A while back, my 8th grade boys went absolutely mad for a new science fiction series called The Softwire, by PJ Haarsma. No matter how many copies we bought, they always stayed checked out, with a long hold list. Fast forward a few months to DragonCon, where I happened to run into that very author in the dealer room. I explained that I was a writer and a librarian and gushed about how much his books had energized my boys, and he very kindly agreed to be our guest here on MW. PJ Haarsma’s latest book is The Softwire: Awakening on Orbis 4. PJ is one of the co-founders of The Kids Need to Read Foundation, a tax exempt public charity that purchases books to donate to underfunded schools and libraries. Which makes him a hero in my book!
Two Troubling Trends
Actually, I don’t know if they are troubling, but I figured I might catch your attention if I use a little fear. Fox News does it, so why can’t I?
It was my agent who alerted me to the first trend. She had just returned from the recent book fair in Barcelona and during our phone conversation she commented on the number of publishers who are outsourcing their editorial staff. In fact it astonished her. It seems that in order to save money, publishers are reducing their number of editors and letting them work independently. You may not see the significance in this, but it creates a dramatic shift in the publishing process.
Historically, publishers accepted an author and their unpolished manuscript with hopes of molding both into something that might sell off the shelves. This is exactly what happened to me. I worked with a wonderful editor who helped me shape my Softwire books into a popular young adult series. But now it seems that publishers are looking for an alternative to that “costly” process. Now they require a finished manuscript ready to go to print. Publishers are sending agents and writers off with an acceptable list of editors to make their manuscripts printable.
But who pays for this?
You do. The writer.
It’s up to you to negotiate a deal with this independent editor. It might be an upfront fee, a lion’s share of your advance, or kissing them into your royalties. This is the troubling part. It’s hard enough to make a living as it is, and now I have to share my scraps with another person! I’m not trying to be greedy here. I just want to eat. (I could eat a little less, but that’s beside the point.)
Now, I know a zillion people are going to write back and tell me a different story and I have yet to experience this myself, but this is what I was told. Yes it was secondhand knowledge from my agent (I’m sounding more and more like Fox news with every sentence), but she tells me this process is becoming fairly popular in the publishing world. I’m not sure if it will stick, but as publishers scramble to stay alive, I think this is a pretty sweet deal for them.
The second trend excites me, although I’ve bumped heads with other authors who don’t share my sentiment on the subject.
eBooks. eReaders. Everything “e”.
For those of you who know me, I’m very “pro-internet”. I think it’s the best tool authors can use to connect with their readers and build an audience. I even built a virtual alien society where fans of The Softwire can sign up, choose to be a character from the book, and interact with other people on the Rings of Orbis (www.ringsoforbis.com). I also created the virtual world for Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars and together we are now looking to expand this format. The Rings of Orbis site is extremely popular, and in my case, it’s the driving force for my book sales.
Sorry. Back to eBooks.
Whether you like eBooks or not, I think they are here to stay. I was talking to a CRM at a Barnes and Noble the other day and she informed me that their online store and eBooks were their fasting growing market. And growing more every day.
Have you ever heard of Smashwords? This company just signed a distribution deal with Apple to help writers get their books in the iBookstore for little or no up front cost (it’s actually free) and writers keep 85% of the net sale.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. This will place a whole bunch of books in the market that shouldn’t have been published in the first place. I agree, but think about this for a second. If I’m an established author with my own audience, and I have a way to reach my fans personally (the internet) and I’m paying for my own editor anyways (see above), then why not publish like this? It’s not like traditional publishers have tons of money to promote books anymore, especially if you’re a new author. They just can’t afford it. They’ll tell you that right up front.
I think this is an intriguing trend. And it’s the only beginning. I’m experimenting with different revenue models, distribution ideas and payment methods. I’m actually excited to be writing again!
So this is the point where I usually being to ramble, and shift my talk to healthcare, rampant celebrity obsession, or ugh… religion. Best I end this now.
Feel free to contact me through any of my sites. I answer all my email, or at least I try. The game site is www.ringsoforbis.com. My personal site is www.pjhaarsma.com and you can learn more about my books, The Softwire series, at www.thesoftwire.com (I told you I like the internet).
** PJ’s going to be in meetings all day today, but he’ll be checking by later on, so feel free to ask questions in the comments.