Change always seems to occur faster than you think but often slower than you think.
Most things in society or life are at the same time dramatically different than they were a few years ago, but eerily similar to fifty years ago.
If you are an observer or participant in the book publishing world, you can completely ignore certain trends and not be harmed at all. In fact, when you ignore the changes happening every day, publishing actually slows down, and becomes much simpler to understand.
For a while.
But ignoring change for too long will make you complacent and susceptible to becoming a victim of the changes you’ve ignored, making your work irrelevant very quickly and unexpectedly.
Like not upgrading your computer software until the day nothing works.
On one hand, you don’t want to respond immediately to every wind which blows. It would make you unstable, unfocused and unable to function. But ignoring changes altogether for too long is done at your own peril.
The Amazon Kindle first appeared in late 2007. Within a year, many people predicted paper would start to become unnecessary, so we didn’t need to print books at all five years from then.
On the other hand, many people predicted eBooks were just a passing fad and could be ignored entirely.
The truth? There is an appropriate place for both in the publishing market because the most important person in publishing is the reader, and they decide how they want to consume a book, on screen, paper, or in audio.
Publishers or authors don’t decide these things, readers do. Readers have the real power in the publishing world, not the authors, publishers or might I add agents.
One group might desire change to be fast, the other want no change. Reality always resides somewhere between the two.
In publishing, the reader decides.
Not long ago, I received a proposal from an author who wanted to write a book about their vision of heaven, to pick up on the “current” trend of books in that category. Books like it still sell, but they are the classic backlist titles, not new books. This author wasn’t paying attention to what new books were selling today.
By the way, every author, traditional or self-published, takes time to write a book and is playing a perpetual guessing game of what readers want to read one or more years into the future. Good luck hitting an invisible, moving target.
The secret to deciphering the “change code” and deciding how to respond is found in a very complicated process which takes immense knowledge, education and courage. It is best described in two words:
Maybe I overstated the prerequisites a bit, which are probably more on the work and discipline side of the pendulum swing. But still, I can’t explain it any better.
There are two kinds of change in publishing. Knowing the difference is key.
- True changes – involve progress, movement forward, systemic shifts, technological advances and anything which disrupts and causes permanent havoc to what we are accustomed.
- Cyclical events – involve things visible only to those who pay attention, but invisible to those who think everything important occurred since 2007 or those who haven’t paid attention since.
Did you know the discussion of eBooks and their effect on the market is similar to the release of what are called “mass market paperbacks” in the 1930’s? (Mass market paperbacks are the slightly smaller, inexpensive books you might find in an airport or grocery store)
In the late 1930’s, money was not plentiful and World War II created opportunities for inexpensive and smaller size books which could be easily purchased and carried.
Book aficionados hated them as they were “not a real book.” Some publishers hated them because the price was low, and it affected the perceived value of a published book.
Any of this remind you of anything?
Mass market books were the “true change” and eBooks are part of a cyclical event. And all this time you thought eBooks were so cutting-edge.
The internet is true change. It is redefining everything. Until the next thing.
As usual, very astute. As an IT guy, I see a lot of issues with clients having to catch up with technology. It is particularly acute with age. Your point about e-readers is noted. My opinion is the details are still being worked out for that future.
True change rises like Kraken, when our unmet (and often unrecognized) longings synergize with our untapped potential.
Consider the Reformation, which would have faltered without the printing press.
Frame the question, predict the potential, and you’ll have unlocked the alchemist’s book of formulae.
This is so interesting. I’m an indie author with a software developer background. I used to be one of those sticklers when it comes to paper vs. electronic books. Told myself that I could never go for e-books. There’s just something about holding an actual bound book in one’s hands. For the most part, that’s true.
This year, however, I sold most of my paperbacks and hardbounds. Almost my entire library–save for a few favorites. The reason? I live a transient lifestyle and could no longer lug my books around. I had to go for e-books. And I’ve learned to love their ease of use as well. I thought I was in the minority, but more and more, I’ve found readers–from all age groups–who are avid readers of e-books.
Do I think this will last? I dunno. Change can happen any time. New technology can resurface, and we’d all have to catch up. I guess as Christians, it’s important for us to be as the sons of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what to do. That’s definitely my prayer with every book that I write.
Rebekah Love Dorris
Wow, great thoughts! Isn’t it funny how slow we can be to adapt? I’m still too distrustful of technology to get rid of my books, but after a full generation passes, maybe I will! I think I’ve read too much about book burnings to ever be completely okay with the idea of no books except for fickle files that so easily get locked inside a clicking hard drive. But then, the idea of traveling light is pretty sweet. 🙂
This makes me wonder if people who have been in the business a long time know which kind of change is happening at first blush. By paying attention this informs but what is its effect in the long run? I suppose it keeps the trend in balance with the market, if that makes sense. The takeaway for me is that change is constant but how we look at change is where clarity brings definition. Enjoyed the post, Dan.
Joyce K. Ellis
Great insights, Dan. Thank you for good perspective on a challenging topic.
Hi Dan, when you said, “…the most important person in publishing is the reader, and they decide…,” you really hit the nail on the head, and not just how they read, but what they read.
I know the topic is keeping up with changes, and even leveraging them, but that was a pithy statement you made there, sir.
Many writers must focus on the business side of publishing to get our work out there, and oftentimes there are quite a few people between a writer and a reader. I wish this wasn’t so, but it is. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s always about the reader, isn’t it? I like what Margaret Atwood said about readers. She said a book is read by one reader, only one, although obviously this may be repeated many times, or just a few. As Christians, we ought to be especially conscious that the Lord is always up to go after one, a single one.
So thank you for this very important reminder about who our audience is.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for your insight, Dan. It reminds me of how much I still have to learn.
Dan, why did you choose a graphic where only one airplane is flying out of formation? Does that represent the negligent author or is that the moving target?
Bailey T. Hurley
This is a really encouraging post. As a Millennial, I understand the fast paced nature of a reader’s changing preference when it comes to what we read and even visually how we read it. It is also exciting because the latest trends in my specific genre are colorful and creative! I think we should see the changes as more opportunities to get creative and think outside the box. Thanks for sharing this.