Why the publishing industry is like Downton Abbey
One of my guilty pleasures lately has been Downton Abbey. I enjoy the characters, the setting, and the story. An element that strikes me is how the world of Downton changed with the onset of World War I. What was disrupted the most? The lifestyles of every character. There is a great leveling process that occurs with such turbulent transitions. A chauffeur aspires to marry the earl’s daughter. The earl’s daughter aspires to become a nurse. The world becomes topsy-turvy.
I think we are seeing such a major shift right now in the publishing industry and there are many scratching their heads trying to see where things are going. Here is an example.
To get published in the past, a writer did their best to polish a manuscript and then mail it carefully to an agent, customizing as best to that agent’s desires. Then the rejection letters start to arrive. The writer starts to send out more queries. Followed by more rejections. If the writing is good and the writer is persistent, this can go on for a long time (I’m thinking of Kathryn Stockett’s 60 rejection letters for ‘The Help’). Eventually, an agent accepts the manuscript and starts selling it to publishers. ROI analyses performed. Budgets risked. Debate and decide. Finally a decision is made and the author if offered a contract. Typically, not a good one. What other choice is there?
This almost happened to me.
Except I decided I didn’t want to do it that way. I did send out many query letters. The Muirwood Trilogy was looked at and rejected by many agents. I’ve saved them all to remind myself of the experience and how painful it was. So I started to share electronic versions of my books with family and friends. The feedback was positive and encouraging. Others wanted to read it as well. I started keeping a spreadsheet of who was asking to borrow copies. Then it happened. Not a publishing deal. An e-mail from Amazon’s Createspace with an invitation to self-publish through their services. I thought about it long and hard. Why not make the trilogy available all at once instead of having to wait a year in between? Why not? I took the bait. I published through Amazon and sent the free copies to friends and asked everyone to write reviews or tell a friend. The reviews started coming in. They were good. Progress was slow, but more people were starting to read my work. Feedback continued to arrive from total strangers who loved my writing.
Then WWI happened. Amazon launched the Kindle Direct Program. I remember getting that e-mail too, almost a year after the one I got from Createspace. Why not give away some copies to those who had Kindles? Why not allow it to be in the lending library? Why not? I gave it a try in January. It opened the floodgates. I gave away thousands of copies. I sold thousands of copies. The reviews kept coming in, connecting me with readers all over the country and all over the world. Students in Korea. Readers in Switzerland. Even the band SheDaisy loved it.
And then came the best e-mail of all. Another one by Amazon. An offer to be published by 47North, Amazon’s new fantasy and sci-fi imprint (www.amazon.com/47north). Third time’s the charm, I guess. My story is very different than other struggling writers. I did not send a query letter to 47North. I did not format the manuscript a certain way or use special paper. I didn’t attend writing conferences with speed dating sessions with agents or editors. Amazon looked at their database at what was selling by indy authors. They contacted me.
Welcome to the future, Downton Abbey.