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.