Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, November 22, 2010

As I See It: The Future of Publishing and Selling Books

An indie bookseller in our area, Dragons & Fairy Tales, is celebrating its first anniversary with a hoopla of events and booksignings. Two WiDo authors are scheduled for signings. Then, this amazingly awesome local bookstore is having a going-out-of-business sale after Thanksgiving, after they celebrate their one year anniversary. The owners, a young couple with a dream and a love of good books, will be okay, but the community will be losing an asset.  

It's hardly surprising that local, independent bookstores are struggling when big chain stores are closing everywhere, too. When I went on my Farm Girl tour three years ago, one of the booksellers told me that Amazon had hurt his business so badly that he wasn't sure he would ever recover. This was before the Kindle. The combination of Amazon and other online vendors, plus now the fast-growing popularity of ebooks, makes it hard to believe that the brick and mortar bookstores will ever thrive again.

All this makes an interesting predicament for writers and publishers-- if bookstores are closing their doors, how do we sell our books? 

I believe there's still a need for publishers. Writers need editors and a support group to assist in getting their work polished and out to the market. (Yes, you can go it alone, but it's tough and you have to pay for everything yourself along the way, including editing.) That market used to be bookstores. What is it now? There's your million dollar question. I think those publishers still hanging onto the fantasy of making it with bookstore sales will be hurting very soon, if not already.

WiDo Publishing has been encouraging their authors to have a stronger social media presence. Some of them are doing very well with that, others are resisting it. Sales reflect it, too.

Authors must be online promoting their books through social media. Those who don't, or who come across as unpleasant, distant, arrogant (no one in this audience of course) will have poor sales. Those who do it right can become bestselling authors-- without the bookstores, without the NY Bestseller List, or Publishers Weekly, or Oprah. (That's my opinion, not that I've done it. Yet. LOL. I'm still holding out for Oprah to call and make Farm Girl a household word.) 

As I see it, the future of publishing is excellent, as long as publishers and writers are realistic about what's happening and how and where their titles will sell. ONLINE. With the authors doing the bulk of the promotion. And the future of selling books is EBOOKS and ONLINE SALES of print books, fueled by the SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE and LIKABILITY of the authors. (sorry to yell but I feel really strongly about this) You've got to be online, people, and you have to be engaged with the community, and likable. Nice. Genuine.

So that's how I see it. I could be wrong. But ask my husband, he will tell you that I am rarely ever *if ever in fact one could say never* wrong about anything.

And while we're on the subject of social media, networking and selling books, I want to let you all know that the website for authors is still in progress. I had hoped the site would be up and running by now, but since I'm the social media person not the developer and programmer LOL my overzealous impatience isn't counting for much.  However, it's making excellent progress and the week after Thanksgiving I'll post a complete update. So stay tuned and thank you for your patience! Happy Thanksgiving everyone :)


  1. Karen,

    I couldn't agree more. I think conventional books and bookstores will continue, perhaps for a long time, but more and more publishing will certainly take place online. Which, for writers, means we live in interesting times - but interesting in a good way. There are opportunities out there, your website for authors being one example. And whatever happens, whether or not we need bookstores, or publishers, or any of it, we're still going to need writers to write the damn stuff in the first place aren't we?

  2. Simon, So true about needing the writers, and it's about time we get treated better. One thing that really bugs me is the snarky writers-are-dumb posts by some agents & editors. Hello! Without writers none of them would have a raison d'etre.

  3. I understand how things are going, but it still saddens me. I hope there is always a place for "real" books. You know I have a Kindle and I love it, but some books were meant to printed.

  4. I remember when cds started to replace records and I was rather upset. I love the tactile feel, the smell, the look of records and the same with books. I could never get the same experience from a Kindle that I get from a real, live book. Hopefully book stores won't faze out in favor of downloadables . . .

  5. The future is now. I was reading an article that said that because of popularity of Kindle and e-books, the future of paperback -- and even more so hardcover -- will be the way of the Dodo sooner than we think. With the struggling economy, who wants to pay hardcover prices or even softcover when you can buy an e-book for $2.99 or less?

