Sunday, February 28, 2010

Opportunities Old and New

I was expecting to use the month of February to get things ready for the launch of my new book, Under the Eye of Kali, in May; the official date is May 19, but I haven’t scheduled any events for the book until June, to give the publisher time to get books out and into libraries and stores. That sounds very rational, but my month has come to a close and I have a stack of things yet to do. This is where I should start whining about how much work writers now do to get a book notice and succeeding in the market, and then maybe a little whining about how it gets harder the older I get. But as I rifled through the notes I’ve been making for myself over the last several weeks, I realized that I’m overwhelmed with work for a good reason.

When I began writing I was a teenager, and the choices for a book were hardcover or paperback. As the editor of the college humor magazine, I typed up my copy, took it to the printer, and a few days later walked over to the printer’s office and picked up a scroll of uncut pages to proof, made changes in pencil in my dorm room that night, and took the pages back the next day. That’s called writing and editing. I hand delivered stacks of finished magazines to various locations on campus. That’s called sales and distribution. Life was simple.

Any writer starting out today faces an array of choices that simply were not available when I began writing, and keeping up with the new opportunities is both a challenge and a thrill. My new book will appear in hardcover, but I hope to sell other rights as the year moves forward. This is what a writer can consider.

Paperback rights can be sold to publishers who sell on the mass market or to a smaller subscription group such as book clubs.

Trade paperback rights lead to a better-quality paperback that can compete with hardcovers in quality and distribution.

In addition a writer can look at large-print books, audio books, and eBooks. The last one is in its great growth period and in a few years will be a venue for publishing that is equal to standard publishing now. Serious nonfiction began coming out in new formats thirty years ago, when academics with important scholarly work that would sell no more than a few hundred copies saw their books published on microfiche.

All of these formats are available to me through established publishers, but writers can go it alone now and have exactly the same options. For most of my writing life the assumption was that anyone who self-published did so because a legitimate publisher wouldn’t take the mss. There was a reason it was called vanity publishing, and the product usually wasn’t very good. Virginia Woolf notwithstanding, most self-published books until recently were dull, poorly written and edited, and not worth the paper they were printed on. That is no longer true. The Lace Reader is the most recent proof of that.

Writers who have had solid careers in producing novels and stories year after year are being brushed aside by publishers who are hoping a new face with a new series gimmick will hit the mega-seller list. But instead of drifting off into another career, selling insurance maybe, these writers have other options. The growth of eBooks means that a new audience will see their work, and for those who still want to hold a book of paper in their hands, new technologies make it possible and affordable. POD (print on demand) books are popping up everywhere, and they keep old books in print and open doors for other writers shut out.

Keeping up with all of this and getting my books on the market in the best formats has changed over the years, requiring far more time than ever. But the opportunities mean new readers and new ways to reach them.