As the publishing industry evolves and new models are tested, it will be interesting to see if the role of the author changes. Specifically, I wonder if authors will gain more control over the product they create.
Currently, in the traditional publishing world, authors often feel powerless. They have little or no control over what the book is named, when it’s released, or how many copies are printed. They also have no guarantee that their publisher will pick up their next book. For non-bestselling authors, every novel feels like starting from scratch in the process.
This is the reason some authors self-publish. They want control over their product and how it’s presented to readers. They like to know their work will reach the market, regardless. They choose not to feel powerless. Who can blame them?
This subject is on my mind today because I evaluate manuscripts for a large self-publishing company. A few of the stories are good, many are unreadable, and many are written by doctors. Why are doctors writing and self-publishing novels?
My theory is they sometimes feel powerless too. Doctors’ novels are always about an individual MD making a dramatic improvement in the healthcare industry. I can only assume some physicians must also feel powerless to change a system they’re entrenched in and dependent on. So they write out their fantasies and pay to get their stories to the public.
This is the only power writers have: to create a story that entertainers, enlightens, or simply shares their way of looking at the world. For everything else, we must cross our fingers and hope for the best.
I read an article about a speech Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy gave at a publishers’ convention. She mostly talked about the state of the industry and how publishers have to find ways to cut costs. Then she said a couple of interesting things. First she mentioned “powerful retailers who have ambitions to be publishers.” Does she mean Walmart and Costco? How would they make the transition? They would need big-name authors to sign directly with them, and they would have to allow distribution in bookstores as well. But this could happen, especially with nonfiction authors.
Then Reidy talked about self-publishing and wondered, “is it only a matter of time before one of the major authors actually strikes out on his or her own?”
That would be an interesting development. What would motivate a best-selling fiction author to step away from his/her publisher and self-publish? An opportunity to make more money? Probably not. If this ever happens, the dispute will likely be about content. Maybe the issue will be an entire story that the writer wants to bring to market, but the publisher won’t because it’s controversial or outside the writer’s genre. Or maybe it will be an environmental issue. An author who refuses to have his book published in hardback form because so many are returned and shredded. And his publisher won’t concede, so he self-publishes in trade paperback with smaller print runs that sell out each time.
What if such a venture proved successful, and the author was able to reach a wide audience and make money? Would more authors follow? What would it mean to the industry? Would publishers change their business model to keep authors onboard? Would it finally blur the distinction between traditionally published and self-published authors? And who will be first? Stephen King has already stepped out on his own with serial e-content (and made money), and I believe in time more authors will do the same.
It’s fun to speculate. What do think?