Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Felicities of New Publishing (or Why Traditional Publishers May Someday Die)


It used to be that you needed a warehouse to store your book, if you wanted to publish, print, and sell it. It used to be that you needed an idea with blockbuster appeal, or you couldn't get published. That was before Lulu and Createspace and the print-on-demand possibilities.

Today, if you want to honor someone with a book of poetry, or simply be creative, you can publish a book without much cost or hassle. Here, for instance, is the opening of a book by Heather Truett, called Felicities. Through print-on-demand publishing, Heather has been able to honor a friend as well as offer her tribute to others who appreciate her poems...

Felicities Introduction, by Heather Truett

If you're an author with a solid platform, and people appreciate your work, the selling can happen. Amazon's rigorous and practically automatic marketing system will put your book beside other books. (If you shop at Amazon you've probably already noticed the systems: people who bought 'this' also bought 'that'; category tags, Listmanias. For books that really take hold, they might end up on Amazon's front page or in their email recommendations.)

None of this has completely replaced "the publishing system" as we know it. But I would suggest that the system is not the technology so much as it is the Networks. Traditional publishers' current biggest advantage is that people know people who know people. That's why it still doesn't hurt a first-time author to get a book deal with a traditional publisher. The royalties are dismal in comparison to using Lulu or Createspace, but it connects an author with an established Network beyond his or her own audience.

Things will change. Someday it will be more advantageous for an author to skirt the traditional publisher. But he will not be able to skirt the need for a Network.

In a few weeks, over at, we're running a piece called The Work of a Bookseller. In it, the bookseller discusses how he decides to stock his store: book reviews, press releases, reader recommendations— in other words, word-of-mouth... people who know books, telling people who know people. A network.

I am fascinated by the world of new publishing. There will still be a need for editors, designers, publicists, networks, but these may end up being separated from the Traditional Publishing House. Certainly the need for warehousing, royalty-disbursement, and a whole lot of paperwork and marketing efforts have already been eliminated by the big POD players.

But I predict that one thing won't change...

The world will still need the good writer, at the center of it all.

Book photo by L.L. Barkat. Introduction screenshot from Felicities, by Heather Truett.



Anonymous Ann Kroeker said...

I like imagining with you a new and vibrant method of publishing!

But I do want to say that I have really appreciated the support I have had from my current publisher, David C. Cook. Just as you pointed out, they know people who know people and have provided me with wide-reaching marketing and publicity support that I would have had to secure on my own. To try to figure all of that out on my own would have been tiresome and costly.

On another note, what a treat to see Heather's tribute to Natalie--"Nattie Rose." I followed Natalie's blog and her Friday Felicities; I even met her in person many years ago. She lived in a small town not too far from me, and we met at a bookstore, sipped coffee, talked about blogging and books and browsed through magazines.

As you talk about the network needed to connect books to readers, I think how sweet to see all of these connections I'm experiencing right here in this post--my connection to you; your and my connection to Heather; and Heather's and my connection to Natalie.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Michelle Gregory said...

LL, thanks for posting this. it's nice to see more and more people talking about POD.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Some may be interested that I reviewed Heather's collection here:

I think it is very exciting to watch the changes in publishing. Those who can only declaim the industry's woes will be left behind. I'm also noticing that people with experience in the industry are cutting themselves loose and starting their own consulting businesses, offering the kinds of services the traditional publishers offer, such as those Ann is referring to. SheWrites is among them.

4:19 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Ann, its a new world. Most definitely. And yet not. The support you received from your publisher is SO important. I know I have appreciated the Networks that IVP has engaged and mobilized, in the marketing of Stone Crossings.

Yet. It is very complicated. Once an author has a platform, the game changes considerably. Once an author has a 2nd or third book, the game also changes. And when authors are part of a vigorous online Network like, the game changes again.

To that, I would love to hear more from you, Maureen, about how you see SheWrites replacing Traditional Publishers. About cutting loose, that's partly what I meant when I said some of the services will still be needed, but may be housed elsewhere.

I wonder how it's all going to shake down in the future. I think that there will be people who see the creative possibilities and go for it, and they will create new systems. Money will still be made, but more of it will go to authors (I believe).

4:44 PM  
Blogger SimplyDarlene said...

All who have left comments thus far are amazing, gifted, and published writers, am I correct? Anyway, for me, this is exciting. And although I am interested in the series at The High Calling, I wonder if it will prove to be a discouragement or a kick in the rear for me? I imagine I'll at least peak...

Maybe my work won't find its way into anyone's hands except my mom's and my editor friend and maybe my work won't be bound between thick, shiny flaps, but it will always be bits and pieces of my heart. Indifferent. Bad. Or good. It'll be there.


