Writing flipped upside down: publishing’s murky future

Twice in as many days now, I’ve heard it said that the future of book publishing will involve the publishing houses letting authors self-publish, while they sit back to see what sells before taking on a new author.

A fellow blogger put it rather well in a discussion we had. He said, “my take is that traditional publishers are letting first time authors prove their mettle via self-publishing, letting the market pick the winners, and then swooping in.” The Independent also had an article saying exactly the same thing.


Whether they’re right or not remains to be seen, but you have to admit; it would be a sensible policy on behalf of the publishers if they did adopt this stance. Before taking on any new writer, they could be practically certain this person will make them money. Very wise.

If this is indeed the future, then what concerns me is that, as an author, you wouldn’t just have to be good at writing to release a successful book (although you don’t necessarily have to be good at writing now, just look at Dan Brown). You’d have to learn a whole new set of skills to see your book turn even a half-decent profit. You’d have to be social media savvy, know the digital marketplace, understand the fundamentals of marketing, &c, &c.

I mean really? Isn’t pouring you heart into a manuscript and having to worry about story arcs, first plot points, character development, scene placement, editing, rewriting and rewriting, not enough? Now we have to be the bookseller too? Or, failing that, we have to pay someone else to sell it for us? Pah.

I’m pretty switched on to things like social media and blogging, but I’d hate to think my book relied so heavily on my skills in these areas to stand even a chance of being successful. I may have written the next Master and Margarita, but if I fail, for whatever reason, in getting my work out there, I may as well have written the next Ikea instruction leaflet. No one will care.

Also, as I have mentioned previously, finding a good book amongst all the self-published tripe out there can be hard, and I’m sure many a masterpiece will get lost amongst the chaff.

But it’s not all bleak for authors.

And this scenario may not be all-rosy for the publishers either:

If a book did do well in the self-published marketplace then (a) why would the author even bother to hand his of her work over to a publisher along with a healthy does of the profits? And (b) if an author does still want to go to a traditional publisher and let’s face it, many of us do, then they will have a lot more power-to-their-elbow with a successful ebook already behind them.

And instead of publishing houses who want 70% of the profits, publishing rights, contracts, a large say in future books and other legal stuff I don’t understand; what we could see emerging would be investors who are willing to stump up enough cash to put the book into print and market it for, say, just 20% of the profits. If a book had already proved itself in the digital market place, that wouldn’t be much of risky venture, would it now?

I know they say that publishers have long-established relationships with the booksellers and such like, but that could all change very quickly and they could find themselves in bit of pickle as the new world book order emerges to sweep the rug from under them. And let us not forget the poor literary agents. If publishers are going to go straight to the author, where are the middle men going to go?

Now, I may be way off here, but what I think will happen is, yes, the digital market will keep growing – and that’s good. I think we’ll see self-published and indie authors continuing to thrive – also good. But I think instead of the publishing houses hanging back too much, they’ll adopt a sign-the-author-but-sell-it-digitally-first-policy. They’ll let the book prove itself, before committing to print, but while still maintaining a contract with the author.

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. What do you think? Do you as a writer (or indeed, a reader) have any concerns about the future?

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Apologies for the length of this meaty post. I’m trying my best to keep them succinct, but failed on this occasion.

P.P.S. If you are a publisher or agent reading this, please don’t take my musings in a negative way. I love you.

9 comments on “Writing flipped upside down: publishing’s murky future

  1. Issy says:

    I guess digital first is good for saving trees. If a book ought to be printed it should be a good one. Or at least one that people want to read.

    • gpeynon says:

      This is very true. And a good green perspective. I would be happy for a digital only book, but I worry that this area is currently swamped with books so bad that an agent or publisher wouldn’t even get past the first page.

  2. Some great observations (and not just about Dan Brown’s talent). I think the scales are tipping in favour of the author at the moment, but, like you say, that comes with the price of a lot more work.

  3. […] Writing flipped upside down: publishing’s murky future (gpeynon.wordpress.com) […]

  4. L. Palmer says:

    I think these are some interesting thoughts. There are definitely a lot of shifts in the publishing industry, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. I’m currently trying to play both venues and see what works.

    • gpeynon says:

      Playing both is definitely an option. I think I shall start with traditional publishing, but I won’t wait too long to move on to self-publishing should that become a little sticky.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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