The Changing Publishing Landscape
Yesterday we talked about how slow everything seems to go in traditional publishing, and how it can be tempting to think of “quick” e-book publishing as better simply because it’s faster. I have a couple of things to add today about how this industry is changing.
Shorter Lead Times?
I do think that with new technologies affecting everything from printing to distribution to marketing and sales practices, plus pressures from the marketplace, publishers might be moving toward progressively shorter lead times, even on their books that need to be printed and shipped. Ironically, this change will be slow, as many publishers already have books in the pipeline for release through 2013 and 2014, so it will take a while to turn this ship.
How Timely is Your Book?
In this Internet and digital age, it’s increasingly necessary to think about each potential book in terms of the timeliness of the material and whether it’s more suited to a digital (i.e. immediate) treatment or it’s more timeless. Does the topic really need to be covered in 50,000 to 100,00 words or more, or is it best digested in smaller bits? Some non-fiction topics lend themselves best to being covered on blogs and websites; many how-to and self-help categories are already so well-covered on blogs and websites that consumers have far less demand for books. In considering certain book proposals, a publisher is less likely to say “We’d need to publish this one quickly” and more likely to say “This looks like it would be a great article or blog post,” or “This should be an e-book.” (Whether or not the publisher wants to do the e-book is another story.) In any case, when you’re trying to sell your non-fiction topic, be aware that agents and editors are assessing whether your book should even be a book.
The great thing about a printed paper-and-ink book is its permanence. The very physicality of an old-fashioned book is something that often gets overlooked in the mad dash to go digital. There’s something undeniably special about the physical presence of a book that you can hold in your hand, and it can’t be matched by being able to show someone how it looks on your Kindle or iPad screen. Seeing the spines of all your favorite books on the bookshelves in your home is somehow much more satisfying to most of us than looking at a list of titles on a screen. This has led many people to start talking about the “legacy” aspect of print publishing—referring to the idea that physical books are collected and treasured by scores of readers.
I think this “legacy” idea helps us to think of printed books in a different way. Rather than being in such a hurry to get our books out there (as we discussed yesterday), we can allow the process to take the time it takes, exercising our patience and cultivating peace in the process. The end result can be a product of excellence and quality, something you can be proud of, something you can hold in your hand for years to come.
As publishing changes, you’ll be faced with these choices yourself. Is my book “of-the-moment” and timely, or is it more suited to permanence and timelessness? Do I want my book to exist as pixels on a screen or is it important for me to feel the weight and heft of it in my hand? Should my book even be a book, or is it a blog, website, or newsletter?
These are just a few of my random thoughts on how the landscape is changing. What are your thoughts on timeliness vs. permanence?
Tomorrow… we address whether or not publishers really are editing books anymore.