The Publishing Industry: Are we up a creek without a paddle?

I need to blow off some steam. My turn to rant. I’ve been through it all, writing classes up the wazzoo, critique groups to choke a horse, one of those really, really bad-news literary agencies we all know about, the search for good representation and the rejects, the requests, the pitching big and small independent publishers and back again. The agreements, the contracts – you name it, I’ve been there. (Sheesh, and I thought two divorces were bad?) Through it all, I’ve developed an Author Success Coaching business using the expertise of more than 30 years experience to help make sure authors trying to gain readers/buyers for their books can get as much success as possible, even in this crazy, gyrating industry vacillation.

Where are we all going to be in two, five, ten years? All the horror stories are out there. Watching this industry mutate into what it eventually will be is like giving birth, only more painful. What’s all the fighting about? You can’t hold that baby in, you know. It’s gotta come out, gotta grow, develop and become what it’s going to be. The baby? E-publishing of course.

Aww, look how cute it is? A really special infant! One that doesn’t cost nearly as much as it’s cumbersome, paper and printed mass-quantity books siblings. This little baby can be anyone’s child; big publishers can sire it, small independent publishers can make them, even authors can do this! It’s a … miracle.

Now, let’s talk quality. I have always been a supporter of self published authors, always made sure to focus my consulting efforts on their difficult responsibilities for marketing and promoting themselves and their work. Let’s face it, if the publishing industry in any form is going to survive, we’ve all got to market and promote. But more than that … we have all got to fight for good quality writing! We all have to strive to be better and better. Nothing turns a buying customer off more than having a bad experience with a product. One or two bad meals and they never go to that restaurant again. A bad fit and they won’t be purchasing clothing at that store again. And … badly written stories will eventually turn them off to buying books by specific authors and even specific publishers.

We – authors, agents, publishers and even online book stores – are in the entertainments business and if we don’t know that, we’re all going to be up a creek without a paddle.

Like movies and sports events, we’re fighting for the customer’s discretionary dollar – and Lord knows, there aren’t a whole lot of those these days. Lucky for us, e-books cost much less – unless of course, some backward thinking traditional publishers have their way. But then again, even though they don’t seem to know it yet, they’re not running the show anymore, are they?

We can sell books anywhere, anytime, and at everyone’s convenience. No more worrying about what time a store opens or closes or if they have the book we want in stock. No more concerns about returns and the recall of advances. Sure, we may not be looking at advances the way we used to, but what we as authors are looking at is a much, MUCH larger percentage of our book’s sale going right into our pocket.

I can see how all of this would get caught in the old school publishing dinosaur’s throat, can’t you? Without all the mammoth expenses of the traditional publishing model, how can the huge publishers demand so much anymore? I may be a little high on “possibilities” wine here, but doesn’t e-publishing level the playing field? Like, for the first time EVER?

This transitional period is going to be all about rolling with the waves, keeping our knees soft and understanding that everything eventually settles out. Kinda like skiing down a double black diamond slope; don’t hold your breath, keep your eyes peeled, your skis pointed downhill, hips loose and whatever you do, don’t panic.

We’re going to get through this, and the authors, publishers, literary agents and multitude of advisers out there will all do just fine if we stop paddling in different directions. Pick a path and go.

Go e-publishing because if you don’t at least seriously consider it today, it will make all the decisions for you later, and not that much later. In two years, it’s estimated we won’t even have paper magazines or newspapers anymore, no more traditional libraries, no more mega or mini book stores, just the internet for buying and downloading books. Why fight when the tide is this strong?

The future is nipping at our butts, let’s just make friends and forge ahead with the author careers we want on this new, exciting playing field?

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

23 responses to “The Publishing Industry: Are we up a creek without a paddle?

  • Stella

    Totally with you!

    I think in these times, everyone has to look at publishing from all angles. Authors should be given a choice if they want e-publishing or paperback. And all of the books in whichever form should be of high quality.

    Offering both will please the crowds. There will always be people who want their real book, but more and more people just love their e-readers and I don’t blame them. Would love one, too, if I’m honest.

  • yearzerowriters

    Oh this is so rich. I have no issue with e-publishing, even though I am wedded to print publishing because I want to offer certain things with design and typography that e-technology at present cannot replicate. If you’ve seen Foer’s new book, you get the idea of book as art work, restoring it to its former link with literature as high art, not the soggy commerce fiction has become today. A book as an artefact worth owning in its own right. Now I’m not saying all books can go down this route, of course they can’t. The problem with full access to e-printing is that there is no quality control and the form of the book gets deluged by inferior quality works which as you say leaves the customer feeling cheated. People will skim read and discard, like the kids no longer download albums but a single track to their phone and then when the memory is full, again simply discard them (no building up of a library anymore, which I think is a pity). Everything becomes disposable and emptied of value. The e-book debate is all about delivery systems and customer convenience, not about the quality of the content and this is the problem.

    marc nash

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      I agree, Marc. The e-book debate is all about delivery and customer convenience, BUT unless authors and e-publishers do something NOW about improving quality, it certainly will be a problem. I wanted to make a call to arms for authors to choose the future, but make it the high quality future we want it to be.


