason Epstein put it in a March 11, 2010 article entitled, “Publishing: The Revolutionary Future,”

“The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends.”

Everyone who reads will be affected, but those whose jobs are most on the line are:

  • Publishers (both traditional and non-traditional) and their employees
  • Agents
  • Booksellers (independents, chains, and online) and their employees
  • Authors (both traditionally published and self-published)

What has proved to be the agent of change for publishing? I would argue that while Amazon.com has been to publishing what TV was to the movies, the real agent of change is the e-book.

More about the e-book and e-readers in my next posting.

Originally posted 2010-10-20 11:16:06.

One Last Bit About the Retreat

For those of you who are still not sure it’s worth your while or money to head up to the far northwest corner of Washington for a two-day writing retreat, here’s a list of all the classes and presentations packed in to those two days:

Thursday Evening:

“Joy in the Journey: The Road to Publication (Or Overcoming the Agony of Rejection)” by Janette Rallison

Friday:

“First Movies, Then Records, Now Books: Publishing’s Paradigm Shift and What It Means for Writers” by yours truly

“Finding Your Inner Matroyshka: The Six Stages of a Writer” by Liz Adair

“Cutting Off Your Baby’s Toes: Tips on Self-Editing” by Linda P. Adams

“Query Letters–Your Next Big Challenge” by Terry Deighton

“If I Can Do It, So Can You: My Experience in Self-Publishing” by Victoria Boothe

“The View From the Checkout Stand, A Bookstore Owner’s POV” by Chrisy Cope

“Ho-hum to Hilarious, How to Put Humor Into Your Writing” by Jane Still

“The Why and How of Blogging” by Monique Leutkemeyer

“Noah’s Story Arc: Building a Watertight Plot” by Christine Thackeray

“Fabulous Free Verse: Unleash Your Poetic Self” by Lara Niedermeyer

“Writing in Spite of Family and the Universe: Organize Yourself to Write” by Kersten Campbell

“See It/Hear It: Writing Believable Dialogue” by yours truly

“Careening Down the Road to Publication: What I’ve Learned on My Journey” by Ann Acton

“Screenwriting 101: Basics for Beginners” by Christine Thackeray

“How Can We Serve? Devising Literacy Programs for Presentation to Local Relief Societies” by Liz Adair

“How to Relive High School Forever: Writing for the YA Audience” by Janette Rallison

Saturday AM:

“Escaping From the Slush Pile” by Janette Rallison

Now, obviously, everyone couldn’t attend every class, so you had to pick and choose…but there was definitely something for everyone. And I haven’t even mentioned Terry’s Grammar Quickies, the terrific Get Acquainted activities by Marylou Bailey, the morning and evening yoga stretches led by Lara Nedermeyer, the singing led by Bonnie Harris (who’s due to give birth in about a week, by the way), the Critique Group led by Wendy Jones (who also took the awesome group photo below), the plotting and writing exercises, and the concluding meeting where we got to share how we felt about the whole experience.

It really was like Girls Camp…only for writers! Think about coming next year.

Originally posted 2010-10-15 10:04:47.

The Great Northwest (Writers Retreat)

I’m still re-acclimating to regular life five days after returning home from a terrific, writerly get-away up near Deception Pass in the northwest corner of our beautiful state. I wish I had taken more pictures but, truthfully, I was too uptight to take in the scenery much until the last day when I no longer had to worry about presentations. Still, here’s a view from the main lodge’s balcony:

I was the first to arrive out of 32 women–all LDS writers who belong (or may soon belong) to ANWA (American Night Writers Association). We feasted on two days worth of classes, workshops, and presentations–particularly those of visiting YA author, Janette Rallison–arranged by Liz Adair and her local Round Tuit ANWA chapter…and some terrific food arranged by Ann Acton.

A big thanks goes out to Terry Deighton for the location (Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory). It seemed more like a first-class lodging facility than a science lab. I believe everyone was in agreement–we want to come back next year! Everything–the accommodations, the food, the presentations, even the spirit of the event–was like Girl’s Camp for Writers…only with nice comfortable beds and showers! And the facility can accommodate many more. So if you’re an LDS woman who writes, mark your calendars now for the weekend after General Conference in October, 2011.

As for my presentations, I plan on sharing bits and pieces of “Publishing’s Paradigm Shift” here on my website over the next several days. I’m going to post my other presentation (“See It/Hear It: Writing Believable Dialogue”) in several parts over on my blog.

