Chain Mail 6: Book View Cafe

Chain Mail is a telephone tag by email round-robin interview session with authors from the Book View Cafe writers collective.  Images are links, connecting to biographical information about an author or more information on their current work.  Additional information can be found on the contributors page.

Amazing Stories: Electronic publishing (the entire enterprise, not just e-books) has largely destroyed the magazine and newspaper markets (and is making in-roads into the publishing industry), while at the same time giving a voice and a platform to more individuals than ever before.  For established authors, is this current situation problematic, an opportunity, or are we just living through an upheaval that will eventually sort itself out?

Judith Tarr

Opportunity.  Definitely.

Established authors, as in authors who have been or are being published by the majors (I’m not going to talk about new authors–that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of sandworms), currently have more control over their own work than they’ve had in at least a century. Works that just a couple of years ago would have languished in the obscurity of used-book bins and remainder sales are now coming out in new and viable forms and finding new readers. Authors who have been dropped by their publishers not for lack of quality but for lack of sales are now able to publish new works in venues and formats that were never available before. Publishers are no longer the only real game in town, though they’re still tremendously powerful. It’s a whole new world.

It’s also an upheaval of serious proportions. Yog’s Law, “Money always flows to the author,” has shifted. Authors are now being held responsible for more of the process of getting their work out there–and not just in self-publishing. Publishers expect authors to carry more and more of the load of promoting their books. Advances are falling with sales numbers. Publishers’ business and accounting models are decades behind the times. There’s a slow seep of big-money authors away from publishers toward doing it themselves, which I think will become stronger as print numbers keep falling and publishers keep lagging behind the curve with accounting, marketing, and tracking of trends. Now they’ve got the Department of Justice on their case, literally, while Amazon works to bring them all down and set itself up in their place.

Authors are caught in a tsunami, but thanks to self-publishing and digital publishing, they have a real chance not only to survive but to thrive. If they were totally dependent on publishers as they used to be, they would be swept away.

I do believe it will sort itself out. Publishers as a concept are not going anywhere, though the current entities may not survive much longer in their current form. Publishers concentrate resources in one accessible place: acquisitions, editing, production, art direction, distribution, all the things that take a book from the author’s mind to the reader’s eye. They also pay advances, which give the author the means to write one book while the other is in production. Setups like Kickstarter offer some help with this while everything shakes down, but realistically, if an author wants to have time to write, someone else should be doing all the rest of the work of getting the book out to the readers–and while all of these things can be bought, how many authors have anything like the kind of money needed to pay for it?

Book View Café is trying an old model in a new way: the cooperative, run by volunteer labor. The author is not only in charge, she’s becoming a publisher, not only for her own work but for that of others within the cooperative. It’s one way to weather the storm. What it will all come to, I don’t know, but I think–I hope–that authors will continue to have more opportunities than ever to get their work out there, and more power to decide what and how and where.

Dave Trowbridge

Judith pretty much said it all. I just want to emphasize the power shift that’s taking place as the Internet and open-source software make it easier for an author (or group of authors, as with Book View Café) to assemble a team to take the place of a vertically-integrated publishing company. There’s opportunity here not only for authors but anyone else with one or more of the talents needed.

It will be interesting to watch the swirl of new business models for the various pieces involved in publishing coalesce into a new dynamic stability. One thing is for sure: there will be more ways than ever before to “take a book from the author’s mind to the reader’s eye,” and we’ll all be richer for it.

Sue Lange

Electronic publishing has certainly not destroyed the magazine/newspaper markets. I still get my magazines delivered in hard copy and I’m not hearing whiny please-get-your-friends-to-sign-up-for-subscriptions from them. Our hometown newspaper is still being sold on the newsstands next to New York Times. These entities are still print publishing as well as trying to figure out epublishing. Some do better than others, but they have not been destroyed by any sense. And as far as I can see, most readers are still reading print books more than ebooks.