4:52 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Simple Country Girl, the cool thing about POD is that you CAN give these things to your family in a holdable form. My Littlest wants to write a book of poetry, and you know what? If she does it, I will produce it using POD. And we will all be happy to buy the 10 copies for the family. :)

As for you, you shine all the time on the Internet, with your beautiful photography. Not every art can be set down and put in one place. I was reading about ballet the other day (which I'm now doing... ha! :) and how it can't ever really be set down. It is an art in the moment. If God holds us in memory, then all this stuff is cradled tenderly in the universe somewhere. Whether or not anybody ever pays for it. :)

4:57 PM  
Blogger Misha said...

This is so timely to me. It has been an ongoing discussion I have been having with some folks. I am fascinated by the changes taking place and opportunities opening up before our very eyes, I will be following your series with interest.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

If God holds us in memory, then all this stuff is cradled tenderly in the universe somewhere.


6:14 PM  
Anonymous sarah said...

This is so interesting. All my life, I assumed I would have to be accepted by a traditional publisher in order to realise my dream of becoming a writer. Which was very scary because we all know about the huge slush piles, and about how new writers, no matter how talented, often miss out for business reasons.

But the truth was, when I found my courage and sense of independence, self-publishing my books ensured they found a larger market and earned me more profit. What I love about this modern era is that Big Business can no longer tell us what is right or wrong, we can have faith in ourselves and try new things.

I have ideas about how visual media and the printed word can be mixed to create new kinds of "books." I'm sure there are all sorts of weird ideas out there. I believe the world of publishing will become very exciting in the future.

6:30 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Misha, not sure what series I accidentally promised. This is just a one-time post, and the post at will be about a bookseller. I hope that can still make you happy. :)

Lyla, I always think of it that way. Thank you for pulling that out and setting it tenderly down.

Sarah, I love your work. I'm glad you are making it available to the world. :)

7:24 PM  
Blogger Misha said...

Oh man. Does that worry you about whether or not I should self-publish? Or tell you about my mama brain? I will be following anything you write with interest, less so my own comments. : )

{My apologies!}

8:06 PM  
Blogger Janis Van Keuren said...

Amazing to ponder. Exciting to think about the opportunities. A little scary to know how difficult it would be to get the publicity out there if one does do publishing on demand.



1:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a beautiful way to put together a book. And, I think, you are right, L.L., this is the stuff that traditional publishers often miss. What a lovely gift Heather has given to those who knew and loved her friends.

Like Lyla, I love what you say to Simple Country Girl. There are so many gifted people in this world who will never be "discovered". But God knows them all. And He sees.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Louise Gallagher said...

Definitely a brave, new world -- and one I'm still a little lost in!

Glad to see HCB will be shedding some light on it all!

1:16 PM  
Anonymous LivewithFlair said...

Thank you for this post. I must say that I spent 10 years working with agents and publishers, and I never got a contract. I was so discouraged, I stopped writing altogether. Then, last year, I published my own grammar book for students, and they buy it as a coursepack. And I blog instead of selling books. I never thought it would feel this way--so satisfying. You don't need the big contract or the prestige of a publisher to be a real writer! Thank you!

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Cheryl Smith said...

You're right L. L. And that day may not be too far into the future.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Great post. This came up a few times during panel discussions with writers, editors and publishers this weekend. All agreed that, though the face of publishing may change, there will always be writers and there will always be readers.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Pattie said...

Thanks for highlighting my friend Heather's work. I also was one of Nattie Rose's friends, and I still treasure the lunch at Panera I shared with her and Ann Kroeker. Precious, precious memory and what an encouraging time between three women with a passion for writing.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Dan Roloff said...

"The world will still need the good writer, at the center of it all." That's the key. I see large publishers moving toward celebrity authors with large followings. With that comes a questionable quality of writing. Where as recently as twenty years ago publishers were interested in literature as well as sales. Since Bertelsmann those days are long gone. Sales are all that matter.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Megan Willome said...

Looking forward to this!
I have a friend who has run a Christian bookstore in our small town for over 20 years, and she's very discouraged right now about the state of the industry. She also fears POD because of the things that are sloppily-written and not edited. Plus, the people who tell her "God told them" to put it in her store.

1:23 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Dan, that's a really interesting point about the celebrity writers (generally ghosted anyway though :). Thanks for adding that to the discussion.

Megan, I'm glad you mentioned this. I wonder what she's afraid of? The technology enables anyone to "publish," but the quality is still obvious by the design and endorsements and reviews... and if reputable networks highlight the work. I think what's challenging right now is that booksellers might need to be thinking slightly differently, in terms of where they find their recommended titles. A good writer, a good book will still go through vetting, but it may not look like "this book published by [insert name of traditional publisher]" :)

2:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You've done both, so thanks for the insight!

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

L.L., I enjoyed talking with you about this at Laity, and hearing your thoughts today. I also loved the idea that God loves everything we write--just like we love everything our kids create, because they're our kids. :) And I do see quality rising to the top, whether it's in self-published/POD books, blogs, etc. But the choices are being made by the public, instead of a few "suits." Bodes well for those who seek to hone their craft and not just get people to read for the sake of numbers! Hmmm...maybe we should do a series of spotlights and call it "The cream also rises..." :)

8:43 PM  

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