Originally posted 2010-10-14 12:57:46.

I Am Alive

I realize the above title would not seem to be true, based on my lack of recent activity here on my website. But I have been really busy focusing on another website–that of LDStorymakers–for which I am now responsible. As the new Communications Director on the board for that group, I’m in charge of our online presence among other things.

No, don’t go there now and check it out because I’ve been doing all of my planning for updating the site offline. You won’t find any changes there yet. But stay tuned…

Originally posted 2010-09-25 14:20:21.

About My Quasi-Digital Sabbatical…

I had thought about taking a quasi-digital sabbatical during the month of September, just so I could focus better (without interruptions) on my writing. Well, I’m going to have to take a one-year sabbatical from that kind of sabbatical, because today I was appointed the Publicity Director for LDStorymakers and it’s imperative that I stay very hooked in and online.

There is no way I could fulfill these new responsibilities without email, blogging, web design, tweeting, you name it! Wish me luck. And if any Storymaker out there would like to serve on my committee (I’m already blessed to have two–Marion Jensen and Deanne Blackhurst)…and if they’ll allow me to have more help…you’re more than welcome!

Originally posted 2010-08-31 19:26:45.

There is hope for literacy in the world

Poetry has not died. It lives on, stubborn and grasping for its place in a world where art has too often been shoved to the side by commercialism. And it has planted seeds in those most innocent–our children. Through boys and girls like this wondrous three-year-old, it will grow and blossom far surpassing in effect any bestseller.

Originally posted 2010-08-22 16:02:37.

I’ve Emerged From the Fog of Querying

No, I haven’t taken a Digital Sabbatical, but I should. In fact, I’m going to blog about that tomorrow over at ANWA Founder & Friends.

My exciting news is that I’ve begun my third novel and it’s set in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s the story of an American teenager trying to hold her family together as the capital collapses into civil war. Since I graduated from high school there (ACS – the American Community School) at about that time and was, indeed, on hand in 1975 when things began to get dicey, I can draw on my own memories as well as my imagination (because, yes, this is fiction…not my family).

As you know, however, from an earlier posting…my memory is rather unreliable. Thank goodness my mom kept a family log all those years we lived overseas. So what did I just do last week? I took advantage of Allegiant Air’s new direct cheap flight between here and LAX and flew down there for 10 days of fun and research. The day before I left, I gathered my parents, my younger brother, and one of my younger sisters and started shooting questions at them. Every now and then I’d have to interrupt all their cross talk (after all, my dad’s got a hearing problem and he’d usually start telling me something in the middle of one of my brother’s responses). My sister found the whole process hilarious. But at least I came away with some great notes…AND the family logs for 1974-77.

It may have cost me $20 to check an extra suitcase on the return flight (these journals are big, thick, and heavy), but it will prove invaluable in the end. And the time with family? Priceless!

Originally posted 2010-08-05 17:13:52.

Beware Self-Doubt in Query Phase

I’m in that foggy phase of writing–I’ve seen my child off into the wide world (I’d say wide, wide world except I haven’t yet queried most of the agents I’ve selected) and am having trouble letting go of it in order to turn around and conceive another. It’s as if Laps is out there wandering in the mist and I’m trying to get a fix on her, keep track of her progress…but the fog gets in the way.

During this phase, it’s important to redouble my goals and not succumb to self-doubt. One day I will get an agent and be published, I am sure. Of course, I’m more sure of that when my baby is closer at hand (as in, I’m in the middle of writing it). Once it’s out there, I have to fend off the little devil in my mind that says, “Forget about all this hassle. Stay in full control and self-publish. Let your audience find you.” I have named this little devil “Spam”–an acronym for Self Publishing Argument Monster.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly, and particularly author Zoe Winters, the following video has helped drive away Spam today:

Originally posted 2010-07-14 15:26:51.

The Kindest Rejection of All

Having sent out 8 queries so far (most of which I emailed only two days ago), and receiving two kind form rejections and one glorious request for my full manuscript, I am in that most uncomfortable state as a writer: awaiting judgment.

I know, I know…I need to put those thoughts aside and get on with my next WIP. And I will. I simply need a few days to breathe.

In the meantime, I lie awake at nights, my mind grasping for the next big idea (because the one I had now seems too daunting), fiddling around with fantasies of success, and worrying over whether I’ve done everything I could to be prepared for the best…or the worst.