The changes due to epublishing that Judy mentioned are very real. I hope at some point some entity is going to realize what a burden current marketing requirements for writers is. Hopefully they’ll figure out how to make money doing that for us so we can go back to writing. I loves me some social media, but really, it does wear on one.

Linda Nagata

I used to subscribe to several magazines and the hometown newspaper. I don’t anymore. Nearly all my reading is online or on my Kindle. I do subscribe to the Honolulu newspaper online, but our 112-year-old hometown newspaper, The Maui News, is having a hard time. Electronic publishing, like any major shift, brings jeopardy and promise.

As to whether established authors can expect diminishment, opportunity, or upheaval, I would answer “yes.” Authors who have thrived in print have seen sales decline and rumor has it that being a bestseller now ain’t what it used to be, while for those of us who never thrived in the traditional system, the opportunities are very real. No matter who we are as writers though, all of us get to deal with the upheaval–and I’m not at all sure it will eventually sort itself out. I rather suspect things will go on evolving and that there might not be any safe ground to stand on for a long time.

Personally, I am extremely pleased with the opportunity, but it’s not a gold rush. Some authors are doing very well, while some of us are still paddling hard, trying to catch a wave. With traditional publishing though, if you didn’t catch the wave the moment your book shipped, your future wasn’t too bright. In this new world, we get a lot more chances to make something happen and that’s a huge transformation.

Jennifer Stevenson

What they all said.

Gazing into my crystal ball, I predict that print books will “return,” along with print newspapers and magazines, but more cheaply made, although perhaps not more cheaply priced.  There will be a couple of landmark antitrust lawsuits, arriving too late to save some print publishers but changing the landscape some more.  Tastemakers will emerge who comfort publishers sufficiently (i.e. they are not volunteer reviewers hiding behind anonymous handles) that publishers have something approaching the reliable lobbying power they once had with the chains via co-op, and publishers will no longer feel adrift, marketing wise.

Bestsellers of yesteryear will either go rogue completely or return, but more wily, to publish sometimes with major publishers, sometimes independently, and sometimes with smaller presses, multiplying their income streams in order to stabilize their cash flow.  Oh, and vaudeville will make a comeback.

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

It’s the nature of life that what presents a challenge also presents opportunities and vice versa. It was the hope of catching the opportunity—or as Jennifer said, the wave—that informed our decision to start Book View Café. We recognized that alone, our efforts to build up a following might be swallowed up in the mad rush to the gold fields. But as a cooperative effort, we can help each other build a following.

One of my friends, Jennifer Ashley, is doing very well selling her regency mysteries (which are seriously addictive) off her web site. This after her publisher felt they weren’t doing well enough to continue. She has since done jaw-droppingly well just promoting them and selling them off her web site. BUT, she already had a huge following for her historicals, romances and erotica. Not every author at BVC has that kind of pull. I know I don’t. But together, we are developing it. That’s the opportunity. The challenge is what it’s always been—how to promote, distribute and sell our literary dreams to the readers we know would love them.

We’re working on that.

Chris Dolley

I see this as a Publishing Spring and, like all revolutions, there will be unexpected winners, unexpected casualties and it’ll take several years before the dust even begins to settle.

But I don’t think the first casualties will be authors or publishers. I think agents and the ‘bricks and mortar’ bookstores could be squeezed first. If publishers start cutting back (both on books published and advances) and more authors start self-publishing, then both the profitability and the need for an agent diminishes. Already some agencies are re-inventing themselves – offering their services as epublishers to their clients. I expect some to move into PR and marketing as well. With the huge rise in self-published authors, and with publishers cutting their promotional budgets, there’s a demand out there waiting to be filled.

The ‘bricks and mortar’ bookstores are already under pressure from Amazon. There was a move to sell ebooks at bookstores in partnership with Google. But, from what I’ve heard, Google are now pulling out, citing lower than expected sales. Times are going to be very tough for indie booksellers.

