What Does the Future Hold?

FutureI was talking with a friend who works in the financial industry, and a question came up about what we would each be doing 30 years from now. My friend was anticipating a prosperous retirement at that point, having built up a significant and valuable business. While the financial life of our nation has its ups and downs, the stock market is presumably not going anywhere, and can be counted on to provide an entire lifetime of employment.

Not so the publishing industry! Because the entire arena of publishing-agenting-authoring is undergoing such change, I’m not sure what to expect in five or ten years’ time, let alone more than that. I felt flummoxed. Where, indeed, will I be in 30 years?

Like most people who work around books, I’m pretty sure of a few things:

1. Readers will continue reading.

2. Writers will continue writing.

3. In some way, shape or form, publishers will still publish books.

4. Even with the rise of self-publishing, most writers will not want to be publishers, so there will be a need to help them get their work published and distributed, traditional or not.

5. There will continue to be a need to help readers find the kinds of books they want to read.

6. The definition of “platform” will become more refined and specific for individuals across all businesses, and there will be a need for experts to help people build healthy platforms.

7. The way people make money from books is going to be evolving for quite some time.

8. People who currently make their living based on their broad and deep knowledge of publishing should still be able to do this, but it may look quite different in a decade.

Even with these basics about which I’m pretty confident, I still can’t really envision what a “career in publishing” will look like in a couple of decades. What about you?

What are YOU pretty sure of? What are some things you CAN’T envision? What do you think publishing will look like in 10, 20, or 30 years?



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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Natalina on April 7, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    I just like the helpful information you supply for your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and test once more here regularly.

  2. KM Logan on March 20, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    #6 is HUGE! It took a professional for me to finally build my platform properly. I’d actually love to build a business around helping others build their platform and writing.

  3. Peter DeHaan on March 12, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    This is a thought-provoking post. I’ve been contemplating it for a couple days and didn’t think I’d have anything to add, but perhaps I do.

    Looking into the future I think there will always be producers of content, consumers of content, and facilitators of the transaction.

    The producers of content will be writers (among other things) and the facilitators will offer an opportunity for today’s agents and publishers. However, I’m not sure how many of the consumers will be reading content. Might they prefer content in a different form, perhaps audio or more likely video or some interactive medium?

    As long as I can adapt, there will always be an opportunity as a writer, a producer of content — and the form of my content doesn’t matter.

  4. […] What Does the Future Hold  Rachelle Gardner on the future of books, authors, publishers and writing. […]

  5. Maggie Jaimeson on March 10, 2013 at 7:10 PM

    I also disagree that most writers will not want to be publishers. The technology to be self-published is becoming so accessible that it is not a barrier. However, each writer will need to carefully determine what types of partnerships she wishes to form to produce the best book and get it to the widest market to make the most money.

    For example, I’m great at technology but being able to put together a wonderful cover that will both get my book noticed and feel representational of the content is beyond me. I always pay for that.

    I have a good sense of how to get my books into the U.S. market and what U.S. readers want/need from me. However, I don’t have a good sense how to get it into foreign markets. Yes, I know I can be distributed electronically to 110 countries. But which ones prefer to read in their native language? How do I get translations? Who do I trust to do a good job? How is marketing to Germany different from marketing in the U.S. What about covers in Germany? I’ll bet they have a different sense of what sells. I’ll pay for that.

    I have no clue how to market a book to movie or TV studios. Not all my books are good candidates, but I believe some are. I’ll pay for that.

    Each author has a different set of skills and what they are willing to, or can afford to, pay for the knowledge/skills they don’t have. If I were an agent, I would determine my skill niche(s) and market that to writers and publishers or form/join an agency with many agents of different skills.

    I was very intrigued by Laurie McLean’s recent post announcing Foreward Literary. Though short on details, it showed a willingness to embrace change and to provide services in a variety of venues. She didn’t set up a we/them barrier between self-published and traditionally published works. It sounds like the right track. It certainly leaves options open and gives one a sense of partnership between equals. I think that is the best anyone can do right now with any career choice.

  6. Book Bank # 1 | Anjali Enjeti on March 10, 2013 at 12:08 PM

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  7. Terrance Leon Austin on March 10, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    Talent+Faith in GOD will always lead to success. And no, I did not say fame and fortune. I said success. A “middle man/woman” who trust in GOD, work hard with integrity, and care for their clients and aspiring authors will never be cut out, no matter how advanced technology gets. The first thing I noticed about Rachelle’s profile is that she cares for her clients and writers.
    And for the record, I am not trying to score brownie points with an agent. Remember the word’,,Integrity that I mentioned earlier. Technology will not thwart GOD’s plans for his people who work hard with faith.