    Do we still need publishers/editors/agents/writing groups?


    While it's becoming easier to publish yourself, authors need that support group that the publishers, editors and agents provide. I hate reading self-published books without proper editing. Also, publishers have resources to other book sellers (even online ones) that the average person can't access.

    Agents? Well, they give the writer the proper guidance as to proper contract negotiations but I think they will be the first to go.

    My two cents. (Not worth much in this economy...)


  6. I believe you're right. It's certainly an interesting time to be breaking into the writing market, that's for sure. All sorts of new territory to be discovered. While I love the idea of e-publishing, I'm old fashioned enough to hope I'll see my books in a brick & mortar store someday.

  7. Linda G., I know. Imho, seeing one's own book on a store shelf can't be surpassed by seeing it listed on Amazon or Smashwords.

    Clarissa, I agree with you on each and every one of these points.

    Amy and Pat, I don't think print books will go away, but people are buying them elsewhere than from the bookstores.

  8. I think it's sad about the bookstores, but then again people felt that way about record stores once too. Personally, I'm excited about the internet & e-books.

    As writers, we tend to love being surrounded by books, but the average reader (someone who only reads 1-5 books a year)bookstores can be a daunting place. Moving everything online is a great way of providing people a search engine to find what they're looking for without being overwhelmed by shelves of paper books staring at them.

    I think in the future Barnes & Noble will still be there, but the size of the cafe will begin to surpass the size of the actual book shelves.

  9. oh, I hate so much the loss of small, local bookstores. Where we are there are two south of me in Fairhope, and they're doing their best to hang on by specializing. It's progress I guess...

    But the other thing is libraries! Good friend is a librarian, and she's talking about how they're facing major cutbacks. I don't know if this is to be expected or not~ :o) <3

  10. Hi Karen! I'm glad to know that your husband realizes you are always right, ha ha.

    Also good to know that the author website is coming along. I look forward to it!

  11. Karen, of course you're always right! Happy wife, happy life. Your husband is a smart guy.

    Readers won't stop reading books, we know this. HOW they're reading is changing faster than I can read blogs! I'm relatively new to all this, but I can't believe all the changes that are occurring as we speak. You're so right (of course you are!)

  12. Julie, LOL glad you agree, and I'm sure your husband thinks the same about you, if he's smart that is. The changes are happening so fast it's hard to keep up with them.

    Jennifer, I'll be saying a lot more about the author website in the next few weeks. Keep watching this blog for updates!

    LTM, I think libraries will be here long after bookstores are gone, since they're funded by taxpayer money.

    Tracy, great comment, thanks for joining in on the discussion. As for the bookstores that remain, if they are selling food, drink, dvds and cds, along with boutiquey clothing items, then can they even be called a bookstore?

  13. There is no question that the winds of change continue to swirl around us. I, too, do not want to see the end of the physical book. I am a bit frightened for our future as authors. How many terrific and maybe older authors are we going to lose because they don't want to "network" in the cyber realm?

  14. This is my sense of it too though I'm struggling through the traditional publishing process with an agent, I'm also busily blogging and networking for when the books come out.
    I am actually grieving though, for the loss of physical books and while I hope for a Kindle for Christmas, I love the smell, feel and joy of real honest to god books. They've been so much to me all my life.

  15. It's so sad when small bookshops shut down. Recently, an indie closed its door just down the street from me. That being said, it is exciting how much the internet gives writers exciting opportunities that didn't exist before that - a great way to reach new readers - IF writers cn reach out and find an audience. Have you read that great article by Betsy Lerner that was out recently, about Twittter? Brilliant!

  16. i have mixed feelings about all of this. i love bookstores, but i also love Amazon, so i've contributed to the bookstores' decline. at the same time, i hate how books are given 8 weeks to succeed and then they're sent back to the publisher. all those wasted books. the whole publishing system makes me cringe, but that's the business world for you. in a perfect world, good books would be published and lousy ones wouldn't be. now i'm just rambling. thanks for posting.

