Written by Layne Maheu
It is unlikely that back in the 1440s scholars and clergy were wringing their hands over the future of the book because of the invention of the printing press. Would texts created from a movable-type of press be any less authentic than manuscripts painstakingly scribed by some nearsighted monk hunkered over a candle? Would an abundance of printed texts in the throes of the book water down its quality?
The advent of digital printing might not usher in another Age of Enlightenment, as did the cascading innovations from Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, but many traditional publishers are now voicing such doomsday scenarios–and for good reason: eBook sales are now 30% of the market, outselling print books in many genres. This number factors in the huge shift caused by Internet book sales. With an article like “Amazon is doing the world a favor by crushing book publishers” (Vox, Oct. 22, 2014), you can see why publishing houses might be concerned.
This need not worry the writer of books, though. As an author, you have a lot more options than you ever did. You can seek publication through any of these means:
- an independent press, light-on-its feet, innovative, and specialized
- a team platform, such as the local Book trope, where you compile an editor, graphic artist, publicist, etc., who all work on spec
- the traditional book-publisher/agent
- print-on-demand, offering complete freedom to self-publish with little upfront
- a PDF generated solely by you and sold completely through your own online efforts
- a spinoff from a blog
- an entire product line of related material sold through your chosen venue(s)
- a niche work of specific interest, integrated with or generated by social media
Within these options are more choices still. You can go digital only or print only. With many publications, such exclusivity has its merits. You can attach an audio book option or include it as a bonus package. Or, you might be happy simply seeing yourself in print regardless of other outcomes.
Although it’s easier than ever to get published, more than half of self-published authors earn less than $500 per year from their efforts. Some get in the six-figure range, but these authors usually have an existing audience from previous works. The hard part is finding an audience, identifying your potential market, and engaging the appropriate media. Even with traditional publishing, the author is often the largest contributing factor to successful book marketing.
Rather than the Age of Enlightenment, the Internet can make ours seem like the Age of Distraction. It’s up to the individual author to put together a meaningful message, define an audience, and make that message resonate.
Layne Maheu published the novel Song of the Crow with Unbridled Books in 2006 and is a member of the panel “Publishing in the Digital Age.”