Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Challenge of Staying Relevant

After taking a look at a selection of this week’s blogs and articles, it’s clear that Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings has, shall we say, ruffled a few feathers in the publishing world, and most of these feathers belong to those who make their living through traditional publishing. It’s not surprising. Howey’s second report now involved 54,000 books rather than 7,000 the first time, and added more categories to include nonfiction, literary, and children’s books. Howey’s findings support what he concluded last week. In a nutshell, e-book publishing is having a significant impact on overall sales. He provides a detailed breakdown which you can find through the link.

Although literary e-books only make up a small fraction of all e-book sales, Howey also found that self-published literary authors do make more money. In fact, Howey says that self-published authors earn 5.6 times more money than their traditionally published counterparts, although I’m not sure where that figure comes from. His blog suggests that this is an already determined fact. But you can see why his report is sparking controversy. There’s plenty of argument about how he captures his data and whether these snapshots of sales is even relevant.

One interesting comment from a blogger really struck me. The blogger said that diminishing revenue isn't irritating the traditional publishing world as much as the underlying realization that traditional publishing isn’t as relevant as it used to be. They’re losing their grasp at the top, as a growing number of authors aren’t even bothering to submit their books. Now, I’m quite sure that the slush piles are still large on publishers’ desks. I’m just suggesting that those stacks aren’t as tall as they would be if self-publishing didn’t exist.

In any event, I do wonder if relevancy is also worrying literary agents and bookstores. Given that  brick-and-mortar stores sell only 1% of all released titles, they’re shelves aren’t relevant for many authors. What about the relevancy of agencies like the Authors Guild? Again, blogs and articles over recent months strongly suggest that the Guild is woefully out of touch and—to put it mildly—not overly supportive of self-publishing.

And what about the relevancy of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). They’ve been swept up in an internal brouhaha alleging not only sexism among members but bias against self-publishers. Clearly, not all members believe that self-publishers should have the same status has traditionally published authors. You can read a detailed account of the situation in Teleread, which comes straight out and asks if SFWA is even relevant anymore?

The second-class status issue has been one of the less appealing aspects of mystery conferences for years. A couple of conferences I attended (this was about five years ago) made it quite clear that self-publishers need not apply to be on panels. Of course, organizers happily took their registration money, but self-publishers weren’t allowed to sell their books in the dealers’ room either. Are these conferences relevant today?  It’s hard to stay on top of things, isn’t it? It’s even harder to know what to do when one feels that it’s all slipping away. I do know that a number of organizations, such as Crime Writers of Canada, make everyone feel welcome. If publishers and organizations and stores want to stay relevant, then they’d better start embracing new realities. Fighting through a war of words just won’t cut it.


Marian Allen said...

The only mystery conference I've ever been to is Magna cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana, and they've always been welcoming to self-publishers. :) Best. Conference. Ever.

Debra Purdy Kong said...

Good to know! I'm going to get there one of these years!!