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?
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thank you for showing us so clearly some of these huge changes, Wendy. What you said about listening to writer’s conference tapes again and again and storing the info away as gospel, hit a nerve for me. It was a huge realization when I finally understood that gathering publishing info and learning about the industry also included developing my sense of what wasn’t actually true or wasn’t true anymore. I have attended so many conferences and read so many books and to know that I must sift info against the current publishing climate was certainly daunting, but also freeing as I realized that even the pros were making their best guess and so I could too! I remember when Janet proudly introduced you as her new partner and fellow agent (yes, I’ve been stalking the agency that long) and I’ve read the blog from the beginning (although I didn’t dare to comment until a couple of years in). You all provide such a service and encouragement to writers!!! I’ve followed along watching and reading about so many of these publishing changes and I sure appreciate all of you helping to educate us in such a confusing industry. It has been an incredible journey and still one which I want to be a part of!
Good definitions, Wendy. Flip flop it has been thru these years. I am so grateful for all you, Janet, Michelle and all the others have done for me thru these years.
Blessings to all
What they call a ‘movement’
stops in a final resting place,
but, man, a revolution
comes back around into your face,
and thus, I’ve found, it is with life,
the wheel of fortune turning,
and those now ground beneath the strife
will live to see the burning
of the idols of today
when their vacancy’s exposed;
the road that seem the only way
will bear the sign of ‘CLOSED’,
and the values, now forgotten
will thrash the modern misbegotten.
Wendy L Macdonald
Dear Wendy, your words “amazing ministry” caught my eye and encouraged my heart. Although my email-newsletter-subscriber list isn’t long, I thrill each time a reader sends me a note telling me a letter blessed them. They remind me of the importance God places on small things. Our Good Shepherd is fast to slow His pace so the lost lamb finds its way.
“Amazing” comes in all shapes and sizes.
Writers need to keep showing up to serve their readers and keep praying for God’s leading in the details of the publishing journey.
One of the ways I have changed regarding my hope to have a writing profession is to invest time, prayers, and money into my craft and platform.
Secondly, putting on my brave cap is turning out to be as important as donning a thinking cap; hence, I joined a critique group (humbling and helpful).
Thank you for your wise advice on how to navigate the flip flop maze.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
Jean E Jones
Thank you for this insightful look at the recent changes in publishing. Part of what’s changed for me is that women aren’t meeting for large Bible studies, so that’s affected the sales of the Bible studies I write. Two years ago I wouldn’t have thought people would be interested in amateur videos, but now I’m creating videos to go with the books and women seem to like that. Smaller Zoom groups can use them, and I think they’re ministering to people who are searching for hope in God through adversity. Two years ago I also didn’t think Scripture memes would minister to people much, but I’m posting them now and people seem to appreciate them.
Linda K. Rodante
Five years ago I wearied of hearing why editors threw out manuscripts and how important social media was. I knew I could never get my numbers as high as they seemed to want. So I “jumped ship” and went to Amazon and KDP. Today I have eleven books out there and earn a decent income. I do not (nor do I have to at this time in my life) make a living from my books, but I do earn a decent income. However, I know many indie authors (Independent/indie is a better word these days than self-publishing that used to be the vanity publishing you mentioned. Independent publishing means you do a whole lot on your own 🙂 ) who do earn a living from the income they receive from their books. The quality of my writing is still important to me as it always was, but now I have the freedom to publish my own book and get it out there rather than waiting for years for someone to okay it–or take a chance on me. The readers themselves make the decision on my books not an editor and committee. Amazon and Indie publishing has changed–flip flopped–publishing. What you do in helping authors take a leap into publishing (whether traditional or Indie) is great. My agent at the time encouraged me to go Indie, and I am so thankful I took her advice!
David A Todd
Almost 10 years for me, Linda. I have few sales, but those few are more more than I was likely to have chasing the trade publishing dream. Congrats on your success.