At a staff meeting recently, we discussed how many things have changed in publishing. I’ve been a full-time agent for fifteen years and when I think back to what I taught or espoused back then and in the years since, my understanding of the nature of our industry has done a proper flip flop. As a writer-hopeful I used to listen to writer conference tapes over and over. I took what those experts taught as gospel truth. Written in stone. Immutable truth.
Guess what? We are operating in a totally different publishing climate. In fact, I don’t need to tell you we are living in an entirely different world. The term “paradigm shift” has a new meaning. We’ve just passed through an “interesting” political season when nearly every candidate for office has been accused of flip flopping on positions. In honor of 2020, I thought I’d share some of my own flip flops.
Flip Flop #1: I used to say, “It’s all about the writing.” Those were the days. It’s now about size of platform, past sales numbers, high concept, credentials of the writer, and on and on and on.
Flip Flop #2: Even recently, I believed the obsession with “platform” to be a passing phase and pointed to all the sales I’d made for authors with humble platforms. I’m still hoping it is a passing phase of publishing since it is the uncommon platform that offers up book buyers. But for the present, it’s rare to get attention for any project that does not come with astonishing social media numbers.
Flip Flop #3: We used to talk about the importance of a career plan. It’s still important but, as agents, we’ve learned to be agile, keeping an eye on every change. For most of our clients there will be a plan A, Plan B, Plan C. . .. But by being agile we still believe, at the end of the day, our authors will look back on a career filled with twists and turns and amazing ministry.
Flip Flop #4: In years past, if I had a good concept, a well written book and a great writer, I knew I had a sale. Now, there are a limited number of publishing spots and a seemingly unlimited number of good books by fine writers. We are having to fight for each sale and nothing is guaranteed. The good news is that we still do make sales and Books & Such is already way over the 2020 agency goal set long before Covid 19.
Flip Flop #5: Even half a dozen years ago I couldn’t recommend self-publishing to any of my clients. The vanity presses were gold mines for the owners. The authors paid thousands of dollars and ended up with a garage full of books they couldn’t sell. With the advent of print on demand, it is possible for authors to publish their books for little or no cost and, with online stores like Amazon and B & N, a place to sell them. We at Books & Such have a number of authors making regular sales on their once-out-of-print books for a tidy monthly income. If an author can reach readers and build a regular readership, it is now a viable option.
If all that sounds like a dreary forecast, take heart. It won’t be the last paradigm shift. And we’ll be ready. With every change comes new challenges and great opportunity. The old Arabic saying, “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sail,” has never been truer. I’ve adjusted my sails, but I keep watching the wind.
How have you changed your understanding of this writing profession?