For the first time in four years, I'm not at the Book Expo America in NYC which is going on right now. Do I regret not going? Yes and no. No, because I'm hip-deep in writing book three of the Edgewood series, and a trip, no matter how short, tends to cost me big time in energy and output.
But that not withstanding, the Book Expo is always exciting and fun. Attending means I get to meet up with other authors and see which not-yet-released books are getting the big buzz. It's a real life illustration in how marketing works. It's interesting to watch a publisher declare some novel as the next big thing and watch what happens. Sometimes the book becomes a runaway hit and other times it never gets the hoped-for liftoff. Really, when it comes down to it, marketing can increase visibility and get a book into the hands of booksellers, librarians, and bloggers, but it can't make readers love it and without reader word-of-mouth, it's hard to get the kind of momentum needed to create a smash hit.
It used to be that so much depended on the first few months (or even few weeks) of a book's release. Authors would scramble to do back-to-back events and interviews, hoping to quickly ignite the interest of bookstores and readers. If the book didn't do well initially, the bookstores returned the books to the publisher. Without the physical presence of the book on the bookstore shelf, readers often wouldn't be aware it existed. So timing was everything. The pressure to succeed was enormous.
Some people compare the changes in the publishing industry to that of the music industry and I can see it. But to me, the evolution of TV and movies is also an apt comparison to what's going on in publishing.
I saw an interview with Ted Turner not too long ago that illustrated this perfectly. I can't find a link so I'll have to paraphrase (my apologies to Mr. Turner for not using his exact words). In the interview, he said that when cable television came onto the scene, he saw it as a new opportunity for producers of content and for viewers. But, he said, the established networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) didn't see it the same way. They saw cable TV as a competitor threatening the way things had always been done. They were, Mr. Turner said, too busy fighting the change to see the positives. The networks were actually in a better position to establish a network like CNN because they already had news contacts in other countries, but none of them jumped on it, which was, of course, to his benefit.
Back when network television was dominant, people used to stand around water coolers talking about TV shows. The same TV shows. Everyone (or nearly everyone) I knew watched the finale of Cheers. Even though I never watched Dallas, I heard all about the "who shot JR" episode. For a while the masses watched and discussed mini-series like Roots and North and South. Now with cable, Hulu, Netflix, Youtube, etc. this kind of thing is rare. Poll ten different people about what they watched over the last week and you may get ten completely different answers. The good news is that there are more opportunities for creators of content, and more content for viewers. Not all of it is great, but there's something for everyone.
A lot like ebooks.
That's not to say that print books aren't important. I honestly think there will always be bookstores and libraries. Ebooks are just another format and as such, can be an additional revenue stream for publishers and authors. When movies came out on VHS, way back when, some people predicted that movie theaters would close. Who needed to sit in a big crowded room eating overpriced popcorn when you could experience the same thing in the privacy and comfort of your home? Turns out, people liked the communal experience of watching a movie on a big screen. Same thing with books. Some people want to buy a paperback, others prefer the same book as an ebook. Some buy the ebook and love it so much they ALSO buy the print book either for themselves or as a gift. Either way, the ebook buyer is one more reader the book wouldn't have otherwise. One more potential cheerleader. One more person who may end up buying more books by the same author.
They say the only constant is change. There's no stopping it, so you might as well embrace it and make it work for you. So with that in mind--here's hoping every deserving book get its place in the sun, in any and every format.
Have a good weekend,