Three authors, three examples of the disruption in publishing

While at the recent Comic-Con convention, I attended a number of panels featuring a wide range of authors — some whose books aren’t even out yet, and some who have been part of the publishing industry for decades. The one theme that came up on virtually every panel was how much things are changing in the industry, but each author seemed to have a unique take on the effect of those changes. Three authors took the time to speak with me and share their views on the changing face of publishing; all three are writing in the young-adult genre, aimed at readers between the ages of 13 and 19. What follows is their take on where the industry is going and how it is affecting them.

Going the self-publishing route

Morgan Rice's book Turned

Morgan Rice's book Turned

Morgan Rice is a self-published author following in the footsteps of John Locke and Amanda Hocking who has made several appearances on top-seller lists on Amazon’s Kindle (s amzn), Barnes & Noble’s Nook (s bks) and Nook lists. She has just released the fifth novel in her vampire series, The Vampire Journals.

I asked Rice if she had ever thought about traditional publishing for her books, or if she had tried to find an agent or publisher for her books before making the decision to self-publish. She said there was never any doubt that self-publishing was right for her:

[I]n this particular genre, I feel that it lends itself well to the e-book format. The readership is younger and embraces technology, and that makes for an exciting e-publication, on many levels. You get published instantly and receive immediate feedback from your readership, which is very gratifying. It also allows for you to get multiple books in a series out more quickly, which keeps the readers very happy. It makes for an interactive publication.

Young-adult fantasy author Cindy Pon’s second book, Fury of the Phoenix, was released this past spring. I asked her if she’d ever contemplated self-publishing when she was trying to get her first book published:

I didn’t get as far as considering self-publishing. I queried back in early 2008, so (amazingly) self-publishing hadn’t taken off as much as it has now, only a few years later. It was a challenge for me to find representation with an agent. I queried 121 [agents] and was rejected by over 100 of them. So what I was considering was going directly to publishers who would take “slush” from writers who were without agent representation for Silver Phoenix.

Debut author Tahereh Mafi’s dystopian novel, Shatter Me, will be out with HarperCollins (s nws) this November, so her road to being published has dovetailed neatly with the rise in self-publishing. Still, it was never a consideration for her, but for different reasons than Pon’s:

I don’t even know if it’s really validation so much as . . . you’ve been born and raised with this idea of, like, walking into the store and seeing books on the shelf. You pick them up; you smell them; you touch them. I think with self-publishing, there’s the idea that you can print it, but it’s not really the same. There’s a certain feeling with walking into a bookstore and being able to touch and feel a tangible item.

Connecting with readers

authory Cindy Pon

Young-adult fantasy author Cindy Pon

One key difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is the time it takes to get new books into the readers’ hands. Rice can write a book, edit it and have it to her readers as soon as the process is complete and she adds her cover art. Pon and Mafi have months of contracts, edits, cover art design, marketing plans, galleys, sales to bookstores, promotional tours, etc. to plan.

I asked all three authors if there were differences in how they write for their audiences based on the anticipated release schedules between books. I specifically asked Rice if there was a difference with self-published authors who use a $0.99 price “hook,” as my limited experience has seemed to show that often the books are shorter and cut off as a plot arc gets going, luring the reader into the next book in the series. Rice believes that that isn’t the case at all:

Good writing is good writing. . . . Just because it is an e-book original doesn’t mean that the readership lowers its standards. On the contrary: If you are writing for a YA audience, they can demand more emotional honesty than just about any other readership. At the end of the day, readers can tell immediately how hard you labored, and that will be reflected in the reviews and ratings you receive — which in turn, will affect sales and your following.

Pon said there are many ways that traditionally published authors can keep fans engaged between book releases:

I feel that social networking is a really powerful tool for authors. With the caveat that only if the author enjoys it and does not use it solely to promote. Because that simply doesn’t work. . . . I also know of authors like Sarah Rees Breannan and Holly Black who will write “extras” for the books they do have published, be it short stories or unpublished scenes. I think this is a great way to keep fans interested too.

Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me

Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me

Mafi agreed that the writing is the same and that social media is the key to communicating with readers and keeping them engaged. But she also noted the importance of the assistance from the publishing houses in keeping readers excited. Where once galleys were rare commodities, publishing houses now produce hundreds, and sometimes thousands, to build buzz, excite the online community and get the word out about upcoming releases with bloggers:

I feel like publishers have done a really excellent job with that, though, in maintaining the buildup with their marketing plans. I also think it comes down to the fans. The readers will wait. If you really love a book, you aren’t going to decide you hate it because it’s taking forever to get there, and I think they understand that’s not really the author’s decision — that it’s out of the author’s hands. I feel that the publishing houses do a good job of building up the hype, like ARCs (advance reading copy) are a really great thing; conferences are a really great thing; the online community definitely helps with that because of Twitter and Facebook and blogging. Book bloggers are unbelievable! I think they single-handedly are responsible for so much of the marketing that gets done.

For more of this interview, see  Part II: Three authors, three hopes for the future of publishing