Are Traditional Publishers Avoiding the “R” Word?

redhead reading
What about the readers?

A few weeks ago I travelled back in a time warp. I attended a writers festival and discovered there are still some rickety, old fences being propped up by the pomposity of the old gatekeepers.

The writers festival in question is truly a magnificent event. It’s held at a library and the organizers are exceptionally generous in giving time to self-published writers alongside agents and publishers from the traditional world. This was the second year they’ve invited me to speak and a few months previous the same group even hosted me one evening to give a reading. The organizers offer a balanced blend of information for writers. These are progressive people who understand the current state of books and publishing. I sat on an early morning panel and there were five of us. Four were self-published authors and the fifth was a well-known local traditionally published writer who was a nice addition to the group. For sixty minutes we talked about connecting with our readers, working at our craft and producing professional product. We answered questions from the one hundred and fifteen audience members and tried to pass along the information that has been so freely given to us.

The second panel was comprised of representatives from publishing houses as well as a woman who has formed a hybrid agency. She offers representation to authors in the hopes of securing a publishing deal for them but she also sells services to those who want some help self-publishing. So, in terms of formatting, cover design, editing, and marketing her company will handle all those for a fee. There are indeed some authors who don’t wish to network and learn how to do these things on their own. I wish there weren’t. I wish everyone would check out the information that’s provided on sites like Indies Unlimited and do it themselves but that’s not always the case. So, this company provides a service. I don’t know what the cost of the service is but I hope it’s reasonable.

The members of the second panel spoke about what “they” were looking for. They talked about what “they” wanted from authors. One woman gave the tired, old story of how most queries to her office don’t get read because of grammatical mistakes within the query letter. When an audience member asked the representative from one of the publishing houses about book signings and what his company does to promote its author’s work the representative answered that unfortunately book signings have become too expensive to facilitate and they can’t justify them any longer. It made me think of the signing I organized at a local store last summer where my significant other stood at the entrance with a plate of homemade cookies. We filled that store and weeks later the staff was still raving about it to their customers. Oh, and the store sold a number of books that day, some were written by me and some were not.

Other questionable facts handed to the audience were that formatting an e-book is extremely expensive. They made cover design sound as though it was far too complex a process for our uninitiated ears to understand. And, the doozy of them all was that e-book sales currently account for twelve percent of the market and is in a state of decline. Like many other self-published authors I manage to produce my books by utilizing professional editors, formatters, and cover designers. And as far as I can determine e-book sales are not declining.

The room became very hot for me as the second panel relayed their information so I stood in the hallway and continued listening to them. As I listened I realized there was one glaring difference between the two panels. During the first panel, the other self-published authors and myself kept mentioning the “R” word. Our focus is on our Readers. We talked about connecting with readers, producing professional product for our readers and becoming better writers in order to gain more readers. The panel of traditional publishing experts mentioned the “R” word once. Just once. And, that was from the hybrid publishing company representative as she outlined the services she sold to authors.

As their session wrapped up an author from the audience asked one of the gentlemen from the publishing house what they were doing differently now that self-publishing was growing and how the advent of e-books had changed things for him. He said that his company had changed virtually nothing in terms of the way they do business. They were still doing things the same way they always had. Unfortunately, after listening to them I had to agree. That was very apparent.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

36 thoughts on “Are Traditional Publishers Avoiding the “R” Word?”

  1. Sheesh, Martin. You’d think they’d get it by now. Readers are the reason. How pompous and ill-informed of them to “do what they’ve always done”. They should be innovating, not bloviating.

      1. Wow, Marc. They sure missed the boat on that one.

        I admire your constraint, Martin. Was the “too hot” in the second panel literal or figurative? 🙂

        1. Both Al. There was a positive reaction from it all though. As Carol said in her comment above, I wasn’t the only one finding it uncomfortable listening to the non-truths. There were other self-published authors in the audience who were doing a bit of seat-squirming themselves. The year before that would not have been the case. We’re getting there.

  2. Readers are the reason for the season of the indie author! o.k yeah that was cheesy but its true if you stop and think about it. The reader is saying with book sales what they want. They no longer want to settle for what the big 6 “thinks” the reader wants and buys what the reader really does want. A great article Martin!

    1. I agree Wendy. Shortly after I released my first book I was on Twitter and I received a d/m from a woman in Japan. Without even saying hello she began asking me about the motivation of one of my characters. It blew me away how close the connection can be. That’s who we’re writing for.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. So, I conclude that Indies know what it’s supposed to be about – reaching readers. Trad houses have forgotten that. Maybe that’s why they are falling behind.

