An Interesting Viewpoint on Indies

I’d like to share this from Independent Publisher Online Magazine:

The Good, The Bad & The Simply Ridiculous
Why Independent Publishers Can Rule the World

by Nina L. Diamond

For the last two decades, we’ve all seen that neither the major publishing houses’ crazy business model nor the variety of business models used by independent publishers have worked. Some have been worse (major houses) than others (independents).

As our current unfavorable financial follies progress worldwide, it’s clear that every publishing entity will have to change how it does business. Some will change for the better. Others will simply change without the concept of better entering the picture.

My money (what little we starving writers and authors have these days) is on independents changing for the better and the major houses finding ways to stay afloat while continuing the model that has been so destructive to books and authors.

This brings us to some news – the good, the bad, and the simply ridiculous:

The Good
Independent publishers are in the same position that cable TV networks were back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

The three broadcast TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) short-sightedly and unwisely underestimated cable’s potential. Well, we see where that got the three smug behemoths: focused solely on money, they’ve lost their market dominance, scores of viewers, and most of their creative credibility.

Their news operations can barely keep up with cable’s quality, and the networks’ creative programming has been reduced to a handful of quality shows amidst a line-up of mind-numbingly stupid so-called “reality” shows, while the cable networks have grown in number and in high-quality, critically acclaimed programs loved by audiences.

The cable companies, those independent visionaries once dismissed as poor step-children by the broadcast industry and the print media, have shown that quality rises to the top.

Today, independent publishers can follow the cable network model, and rise to the top of the publishing industry.

Did putting money first and quality a very distant second spell financial success for the three broadcast networks?

Of course not.

And it hasn’t spelled success for the major publishing houses, either.

And, as you’ve noticed, it certainly hasn’t worked out very well for the real estate, banking, and investment industries.

It never does, when you don’t care what you sell as long as you’re selling something. That always leads to selling nothing.

Independent publishers far outnumber the major houses, and can survive the storm because the independents have a tradition of focusing on quality, and of respecting authors and their books.

They can come out on top because they don’t have the burden of a mandate to sell crap in order to funnel millions of dollars into corporate conglomerate leaders’ salaries, bonuses, and other payments, and to cut back on staff and titles when they can’t sell enough of said crap in order to keep stuffing those dollars into corporate honchos’ pockets.

They can come out on top because they have the flexibility that the major houses lack.

They can turn on a dime. And get by on one, too, for a while if they have to.

Recently, I had a conversation with Lynne Rabinoff, a literary agent who represents an author I’ve been working with. She represents high profile and midlist authors, and, until now, like most agents, has pitched her authors primarily to the major houses.

Given the current publishing climate, she’s now routinely including independent publishers in her list when she pitches an author’s book.

Other agents, she says, are doing the same.

Her advice to the major houses?

“Put more emphasis on what a book has to say rather than on a glitzy platform.”

That will force them “to pay more attention to a book and to reign in the big advances that just end up hurting everyone.”

Her advice to authors?

“Think twice about writing a book. You need to know that what you’re saying is important. Not everyone can or should write a book.”

Often, she says, the material is better suited for a magazine article, if it’s even suited for publication at all.

But, alas, the lure of fame and fortune – that, of course, doesn’t come to 99.9% of authors – leads so many people to want to have a book published, often when it’s not warranted. And that does nothing but hurt the industry.

So, yes, there is good news to come from today’s publishing predicament. At least for independent publishers and their authors.

Independents, with the quality and creativity they offer, are in a position to take over the industry. And agents who once shied away from independents solely because they couldn’t fork over big advances, are now turning to them. That helps authors, keeping them from being under-represented, or not represented at all, as they deal with independent publishers.

The Bad
Economic recovery is going to take a while. This isn’t the sniffles, it’s a serious illness with a long treatment plan. The patients, however, will steadily improve. If they take good care of themselves and stop doing self-destructive things.

The Simply Ridiculous
The list of absurdities in the publishing industry could wrap around the world twice, so I’ll just share one with you that’s emblematic of what’s been wrong for so long:

An author I spoke to has been having a hard time getting a novel published.

What’s so ridiculous about that?

The author has had about 20 fiction bestsellers that have been loved by critics and readers, and that have made a tidy fortune for the major houses that have published them.

So, why the trouble getting the next one published?

The major houses would prefer to publish only the author’s non-fiction, which is very good and has done okay, but nowhere near as well as the bestselling novels. Novels that readers have made very clear they want more of.

See, I told you it was ridiculous.

Independent publishers will lead the book world if they can focus on the good, ride out the bad, and learn from the ridiculous.

* * * * *

Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.

Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction.