The Publishing Pie–An Author’s View

Margaret Atwood

Award-winning Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood concluded the first keynote session with an author’s viewpoint on the publishing industry.  The “publishing pie” is the entire business surrounding books.  If it dies, will authors die too?  If the future is the net, and it is all free, who is going to pay the authors?  Only 10% of authors make their living writing full time, and they have to work hard a lot.

Publishing tools have a long history, and they are changing.  But change is not always good for everyone.  Have we stopped to think about whether today’s changes are really good or not?   Publishing tools have 3 sides:  the sharp side (upside), the dull side (downside), and the stupid side (where you cut yourself without meaning to).  For example, the stupid side of paper books is that they make good kindling; they are spoiled when you drop them in the bathtub, and they are heavy.  The stupid side of electronic books is that one big solar flare and they are gone, and if the technology changes, you cannot read them.  One good thing about paper is that when the lights go out, you can still read it by the light of a candle.

How will the change in publishing tools affect authors?  Will their slice of the Publishing Pie get ever smaller, as is happening with their percentage of e-book sales?  Will their meager incomes dwindle away?  Advice to the publishing industry: never eliminate your primary source.  Authors are a primary source.  Everything else in the publishing industry depends on them.  Once, authors wrote and publishers “made public”.  Now, authors are under pressure to do more publicity.  Today they are told they must:

  • Make an electronic version of their manuscript for the publisher,
  • Go on book-signing tours and sign books,
  • Tweet, blog, and create a Facebook page,
  • Appear in public and give interviews,
  • And more…

This added workload is causing unrest among some primary sources.  Is the old model still viable for authors?  Whatever publishing and publicizing tools are available, the author’s problems remain:  how to pay for writing time, how to get published, and how to get the book to the ideal reader.  With an infinite choice for readers, and the Internet making access easy, how can attention be drawn to a particular book?  (This has long been a publisher’s problem.)  Will some of the pieces of the pie join together again?  Will booksellers and electronic retailers become publishers?  Will print on demand allow successful self publishing?  Will some books appear in electronic form first?  And will authors band together to form their own publishing ventures?

Note that in an age of “remote” and “virtual”, there is still a craving for “real” and “authentic”.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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