As Winston Churchill famously said, 'Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.'
We may well be 'at the end of the beginning' of of a period of change in publishing trends. Amazon et al have now made their mark in the direct publishing world, and if they haven't yet caused the industry to sit up and take note, they surely soon will.
My own experiences with Amazon have been very positive. It's been a remarkable journey with my two novels Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton, but to get there had its ups and downs. A notable moment being when I had two of London's most respected literary agents backing me for success, however were unable to follow through with a publishing deal to the jittery economic climate.
As agents may tell you, hitting the right publisher, with the right book, at the right time has always been a bit of a lottery. Since the credit crunch however, and the financial insecurity it sparked, publishers seem to have been even more cautious about backing an agent's judgement.
The process of waiting for a decision can be as painful as it is protracted. Both Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton received positive feedback, very positive in some instances, yet 'new writers', almost by definition, possess a risk factor. Everyone by now knows the JK Rowling story. I think the last count was twelve previous rejections, and it left me wondering... had direct publishing been around at the time, at what stage would JK Rowling have taken stock and gone it alone? She wasn't to know that thirteen would be her lucky number, and if she'd had the option to 'publish direct' she's unlikely to have waited endlessly for a deal.
Last autumn I decided that the time was right to go it alone, and published Kiss and Tell via Amazon's own publishing arms Kindle Direct Publishing [for ebooks] and Create Space [for paperbacks]. Following its success I have now followed suit with the newly released Defending Elton.
The opportunity to reach an audience, and to earn up to 70% in royalties, offers writers a lifebuoy to cling onto. Some say however, and probably quite fairly, that the waters can be muddied... that it's not always easy for readers to spot the nuggets from the fool's gold. So how might this be addressed? Could literary agents themselves adapt by offering writers a fresh role?
Agents will no doubt continue to back their own judgement, as to who is likely to succeed with their books, but rather than solely investing their time in trying to convince publishers, might they also start trying to convince the public to buy their client's work direct?
There are clearly shifting sands of change in the publishing industry, and some draw comparisons with the music industry over a decade ago. Record companies [and shops] struggled to react when artists started to sell online. Some of the old A&R reps, who had previously worked for record companies, and whose role it was to find new acts for their labels, started to work independently for their artists, by marketing them directly to the buying pubic.
Might this trend weave its way into the literary world? Whilst the traditional route to publishing should remain open, if the path continues to narrow it might not just be writers who seek reward elsewhere, but literary agents too.
One thing is for sure, the buying public would appreciate it. Readers would then know that a new 'Indie' writer has good agency support, that their book has been read and reviewed by respected professionals.
For writers it would be helpful too. Some will have had agents helping to get their books into shape, assisting with story structure and re-drafts etc. What a shame it is to then lose this contact because agents currently play little or no part in direct publishing; a shame for the writer, and indeed the agent, whose commitment and investment has come to nothing.
For writers, selling books directly isn't a problem per se. The problem is the investment, more in terms of time than money, in marketing and promotion, which eats into valuable writing time. Those who secure traditional deals should have these bases covered, but even some of these authors are beginning to complain that cutbacks in marketing budgets have left them having to perform more of these tasks themselves, thus joining the ranks of the independently and directly published.
Change is undoubtedly taking place, and it might the catalyst for a breakdown of traditional roles, one that might see the Amazon's of the world helping to turn the whole writer/agent/publisher relationship on its head.
None of these groups should necessarily be afraid.... unless that is they fail to adapt to change. The market as a whole is quite buoyant, with the ebook and digital revolution re-energising sales. However, everyone connected to the industry should take note - with things changing so rapidly, those who remain slow to adapt might be the ones who are forever chasing the game.
TJ Cooke - www.tjcooke.com
'Kiss and Tell' and 'Defending Elton' are currently available as both ebooks and paperbacks via Amazon.co.uk. Tim was also recently chosen to speak at the London Book Fair around his experiences with self publishing alongside fellow Kindle Direct Publishing author Mel Sherratt.