The book publishing world has been in tremendous flux in recent years, but I had no idea how much so until I began researching options for my own book about how to defend your reputation online. Here's what I have learned so far about the current state of publishing.
For decades, a limited number of publishing houses that distributed books through brick and mortar retailers controlled the book business. If you wanted to publish a book, you had to go through the traditional system. This meant finding an agent to shop your book to the publishing houses on your behalf. If they selected your manuscript, enlightened editors would massage it (at least that's how I envisioned it) and carefully market it -- including arranging a cover design, reviews, bookstore windows, signings and maybe even a book tour.
The system worked for a long time, but a number of factors have contributed to recent erosion. First, Amazon.com began offering far more titles than bookstores could stock, and the online retailing behemoth consistently ships books anywhere in a couple of days. While the publishing houses still held a stronghold on bookstores, Amazon and online sales steadily grabbed profits. Second, digital editions, like those available on a Kindle or Nook, started to gain traction. You could have a book zapped to your e-reader in moments, eliminating the need for a hard copy and that trip to the bookstore and further weakening the big-name publishers.
Amid the chaos, self-publishing gained a significant foothold. With the help of print-on-demand technology available through Amazon and other providers, an individual can upload completed text and a cover design through an online system and quickly have copies printed, an Amazon sales page generated, and a Kindle edition available for download. Boom. In a few days, you're a published author.
Today, if you want to publish a book, the biggest question is whether you attempt the traditional route or go with self-publishing. That's where I am right now, and I can't say I have a definitive answer. So far, everything I have learned about traditional publishing suggests that it is nearly impossible to get a book deal, particularly for a first-time author.
Obviously, books are published every day, and everyone has to start somewhere. The next J. K. Rowling is out there, right? (Twelve different publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book, by the way.) Yet the consensus on the street is that publishing houses are looking for sure things. They are interested in books that they know will sell and that have been written by authors with a "platform" to help them market.
One recent example: Comedian Amy Schumer reportedly received an $8-10 million advance for her book with the hilarious working title The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo. She has an award-winning show on Comedy Central, movie success, and a popular stand-up act, making her a sure thing. Without question, she has a tremendous following, and publicity for her book will be ubiquitous. We also know that when President Obama leaves office, he will get a huge book deal. Someone who is already famous and perhaps not even looking for a deal may be the most likely to get one.
As I mentioned, publishers are looking for a platform. Do you have the capacity to help them sell books? Do you have a following on social media or an active audience for your blog? Do people in your industry or geographical area know you and respect you? Better yet, are you famous or an active speaker or do you have a presence in print, broadcast, or digital media?
Notice that I didn't talk about the topic and content. Obviously, your book can't be gibberish, but I get the impression that you need a great platform before you can ever have a great book. And this is just my conclusion about the business book category. People who care about bona fide literature must be going nuts.
To me, this looks could be a reason that the industry seems a bit sideways.
On one hand, you have traditional publishing companies, which will help with editing, cover design, layout, and many other services, but they want a sure thing and a book that the author will help market. Your book will be online (through Amazon and other retailers) and hopefully available in bookstores. The publishers take a big chunk of sales dollars.
On the other hand, you have self-publishing. You secure editing and design help on your own. You have to market your book yourself, but it will still be available online and through bookstores if you structure distribution correctly. The downsides are that self-publishing still lacks gravitas and traditional publishers stigmatize it as a kiss of death. Some also say bookstores won't carry books that they must order from Amazon. One upside is that the author gets a larger piece of the action on sales.
I happen to think my book is pretty good, and I'm just hard-headed enough to believe that it is worthy of the traditional publishing houses. I'm now shopping it around. At the same time, I'm still fine-tuning my copy and getting content tips from some friendly beta readers, and I'm researching self-publishing options. There's much to learn. If you are interested, here's a link to view the table of contents and read a sample of my book. I would enjoy your feedback.
I'm also very interested to hear about other experiences that folks have had in the publishing world and with book deals.