As for authors, I see this as a huge opportunity. Yes, there will be problems. I can see more authors being dropped by publishers. I can see more agents going out of business. But then this has always been an occupational hazard, and the determined author bounces back a few years later with a new (pseudo) nym. The advantage the author has this time is that they don’t have to wait. And they don’t have to change their name. They can self-publish.

Some authors will baulk at this. They don’t have the skills or the energy to start learning new skills of ebook formatting or – God forbid – self promotion!

Which is where the BVC model comes into its own. Trading skills in a co-op is the ideal way to get your books produced and keep both your hair and your sanity.

Brenda Clough

Any new development creates a new market niche.  People are already setting up businesses, helping authors get backlists into eformat. Somewhere somebody is going to start a fine little business manufacturing ebook graphics in bulk.  I foresee that at some point our little co-op venture will top out – there is a limit to how many people can be in a co-op and still have it function effectively.  By that time the industry will look different.


I can’t imagine that authors won’t survive.  Not all of us, but most of us will keep on creating.  It’s the finding of the new outlet for that creative power that will be different.

Deborah J. Ross

I’ve long since given up making predictions. Most of the time, I have no clue why one book sells and another doesn’t (well, okay, I have lots of clues as to why some books don’t sell). But here’s what I believe:

People will always want good stories. They’ll want to hear ’em, read ’em, see ’em (theater, films, etc.). They’ll want to act them out. We are a story-telling species. The medium is far, far less important than the story. Flexibility/adaptability/range are the keys to surviving uncertain times.

Paper books have been around for a long time, and still offer strengths that other media don’t. Durability is one, as we have no electronic storage medium that rivals the centuries that acid-free paper lasts. Books offer physical pleasures that ereaders don’t (at least, so far) and (getting wilder here) people who grew up with books are less likely to completely discard them than people who grew up with computers. So we have overlapping generations of book-pref and computer/edevice-pref.

We’re definitely in a shakedown period of electronic publishing. Some of what’s going by the wayside should stay there, but often, good stuff risks becoming lost as well. It will take a while for new systems to emerge, and for errors to correct themselves.

One of the greatest potentials for epublishing is the rebirth of the midlist. This is where the most imaginative, risk-taking writing lives. These books challenged readers, to be savored over and over. Once upon a time, read-it-once best-sellers subsidized the midlist, to everyone’s benefit. Then came the era of bean-counters, where every book was supposed to be a best-seller, so away went these precious but not wildly successful books. Now, most of them did make money. Just not enough. Enough, though, to support an author if the right audiences could be reached. This is where I am hoping electronic publishing will shine, by providing a framework for works that do not pander to the lowest-common-denominator audiences, and by using the power of electronic communications to connect these books with their audiences.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Katharine E Kimbriel

My peers have touched on just about everything on the topic, and so well!  One thing I think I’ll emphasize here, because I personally have to fight to avoid getting caught up in this trap.  If you don’t get the book written, as well as you possibly can, none of this brave new world will matter to you as a writer or to your potential readers.  Start establishing an on-line presence, yes, and investigate the new offerings in blogs, social media, writer networking, etc.

But don’t lose sight of who and what you are – a writer, telling stories people will want to read.  Those of us who are older than twenty-five have seen several book revolutions come around (remember Waldenbooks?)  There may well be multiple, huge changes in the next five, ten, or twenty years.

Decide if you want to be in the game.  Get your butt in the chair and write your story.  The game is not going anywhere – it’s evolving.  Yes, a few people will pull a brilliant ploy and checkmate in five moves.  But most of us are going to be here a while if we want to win a game.  Whether you’re playing checkers or Go, there’s always a strategy and many ways to win.

Phyllis Irene Radford,  Pati Nagle and Vonda N. McIntyre believe that their colleagues have sufficiently covered this subject.

Next we ask:  Can Print Books Survive The Future?

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