  8. Terrance Leon Austin on March 10, 2013 at 6:08 AM

    Talent+Faith in GOD will always lead to success. And no, I did not say fame and fortune. I said success. A “middle man/woman” who trust in GOD, work hard with integrity, and care for their clients and aspiring authors will never be cut out, no matter how advanced technology gets. The first thing I noticed about Rachelle’s profile is that she cares for her clients and writers.
    And for the record, I am not trying to score brownie points with an agent. Remember the word’,,Integrity that I mentioned earlier. Technology will not thwart GOD’s plans for his people who work hard with faith.

  9. Robert on March 9, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    In 30 years writers and readers will still be around.

    The future of anyone else in the pipeline from writer to reader is up for grabs. If any one link does not add sufficient value, it will disappear. Middlemen are always the first to go when technology is disruptive enough.

  10. Laura K. Cowan on March 9, 2013 at 6:20 PM

    As someone who entered the auto industry a few years before its crash in a media research job that made me well-positioned to see the crash coming, only to finally land her desired copyediting job before the collapse of the editorial ladder across industries, only to become a freelance writer just as the idea of earning a living wage as a freelance journalist became a distant memory… I have to say that your blog post reminds me of this pattern and makes me also wonder what is going to happen to your entire profession. I wondered during the 4 years I was working up my first novel how publishing was going to change by the time I was ready to publish, but as I started seeking representation and saw how the submission process is bogged down to the point of breaking, and listened to agents such as yourself discuss how authors need to be prepared NOT to make a living at writing in today’s marketplace, I started to wonder how many agents realized that it wasn’t just their jobs at stake. Entire layers of the publishing industry are being cut out by technology, but this time it isn’t the writers who are losing out, it’s the middlemen. I would love to see a blog post that really lays out the ways agents (and publishers) can be useful to authors moving forward, in a much deeper or broader way than your recent blog post about hybrid authors and how agents represent them. I think the fact that the argument needs to be made at all speaks to the situation agenting is in as a profession.

  11. Jack Rausch on March 9, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    God will still be God, and worthy to be trusted.

    • Terrance Leon Austin on March 9, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      I agree with you Jack R.

  12. Melinda Viergever Inman on March 9, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    I’m intrigued by the morphing of traditional and self-publishing. “Hybrid publishing” or “co-publishing,” depending on which of these publisher is describing themselves, might be the wave of the future. It helps traditional publishers over their reservations with first-time authors by requesting some share of the costs for a first novel, and it gives authors more freedom and input into the process. I’m watching this development closely.

  13. Terrance Leon Austin on March 9, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    In another decade, self publication and traditional will be easier. Good publishing houses will keep their standards above mediocrity. And self publishing authors will have to rise above manuscripts that are easily thrown together and uploaded to a cheap self publishing site. Personally, I give my input on this subject. While at the same time look at myself in the mirror and say, no one is going to deal with terrible work. Get off your rear and read, write, research, and learn. Thank God for publishers and agents who hold every submission accountable to their own writing. In five more years, the standards on the self publication and querying agents will be will be exactly where it need to be. Writers will have to work hard to reap the benefits of becoming a successful author. As a aspiring author, I hold myself to the highest accountability. And every writer should do the same.
    Thanks Rachelle.

  14. Bee on March 9, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    Hi Rachel

    Interesting topic. I work in publishing ( one of the largest publishers in the world) and we have seen a huge amount of restructuring due to the need to shift towards a more agile, digital market. We don’t want to wait years to push our books out to market anymore, we want to be able to do it in months. We want to meet the changing market needs before the market leaves us behind. We’ve had to be trained and retrained, and the word “agile” is a buzz word in the corridors of our offices now. We are revising how we pay authors, looking at fee based versus royalty based etc..Naturally, I am thrilled! I am a self published author of Christian Fiction set in Africa. Self publishing has enabled me to get my books out there- in a niche market. I was also able to set up my own digital publishing company in order to be able to push other authors of this “genre” out in a quick manner.
    So where do I see myself in 30 years
    1) At work, in the company where I am employed ( which I LOVE), at a very top position, smiling because we have finally been able to stay ahead of the game by going digital with our top selling titles – yes we will still push print books- but we will PUSH our digital(S) too (in the past the print kind of lead the way)

    2) As a CEO of my own christian fiction company here in the UK, publishing books to the millions of people who have been able to buy our e-books at the click of a button- without having to haggle with printers on cost to production for print titles.

    I love my paperbacks, but the truth is, digital publishing is here to stay. Let’s embrace it and run with it!


  15. Susi Robinson Rutz on March 9, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    I believe partnerships will become important. Here’s why: I recently had a conversation with my husband about the expectations of publishers for authors to promote their work. As I continued heaping up all the marketing tasks, my husband who is a marketing professional, began to light up. He knows this editor who has a small press, there’s this marketing avenue and this one and if that doesn’t work, there’s this other one. My head was spinning as I tried to follow his multitude of exciting ventures. I came to the understanding that a marketer will get the product sold and do it with a smile, no matter what it takes. I am not made of that stuff and that stuff keeps me from producing a higher quality product for the marketer to do his magic. So, I strongly believe publishing will require partnerships. It’s interesting to think of what that might look like for a literary agency.

  16. gabe on March 9, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    I’m kind of worried that the readers and the writers will become the same group of people. Many of my friends choose visual images rather than words for entertainment and information.

    I hope the publishing industry survives. I need as a writer and as a reader.

  17. Connie Almony on March 9, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    We are seeing more publishing houses open up varying levels of publication, between an author paying for services to self-publish, through ebook-first lines, to traditional. I think the future holds a variety of writing “services” as options, possibly with new methods of reimbursement, somewhere between paying for the service to expecting a cut of the take-in. What used to be the traditional publishing house, may turn into a publishing service that agrees to edit and/or market, etc. for some combination of an up-front fee from the author and a percentage of royalties. The House could determine the level offered to the author based on the quality of writing and potential platform of the author—much like they do now in choosing whether or not to publish as ebook only, or paper and ebook.

    I like the idea of a traditional publishing house, as a reader, because they are a gate-keeper for quality; as a writer, because they help an author polish out the kinks and bring the novel to market. However, its inherent weakness is that they often limit themselves from new ideas, because “new” never has a track-record of sales. This is where self-publishing has the advantage.

    For instance, I just read that “New Adult” Fiction is a big market in the self-publishing arena—characters in their early twenties, just starting out in a career. Publishers traditionally shy away from these stories because they don’t believe there is enough of a reader base. The readers who want these stories have nowhere to go but the self-published author.

    My fear is that traditional houses, who had provided great services to both author (polish and marketing) and reader (providing a quality piece of work) will put themselves out of business in their efforts to scale back expenses and compete. I keep hearing they are cutting back on editing and marketing. These are the very advantages they have over self-publishing. Between this and the resistance to try new audiences, I worry they may put themselves out of business.

  18. Mridu Khullar Relph on March 9, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    There will still be opportunities. Smart writers will still be taking advantage of them.

  19. Michelle Garren Flye on March 9, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    I almost wonder if it might be possible the better writers will make a move more toward self-publishing. By better writers, I mean those who are better able to self-edit and know a little something about promotion. It would make sense for those writers to want a bigger chunk of the profit. This would leave the publishers with the writers who need the editing and promo services they provide.

  20. Rose Gardener on March 9, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    My first career was in a profession that is regarded as setting you up for life with a good pension, but ill-health brought it to an abrupt end in my 30s. If you had told me five years ago I’d be writing stories (let alone publishing them and seeing writing as a second career), I’d have said you were crazy. I’m no longer convinced it is sensible -let alone practical- to think of your career thirty years hence. Plan for the next five, dream of the possibilities in the next ten and be assured that whatever you are doing in thirty years, it won’t be what you expected!
    What I am sure of, is there will always be a need for good advice and a willingness to pay the person able to provide it, so it’s worth educating yourself as much as possible on the options available and then put your faith in an expert to guide you through it.

    • kassie on March 9, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      So rigtht, such sage advice. We sure don’t live in the same world as our grandparents and parents did. Change is no worked toward, it is in fact constant! Our world is now very much “move along or be left.”

  21. Dan Erickson on March 8, 2013 at 10:08 PM

    I’m not sure I agree that “most” people will not want to self publish. I think more and more writers will self publish as the tools have become easier to use. I agree with Alana that self-published writers will be looking for people to help market. In fact that might be a good business to start now… Get in while it’s fresh.

