by Marilyn Brant
I totally wanted to blog about something light and fun and uncomplicated enough to have fairly clear-cut answers, like the best birthday cake you ever had or your favorite kind of appetizer (do I talk about food too much?!), but this topic kept needling me. I figured if I had it on my mind, a few other people here might be thinking about it, too... So, let me just state the obvious: This is a pretty unsettling time in the publishing industry.
No matter what your opinions are regarding what constitutes a book or who qualifies as an author, changes like the bankruptcy of Borders, the shrinking of print runs and the explosion of digital-only or digital-first releases (both self-published and through major NY houses, such as Bantam's revitalized "Loveswept" line or Avon's new "Impuslse" line) have been wreaking havoc on the professional lives of booksellers, publishers, editors, agents and writers alike.
There is some very real excitement out there, too, by the way. New opportunites are emerging almost hourly, and many entreprenurial souls have been quick to hop aboard the digital train in hopes of striking gold. Some have found it in the literary realm and are shouting their gratitude and their Amazon rankings from the rooftops. Others are still striving and hopeful and secretly trying to crack the logarithm for ebook bestsellerdom. And yet others are capitalizing on the author accessories needed for a successful digital experience -- the creation of book covers, the proofreading skills, the uploading and conversion know-how.
In my opinion, More Opportunties + More Choices = Something Good. I may not utilize every service available to me out there, but I love having options. Getting to self-publish a few of my light romantic comedies alongside my traditionally published women's fiction has been both an interesting venture and a fun one. But then, I'm a big fan of a good Asian buffet, too. You tell me I can have Thai satays and Chinese egg rolls and Japanese teriyaki chicken and Mongolian barbequed beef...all on my plate at once? What's not to love about that?!
Food fantasies aside, though, I'm also an observer by nature, and I've been watching and listening to everyone. Attentively. I've been reading their posts and their tweets and their messages. And for every public comment that unabashedly praises the Digital Revolution, there are at least five more -- ranging from whispered concerns to infuriated accusations -- that express in some way a powerful and pervasive sense of fear.
For me, trying to uncover the source of that fear has been occupying a lot of my mental energy this summer. Best I can figure, I think it comes down to a persistent questioning of our relevance and how well we think we'll fare in the publishing world of the future.
Whether our job is that of an author or an agent, an editor or a bookseller, we're united by worries about what these changes mean and who we are now if the original hierarchy and gatekeeping system we'd grown accustomed to is no longer in effect. Where is our industry going? Will readers abandon paper books in order to make the digital leap? Will the skills we've all worked so laboriously to acquire be relevant in this evolving publishing landscape? And, even if we fully embrace the lightning-like changes that have struck publishing hard in recent years, will we be able to roll with whatever comes next in an industry that has transformed so rapidly in such a short period of time?
Just about everyone I know is asking themselves some version of these questions. Publishers are wondering if they need to add a digital branch to their company or expand the one they already have. Literary agents are fielding a slew of queries from their clients about rights reversion or assistance in the self-publishing of backlists. Writers across the genres are wrestling with the decision of whether or not to dip their toes in the digital waters and, if they do it, then they're struggling to adjust to a different method of manuscript formatting and online marketing and the panic/elation of having daily updates on their sales numbers. Brick-and-mortar booksellers aren't sure where to go next or how to use their valuable skills.
To top it off, there's a social-media windstorm brewing around all of us, amplifying the collective fear and setting off an onslaught of comparisions between authors. (Whose downloads are higher?) Or between publishing professionals. (Whose services or distribution methods are better?)
It's been kind of exhausting.
So, I wanted to brush all the discord and confusion away for just a moment and say, à la Oprah, the one thing I know for sure... It's something I bet you know, too: Yes, change is hard (and frustrating and scary and, sometimes, exciting), but there will always be a need for stories. And what drives us to read those stories -- whether it's to feel that sense of connection with others, to be entertained, to escape, to learn something new -- that part is constant. That part will always be relevant.
I think we need to hang tight to this truth until the dust settles, even as we learn new skills and face the challenges that come with navigating our careers in this ever-shifting publishing environment and this not-exactly-stable global economy. How stories will be packaged, sold and delivered in five years or ten is still a point of some debate, and I suspect many of us are going to have to adjust far more than we may feel comfortable doing (sigh), but the craving for stories will live on. No revolution -- digital or otherwise -- will change that.
What's a story you've read this summer that you really loved? Did you read it in print or in ebook form? If you're a writer, have you self-published anything digitally -- reissued novels, new fiction or short stories? In honor of both print and digital books, I'll give away two novels today: a PDF copy of my first romantic comedy On Any Given Sundae (June 2011, ebook) to one commenter, and a bound advanced reading copy of my upcoming women's fiction book A Summer in Europe (December 2011, Kensington) to another commenter. Drawing Monday the 15th, just before midnight, Central Time! Will post the winners' names in the comment section.
Marilyn Brant lives and writes in Chicago suburbs. She compulsively checks her Amazon and B&N sales numbers (when she's not procrastinating on Twitter or Facebook) and is forever in search of the perfect dessert.