Welcome to the New World Order*

NewPublishingAs you already know, the publishing industry has undergone some drastic changes in recent years. Some of the ‘big players’ are still there, but it’s a new landscape. There are large traditional publishers, smaller traditional publishers, and independent publishers. There’s also self-publishing. And all of these options have been radically changed by the Internet and other technology.

What does all of this mean for the reader? It means the number of reading choices has risen dramatically, and books are available in more formats than ever. And with blogging and other online reviews, it’s extremely easy to find out about new books coming out and communicate with other readers. In one sense it’s frustrating; it means there’s no way, really, to read all of the great books out there. The more fine books we hear about, the more we want to read and that can be disheartening. On the other hand, it means that readers have easy access to a global database of books. What’s more, readers can share ideas with other readers – even if they live in different parts of the world – in milliseconds. The end result is that it’s arguably harder, even if one wanted to, to limit or prevent access to a book. Even if a book isn’t published in one’s own country, it’s usually possible to get it from elsewhere, either through some online store or from a friend or family member.

One of the other challenges for the reader in this technology age is that the sheer number of available books means that there’ll be plenty that are disappointing. They may not be to the reader’s taste, or they may be, bluntly, badly written. That can be doubly annoying for the reader who doesn’t have a lot of time to dive into a book. It takes perhaps more caution these days to choose exactly the books one would like to read, simply because there are so many choices. But the benefit to this is that there are so many choices. Today’s readers aren’t limited by anything, really, but taste, budget and time.

What about writers? The new publishing landscape has led to a lot of changes in the way writers go about what they do. On the one hand, writers have a lot of options. They can try to get a traditional publishing contract. Or they can try to work with a smaller or independent publisher. Or they can choose to pay a publisher to have their work made available. Writers can of course self-publish, too. And when it comes to self-publishing, a writer can have a story published within a day or so of uploading it. All of these options means that writers have many potential outlets for their work, and a potential global audience. Of course any writer can tell you that it doesn’t really work that easily. There are a lot of hurdles and complexities that face writers. But the potential is arguably there as it never was.

But that doesn’t mean the new publishing world is, as the saying goes, all roses. Writers have to be very savvy about the publishers and technical support companies they approach. For one thing, there are a lot of unethical companies out there that are all too willing to separate eager writers from their money. For another, writers have a lot of competition. Publishers choose the work they think will be a good fit for them and that will be to their business advantage. So there’s no guarantee that any given publisher will accept any given writer’s work.

And then there’s the matter of marketing and promotion. No matter how a writer’s work is published, there’s a lot of competition for readers’ attention. So writers have to savvy about how to promote their work in ways that won’t put readers off. They have to be familiar with all sorts of social media and other modern ways of reaching readers. And they have to think of themselves as business people in ways that weren’t the case just a few decades ago.

But speaking as both a reader and a writer, I think this is a very good time for books, despite the continuing economic difficulties in a lot of places. Here’s my view on why; please feel free to disagree with me if you do.

As a reader, I can get virtually any book I want, with little restriction. Because of today’s technology and today’s publishing world, there are a number of online places where all kinds of books are available. There are even publishers that are bringing back long-lost series and books. Technology means I can learn about an exciting book written by someone no-one’s ever heard of, buy the book, savour it, and tell everyone about it. Or, I can be thoroughly disappointed in that book and spread the word about that too. Even in cases where a book’s not available in my country, I’ve got contacts all over the world, and if they’re willing, I can arrange to get that book. I’m not saying there are no difficulties, but a whole world of reading is open to me, with very little limitation.

As a writer, I can share my ideas and not worry about the price I’ll pay for that. I can write my stories, share them potentially with the world, and there aren’t consequences if my ideas are not the same as others’. My stories may not be to everyone’s taste, but I can share them. With a global audience, too. And I can learn from what other writers do, even writers with whom I disagree about some things. Yes, I’ll admit; it’s a bit frustrating at times to get the word out about my writing. I don’t have a ‘household’ kind of a name, and I don’t have a large publisher doing my marketing. But at the same time, the only limit to what I can share is my own store of ideas, my willingness to work hard and whatever talent I may or may not have. And that is a very good thing, I think.

This is not at all to say that the books and other stories can’t be challenged or even banned. Even with the Internet, there’ve certainly been attempts, some more successful than others, at limiting the spread of ideas, stories and so on. I invite you, for instance, to read Qiu Xiaolong’s Enigma of China for an interesting look at the Chinese government’s monitoring of the Internet. And that’s not the only government that does that sort of thing.

