Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Impact of eReaders on Writers

As an editor, I get a first row seat to see how publishing is changing. Digital is shooting up and brick and mortar is struggling to stay level (or trend downward slower than competitors). Still, most of the money is in brick and mortar--at least for now. No one can accurately predict the future of publishing and media (except maybe Jane Friedman), but here's my attempt anyway on how I think eReaders may affect writers going forward.

New opportunities
More than ever before, writers have the ability to experiment. In fact, the taboos against experimenting with various self-publishing models are collapsing like old monuments. Writers like J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking are showing that self-publishing can enable writers to make money like never before through digital downloads. All that's needed is a good story, a lot of hard work, and yes, a little luck (in that respect, things haven't changed so much).

As eReaders get more advanced, writers may have the opportunity to create more interactive experiences and deliver audio and video.

Audience development
Each new technology improvement seems to make it even more vital for writers to develop an audience for their writing. (Here are some tips on what you can do today to build your platform.) The rise of eReaders offers no reprieve from this author platform momentum, whether you are self-published or published through a traditional publisher.

If writers go the self-publishing route, they are the ones who create the content, format the content, distribute the content, and connect readers to the content. They wear many hats, and have to brand themselves as businesses.

Traditionally published authors may not have to format or distribute the content, but they still need to create and help connect readers to the content. Publishers will do their part through professional editing and design. They'll also use their sales force to get your books in bookstores. But to really sell books, especially digital books, publishers need their authors to spread the word and connect with their core audience.

As I mentioned, the importance of platform building is not a new development, but it's only gaining momentum. Publishers aren't just asking whether a book proposal is good or not, they're questioning the reach of the author, and this can affect everything from the size of the advance to whether the project is even ultimately accepted for publication.

The all-important writing
So do eReaders affect how writers attack their actual writing? In the short term, I don't think it's had a huge impact, but it's easy to see how economy of language should only increase over time.

Nonfiction writers will probably need to apply a blogging mentality to their writing. That means a lot of links to other information.

Some poets have objected to how eReaders affect the formatting of poems. Since there's not a whole lot of money in poetry, I don't know how this will be fixed. If it's not, eReaders may not change poetry, but prose poets and short-line poets may find that eReaders suit them better than others.

I'm really interested in how fiction might be affected by eReaders. Will shorter works sell better? Or will size not matter? One thing digital does seem to enable is a great launching area for super long debut novels and/or shorter novellas that might not work in traditional, brick and mortar publishing.

Final thoughts
In many ways, I feel that the business of writing and being a writer isn't going to change a whole lot. The craft of writing is always evolving (compare Charles Dickens against the current bestsellers lists, if you don't believe me) and so are the delivery methods for that writing. Ultimately, the changes may be a good thing for writers and readers.

Successful writers will continue working their butts off to provide content that readers want and finding ways to connect with those readers. Such writers always seem to find a way to make their own luck no matter what technology throws their way.

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Interested in developing an audience for your writing? Check these out:

8 comments:

Sheila Moore said...

I think shorter stories may do better thanks to Kindle singles. Here is a brief article that discusses the possibilities: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/kindle-singles-will-bring-novellas-chapbooks-and-pamphlets-to-e-readers/

J. R. McLemore said...

Hi, Robert,

Intriguing post! I think the digital revolution in the publishing industry will definitely shake things up. Currently, when I look on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, I can find so many short stories and novellas. I recently published one of my short stories on these platforms to test the self-publishing process. The results were surprising since this was more of an educational experiment than to earn money.

Where I used to worry over word count when I was considering querying a traditional publisher, I no longer have that monkey on my back because the digital media eliminates that concern. Novellas now have a market again. Hooray!

On the other hand, I'm sad to see brick-and-mortar stores struggling as I'm more fond of traditional print books.

... Paige said...

super great post Robert. Thanks

Will said...

The biggest way this revolution is changing the writing is that so much time has to be spent on learning how to and then actually publishing and marketing of the book that it takes away time from the writing and perhaps the quality of the writing. Further the bar is now not only set low there is no bar to self-publishing. Therefore, there is a ton of really bad writing out there and it's harder to find the good writing in that sea of mediocrity. But on the plus side, e-reading does allow for easy sampling of a book's contents so hopefully the readers will be able to find the flowers in the mudpile. It's a wild time out there now.

Leander Jackie Grogan said...

Ebooks are a Godsend.
I learned a great deal about the publishing industry - its opportunities and volatility- over the past two years. So many things have changed, and yet stayed the same. I remember a discussion years ago with a potential agent who liked my writing, but didn't like the way I jumped all over the place. I had crafted my writing voice from Sidney Sheldon who started all of his characters out on different streets, knowing they would all eventually end up in a beautiful, climactic, convoluted confrontation on Main Street. So I’d have a black ex-football player working for a sleazy Enron, crashing a plane in a Louisiana swamp that led him to discover a government conspiracy involved in cutting off the heads of psychics. Everything was multilayered and came together like a glove. But the agent said, "What is the genre? Who's intended to read it? How are you going to deliver a concise, consolidating message that asked them to read it? What flag are you going to fly over this work?

He was right. The people who read it loved it. But the comments kept coming back, "I never thought it would be like this."

His my point. With the freedom to write whatever you want, it's easy to think you can ignore parameters set forth by traditional genres. You can't, not successfully. People reading inside those little universes have certain expectations, not only in the content, but in the flag you fly over the content.

I just released a humorous work entitled. BABY,PUT THAT GUN DOWN. The flag I flew promised gut- wrenching laughter. It delivered. People laughed a lot. But most of the readers' comments centered on the relationships that were established between the main character and a woman in a female motorcycle gang. That was a lesson to me as a writer and publisher. Most readers are women. And women cherished relationships more than laughter. So somewhere on that flag, I needed a star that represents relationships. (Women! Graaazzzhh! Don't they just drive you crazy?!)

Stephen L. Brayton said...

EBooks are here and more people will discover them. Especially since more companies are offering e-reading capabilities to their tablets and mini computers.

Linda Acaster said...

Writers outside of North America are just waking up to the opportunities indie ebook publishing offers, not just for newbies but for those with a backlist that publishers sit on and refuse to exploit. The big push in the UK for authors is to get rights reverted. Despite not writing in the 'hot' genres, I've not looked back.

Over the last few years publishers have dumped long-standing 'mid-listers' without a qualm, and those writers, and others who are expected to provide all their own publicity (ie all but the bestsellers)are beginning to wonder just what it is that publishers offer against a 70% royalty.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Not surprisingly, Amazon officially announced that more Kindle eBooks are selling than all print books--combined.

Of course, that's units. I don't know (and don't believe) that eBooks are bringing in more revenue than the print books. But the momentum seems to be swinging that way.