How long have they got?


I spent years hawking my books round publishers and agents and ended up with my fair share of rejection letters. The good ones told me how excellent they thought my writing was but it was “not for us”. The bad ones – well don’t remind me… If it weren’t for indie publishing I’d still be getting frustrated to distraction by the exercise in futility that submitting to traditional publishers has become. Now I have four published novels to my name (see the sidebar to the right) and am tentatively thumbing my nose at the establishment.

Of course, it’s now up to me to sell these books like crazy. But when you think about it, is that so much different from the traditional model. Non-fiction publishers will only publish your book if you can prove that you’re “on the circuit”, i.e. that you already have an eager audience of conference-goers to sell your work to and that your network of contacts will snap up as many copies as they can print. Fiction publishers will spend a minimum on publicity unless you happen to be Jonathan Kellerman or James Patterson; but even then you have to do the round of book signings, talk shows and interviews. It seems that being an author is hard work, but the easy part is the writing.

The growing trend of authors moving over to indie publishing through Amazon Kindle Store, Create Space and Smashwords will leave publishers asking themselves if they have been too discriminating for their own good. Of course, one of the disadvantages of self-publishing is that the public don’t get a gatekeeper – someone to tell them “this guy is a damned good writer”. What they get instead are any Johnny-come-lately shoving his book out there to further dilute the already watery mix of talent. Or do they?

What this doesn’t take into account is the power of social media. People, when faced with a sea of possible purchases, such as the pool of indie publications, don’t just close their eyes and throw a dart. They look for reviews, they see what other people are saying about the books available. These days, indie reviewers are becoming more articulate, more respected and more authoritative. But even if the book-purchaser buys a lemon, is it going to break the bank? Not when really fine novels are being sold for anything between $0.99 and $2.99. They can afford to be a bit adventurous. They can afford to give new and untried authors a go.

The question is, now that indie publishing is accruing to itself all the requisites of a new and vibrant market, how long does traditional publishing have before it simply fades away and dies? And if it wants to somehow cash in on the new publishing model, what does it have to do to survive?