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Having taken a day to think about some of Martyn Daniels’ predictions for publishing in 2009, I want to explore some of his specific comments for authors.
1. Whose job is online marketing?
Authors should come to the front with podcasts, videos, blogs and web sites to promote them and their titles and the interesting question is whether they will do it themselves, be aided by their agents, leave it to the publisher, or look to others?
My own thought is that nobody can promote an author’s books better than the author. Writers should be the most proactive when it comes to blogs, podcasts and any other digital initiative. It’s important to work with your publisher and agent to maximise effort and avoid confusion, and in the current climate, not to expect a squillion dollars to be spent on the promotion of your book. But my experience, in Australia at least, is that some publishers are only equally (and possibly less) informed about digitial marketing than many authors. Given that cheap tools exist for authors to be proactive, creative and fast with their online activities, there is no excuse to leave this solely to the publisher. I don’t know of any agents that have the time and resources to perform this function for their clients either. More importantly, an author’s online presence is a constant thing. It requires maintenance and attention, it requires effort to engage in multi-threaded conversation and authors are best placed to do this on an ongoing basis, whereas publisher attention may only be sporadic with each new book release. This is a critical part of your business now, authors, whether you like it or not, and whether you feel you have the time or not.
2. Stand up for your rights
The whole spectrum of rights will continue to be questioned as POD is used to grab more orphans and retain rights in perpetuity. Permission rights will start to become more visible and an issue as ‘chunking’ will become more common together with the sale of digital fragments.
I think this is an area authors have critically overlooked in the last few years, especially those without agents and there are plenty of unagented authors in Australia. The issue isn’t about a land grab for rights and that authors should withold as many rights as possible. After all, the bundle of rights that comprise copyright can only generate revenue for an author when able to be exploited in the marketplace. But if they’re not informed about digital applications of their work, authors will contrinue to sign publishing contracts that rob them of future revenue streams. I think the area where authors can exercise better control is in term limits on subsidiary rights, rather than contracts that sign over permissions in perpetuity. Authors can also look at splitting up digital rights into finer categories. Copyright is infinitely divisible and, really, the concept of “digital rights” to a book is ludicrous in the current environment when a digital application of a book could many any one of a dozen different things. It wouldn’t hurt to have separate treatments for ebooks and other applications, such as Alternative Reality Games or mixed media products. Authors and their agents should also consider distribution networks and whether signing over ebook rights should include distribution to mobiles. If your publisher’s ebook ambitions are limited, you are also going to be limited and so are the number of potential income streams.
If authors and agents are on their game, we should start to see fewer “standard” contracts from publishing houses and more bespoke agreements based on the digital expertise and reach of the publishers, and the individual desires and commercial opportunities of the authors. After all, the ability to exploit digital rights doesn’t only rest with book publishers. Some would say publishers are least equipped to do it right now. They face competition from nimble media companies not burdened with the same expectations and organisational cultures that some book publishers are.
The changes taking place in the publishing industry are not limited to publishers. Authors stand to realise wonderful opportunities in the new landscape. But in order to do that, they need to be in control of their own creative businesses.
2009 – the year the physical bookstore lays down and dies?
Over at Futurismic, Paul Raven looks at a NYT article sounding the death knell of bricks and mortar bookstores. Seriously, NYT, you really think booksellers are going out of business because people are swapping books with friends? You sure it’s not because of structural economic change in the supply chain?
Brave New World’s 2009 Predictions
Martyn Daniels hangs nails his colours to the mast for the year ahead in publishing.
The economics of video games
Dan Visel at if:book points picks up on an interesting point in an essay by John Lanchester about the artistic merit of video games. Are games bucking the trend of cheaper production and democratisation of media?
Unseen Hands Turn These Pages
New Matilda is running a marvelous series on Australian culture over the summer. One of the essays is by John Hunter, General Manager of SPUNC (Small Press Underground Collective) about the vital economy of Australian independent and small press publishing. [P.S. Spiffy new website, SPUNC, congrats!]
Book Designs of the Year, 2008
There are some seriously funky, creative people at the Penguin Art Department, if one judges their books by the covers. Check out their favourite book designs for the year just past. I look forward to more in 2009.
Electric Alphabet has been silent the last two months, and it’s time to fix that.
So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to blog every day. I thought I would have blogged more over the Christmas break, but there’s something about summer that switches off my critical brain. I get sleepy and lazy, like a koala. All I want to do is watch cricket and read books. I’m absolutely certain this resolution will be broken, but it’s great to set the bar high. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to putting WordPress and Twitter on my iPhone I think it will be a lot easier to blog little and often, although I still intend to post longer, more thoughtful pieces as often as possible.
There are a heap of other new year’s resolutions, of course, mostly the usual feeble nods to better diet and exercise, but as far as this blog is concerned, there’s exciting discussion happening all over the interwebs about publishing futures and I’m keen to participate.
To start with, here are some fantastic events I’ll be attending over the next few months:
- January: Clarion South Writers Workshop, Brisbane Australia
- February: O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing, New York, USA
- March: The Ideas Festival, Brisbane, Australia
Maybe I’ll see you there!
I am in Darwin for the annual get-together of state writers centre directors. Here it is warm and humid (which means my hair is annoyingly frizzy) and the ocean is blue. Not wussy sea green-blue, but Gold Coast motel artwork aquamarine blue. Since I’m spending more time looking around than reading feeds, I’m trusting youse all to be satisfied with a few nifty links:
- Guys Lit Wire: Fabbo new blog aimed at hooking teenage boys on great reads (and, frankly, I’m hooked as well)
- YA Mansion: Where all young adult writers live together in a mansion in New York City… apparently! But for those who are just visiting, you’ll find YA reviews, news, interviews and (and other things that rhyme with ewes)
- The Living: A ‘wovel’ (web-based novel) where you get to vote on the storyline. Thanks to the talented and extremely lovely Gary Kemble at articulate for the heads up!
Gary Kemble alerted me to the fact that a few comments haven’t been coming through. I’ve just checked and there were a bunch trapped in the spam-catcher which I have now released. Apologies if you’ve commented in the last week or so and your message didn’t come through! Thanks Gary.
This is something of a test. I just installed a Facebook application that will hopefully update my blog feed to my FB profile automatically. There are a few of these apps around but none of them seem to enjoy a very bug-free state. I guess we’ll see if this works. If so, hooray for Web 2.0 me!