Publishers Are Testing Unknown Authors Digitally… What Does That Mean?

ebookpublisherA lot of writers view self-publishing eBooks as a slog to the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not that we necessarily want to market all of our stuff and pump out eight books a year to make a living.

It’s just what has to happen if publishers keep setting their sights on blockbusters.

Well, it looks like publishers have found a middle ground: some are thinking of using eBooks as a way to throw unknown writers into the Pit of Public Scrutiny and see who survives. Then, just then, the winners may be crowned with Print Publication.

Or, as Dan Weiss of MacMillan’s St. Martin’s Press explains, “We have to argue that this is the minor leagues, and we’re trying to build sluggers for the major leagues, that we can take into print.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. This might… this might work. But it implies quite a few things.

Would you take a $2,000 advance and the promise of 5% royalties on a $1 novel? 

Publishers are trending toward digital as a proving ground for unknown authors. This is good, because now they want to focus on print publications for only writers who will most definitely sell a bajillion-and-a-half books. In fact, this may give those poor, abused literary authors the chance to show their work and get it published and get paid for it.

The caveat is that you could get paid way less than a regular advance, because publishers are also trying out new pricing models to attract those bargain-hunting eBook readers. Weiss explained this was a big challenge, too – getting publishers to understand that pricing is going to have to go down. Like, way, way down.

Here’s the crazy part, though:

Publishers are relying more and more on digital advertising campaigns

Rachel Chou, the chief marketing officer at Open Road Media, had a little to say to PaidContent.org, too.

“I think we’ve done three print ads in three years. The budgets have definitely gone toward digital and online and social advertising.”

This is great… and silly at the same time. Because if authors had enough time to write and advertise, it seems that self-publishing would be the only route that makes sense. Social media? Digital marketing? That’s do-it-yourself stuff, right?

Then again, book marketing is a lot of work and costs a lot of up-front investment money that authors may not have.

Lower advances, lower thresholds, faster turnover

My suspicion is that advances are going to be the biggest changes here. It won’t just be a pretty-much-given that you can’t write full-time, even with a contract. It’ll be inevitable. Debut authors will probably be getting smaller advances for shorter books, so they’ll just write more books, faster.

I actually see all of this as a good thing. When I published my short story collection through KDP Select, I didn’t do any real promotion beyond that. Because I’m lazy, and don’t want to deal with it.

When I consider the hypothetical scenario of getting, say, a $1,000 advance for the same collection and then placing it into the hands of a publisher’s “book marketing team,” I know I would say yes in an instant.

Photo Credit: Kaptain Kobold via Compfight cc
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