Last September, I wrote an enthusiastic review of Petroplague by Amy Rogers http://wp.me/pYql4-1ep. With a PHD in microbiology, Dr. Rogers is uniquely qualified to bring her considerable writing skills to bear on a thriller in which an oil-eating bacteria ravages Los Angeles. Airplanes fall from the sky. Millions of cars stall on the streets and freeways. No food deliveries. No ambulance, police, or fire service as a greedy corporate criminal and deluded eco-terrorists strive to suppress a solution.
On two occasions, New York agents represented Amy Rogers’ work but were unable to sell it. With a keen understanding of the turmoil in traditional publishing, Amy decided to take matters into her own hands. After I posted my review, I invited her to write a summary of her experience for us.
Last week I received an email saying she’d finished a “5,000 word treatise” on current publishing options for writers. This will form the basis for her presentation at the June meeting of the Sacramento California Writer’s Club branch. She graciously sent a 1500 word, abridged version, for thefirstgates. I am delighted to be able to share her account, for I think her observations and experiences can serve as as Ariadne’s thread as we work our way through the current publishing maze.
Because of the length, I am going post this article in two parts. Meanwhile, I invite everyone to visit Amy’s blog, Science Thrillers.com (listed on my blogroll), and to follow her on Twitter at, @ScienceThriller. Also, check out her Facebook fan page, where you’ll see that she has been invited to participate in the New Author’s Breakfast at the Left Coast Crime 2012 conference in Sacramento at the end of the month. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Amy-Rogers/202428959777274
And now, without further delay…
An author’s guide to publishing in 2012 by Dr. Amy Rogers
Part 1: What’s going on with publishing today?
Book publishing is undergoing a revolution unlike anything seen since the invention of moveable type, an explosion of diversity in the paths leading to publication. After centuries in a desert of limited choices, writers now have a rainforest of options to get their work in front of readers.
But the changes are so profound and happening so rapidly, many writers can’t keep up with the business. We’re writers, so we write, but what then? The simple formula—write book, sell rights to a print publisher, collect royalties—doesn’t apply to the majority of published books today. Is this a bad thing?
The big changes in publishing are both challenge and opportunity. Whether the changes are “good” or “bad” depends on where you stand. In this series, I’ll first summarize some of the major trends in the book business that are affecting the way books get published and sold. In the second, I’ll discuss how writers seeking “publication” of their work can navigate the path that’s right for them.
So why does the publishing business feel like a Kansas farmhouse in a tornado? Simple: technology. Digital disruption devastated the music industry; now it’s rolling over publishing. The end results for various stakeholders (authors, publishers, readers, retailers) are far from certain.
Top of the list of disruptive technologies: e-books. Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is now in its third or fourth generation. The critical $100 price point has been breached (a Kindle now costs as little as $79). Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader and tremendous numbers of Apple’s iPad plus various smartphones (which can also be used as e-readers) give millions of Americans easy access to e-books. (Not to mention ubiquitous laptop and desktop computers, which can be used to read e-books, though uncomfortably.)
How rapid is the rise of the e-book? The Economist reports that in the first five months of 2011, “sales of consumer e-books in America overtook those from adult hardback books” and “amazon now sells more copies of e-books than paper books”. http://www.economist.com/node/21528611 Granted, Amazon’s experience does not represent the entire bookselling business, but it is significant. In my own genre—thrillers—over half the books sold are now in digital formats.
Digital technology is changing the way books are distributed. Obviously, e-books can be sold online—from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world, no neighborhood bookstore required.
But it’s not only e-book sales that are affected by digital tech. The emergence of amazon as a global book retailer with no physical presence in communities has also changed how paper books are sold. People are shopping for paper books over the Internet and getting them shipped. Neighborhood and mall bookstores are struggling. Browsing is nice, taking your book home with you on the spot is nice too. But amazon’s price advantage is killing these stores. The giant online retailer subsidizes much of its bookselling business, has smaller fixed costs, and still dodges sales tax in most states.
The best way to get a person to buy a book is word of mouth: a trusted source, whether a friend or a reviewer, mentioned the book. Digital technology—the Internet and “social networking”—is truly revolutionizing word of “mouth”. Successful book marketing is increasingly based in this virtual world. Book bloggers, readers’ collectives like GoodReads and LibraryThing, Facebook, Twitter, book trailers on YouTube—this is what sells books. Reviews remain critical, but the traditional venue—newspaper sections devoted to in-house book reviews—is vanishing. Only a few papers still publish their own book reviews, and generally these reviews are few in number. So authors and publishers must go online to get reviews and build “buzz” around a title.