  22. Celia Jolley on March 8, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    Just a thought, I enjoy my Nook so much more since I got a Jane Eyre cover and it feels so much more like a real book.

    One plus to epublishing, books won’t be filled with so many extra pages that fill the book quota to a standard 250-300+ pages. I get tired of wading through fluff that could be edited out of an otherwise good read. Ebooks can be shorter, and I hope that filters down to published books as well.

    I love the quote by Hemingway for winning a short story contest that could make someone cry: “For sale: a pair of baby shoes, never worn.”

  23. Wendy Paine Miller on March 8, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    To JSB’s point, I want to be a cork.

    Also, #2. I’m sure of it.

  24. Colin on March 8, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    I agree that the fundamentals will never change: readers will be reading, and writers will be writing. The exciting prospect for the writer is the ever-increasing number of opportunities for us to get our work into people’s hands. I know this is a bit disconcerting to publishers and even, to an extent, agents. But I think even with the surge of interest in self-publishing, serious readers will eventually (if they don’t already) appreciate the need for quality control, even in the digital realm. This would mean that while anyone can write and publish, certain publishers will be noted for the quality of the books they produce. And such publishers will be looking to agents to help them separate the okay writers from the good and great writers.

    That’s my thought, anyway. 🙂

  25. James Scott Bell on March 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    As the tides rise and fall, you will either be made out of brick or out of cork. NOW is the time to learn the skills needed to stay afloat. Which starts with not EVER leaving your career decisions entirely to others. Partnerships, hybridization and strategic alliances are the new watchwords. I, for one, find it exciting and rewarding.

    • Connie Almony on March 9, 2013 at 10:46 AM

      Yes! It’s not only important to be on top of the changes that are occurring, but to be innovative in moving among it.

  26. Gwen on March 8, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Haven’t really thought much about the publishing world’s future, usually it’s been about the future of libraries (which is pretty grim, I see them eventually becoming something similar to internet cafes) but I can see it being taken over by marketers. Especially those specializing in social marketing. I also expect careers will become very specialized. Artist who focus on creating book covers and trailers, techies who will format your book correctly for a variety of outlets, web masters to keep track websites, publicists to set up blog tours, live chats, giveaways.

  27. Roxanne Sherwood Gray on March 8, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    In Star Trek (of any generation) there are no paper books. Though I own a Nook, I still enjoy holding real books. I think they’ll always be readers, but today’s young people are so geared to electronics, and the market is so tied to them, I’m not sure how long we’ll have actual books. With the publication of fan fiction and the evolution of interactive books, it’s going to be an interesting journey. Through it all, I plan to be writing, and I’ll want representation.

    • Cynthia Washburn on March 8, 2013 at 10:05 PM

      I recall a few episodes where Captain Picard sat with an actual book and he treasured it.

    • 1 L Loyd on March 9, 2013 at 11:52 PM

      One episode had Kirk’s lawyer preferring to use actual books for his law library. There will always be someone who love and want the physical feel of a book.

  28. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on March 8, 2013 at 5:39 AM

    My name will top the NYT best-seller lists for fiction and nonfiction at the same time…

    OK, seriously…novelists will be called on for more and more accuracy in fleshing out the details of their books, driven by the more demanding expectations of their readers.

    For example, with the amount of research material available on the internet, readers of historical fiction will have more sophistication, and the writers that do well in this genre will have to be experts in their own right.

    Movies have already gone through a similar process. When you look at films set in WW2, back in the 60s and 70s the vehicles just had to be painted a certain way to define “Allied” and German” (in “Patton”, the Germans were seen cheerfully using postwar American tanks, defined by their bilious colours and sinister black crosses).

    By the time “Saving Private Ryan’ was made, a lot of effort went into showing the correct vehicles for each combatant, at least superficially. And a few years later, “Band Of Brothers” refined the process even further.

    It’s a good thing, and it keeps history vibrantly accurate and alive for all of us. Calling writers to task can only help.

    The future of the past looks pretty good!

    • Cherry Odelberg on March 9, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      I like this reasoning; well experienced, observed and researched.

  29. Alana Terry on March 8, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    I think all the self-publishing authors are going to look for marketers to help promote their books. Today’s agents might very well be the most sought-after publicists ten years from now.

    • Cherry Odelberg on March 9, 2013 at 10:23 AM

      Now there’s a valid idea! Agents = great publicists when aimed at the host of readers rather than select publishing houses.