  4. I’m stuck between two worlds currently Martin, and I hear you. I have friends who are saying to me, because they care about me, they are never going to stop pestering me to try again for a traditional contract, that they are never going to let me give up on my dream…like somehow it’s dead…and that I’ve killed it by self pubbing…and that my decision to leave my agent was the final kiss of death. sigh. The focus to them is all about the CONTRACT. For me it’s the READER. And they just don’t get it. double sigh.

    1. But you do, Jacqueline. You get it and it’ll show in your writing and in the relationships you have with your readers. Actually, it shows already.
      Thanks for commenting.

  5. I was also at that festival (met you there Martin!) and the difference between the first and second sessions was pretty painful. I too found the 12% ebook sales extremely curious. These publishers seem to be missing the mark; there was a feeling of desperation and defensiveness that was very off-putting and in marked contrast to the upbeat and positive tone of the “indie” session. Thanks for posting your thoughts, Martin!

    1. Thank you Carol. I really appreciate you confirming that. If anything I think I may even have understated the contrast between the two panels. I just hope all the authors in the room realized it. Good to hear from you, thanks for commenting!

  6. Martin: It’s very refreshing to get your insider’s perspective from the eye of the storm, so to speak! Given your own experience as an independent author, I have complete faith in your ability to translate the mixed messages of the event you attended, and it’s so odd to find such disparity between the two camps!

    I think, like any evolving industry, the “old schoolers” will hang on for dear life to paradigms that are veering close to extinction, but it’s a bit disappointing that there seems to be such a disconnect about what readers really want and/or what writers really find in their journey as independents! Shocking that they would make it sound so DIFFICULT to properly produce an excellent book! With just the information you include in your book on self-publishing, plus my own contacts found through networking, I discovered – frankly – just how simple it is to create a beautiful, professional, expertly formatted book that can stand proudly next to any traditional book.

    As for the future of ebooks… well, lots of controversy over the truth of that. Here’s an interesting piece on it:

    But I’ll end by saying “thank you” for continuing to be a strong, clear voice for those who trust their own voice and won’t be bound by tradition or what “can’t” be done!

    1. You’re welcome Lorraine. I’m really glad you followed your heart and got your book out. I’m sure you’re going to be very successful. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Thank you, Martin, for another up-to -the minute informational post. I think of you as being self-publishing’s poster boy. You hold seminars, workshops, are constantly on top of developments in book publishing, and you so generously share all of your knowledge and your experiences so that the rest of us are more effective in our writing choices and publishing efforts. Thanks for tirelessly being our public voice as well, promoting self publishing!

    1. Thanks Dianne but quite honestly as I was sitting in that room I thought to myself “Oh no, not again.” I’d rather we were all on the same side of the line, and many of us are but the folks on that panel unfortunately were not.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Great post, Martin. Yes, times they are a-changing. I’ve noticed how much readers want to know about the authors they read. They want that personal touch, that connection. They are thrilled to have that human contact with the writers of the characters they have grown to love.

    1. I agree and I like it very much. I’ve formed some terrific friendships with readers. It’s a brave new world but it’s a great new world too.
      Thanks for commenting.

  9. Reminds me of the theory that the Doctor is the most important person in the hospital…not the patient. Some people just don’t understand…the one we serve is the most important one!

  10. That has been my experience too, Martin, and so, unfortunately, I’m not in the least surprised. The readers are catching on though, as far as accessibility is concerned, and I am being asked more and more to give talks and run one day writers workshops.

    Great post, Martin.

    1. I agree. It feels like we’ve gone from being the weird cousin who nobody wanted to sit beside at the wedding to the weird cousin who might just know what she (or he) is talking about.
      Thanks for commenting, TD.

  11. Great post, Martin. Thanks for sharing the experience. Anyone expected any different? Publishing houses spread FUD, sales of Indie authors keep growing and their readership as well. It seems like being in denial is the strategic plans of publishing houses.

    Fact is, to an Indie writer who sells and has readership the publishing houses have no longer any attraction. They live in the past while independent authors and readers are moving forward.

  12. This was quite insightful, Martin. You were very kind to these folks. They were quite obviously scamming the newbies for bucks. Their attitude toward readership will sink their publishing ship, in my opinion. We indies learn that lesson the hard way sometimes, so it behooves us to pay attention to readers. Thanks for the great article.

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