  • J. Rose Allister

    Good points, all! I made a commitment to stick with epublishing several years ago for a number of reasons, and I’ve never looked back since. Who doesn’t love forty to eighty percent royalties?

    There is still a prevailing assumption that digitally produced books are automatically inferior in quality, though I find this to be much less true now than, say, eight to ten years ago. I still see epub that makes me cringe, however. Still, with the vast number of quality options now available to digital consumers, I fully expect to see most of the pubs churning out garbage edits going the way of their vanished predecessors.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Rose, how true! Nothing makes people produce better work (including edits) more than serious competition. Authors need to look carefully, check out the quality of the books and choose an e-publisher who is committed to quality. Period. That’s how we’ll see really great publishing five years from now. You’ve been dealing with it for years and already watched the industry improve. Now that e-pub and ebooks are seriously coming to the forefront, imagine how much better things will get.

  • Cynthia Echterling

    I still think they should keep those dark, dingy stores full of old used books with cats laying on them.

  • Vila SpiderHawk

    I too believe that paper books will soon be obsolete. No more writing in the margins. No more smell of paper or the sound of pages turning. No more satisfaction of feeling the heft of a book in one’s hands. And soon, I fear, no more control over our own work.
    The thing that frightens me the most is Google’s plan to take over e-publishing. From waht I understand they plan to break copyright laws doing it, which, of course, the Justice Department is currently looking into. Oh, they promise to pay authors “something” for out work. But what exactly does that mean?
    Mercifully, I am old. I don’t have to watch my writing career crumble under the weight of a mega-corp like Google. But there are so kmany talented young authors out there who may never get a fair chance. What a shame. What a terrible shame.

  • Sebastien

    what I like the most about this post is the skiing analogy: keep your knees soft, tips pointed downhill. ePublishing is all about testing new revenue models and disrupting current process. Yet we still need authors to write and readers to read. It is in-between that things are changing. I’d love to get back to skiing!

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      Oh me too! I miss the rush of the slopes, but then again, we’re facing the same thing in the pub world right now, lol. One day a few years from now we’ll all be laughing and shouting “Hoh man! What a run!”. I predict there will still be writers and readers and the in between will be minimal.


  • Fred Limberg


    I’ve been wrestling with this question for two years now. The old arguements spewed by the vast majority of blogging literary agents–that E-publising wasn’t really publishing and that you would anger the publishing gods if you self-published–really don’t hold water anymore, do they?

    I got a Kindle for Christmas. It took me a couple of books and the addition of the leather folder thingy and now…this is my favorite way to read books. It is also my favorite way to buy books. I take blocks of my own writing and load them into the Kindle as part of the editing process now so that I can simply ‘read’ what I’ve written.

    Look, the music industry took over a decade of getting beaten up before they grudgingly accepted the mp3 internet music phenomenon. Like the publishing industry, that revolution was made possible by technology–easily used and convenient technology. There are still CDs…hell, there are still vinyl LPs and turntables out there, but probably 99% of music ‘listened to’ on any given day is in mp3 or simiar formats.

    Publishing will get there and there will always be dead-tree books for people who want them. But I think the big publishers have to get their heads out of their asses first.

    And there’s a lot of money in play. A LOT of money!

    What I see happening right now with the big boys is that they are acting more like Hollywood and the movie industry than champions of the written word. They have a stable of writers with loyal fan bases that are guaranteed to sell vast quantities of books every time they squirt one out. Hell, I have a group of best selling writers that I follow and buy their new releases on the day they come out. But now, I buy them on my Kindle for about half the cover price of a hardcover.

    I think this blockbuster mentality is doing more harm to both the industry and the craft than the evolution of e-publishing. Check out my blog later today or tomorrow. I was working up an article about this very thing before I read your post.

    Just my thoughts. Keep on keepin’ on.


    • Deborah Riley-Magnus


      These are fantastic points! You’re dead on about the “Hollywood” analogy, but we all held out so long for that HarperCollins dream, didn’t we? Well. the alarm clock has chimed. If the Big Houses won’t hear it, we will. Cold in California is coming out in April and it is an ebook by a wonderful e-publisher. She’s also considering my “Author Success Coach” book for both e-book and POD. It’s time to stop looking longingly at the old world and stand up for ourselves and the future.

      Hey Fred, go over to my facebook and post the link for your blog, okay?