  17. Michelle, Well let's face it, Amazon has made it easy. And cheap even with postage, but then that brings on whole new problems. And as for returns-- omigosh that is the nightmare of every publisher. The entire system is messed up and personally I'm excited by everything that's happening. But it's so sad when a nice little bookstore like Dragons & Fairytales closes :(

    Talli, Haven't seen that article but I'd love to-- I read everything I can about using social media. It's the brave new world for writers.

    Toby, I don't even have a Kindle yet, I'm still reading the *old-fashioned* way, and love the whole experience of it like you. Thanks for stopping by and following! I'll get to your blog this week as well.

    Wendy, As for older writers, already there are many publishers who won't accept their work for that very reason. Besides not *getting* the internet, some of them have difficulty with the modern technology of word processing, attaching documents, electronic edits and all the rest.

  18. Great post, Karen. Agent Jessica Faust had an excellent post about e-books today that I thought was really interesting. You're right, if an author is not online, whether they are self-pubbed or not, they are limiting their potential. Especially when it comes to finding readers.

  19. I agree with much of what's been said here. I do think authors are increasingly expected to do their own promotion. Logically, that should mean authors will get a higher percentage of the cover price, but I doubt that will happen with most publishers. In the long run, this is probably another argument for self-publishing, where the return per book sold is so much higher.

    And I have to add, I love my Kindle! I've had it only a few weeks, but I've been reading a lot more in that time. I've also started ignoring all the Borders Rewards emails that come my way. I honestly have no intention of buying a hardcopy novel, unless it's a very special one--and so I feel like the embodiment of a bookseller's nightmare.

  20. The web is a tool that HAS to be used. People are time poor, more now than they have ever been. If I can shop online and get it delivered, then I will.

    So authors and publishing houses have got to find a way to sell books online. Publishing houses can start by making their own websites more user friendly.

  21. point taken. I'll keep being a media socialite!

  22. Hi Karen,
    I have to say, I admire those store owners for making going out of business part of the adventure.
    Lately I've been debriefing with some other authors who had books come out this year. So far, one theme seems to emerge on the social networking front: It matters, but if you hate it you *will* suck at it. It is important to find the tool that works best—otherwise it's like wearing shoes that are the wrong size. It just slows you down and makes you miserable.

  23. You are so right about this Karen. The world continues to evolve around us, and authors need to at least be aware of how all this works - then they can decide how best to deploy their time in writing and promoting.

  24. So what will happen to people who are reclusive by nature? but you are right even if your publisher has the distribution power of an octopus and the marketing skills of Oprah the people you make a connection with are the people who will go out and support you with all their heart.
    Karen I think your website is waiting for me to get a book deal b4 it jumps up and starts working.

  25. Joanna, Oh so that's the delay! I wondered LOL. Well hurry up and get that book deal then!

    Susan, Glad to see you *catching up* with my blog :)

    Blythe, I think the key is for each person to find social media path that works for his own nature, personality and platform. For instance, I tried facebook, it wasn't a good fit for me, but others rave about it. We can't copy what someone else does if it doesn't feel right. Fortunately there's so much available that with some time, effort & experimentation, each person should be able to find a niche online. It's certainly worth a try.

  26. Gosh! Things are so moving in all sorts of directions when it comes to publishing - yay for technology!! :-) I like that you ask writers out here in the world of social media networking to be NICE! :-) That doesn't cost much and it makes for a lovelier experience too all round. And maybe sell a few books here and there! take care

  27. Great advice, and it's definitely something I'll keep in mind for if and when I ever publish my book. It is sad that a lot of bookstores are closing. I do buy books from Amazon, but I also go to regular bookstores too; for one thing, it's a lot more fun to browse for books in a bookstore than online.

  28. That's very sad to hear about the indie bookstore going out of business. It's such a shame.

    Also, I agree that a lot of books will be sold online. Ebooks and kindle and online networking with lead the way.


  29. Sad news! Local businesses can't compete with big chains unless the residents accept and support local purveyors, regardless of the cost. Let's change our values in this direction, and all of us will survive.

