Monday, April 5, 2010

iPad v. Kindle v. Mobipocket

Since Smashwords has added the Apple iBookstore to its list of associates, my books should be available for the iPad sooner or later (if they are not already). With the addition of Mobipocket, there aren't too many gadgets where you can't download my work. I don't expect many sales through cell phones and other objects, and I suspect the iPad will be better for digital comics than the Kindle will. These revolutionary changes have sparked a lot of discussion among writers--what is the "professional" route these days? Find a big publisher and hope it all works out? Throw everything up on Kindle right away and hope people find it? Roll the dice and be all in with an unknown future? I think it mostly depends upon you past experiences.

I have been with several different agencies, and back when I started, you could still send your books directly to publishers (and it wasn't that long ago). By the time I was at a point without publisher or agent, the industry had changed dramatically. Outside a couple of science fiction and fantasy publishers and the small press, almost no publisher wanted an unagented manuscript. That gave agents incredible power, and in some cases, a bit of smugness. The pitch seemed to have become more important than the words on the page (I don't even know if anyone is reading anymore, or simply spouting stuff at sales meetings). Worst of all was this insidious creeping toward rudeness and arrogance--now not only do agents send out form rejections, which is perfectly understandable, but a lot have stopped responding at all. You can spend several years without even knowing if you have a legitimate chance. A decade ago, you could figure out that what you were doing wasn't salable or you needed work, or simply that you were targeting the wrong agents. It's just not a genteel industry anymore, and I say that knowing some wonderful, passionate people in the business.

The bottom-line pressure is on them, they are buried under manuscripts, they are beholden to corporate policy way up top, and bookstores are failing. On top of that, major authors are defecting and signing exclusives with Amazon. Given the bookstore structure of returns, this industry could turn to sand in their fingers. On the other hand, the authors that are already in the system want to preserve the system, because change is scary for anyone. If your book is only "worth" a $5,000 advance, that means it's good enough to publish and you will make more on your own.

It makes sense for the industry to think "blockbuster," where the whole point is to drive readers to those mountains of discounted hardcover bestsellers. NY really only needs a few hundred authors, the airport kiosk brands. The rest are just window dressing to make it look like a store. It's far easier to sell a million Pattersons than 10,000 books by a hundred different authors.

But authors have been drinking the Kool-Aid and go to too many writing conferences and hang out in places where people pretend to know something in a business where nobody even knows what worked in the past, much less what works now or tomorrow. It's the outliers, the people who don't play by the rules, who make it--James Patterson met with his publisher and had mock charts made up showing his unwritten books on the top of the bestseller list, convinced them, and made it happen. Now he has his own wing in his publishing house. He could easily become the seventh branch of the Big Six. Because he made it happen.

It will be interesting to see how "professional advice" changes when a few big authors set up their own enterprises. No one laughed at King for self-publishing.


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