If you are still applying words like “sedate” or “genteel” to publishing, you have not been paying attention. The air is now full of stories about self-publishing, social media marketing, bookseller market share, ebooks, the demise of many brick and mortar bookstores, governmental prosecutions of publishers for alleged price fixing, and other esoterica. All these new developments foreshadow big changes in publishing practices. How does one autograph an ebook? Will the term “self-publishing” continue to carry the distinctively unpleasant aroma of the vanity press?
These changes and speculations are of particular interest to me, because I am short story writer of regional (Texas) material, and I have self-published an ebook of those stories. That ebook is published under the name of Mambo Panties.
My stories are very regional, written in a Texan dialect that is now disappearing under the onslaught of television and the huge migration of out-of-state transplants to the Lone Star State. I heard these voices in my childhood and was completely seduced by the drawl and twang of the rural, uneducated, and colorful language. I wanted to preserve these voices.
“This last year just about had horns on it.” My characters speak that colorful, rural dialect. For example: a small town mother of a boy-crazy daughter says to her neighbor, “It’s hard to believe Doreen is even kin to me. Lord, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that girl. I’ve never seen a worse case of mambo panties.”
While I, like most writers, hope for some universality in my writing, I also know that my project was eccentric. Self-publishing offered me a path to publication that did not require me to take a procrustean approach to my collection of stories. I could forge ahead and see where the writing would take me. Smashwords.com offered just such an opportunity to me and I seized the chance. I am happy with the result, although I do wish Smashwords had a distribution deal with Amazon.
And where does this great welter of changes leave the average author? Authors, do you have a website? Does each of your titles have its own website? How many names does your personal list have on it? Even a traditional publishing house may ask the last question of you.
The full view of the chaotic scene looks a wee bit familiar, especially if you have paid attention to the music industry over the last 15 years or so. During that span of time the importance of big record companies has declined in the face of downloadable music from thousands of sources. Now even some very big names in the music business are releasing tracks on their own through the internet. Just ask at your local record store if you can find it.
While industry commentator Kyle Bylin attributes the sea-change to the growing emphasis of “music as commerce” over “music as culture,” it is clear that technological change allowed the dispersal of decision-making authority in the music industry. The same phenomena has now come to publishing, leaving all stakeholders in a scramble to catch up, especially writers who can’t call down to the IT department for guidance.
For anyone with experience as a bookseller, small press publisher, or writer (I must plead guilty on all counts) there can be no serious defense of the traditional publishing model involving massive freight charges and the loathed practice of book returns. Ebooks scuttle both of these injurious practices, leading to a sounder business model, more closely mimicking the model involved in other kinds of goods.
The new model, insofar as it has emerged, is not an unalloyed blessing, since it does bring a whole new set of issues that are not yet settled. Not the least of these issues concerns how an author promotes his or her work. Some answers are evident, among them Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These suggestions answer the question of why “social media marketing” has become a by-word in some writer groups.
Let me offer yet another personal example. See my effort to promote my ebook on YouTube; it is three minutes long. A friend helped me with the video aspect of that project. I read my shortest short story “The Gospel Truth About Leta Mae Jennings.” So we see a relatively inexpensive promotional piece can be made, but how does a writer drive more eyeballs to that site? Or, even a personal website? These last questions are a good deal trickier and I have not stumbled upon the answer.
In the line from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book that was quoted so frequently in the ‘70s: “There is chaos under the heavens; it is a time of great opportunity.”