Monday, June 09, 2008

Facing change

I have been a member of a Book Lovers forum for some time now, where those who are in their own words 'addicted' to books, discuss the various ones that they have read or otherwise, as well as other more mundane issues surrounding their lives. It has, during my time there, become obvious that the majority of the members (with the exception of those who are authors) know very little as to how books are written and published, or how the choices that they as readers make, with regard to how much they pay, and where they obtain their books from, (assuming that they pay at all) impact on those within the industry. The industry is though whether we like it or not, driven by the readers, as they are the reason that we write in the first place. It is not to do with ego, or making money (well, not for most of us anyway), or anything like that, but because we feel that we wish to share something important with the reading public, but also because we have a gift that should be shared.

One of the debates currently going on on the site is one regarding self publishing and readers attitudes towards it. At the moment it seems to have been hijacked by one commercially published author, who is doing her best to come up with all sorts of arguments to prove that she is right and everyone else is wrong. This is of course though all ego. I recognise a certain amount of ego in me, I have to admit, when I read her rantings, but because I recognise it, it means that I can choose not to take her bait and get drawn in to a long and drawn out battle that neither of us would win.

It has though prompted this post on here, and so post I will.

During my time in publishing, I have seen much which is both good and bad (by the normal definitions anyway). I see lots of light and lots of those who appear to be embracing the change which has been brought about by the digital revolution, but I also see an industry (mostly the larger houses I have to say) which is also driven by fear. I see the walls that have been put up by various writing organizations, book reviewers (some refuse to review self published books at all) competition and other award panels (likewise), as well as book stores (who insist on returnability), and even the Internet (think Amazon), to keep self published books out. They cannot though be kept out, and if traditional means are closed to us, and the front door is shut, then as my Reiki Master Rowena Beaumont once said, there is always the back door, the windows and the roof.

I see attacks on self published and in particular print on demand books, on a daily basis, by not just those within the industry, but also increasingly by other authors, most of whom it has to be said are commercially published ones. I detect a large slice of ego in many of these authors, who seem to use the fact they are commercially published, and had the honour of being paid by a publisher to publish their work, and not the other way around, as a stick with which to beat up those who did not have this distinction. They use this as a means to make themselves look better at our expense. The ego is such that it has to make others feel bad or look inferior in order to make themselves look good. It never though works, but has the opposite effect, creating even more of that which they fear. Like it or not, self publishing is here to stay, whether we accept it or not, and once the flood gates are open, they cannot be closed.

Lynn Osterkamp has a particularly enlightening blog that I would recommend and it seems that her views on this are very similar to mine (and most other self publishers I would wager). She says on her excellent blog, that this unfortunate reaction to change was described in depth nearly 40 years ago by futurist Alvin Toffler. He put forth the idea that people find the accelerating pace of change overwhelming. His book, Future Shock, published in 1970 described a feeling of dread connected to rapid technological change, and a difficulty in adapting to it.

An increasingly large proportion of books published in today's market place are self published, by various means, yet these are for the most part not welcomed by the industry. They see these as a nuisance or an obstacle to them doing their work, as they create a market that in their own words 'is top heavy with dross', a market that creates too much choice.

Self publishing is though, where the future lies, in particular print on demand, and such authors are and will continue to make, significant inroads. Unfortunately old attitudes die hard, and these do not change as fast as the technology that now threatens the industry. Change is happening, but not nearly fast enough. Sure some of the houses are using print on demand for their own back lists and to launch new imprints, but they still attack self published print on demand books, as if they were some sort of virus, or something nasty to be wiped off your shoe.

It amuses me to see that many of these imprints also claim that they are utilising this wonderful 'new' technology, when it has been around in the UK now for over 10 years, and there is nothing new about it at all. They claim it as their own only when it suits them to do so.

A respected non profit website in America called Preditors and Editors, which aspiring authors use as a guide to publishers and publishing services offers advice on how to spot a scam publisher. This includes the following - a publisher that gives low or no advances (some of the imprints from the larger houses are now doing this, but offering higher royalties to compensate), publishers whose books are rarely if ever stocked in book stores, especially the large chains, publishers whose books have never made it on to the bestseller lists, been reviewed by 'reputable' sources such as the New York Times, or sell more than 5000 copies on a regular basis.

Such outdated criteria places almost every self publishing company in the scam category, along with the majority of small presses as well. Not though my publisher, as several of their books (including mine) are on the shelves of high street chains, and have also reviewed in the national press and made it on the best sellers lists.

The point is though that this criteria shows an inability to adapt to the changes currently taking place within the publishing world. This inability to adapt is based fairly and squarely on fear; the fear the current out dated methods of publishing are becoming obsolete, at the same time, making the jobs of those within the industry obsolete as well.

It is a scary thing to put yourself and your book out there, knowing that we face such hostility and what can sometimes seem like insurmountable odds. It is not though about us the writers, but about the readers, and those who are touched by the message that we bring. We are the cutting edge of this revolution, the forerunners that will lead the way. Once you get the blurb and the hype, the fact is that a good book is a good book regardless of how it was published or how many copies it sells. A good book to one person might also be an awful one to someone else. It is very much subjective. The readers then should be the judges and not the gate keepers.

It matters not whether a book sells 5 copies or 5000 copies, for those that need to read it will find it. That is how the universe works. It also works according to the universal laws, one of which is like attracts like. If we are constantly driven by fear then we will create even more fear, and all that we fear the most will manifest in our lives. I have seen this happen, more than once. We need to face our fears and work through them, rather than running away, or worse, criticising in order to maintain our own sense of superiority. The world is changing whether we choose to accept it or not, the question is, are we brave enough to face that change and go with the flow.

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