What’s the Next Big Shift in Publishing, and When Will it Hit?

Hey folks! Post-LTUE post here, based off of a couple of conversations I had at LTUE with other authors (be they at the green room, signings, panels, etc). It’s straightforward enough to jump right to the point, so I’ll ask it:

When will the next big shift in publishing hit?

Over the course of LTUE I ended up talking with several different authors on topics that all orbited around (or outright addressed) this idea: That publishing is seeing shifts. Ebooks and indie pubs, for example. And right now, tension is (according to a few authors) building for another. When it hits, what will it be?

This isn’t just from a publishing perspective, but also from an audience perspective. One author I spoke with pointed out that right now the real money for them was in selling short serials on Amazon, but admitted that they didn’t know if that would change soon or not. Would Kindle Unlimited suddenly be their big bank, or would it dry up entirely? There were a little hyperbole-ish about it, but at the same time I could see their point. Publishing right now is more tumultuous than it has ever been thanks to the rise of ebooks and indies, and no one really knows what’s going to happen next. Big publishers are fighting against the change, while authors are scrambling to embrace it, but ultimately where that will put things … well, no one knows, but there’s a lot of theory flying around.

For example, one conversation I was involved in basically boiled down to “Which of the big five trad pubs is going to fall first?” The question among the authors present wasn’t “Will one fall” but which one and when?

Yeah. There was some talk about this at LTUE. And regardless of where people aligned on the chart of “Who’s going to fall?” and “When?” the one thing that everyone I spoke with agreed on? Publishing is in the middle of a change, and it’s change that can’t be stopped. The trad pubs are trying, of course, and to be honest who can rightfully blame them? After all, no one likes being outdated. No one likes going to work and realizing that, for the first time in thirty years things have fundamentally changed, and now your office that has held your five co-workers for the last 2-3 decades—a work family—now only requires one co-worker, or maybe none at all. So, as many of the big publishers have, they pretend nothing has changed.

Except things have changed. This shift was more noticeable than ever at this year’s LTUE. The balance of publishing is now shifting from the gigantic house that once held the ability to say who could sell in its hands … to the authors! One author I spoke with noted that their dealings with their agent aren’t “Here agent, see what publisher will take this book over and over again,” but rather “Give the publishers the option and we need an answer in six months. If no one takes it in that time, we publish it ourselves.”

They noted that within three (IIRC) they had sold it.

This is the new, shifting change of publishing. No joke on more than one occasion at LTUE I was chatting with a circle of authors, talking about how publishing has changed, and one of the things that came up was the utterly ridiculous and unchanging stance many of the trad pubs have taken on book submissions. Still requiring physical manuscripts, having a turnaround time of a year or more to hear back (if at all), while meanwhile at the con, a friend of mine met with an editor from an established pub that’s not one of the big five and, after the publisher said they would be interested in seeing the draft once it was done, replied by asking them “Well, when would I hear back from you?”

They were given a solid date of “We will say yes/no by ____.”

This is the changing tide. Another small conversation I had concerned once more authors that were jumping ship from traditional publishers, going either hybrid or full indie. One of which who had recently made the shift being an accomplished fantasy author with more than four decades of experience.

Hearing all this, it might be easy to see how a group of authors (mostly successful indie) could be placing jokey bets on which of the big publishers would fall first. Because many of them are bleeding authors at an increasing rate as they, in an effort to not change with the times, cut author royalties lower and lower, or try increasingly desperate tactics such as banning libraries from purchasing their books or creating “bonus chapters” that effectively amount to “book DLC.”

Yet this doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the way things are now for indies will stay the same. We’re all pretty certain indies will now forever exist (the amount of success brought about by indie authors is a smoking gun for that) in the industry, but how they’ll be “consumed” by the public remains to be seen.

Right now Amazon is the biggest ebook game. But maybe tomorrow someone starts a better service for books, and that takes over. Audiobooks are on a meteoric rise … but maybe they’ll peak tomorrow. One author I mentioned earlier noted that all their books were the old “serial” type (write one story, cut it into pieces and sell it), but noted that they didn’t know what that could be like in another year.

Personally, from what I’ve seen and experienced talking with readers, that’s a style that won’t last. Most of what I’ve seen says that people would prefer one larger book to one that’s been chopped into pieces and sold piecemeal. What do you guys think?

Anyway, if there was a rushing undercurrent to LTUE this year that many authors expressed, it’s that publishing is changing. Not will change, but already has. It’s here, and the genie isn’t going back into the bottle (trad pubs’ insistence otherwise is part of the reason why so many think they’re going to continue to have very rough years ahead).

Yet we don’t quite know where this genie will lead either. All we know for certain is that publishing is about to become, as some put it, an unruly storm that authors are going to ride out atop their rafts of books.

Are those books going to be primarily digital? Audio? Paperback? No one is really sure? We just know that publishing is never going back to what it was even a decade ago.

The big trad pubs? Some of them might survive. I heard various numbers from various folks along with various explanations about why they felt their numbers made sense, but the bottom line here is that a lot of authors, at least that I spoke with, felt that the time of trad pubs was gone. The new age is here. Indie publishers are here. Indie authors are here. No longer do you “send off” a manuscript that you’ll never see again for a year. No longer does your editing involve a red pen and the UPS guy throwing his back out after a year of waiting to hear back. Now it’s all internet and digital, instant communication. Editing the day of.

What will the future bring? Well … no one’s certain. Save that we’re moving forward, not back. I titled this post “The Next Big Shift” because one author said that in their experience in the industry, things shifted even among the public every decade or so, and currently things are overdue for another one.

What will it be? Well, I have my theories. As do most others.

Whatever comes though, I’ll tell you this much: Colony, Shadow of an Empire, and the rest of my works will be there.

2 thoughts on “What’s the Next Big Shift in Publishing, and When Will it Hit?

  1. “bonus chapters” that effectively amount to “book DLC.”

    This has actually worked on me in the past. “I know I already own every book in this anthology, but there’s a new epilogue!”

    “Most of what I’ve seen says that people would prefer one larger book to one that’s been chopped into pieces and sold piecemeal. What do you guys think?”

    What I keep seeing are works that seem to have been serialized, and then re-bound together into one book. I always find those odd to read, because the chapters, which were once sold as individual shorts, have a tendency to re-summarize events that were at one point in different stories, but now took place a couple of chapters ago. I don’t mind either anthologies or single larger works. What I am frustrated by are those where it doesn’t seem that the author has made up their mind.

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    • I think where it gets dicey is where the book doesn’t have a solid ending until a “bonus” release a few months later, and it’s clear that half the ending was lopped off. I’ve seen a few attempts to do this with prologues too (there was a case a few years ago where a publisher had a different prologue depending on where you bought the book from, each one with a different piece of the mystery.” Props for trying it, I suppose, but it feels like a case of “buy all the book variants for the full story?” Maybe you’re supposed to just go to each store, read the book, and then walk out. Who knows?

      As far as serials go, yeah that would grate my nerves a little. Books that go out of their way to handhold when it isn’t needed definitely get me to put them down. I see why an “indecision” between the two would make you want to put it down.

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