That said though, the modern publishing landscape has in many ways made it more possible than ever for people all over the world to share their ideas and their books. For readers, it’s frustrating, sometimes disheartening, and can be bewildering to sift through all of the book options. And that’s to say nothing of the never-ending TBR list. For writers, it’s also frustrating at times, and has meant a whole new definition of what it is to be a writer. But even so, the new world of publishing makes for a freer and easier exchange of ideas. I, for one, am willing to put up with the annoyances and upsets just for that reason alone.

What’s your view on this issue? Do you think today’s publishing world has had an impact on what’s available vs what’s not available? If you’re a writer, how do you see yourself fitting in?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad.


Filed under Qui Xiaolong

26 responses to “Welcome to the New World Order*

  1. One of the huge pluses of the internet must be the free exchange of ideas and information – and that’s a point to put to anyone who shakes their head over the world wide web. And, much less important, I love being able to get hold of almost anything, often instantly. Like many keen readers, in the olden days I used to carry round with me a list of books I was looking for, and would search any 2nd-hand bookshop I came across. Along came the internet, and I could find everything I wanted. Wonderful.

    • Moira – I couldn’t possibly agree more! On both counts. Yes it can be frustrating, annoying and definitely time-consuming. But the instant availability of just about anything you want, whenever you want, is astounding for readers. And that global audience is just as phenomenal for writers.

  2. Yes, there are many positives which people tend to forget (we like to grumble, don’t we?). I certainly would find it hard to go back to those days when it took weeks to research information which you can find out in a couple of hours on the Internet. But with vast choice there has also come overwhelm. I remember when I first came to a Western supermarket and encountered the breakfast cereal aisle. I nearly burst into tears at the impossibility of deciding which to buy. Same with books, films, entertainment – we always have to make choices… and at the back of our mind there is probably the faint niggle that by making one choice we are missing out on all of those other tempting (possibly better) options.

    • Marina Sofia – You’ve captured elegantly exactly the challenge we face in this modern ‘easy access’ world. It’s an embarrassment of riches in a way, and it can I think be really overwhelming. Whether it’s breakfast cereal or books, it can all get to be too much. But I would still rather deal with that stress than not have choices.

  3. Fab post, Margot! You delineate the pros and cons quite effectively. Biggest con for me as a writer is that whole visibility thing. But I’m keeping the faith! Have a terrific weekend. πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks, Kathy – on both counts. And you’re right; it is very hard to get and keep any kind of visibility. One’s got to do all sorts of things to keep one’s name ‘out there,’ and it’s hard to know what’s effective and what puts readers off. But I would still rather have that than not have any shot at reaching people…

  4. Yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the choices available and as Marina Sofia says, I often feel I’m probably missing out on some of the best. But I love having the ability to get pretty much any book on demand, and of course with things like Project Gutenberg so many of the classics that used to be hard to get hold of are now readily available – and free! All we need to do is perfect cloning and 500 or so of me should be able to deal with my TBR easily…

    By the way, Margot, your post isn’t appearing in my Reader for some reason. It’ll probably resolve itself, but I thought you might want to know.

    • FictionFan – I know just what you mean about wishing for the time and freedom to read all of the great books out there. I really sometimes wish there were three of me at times. But of course, the world is much better off for there only being one of me… At any rate, yes, the choices are bewildering at times, but it’s better to have those frustrations along with the freedom to choose what to read. At least that’s my view.
      Thanks for telling me my post didn’t show up in your Reader. I’m sorry to hear that. I haven’t made any changes from this end. Hopefully it’ll right itself but if not, please let me know and I’ll see if I’ve made some sort of mistake.

  5. An embarrassment of riches indeed. Love the choices available and the accessibility but goodness me, I also need to be cloned in order to avail myself of all that is on offer. We can but try to do the right thing and if we don’t, well, it’s another adventure to chalk up to experience. Thanks for putting this all so clearly Margot. I really enjoyed the other comments too.

    • Jane – I appreciate the kind words, and I’ve been learning so much from everyone’s input. The possibilities for what we can read are endless thanks to technology. So are the possibilities for how we can share what we write. It may be a bit overwhelming, but if so, it’s in a good way.

      • I think it is good and if we have to plough through some dross, well, that might happen in a library or book shop. I’ve often picked up a book (from library or shop) and rushed home to start reading it, only to be disappointed with it. So, it happens wherever we might buy and however. That is the fun though.

        • Jane – You’re absolutely right that there’s both excellent reading and …..not so excellent reading no matter where you look. That’s part of the fun though, as you say – discovering those gems that are hidden among the rest.

        • It makes you appreciate a really good book when you read one. I think it is grand that the internet has opened all this up, but it is so confusing at times. I love that I can find out about authors and books I might never in a million years found out about, let alone purchase. Global village indeed.

        • Jane – Yes it is. And you’re right that all of the information on the Internet can get a bit confusing. But I think it’s worth that and some occasional frustration to make all sorts of reading available as never before.