  30. lakeviewer, Interesting that you say this, as one of the main reasons the owners gave for the demise was lack of support from the local community.

  31. I've learned much this past year regarding publishing. iUniverse is NOT the way to go. I can do everything they did for free. Moving forward I'm confident to go with CreateSpace, Lightning Press, or Lulu and receive a much larger slice of the pie.

    Oh, I have am award for you. Its not much as I need to work on my PhotoShop skills.

  32. I believe a strong online presence and the effective use of social media is the way to go. I definitely need to work on both.

  33. Networking is key. You have to be out there and visible in the world so readers can find you and know you. Gone are the days when writers could never leave their writing caves.

  34. Look, it all starts with writers. We're the storytellers. Without us,there are no publishers, no bookstores, no consumers, no business. Storytellers are the most ancient of communities. They are the ones who kept the myths alive, the folklore active, the ones who triggered the archetypes. It starts with writers.

    And yet, somewhere along the way, writers bought into this idea that we are at the bottom of the totem. It's just not so. Believe in yourself as a writer, really believe, and watch your reality change.
    - Trish

  35. Hi Karen .. what you're saying makes absolute sense - there'll be ways we can get round .. and we will still want to read, we'll still want to hold books ..

    Your local bookstore sounds like a wonderful place & I bet everyone will be sorry to see it go ..

    Have a good Thanksgiving & enjoy the books store fiesta .. though with a sad ending .. I'm glad you say they'll be alright .. Hilary

  36. So sad to go out of business after the anniversary sale. We had an awesome used book store here that had a going-out-of-business sale that was so successful, they wound up staying in the short term. That was several years ago and they're gone now :(

  37. Vicki, We had one of those too. I adore used bookstores, in fact more than new ones. I still miss the one I went to. It was just a storefront in a strip mall, crammed with books, but I found so many treasures there.

    Hilary, The fact that things are working out financially for the couple makes this ok. Not so with a lot of small booksellers.

    Trish & Rob, I love this! What a beautiful way to put it. This is something that's been on my mind for awhile but I've never heard it expressed as succinctly yet eloquently. Thanks for your comment.

  38. Wait, you're saying I have to be NICE and PLEASANT and LIKEABLE?!! Blah. Who can be bothered with all that?

    Absolutely ebooks sales are going to explode but I wonder if part of their popularity at the moment is simply the novelty factor. I wonder if, over time, readers will come to miss the experience of holding a book and then there'll be a rebound in sales of printed books.

    Are there websites out there already that vet ebooks? There will need to be some clearinghouse that deals with sorting the wheat from the chaff if readers are ever going to be able to wade through all the e-titles out there.

  39. Hey! Along these lines, I have a friend trying to launch an event this year that I blogged about today at Burrowers Books & Balderdash: the event is 'Take your Child to a Bookstore Day' and is scheduled for December 4. Would LOVE to have your help getting your local bookstores involved.

  40. I met a woman last year who had high hopes for her soon-to-be-opened indie. I drove by the location on my way to violin lessons with my daughter every week. Sadly, last week, it was closed. She didn't even last a few months. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next decade. What will become the new norm?
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  41. I'm sad about bookstores. We don't have one in our town and, besides the chains, there's only one used bookstore that I know of in the semi-big city that's kind of close to us. (got all that?) All that to say, that's why I'm primarily an online book shopper, too. But when I get to go to a *real* bookstore, it's quite a treat.

    Great points about authors. We can't hide from the world anymore, can we? Too bad. :)

    Happy Thanksgiving, Karen!

  42. I think the market is always readers, but how those readers find our books is now up for grabs. An author who puts time in will no doubt reap rewards but, and this is crucial, it has to be a good story in the first place. I think authors and publishers should be exploring every avenue they can. And I love Trish & Rob's comment above!

  43. The writing is on the wall -- but I valiantly hold on to my need for printed books. If I were an author, my pride would be in seeing my name on a book cover....not online or a Kindle or whatever. I wonder how long I can hang on to my stubborness?

  44. I gotta $35.85 royalty check for my book today!

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral