Last night a reader emailed us with this question:
So I know a lot of you are avid Harry Potter fans (I may fall under the more rabid category.) J.K. Rowling announced Pottermore (pottermore.com) and I was wondering what you thought about it. I read an interesting blog post that I stumbled across here: http://albertriehle.blogspot.com/2011/06/pottermore-whole-new-ballgame.html
I would love you to react to it. Oh sure, I scoff at people who claim that the end to the book publishing industry is near. All the same… this is not very encouraging for new writers. What are your thoughts?
NOTE before I start: E-publishing and the general fate of the publishing industry is a sensitive topic with writers. We don’t want to give you guys a wrong prediction, or do something that will alienate our relationships with those in publishing. Therefore a lot of writers are opting for silence on this topic. But this means that those who want the pub industry to crash and burn become the vocal minority. Honestly I don’t think this is as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be. Self-publishers are screaming that they were right all along, and news sources are running with it because God forbid they report actual news instead of these speculations with ‘yellow journalism’ titles. But I digress. Let’s answer the actual question 🙂
I think that J. K. Rowling’s announcement and pre-announcement have been misinterpreted. You know what the first thing I heard was after the official video announcement? “I thought there was going to be an interactive MMPORG!” But when did she ever say that? People’s expectations got out of control. Secondly, when did Rowling ever say that she herself was e-publishing HP? For all we know the e-books are going to be sold through a traditional publisher and available solely on the website, in some major branding coup. The truth is that we don’t know what she’s planning, and won’t know until it’s officially ‘live’.
Honestly I think people are using this as an excuse to panic even more about e-books. But I’m not going to. You know why? Because nobody knows what’s going to happen. Agents don’t know. Editors don’t know. Writers don’t know. We’ll know when it happens. I’m not going to worry about it until then. Personally, I’m not locked into a contract. My rights haven’t changed, and won’t be changed by the market or the ‘new norm.’
I think we all need to calm down and wait for more details.
But for argument’s sake… suppose Rowling IS self-e-book-publishing and self-audiobook-publishing? So what? She’s J. Freaking K. Rowling. She can do what she pleases. Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t assume you can do something just because Author X did it?” That means that you can’t assume you can break the rules of publishing or writing just because somebody else did. Don’t expect you can query with a 200k YA Contemporary novel just because you saw one in the bookstore.
If you really want me opinion on the whole e-publishing thing, then fine, I’ll go public with it: I’m sticking to traditional publishing.
Let’s pretend that physical publishing becomes extinct. No more physical books. Now all we have are e-books. Let’s say you’re a kid who wants to read something. Where do you go? You’re not going to hunt for hours to find an author who’s self-published what you’re looking for. No, you’re going to go to a website that specializes in selling e-books, and click on the ‘kids and teens’ section and then start browsing. And do you think that website is going to carry every Tom, Dick, and Harry who self-publishes? No way, they’re going to vet for quality because they want to be known as a place you can go to and order books you’ll enjoy.
E-publishing isn’t going to do away with publishers. The public still needs someone to act as a warden against the bad and the ugly. Publishing might go completely electronic one day, but I honestly can’t see it disappearing. Who will give you publicity money? Who will sell you to the e-bookstores? Publishing exists as a way to weed out the trash and elevate the good stuff to a higher level.
There are those who are angry at traditional publishing. They talk about money, about how why would you share your profits when you could sell your own books for 90% profit?
To them I say, are you seriously doing this for the money? Personally I’m doing it because I believe I’m writing stories that will be cherished by my readers. I’m doing it because I want to reach the maximum number of kids who might benefit from my books. I don’t care that I could make a million dollars self-publishing to a fraction of the readership I’d get if I self-published (Note: Making a million dollars from self-publishing is currently a highly rare phenomenon).
I’m sticking with traditional publishing because I want to work with someone who knows better than me, who can mould and edit my novel into a masterpiece. I want a team of designers to analyze market trends and design my cover. I want a publicist who’s friends with a reviewer at the NYT. I want a Sales Associate who falls in love with my book and pressures bookstores into carrying it, where a young reader finds my work and escapes for an afternoon into a world they love.
Additionally, who will take care of your work when you’re gone? Who will still work at promoting your stories and repackaging your books for newer audiences when you’re dead? J.K. Rowling probably has a legal team to attend to Harry, but what about small time writers like me? I don’t have anyone in my family who could step into my shoes if I were to pass on. But companies don’t die. Rights get passed on. Look at the classics that are still beloved because publishers kept them in the public eye. Yes, most assuredly I’m sticking with traditional publishing.
In short, keep calm and carry on. The important thing is to write, and worry about all this publishing nonsense when you get to that point, and see what the market is doing when you get there.