  • Nathan Carriker

    The thing I love most about you, Deb, is that you’re both cold- and warm-hearted…remind me of the ladies in my family. Cataclysmic? Yes. Entropy occurs (that’s geek-speak for “poop happens”). Get over it. Apocalyptic, no – the Art will prevail.

    I don’t know where I’ll be on my birthday in 2012 (December 21 – darkest day of the year, and the end of the Mayan calendar, as we now surely all know), but if it really is the End of Stuff, I sure hope I’m somewhere close enough to hear you, because I’ll bet you find a way to make it fun, if not to survive it anyway!

  • Daisy Harris

    Great topic!

    I started writing fiction a year ago next month, and though I’m 38 (gasp!) I’ve felt from the start that e-pub is going to take over. How could it not? The world is going digital.

    Some of my early CPs and crit group friends argued that I should aim for higher word counts and try for print right off the bat. But my feeling was- if it takes 7 books (on average) before I get a print deal, and 6 months to get an agent, 6 more to query, another year or two till print…I was looking at 4 years away. My feeling was- in four years, will people even still read print books?

    My daughter finished her first non-school chapter book last night. She’d read it on her iPhone. (Yes, my 8 yo has a phone- we don’t have a home line and I needed an extra around the house for when husband travels.) It’s entirely possible that she will never read a paper book outside school. She likes being able to adjust the font size- and prefers reading white on grey to black on white. Plus- why drag around books when you can have your phone, music, and reading all on something that fits in the palm of your hand?

    Personally, I think e-publishers need to start shifting more to an iTunes or Netflix model. Of course people will watch more TV and movies than read books if the TV/movies are easier to access and cheaper. How often would I watch Bones or Millionaire Matchmaker if I had to type in my credit card number every time and pay $6.99?

    I’m always excited by change, so I know this may just be me…but I’m psyched for the transformation. Personally, I wish people would stop hemming and hawing. The transition’s happening whether anyone likes it or not. Time to make better products, sell them more effectively, and get people reading!

    OK, now I’m ranting… 🙂

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Thanks, Daisy!

      You know, my numbers were deeper. It took me years to get my first agent, a year to realize I’d had one of the “bad agencies” then another few years and a new, more marketable book before I finally landed my second agent. The reasons I look at e-publishing and am working with an e-publisher is simple … I’m an Author Success Coach and I need to know what my clients are facing. I need to understand the future as it barrels down on us, and I need to explore a positive, high quality product in order to develop effective ways to seek it.

      We’re all going to be great.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Kayelle Allen

    I doubt we’ll give up paper altogether anytime soon. After all, didn’t computers promise us a “paperless” office not long ago? Look how well that went. ;o That said, epublishing is here to stay and it’s the trend I follow myself. I think that while print publishers will definitely see rocks in the water, epubs won’t be immune to change. As print pubs find new ways to compete, epubs will forge new paths as well. Growth and change are good. When water doesn’t move, it grows stagnant. It’s the arid sand of drought and the wild tsunamis we have to worry about. As long as there are steady waves, the beach is fun for all.

  • Fran Orenstein

    I appreciate your information…please keep it up. Your publishing history mirrors my experiences since the mid-nineties. And yes, I agree, at least the divorce was final, while some of my books are still lingering unpublished. E-publishing does seem to be the wave of the future, but as of now most of the people I know in my age bracket don’t have readers, some of them don’t even have computers or cell phones. I don’t have one. I haven’t seen any studies of kids and Kindles, but they are getting into the schools. How do you market an ebook? Book signings are out, presentations are out as there is nothing to show anyone or to sign. For many of us that’s the dilemma, marketing an ebook, particularly in the ‘tween & teen age group for whom I write.

    Again, thank you, Fran

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Oh, Fran, I do have a few answers for you!

      First off, YES, there is a way to sign an ebook. Several good e-publishers have worked that one out to give us all that same feeling of connection with our readers.

      Second, Marketing an ebook is the same as marketing any other kind of book, only you need to think “INSIDE” the box … the computer box that is. You market to readers who love screen reading, love computers and are shopping, playing and communicating in that universe. I’m currently developing several ways to push ebook marketing into the forefront and make it easier and stronger.

      And Third, just today I read an article on ebook sales at Amazon. Take a look, it’s pretty impressive.

      And finally … the price of a Kindel is coming down, young and old (and I’m in the ‘old’ category, lol) will, if they don’t already, own one very soon. And the best part of all this … the cost of producing a book is cheaper, making the cost of buying one cheaper and the number of buyers much, much larger.


  • success coach

    Really nice post about “the Publishing industry” with a beautiful title “Are we up a creek without a paddle?.. i appreciate your post .. Keep it up similarly as it is .. Thanks for this post .
    success coach

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