QOTW: How will Pottermore affect the publishing industry?

24 Jun

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.

Okay, we’re asking for the first time… what do you guys thing about e-publishing and the future of the traditional publishing industry?

23 Responses to “QOTW: How will Pottermore affect the publishing industry?”

  1. authorguy June 24, 2011 at 9:03 AM #

    And here I was hoping we’d seen the last of Harry Potter. Ah well.

  2. Sally Apokedak June 24, 2011 at 9:13 AM #

    Yes, I agree with you that traditional publishers are not dead.

    I think e-publishing and self-publishing has been helpful in that publishers are starting to wake up and carry their end of things. By that I mean that publishers a few years ago had gotten into a kind of whiny place because it was a buyer’s market. There were a few publishers with hundreds of thousands of wannabe writers. And the publishers seemed to take advantage of that. They began to say that novelists, as well as nonfiction authors, needed to have platforms and needed to do the marketing. They began to cut the advances down to nothing and to demand that authors spend their advances on marketing. They began to insist that authors send their manuscripts in error free, already having been edited by a freelance editor.

    Well, if they aren’t going to pay advances and they aren’t going to market the book and they aren’t even going to edit the freakin’ thing, we might as well self publish and pay for our own cover design and distribution.

    Now maybe publishers didn’t start all those rumors, but for whatever reason they were floating around at conferences and on blogs.

    Lately, though, we’re hearing about decent advances and decent marketing and no one suggests you have to send your manuscript to a freelance editor anymore. This is good. I want to be published by a traditional publisher for the reasons you list. I don’t care if my book comes out as ink on paper (though I have always loved the smell of books and I would love to have a hardback with thick creamy pages) or if it comes out on a screen. I want my story to be read. I want a publisher to partner with me to make my story great. I want a lovely cover. I want an editor who can help me. I want a publisher who will pay me an advance so I can work on the next book. If publishers will still do this, the only thing that is changing is that the printer will lose his job or have to adapt somehow.

    I may never be published, but I think there is better chance of it now than there was three years ago. I don’t think it’s a buyer’s market for the publisher quite like it was. I think they are looking for good books and writers they can partner with and who will be loyal to them and not jump ship once they become famous.

    Because that’s where publishers really need to worry. Will they sink money into writers, make them famous, and then will the writers go off on their own? I hope writers don’t do that. We have an obligation to society and famous writers have an obligation to publishers and to their employees and their employee’s children. I don’t think any of us should be in this just to make money. We should be partnering with others who love children’s books and we should be nurturing the industry so it will keep on putting out quality books.

    • Savannah J. Foley June 24, 2011 at 9:16 AM #

      I think I came in on the tail end of that trend in publishing; since I’ve been actively involved I haven’t heard about those bad things you mention. I understand there are always trends, sounds like that one was super discouraging. May this generation have learned from the old 🙂

      Love your comment.

  3. Maya June 24, 2011 at 9:35 AM #

    I’ve been ignoring ebooks for a long time but recently received a NOOK and have been absolutely thrilled with it. Partly because the books are free or discounted or just don’t take up shelf space (I have far too many physical books) and partly because I don’t have to actually go to the store to buy them. However, I still love physical books. There’s nothing like the feeling of turning the page of a heavy book in your hands.

    I agree that this does not look like an MMORPG with JK Rowling, but more of an interactive storyboard. I’m still not sure though, but if it’s read by Ms Rowling or another British reader I’ll be happy.

    You make an excellent point about the print culture and that of self-publishing. As a librarian, I have to say that no one knows how to order self-published books and they don’t want to, not for library collections. Particularly in YA, young readers don’t know about these books and so they don’t look for them. They will, however, look for books that are being advertised everywhere else or whatever their friends are reading. On occasion, if suggested by someone the librarian believes has a good grasp on what teens want, a self-published book will be ordered but it’s pretty rare.

    • Savannah J. Foley June 24, 2011 at 9:38 AM #

      I wasn’t big into e-books until I received a Nook as a present. I LOVE that I can order something and read it right there. It’s also cheaper in some cases than getting the physical copy, though if it’s an order book I might just buy a super old copy because I’m cheap 🙂

      • Maya June 24, 2011 at 1:07 PM #

        haha me too! I also put the books I want on the ewish list and if it goes on sale, I snatch it up.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio June 24, 2011 at 12:02 PM #

      I totally thought it WOULD be an MMORPG! Alas, it is not 😦

      • Maya June 24, 2011 at 1:06 PM #

        An MMORPG would be crazy fun too, but that takes up a lot of time and then there’s the question of whether there will be a monthly fee (there won’t be ’cause it’s supposed to be free) which means that the servers will have to be crazy powerful and teams working them around the clock… Pity, it would be an amazing game. Maybe some other year?

