When I first started learning the book industry, I thought all you had to do to publish was to write a phenomenal book. At the Writer’s Digest Conference East (WDCE), I first heard about a a new publishing survey conducted by Digital Book World earlier this year. There’s a report of the results if you want the nitty-gritty details, but I’ll share some of the basic information here, along with my own interpretations.
What follows are the three main points I took home from the presentation and why I think they’re going to be key for writers’ future success.
1) You can combine traditional and self-publishing in one career.
When it comes to writing, there’s a new kid on the block: the “hybrid” author. This is the author who gets his or her work out into the world both via traditional publishers and through self-publishing and juggle both in one career. Clearly, publishing is not an either-or scenario anymore.
What does the hybrid author look like? Some writers self-publish smaller works to supplement their income and stay in front of their audiences between books. Other authors build an audience through digital self-publishing, then opt to partner with an agent and publisher for the print version. The variations are as unique as the individual writers.
The idea here is that you don’t have to choose. If you want to, you can do both.
2) You can’t ignore social media.
So many writers I talk to feel overwhelmed by everything on their social media to-do lists. It’s tempting to adopt that mindset of “if you build it they will come,” thinking that all you have to do is write a good book and it will sell itself. When faced with that laundry list of different technologies we have to learn and communities where we have to participate it’s tempting to want to bury our heads and hide.
The trouble is, ignoring social media is not going to make it go away. Rather, we need look at social media as one of those things where what you get out of it is directly proportionate to what you put in. Hybrid authors know this. According to the survey results, they are more likely than other writers to be active on social media, with a higher presence on Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads. This increased engagement appears to make a difference. Compared with writers who only self-publish or only publish traditionally, hybrid authors report higher web traffic to their blogs.
What this means is while you don’t want to focus on social at the expense of your writing, but you can’t ignore it either. Find a way to balance the two and you’ll see results. And don’t wait to be published to start building those connections. Start practicing that balance now and once you get that book deal you’ll already be on your way.
3) Traditional publishing isn’t going anywhere.
Much as some of the die-hard fans of self-publishing might love to see the traditional publishers go out of business, it doesn’t look like traditional publishing is not about to die. The end is not nigh and bookpocalypse is not on the horizon.
Is self-publishing going to compete with traditional publishers? Yes. Will traditional publishers have to adapt and adjust? Most definitely. Are these changes going to challenge publishers to bring their A-game? For sure. Yes, changes are coming but it’s not the end of the publishing world as we know it.
How do we know this? Because even though self-publishing is going strong, most authors are still hoping to publish their next book the traditional way, including authors who have only self-published their books so far. We would expect that authors who have worked with traditional publishers in the past would be inclined to continue pursuing the traditional route, but even 68% of self-published authors (i.e. authors who to this point have not worked with a traditional publisher) report that they would be interested in partnering with a traditional publisher for their next book. That’s more than two-thirds!
So if you were worried that self-publishing was about to put traditional publishers out on the street, fret not. As long as the vast majority of writers are still interested in working with these publishers, the traditional model is not in danger of becoming extinct. Sure, I think the book world will evolve in the coming years but evolution and extinction are not the same thing. And like any evolutionary process, the industry folk who adapt to the changing environment will be the ones who don’t just survive, but succeed in the end.
Information is the key.
Writers need to understand that they’ve got options. There is no one true path to publishing bliss and we can change trajectory along the way. Writers will are more likely to succeed in this changing industry if they learn to “roll with the punches” and turn these challenges into opportunities.
The best part about the current publishing climate is that writers are not “locked in” to one way of doing things. You can change trajectory along the way and if something doesn’t work, you try a new strategy. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it here: writers don’t have to be entrepreneurs, but they need to be entrepreneur-ial. Having an entrepreneurial outlook means being able to switch gears fast. The changing book industry is opening up more opportunities for writers to have this flexibility.
This is why studies like the one conducted by Digital Book World are important. These data inform us so we can make better decisions for our careers. Digital Book World is currently conducting a follow-up survey focused specifically on hybrid authors to better understand the benefits and challenges of this approach to publishing.
Next week I’ll be digging into aspect of this survey that was so juicy it needed an article all of its own. Hint.