Publishing has long been a bastion of prestige and influence, smoke and mirrors protecting what was sacred to those inside. Then along came Amazon, ebooks, digital and the rise of self-publishing. Now the old approach is hurting publishing, because this new world moves so fast that only the agile can hope to keep up. So what’s the answer?
(1) Transparency in experimentation, failure and success
The self-publishing environment is full of authors with entrepreneurial spirit sharing openly. We discuss sales numbers and promote each other through blog posts and social networks, especially when our books are in the same genre. Because in this environment, it’s about co-opetition, when parties with similar interests cooperate to create higher value together than they can apart. In learning together, we can fail faster, respond and adapt more quickly.
Publishers can do the same thing, and are beginning to by sharing information at conferences like FutureBook, but a wider adoption of co-opetition would hasten the process.
(2)Transparency in dealing with authors
One of the main reasons authors talk negatively about publishers is because they are disappointed with results. In the main, the mythical publishing dream is exactly that.
But if there is transparency, with realistic expectations, there will be less disappointment. If there is honesty, there can be real partnership. For example,
* Offer contracts with straight-forward, understandable clauses that mean authors can work for a publisher and for themselves at the same time. The non-compete’ clause has to adapt to a faster-moving digital environment.
* Tell authors upfront that they need to market their books together with your sales team. You can put a book in stores but they need to find their thousand true fans.
* Provide accurate, timely sales data reports that reconcile with royalty statements and payments. Amazon and Kobo do this right now for self-published authors and pay monthly so authors can forecast cashflow.
"If publishers want to stay in business, they are going to have to partner with writers as equals but there is an entrenched resistance to this in the industry, says Orna Ross, self-publishing novelist and Founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). “It’s revealed in terms like ‘slush pile’, in refusing to shift on e-book royalties, in seeing Amazon as a threat rather than somebody to learn from, in paying lip service to the importance of writers while viewing them as a supplier (in the new parlance 'content provider') only.
I think every publishing executive should brainstorm round the question: 'What would my business look like if I thought of writers, rather than retailers, as the best route to readers?' What would that do to the publishing industry?"
(3) Transparency in personality
Times of change inevitably mean that people defend their corners, but the snarky articles demonizing various aspects of the industry, upstart or established, have got a little out of hand lately.
Let’s remember that behind “publishing” and “self-publishing” are individuals. Remove the smoke and mirrors, and behind the labels are passionate people who care deeply about books and readers.
When I attended FutureBook last year as an independent author, I met some amazing people doing brilliant things in publishing. It changed my opinion and I became an advocate for the ‘traditional’ industry, even though I am considered outside it by so many.
Transparency in publishing is critical right now because we all want this tremendous industry to thrive in a time of great change. Together we are stronger, but we can’t do it without some honesty.
Joanna Penn is the independent author of ARKANE thrillers Pentecost and Prophecy, also represented by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. www.TheCreativePenn.com Twitter @thecreativepenn