Publishing Tables Turned

Guest Post by Isabel Anders  

“When the tables are turned, the situation has changed giving the advantage to the party who had previously been at a disadvantage.”

That is the meaning of the idiom “tables turned.” The meaning of recent new developments in the book publishing world, however, are slowly being interpreted by all of those affected. A lot of the practical implications haven’t dawned on us yet.

I once told my husband that writing a proposal for a book and asking my agent to send it out was comparable to shooting an arrow out toward an unseen target that might not even exist. That is, proposing to usually unknown editors a project they’ve never heard of for publication in a list for which you have no idea of their needs, intentions, or other planned title choices. Conversely, when a publisher approaches an author or her agent, offering the company’s own proposal and contract, it’s sort of like the target sidling up to the arrow. A most pleasant win-win.

There are other apt metaphors. While the traditional legacy publishing paradigm reigned alone (it arguably still co-reigns) the would-be author was Cinderella longing to go to the ball, but fretting about the right outfit, and especially those shoes. Snagging the prince, or achieving publication, was a highly unlikely outcome; though some of us have managed to have the right size foot from time to time.

Now, in these revolutionary times, with a new proposal-arrow ready to make the rounds of potential targets, I am slowly realizing that my options have greatly expanded. Legacy publishing isn’t the only prince in the land anymore. The chances of happy-ever-after can include self-publishing in only ebook form or in both digital and print-on-demand editions. All book preparation services such as cover design, editing, and digital formatting can be jobbed-out by the individual author. And reaching the reader without relying on middle-men is not only possible now, but arguably, to some minds, the only way to go.

I realize that I can be holding my new book in my hand next year, regardless.

I am also slowly evaluating the vast emotional expanse between the position of anxiously awaiting word on what some other person or set of people will do with your “baby” (proposal, book, life’s work, perhaps) … and methodically planning how to best exhibit your creation in an increasingly crowded market place: how to draw attention to it, and how to make money on it for the long term under this new paradigm.

It’s nearly the difference between being Cinderella and—well, at least, a savvy merchant, if not the prince of the land. But it takes some inner adjustment, as switching roles in any fairy tale or life situation does.

Before, we placed our work up for judgment by the ruling gatekeepers, publishers and their first readers (of which I have been one, helping decide people’s fates, or at least what makes it past the first gate-check). Now, though we can bypass this step, we consequently take on the huge responsibility of multi-leveled judgment ourselves. Is this project truly worth investing my own time, energy, and money into, and can I stand unflinchingly behind its integrity and value—since the buck stops here?

Hundreds, thousands of authors are jumping onto the new playing field, and I have already self-published an ebook, Jesus’ Spiritual Laws: Living the Beatitudes with more planned for the coming months.

Yet I’m still keeping my options open in regard to the traditional channels for publishing. I write some gift books, which are not comfortably adaptable to e-form. And I know that books of a feather that nest in the same list can help each other’s sales.

One of my publishers has recently placed a number of impressive ads for a current book in magazines, positioned it prominently in their various catalogs, and found me radio spots to help promote it. Authors today need all the networking help they can get, and publishers definitely extend the net.

 And so, the tables may have turned as far as what is now possible for individual authors, and many people feel that a new era has arrived in terms of valuing and rewarding those who have intellectual properties to offer. But the decision of whether to self-publish or look for a contract is a personal one, and there are many factors to consider. I’ve treated only a few.

Those of us who have been a part of legacy publishing come to the table with a history and some perspective on the matter—though we may be just as perplexed as everyone else when it comes down to it.

Nevertheless, if publishing is a courtly ball, I know now that I don’t have to leave prematurely when an arbitrary clock strikes twelve. My range of options is wider than it’s ever been, and I’m still adjusting to the feel of deciding myself how I want my dance card filled.

Isabel Anders is the author of Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples; Becoming Flame; 40-Day-Journey with Madeleine L’Engle; and co-author with Diane Marquart Moore of the Father Malachi mystery Chant of Death. She regularly blogs on www.BlogHer.com.

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Posted on June 9, 2011, in Publicity & Writing, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. If I were a publisher, I would sign your dance card! –BK

  2. I completely agree with what you said, specifically about being behind what you write since if you do it in e-book format or self-publishing you have to believe not only in "your baby", which by the way is exactly how I refer to my work, but also in yourself as an author, publicist, agent, etc. All those hats that other people would wear if you had a team behind you. I wish you luck and joy with what you so obviously love and believe in. Terri Ann Armstrong, Author

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