        • Savannah J. Foley June 24, 2011 at 1:18 PM #

          I would have loved an MMORP too 😦 Like the Sims version of HP or something. Gah that would have been epic.

          • ChemistKen June 24, 2011 at 1:44 PM #

            I can barely squeeze in an hour or two of writing every day as it is now. A HP MMORP would guarantee that I never write again.

          • Maya June 24, 2011 at 6:28 PM #

            They had downloads for HP specific outfits, hair and characters for Sims. I don’t remember where I found them though.

  4. Ashley June 24, 2011 at 1:54 PM #

    I feel e-publishing is the easy way in for those who don’t want to deal with the harsher side of traditional publishing or already have and are jaded.
    It’s just a big, fat I told you I could do it! 😛

    Personally, I feel traditional publishing is more of an achievement. Anyone can e-publish these days, but how many of us can say we took the industry by the horns and succeeded?

    • Savannah J. Foley June 24, 2011 at 2:54 PM #

      I do think that’s the crux of it. Underneath all the arguments about money and profit I feel like there’s a sentiment of resentment.

    • Kelly McClymer June 25, 2011 at 2:46 PM #

      Ashley, I can see why you think self-publishing is the “easy” way for many who are impatient or jaded (for some small, vocal, number it probably is). I see it differently (I am jaded however, having already traditionally published twelve novels, so that has to factor in).

      Savannah — great insight and I wish you luck with your quest for a publisher. I, too, consider myself a budding equalist and I have a novel series in the (self publishing) works that I plan to release next year on the subject of misandry vs misogyny. Very different from yours, but I love your premise and will look forward to buying your book when it does get published!

      I had a shift of consciousness on the topic of gatekeepers of fiction this year, when I began to read about reader communities springing up everything (GoodReads, etc.) and talked to some people who speculate that readers will become the arbiters and traditional publishers will only be interested in the cream (a good buttress for your argument about being able to say you took the industry by storm, right?).

      The way they find this cream will include by watching those of us who decide to self-publish and actually reach readers enough to become successful. They are already doing this (Amanda Hocking).

      The way that the “cream” will rise is by intriguing and satisfying our readers. Which, in a way, is a whole new paradigm — taking a layer or two away from writer and reader.

      Kind of scary. But it applies to those who choose the traditional route, those who self publish, those who mix and match, and those who change their minds. Writers need readers. Readers need writers, and we’re all just trying to find our “perfect” matches.

      Where is Match . com for the writer-reader pairings? 🙂

  5. Mac_v June 24, 2011 at 4:50 PM #

    EXCELLENT response, Sav. I don’t think any of us could have said it better! People look at me like I’m nuts when I say I don’t want to self publish. But I have my reasons, and you said them perfectly. THANK YOU for this lovely and amazing post. Seriously. You made. My. Day.


    • savannahjfoley June 24, 2011 at 11:05 PM #

      Aww, I’m so glad. It was nerve-wracking ‘going public’ with my opinions, but I believe in doing the right thing and shedding some light on these issues. Far too much silence has been kept on this topic.

  6. harmamae June 24, 2011 at 10:23 PM #

    Your point about who will take care of your work after you’re gone is a point about self-publishing I haven’t seen brought up before in these discussions. Something to think about. Though copyright does last for seventy years after you die, that doesn’t mean anyone will keep it in the public’s eye. 🙂

    • savannahjfoley June 24, 2011 at 11:05 PM #

      To me, self-publishing seems like a short-term solution. Who knows, maybe e-books are a trend that will die out in the next ten years?

      • harmamae June 25, 2011 at 5:50 PM #

        That is definitely another thing to consider… many arguments in favour of ebooks count on the fact they will be sticking around for awhile. Though I think as long as the internet is around, people will want to find some sort of literature online (it’s such an online world nowadays…)

  7. Najela June 25, 2011 at 5:17 AM #

    I think there’s enough room for both on the shelves for traditionally published books and self published books. I guess it depends on how much you want to put upfront. And even as an author, I don’t think it blocks you from doing both either. I guess it just matters on how much you want to put up front and/or how much control you want for your book. I think while traditional publishing has access to editors and the like, authors still have to push and market their books just as much as self publishers do. I guess it just matters on priorities Do you want to do all the work of getting readers, finding your own editors, proofreaders, and such and the advantage of getting more money? Or do you want the traditional process of others helping you and taking a small cut?

    As far as pottermore? I think it goes to show us that ebooks are another outlet that writers should take advantage of. Whether Rowling is self publishing them or not is not really the issue.

  8. Madeleine August 29, 2011 at 9:53 PM #

    I was pretty skeptical about the whole “e-books are going to take over the world” deal until Borders closed. It certainly opened my eyes to the influence of e-books.

    I can’t say where I really think this is going. For now, though, I will stick to my paper-copies and traditional publishers. They’ve stuck around for this long – they must be doing something right.

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