I don’t envy agents and I know they really do want to find treasures among all the queries they receive. I’m convinced of this because they usually lay it all out so plainly for us. They tell us upfront what they’re interested in, and they often bend over backwards to give us clues (in blogs, interviews, appearances at writers conferences, etc.) to the kinds of queries that turn them off and the kinds that catch their attention.

Still, they have to write so many rejection letters that they’ve had to come up with form rejection letters for use in most cases. Even those form rejection letters ooze with remorse. I think they really do feel our pain.

I can’t recall where I came across this some years ago, but I call it the “kindest” rejection letter I’ve ever read. It was supposedly from a Chinese magazine (which makes all kinds of sense, because Asians are more concerned with saving face–either their own or another’s–than being honest):

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that, in the next thousand years, we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our shortsightedness and timidity.

Maybe we should all move to China.

Originally posted 2010-07-07 09:57:36.

Our Uphill Battle as Writers, Part Two

Yes, it’s hard to get published. It is particularly hard if you’re trying to go the traditional route (finish your manuscript, find an agent who loves it and takes you on, get a contract with a big publishing house…or even a smaller one, etc.). Does that mean we stop trying to write? No.

Does that mean we think about self-publishing? All the experts used to give an automatic “No” to this, as well. “But the times, they are a-changing.”

Several days ago, I quoted Garrison Keillor at length about how the excellence of publishing as we know it is doomed because of the flood of self-published works hitting the marketplace, thanks to e-reading devices like the Kindle, the Nook, and now the iPad.

Of course, that is one man’s opinion. It is true that more and more people are writing today, given the easing of the process both of writing (thanks to the personal computer, which is not to say that writing is ever easy) and of publishing (thanks to the growth of self-publishing companies and POD companies and, mostly, Amazon).

What is strange is that fewer people are reading, yet more people are writing. That fact, in and of itself, probably lends credence to Keillor’s argument. Anybody can write (or, at least, pretend to write), but you have to be a great reader to be a good writer. But that is a topic for another day.

Today, I wanted to spread some of the good news for those of us struggling for the publishing industry’s seal of approval. Two weeks ago today, Publishers Weekly put out an article by Rachel Deahl, entitled “Agents Weigh the Growth of Alternate Publishing Options.” You can read the entire article here, but I wanted to zero in on some interesting new developments she mentioned toward the end of the piece.

She wrote the piece in response to a recent situation: Midlist crime novelist J.A. Konrath decided self-publishing was the way to go for his latest novel and inked a deal with AmazonEncore to that effect. The big news here is that Amazon is moving from the retail side and becoming a publisher, as well. Barnes & Noble has also announced a new self-publishing unit. What are we going to see next? Costco Publishing?

You might be tempted to overlook these moves, except that some of the industry’s most influential players–the agents who shepherd books to the big publishers–are now beginning to see the writing on the wall. One who wished to remain anonymous said:

It’s not necessarily clear that big corporate publishing is well structured to help low midlist authors with rapidly reducing print runs in an environment in which overall print sales are falling week by week. I think what Joe [Konrath] did is valuable in that he saw there was an opportunity to create low-priced content and bypass the system…what’s new here is the means.

The article notes a couple of other agents who are obviously scrambling to best take advantage of the burgeoning manuscript market.

Scott Waxman of Waxman Literary has created a separate company, Diversion Books, that is similar to AmazonEncore. He describes it as “somewhere in between the big houses and the lonely road of self-publishing.” It doesn’t pay advances, but it also doesn’t take in everyone who comes in with a manuscript. In other words, there is definitely a level of quality control. And while it may not pay you bucks up front as an author, it will give you the kind of publishing support the big houses provide.

Ted Weinstein, of Ted Weinstein Literary Management, is now reviewing the self-publishing option with all of his clients, to make certain they’re getting their books published in the smartest (meaning, the most lucrative) way. He said:

Authors can now be more self-possessed. [They can go with] a major house, an agency, or one of the turnkey services from a major retailer, whether it’s a Lulu, Blurb, Amazon, or now B&N.

In the concluding words of Rachel Deahl:

While Weinstein doesn’t see corporate publishing going away, ever, he does think the business is at “an enormous transition point” and that the outsourcing major publishers have been doing for years–forcing agents to do more editing, going with outside PR, telling authors they need to take hold of their own marketing–will mean that more agencies, and others, will jump into the publishing fray.

Any way you look at it, I believe our uphill battle as writers is leveling out a bit.

Originally posted 2010-06-07 11:10:37.