  6. Margot, you definitely nailed it on the head, so to speak, with this post. As a reader, I’m delighted by all that is available now to read. But, at the same time, I feel so overwhelmed that I can’t possible read a third (or much less) of what is out there. The internet has provided a great new way to find authors I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It has also opened my eyes to international writers that I probably wouldn’t have check out in my local bookstore and would have missed out on some incredible stories.

    • Mason – That’s exactly it in a nutshell. On the one hand, there are so very many terrific authors and books and series out there that it’s impossible to read them all. Even if you read only authors and series in a certain sub-genre, there still could never be enough time to read it all. On the other hand, today’s technology has made more choices available to readers and writers than ever before. And that is a very good thing.

  7. Your very interesting blog describes the present publishing situation beautifully! As a writer who was lucky enough to get a good agent, but just failed to nail a publishing deal, being able to self-publish has had its advantages, and disadvantages. Self-publishing is something I never imagined I would be able to do ten years ago. Now I can do so at no expense to myself. That’s the advantage. The disadvantage is trying to get known, when you are not known. It’s really frustrating at times, as you say in your blog. But then writing is something I really love doing, and there is a good deal to be said for being able to do what you enjoy.

    • Dawn – That’s just it, isn’t it? Writing can be disappointing and frustrating when one’s trying to get the word out. At the same time, it lets the writer do what s/he loves, and there is so much to be said for that. Thanks too for sharing your experience self-publishing. I’m glad that you found that it worked for you.

  8. Like you and the previous commenters say I feel conflicted about the modern publishing landscape. I do love having access to a wider variety of books than I had 10 years ago but sometimes it is overwhelming as a reader and/or book blogger. I have no hope of reading all the books people go out of their way to tell me about, let alone all the books I discover on my own. So it’s easy to fall back on ‘tried and true’ methods for finding good books (i.e. authors I already know or recommendations from friends but then I might miss something). I sometimes find I am victim to a bit of decision paralysis when it comes to reading something by a new-to-me author.

    • Bernadette – I like that phrase ‘decision paralysis.’ It really is overwhelming the number books there are out there. When I think of the staggering number of books that people recommend to me, I just know I could never read them all. Ever. And that’s just books that have recommended by trusted fellow readers. Add to that books I find, and books I notice being mentioned online and it gets even more out of hand. With that much stimulus it’s little wonder we stay tried-and-true authors/books.

  9. What a wonderful post, and one which most of us identify with. To paraphrase Newton, there was always an Ocean of books out there, and all we could do was pick a few seashells and admire them, but we are even more spoilt for choice now.
    What does seem to have changed, at least for me, is that while earlier, I would finish a book unless it was impossible to read, now I often put aside a book I don’t want to waste time on. Whether it is because I am more aware of the value of my time and don’t want to waste it on something not good, or a case of “too many books, too little time” I do not know, but that’s how it is.
    But when I do find a book I like, I normally finish the entire series/ other books by the author.

    • Natasha – Thanks for the kind words. And I like that reference to Newton. You make an interesting point too about the change in your own reading habits. I’ve found myself doing the same thing actually. I try to be open to trying new books and authors, but I no longer force myself to finish every single book I start. There really are so many books out there and as you say, so little time to read them all. Like you, when I do find an author whose work I like, I read more of that person’s work. And I have my own list of ‘tried and true’ authors as well. But you just can’t read it all…

  10. Col

    I think pre-internet I was more in control of my TBR piles, but I do like the way the world has “shrunk” now and the choice it provides. It has perhaps removed some of the excitement from browsing books physically when out and about. I probably try more new authors now because they appear on my radar more frequently.

    • Col – I think the Internet has meant that we do hear about more books than ever, so we try more different authors. And of course that adds to the TBR. But like you, I’m glad that there is so much choice in reading. I think that in main, that’s a very good thing.

  11. Like FictionFan I too am overwhelmed by all that’s available out there as well as all the work that comes with self-publishing! However, self-publishing has put me in contact with some great authors and although it is a fact that there is some not so great writing it is also a fact that not so great writing can also be found in the traditional publishing field.
    It is unfortunate that many Indie writers, like yourself, don’t have the household name or a marketing team behind them. It is one of the injustices of publishing. πŸ™‚

    • Carol – It would indeed be nice to be a ‘household word’ in some ways. I think most of us dreaming of being ‘the next [insert name of very successful author].’ But the fact is, today’s publishing world doesn’t allow that to happen very often. As you say, self-publishing is one possible answer. It’s got its own weaknesses and strengths, as do all approaches to publishing. I think that all in all, it’s a lot better to have all sorts of choices, as we do now, than it would be to have very few. It can be overwhelming, as you say, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

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