Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Retirement Post

A number of people have emailed me to ask me where I've been, which I think is really sweet, especially when they implied something might have happened to me. The truth is the more obvious: I've been really busy. I have two novels coming out over the next 4 months, both of which had major revisions recently, and I'm working on a proposal for a non-fiction book. I also got another job (two wasn't enough) with another agent, and now have two part-time bosses on top of my writing career. I am proud to say that in the years since founding this blog, I've gone from unpublished writer to someone who supports herself mostly by her writing, albeit not very well. There are only so many words in me a day, and since most of the questions I've gotten are repeats, I don't feel the desperate need to post constantly, or at all. So I'm going into a state of semi-retirement. I'll keep this blog open, as your question has probably been answered already, and I may post from time to time, but otherwise, don't expect a lot from me.

I will answer a final question which I get constantly: "How do publishers feel about eBooks?"

I may not be a publisher except for a small press I ran for two years, but I also work for two agents, have an agent, have worked with three different publishers, and attend conferences on eBooks, so I think I can safely answer the question.

Ready? The answer is: We don't know.

The eBook market (and thanks to adjacency, the self-publishing market) is a constantly-evolving new market based on technology and social media which did not previous exist. It's one where the store, not the publisher, determines the retail price that's listed on the back of a real book. Stores are experimenting with how to price and promote books, publishers are demanding higher prices and percentages and getting ignored, and authors and agents are depending the same from their publishers and similarly getting ignored, because no one knows how it's going to pan out, just that at the moment money is being made and it is going disproportionately to the retailer. Except when the retailer sells at a loss, of course, to undercut other retailers, which Amazon constantly does to make sure people buy the Kindle and not the Nook or the Sony eReader. This is why I have about 200 books on my Kindle and have paid for two of them, and one of them was .99c.

What we do know is it does not spell the end of print publishing. I have a Kindle, but I do most of my reading on Shabbos, when I can't use electronics, so it's not as helpful as it could be. I also buy a lot of academic books (which are usually not tremendously marked down in their Kindle version if it's even available) on the used market, where things are tremendously cheaper, or at Salvation Army and other shrift shops, where books are like a dollar. So my buying habits have not changed tremendously as a result of owning a Kindle, but this is not true for a lot of Kindle readers.

What does the future hold for publishing? Self-published authors insist they are the future, and that the big houses will be crushed under the weight of the awesomeness that is their 400,000 word fantasy novel that's the 1st in a trilogy that was rejected last year. I can't imagine this is so. The publishing industry provides an essential service to the book industry: it separates the wheat from the chaff, finds good material, pays authors for it, then edits it and produces it in a neat little package for the consumer. Doing this without the help of the publishing industry is actually tremendously time consuming and generally difficult. Sure, sometimes publishers miss big hits (especially since they're currently so unwilling to buy anything), but most times when they reject something, there's a good reason for it. The same goes for agents.

For all of the doom and gloom, what we're in is a transition period without a clear end in sight, but things will eventually pan out. The industry will look different, and the way money flows will change, but it will be an industry that is at times marginally profitable. The good news is that more people are reading more books, as anyone who drops down enough money for an eReader will tell you. Making books more available at lower prices to people who've dedicated themselves to reading more by plunking down hard-earned cash for a reader can only result in more people reading more in an increasingly literate society, and people will always seek to profit from that. I could imagine a point in the future where the agent/publisher has merged into one stop shop for aspiring authors as software makes it easier and easier to put a book together and promote it, but we're not there yet. Stop holding your breathe. Exhale, and let life resume its natural flow.

And to all my readers, the aspiring authors, the published authors, and the industry insiders: So long, and thanks for all the support. But not the fish. I hate fish. Gross.