I always end up energized and enthused after I have met with my wonderful editor at Bloomsbury USA Children’s, Melanie Cecka. As publishing director, Melanie has a perspective on the business that gives me insight not only into what I’m doing, but where it fits in overall.
A lot of our conversation over lunch yesterday was about eBooks. Bloomsbury Children’s has been taking a very close look at releasing teen and middle-grade books in e-versions. Are teens reading books on Kindles? Nooks? iPhones? iPads? What is the effect of the e-reader price reduction on those numbers, and how are young readers managing to order eBooks (if they are) when at those ages they don’t generally have credit cards? Are the successful teen eBooks only those that have adult fans too (Stephenie Meyer, for instance)?
As someone with a business gene mixed into my overall makeup, these questions intrigue me. The way the publishing model is changing is very exciting. The fact that books are more readily available in more formats is a hopeful sign for the future of civilization, I think. Smart publishers, like Bloomsbury, are not sticking their heads in the sand, but trying to evolve to accommodate new technology and find ways to benefit themselves, their authors, and the readers.
Of course I brought up the issue of how easy it is for anyone with a manuscript to publish his or her own eBook and make it available on Amazon, or, with Smashwords, on multiple e-reader platforms. I have my own concerns about flooding the market with books that have not gone through the filter of professional editing, but there will always be those overlooked gems that become word-of-mouth hits.
Yet even a really good book gets better with good, professional editorial intervention. As Melanie pointed out, there’s far more to publishing than just throwing a book out there. Publishers put manuscripts through a rigorous editing process (that usually takes place after the writer has had her own readers make their comments), invest in production (whether physical or digital), send hundreds of costly ARCs out to reviewers all over the country, and then send finished books out too. They produce catalogues, attend book fairs and conferences, and market as much as they can on their limited budgets and with limited staff. The cost, to the publisher, of bringing a book to market is tens of thousands of dollars.
While eBooks eliminate the costs of print production and warehousing, even if a book were going straight to an e-edition without a print edition, the editorial process is still very expensive and time consuming.
Many people yearn to be published authors. I feel extremely grateful that I have the support of my agent and my editor to help me bring my books to the world. If things were different, if I hadn’t been one of the lucky ones whose manuscripts were accepted for publication and then put through the traditional process, would I put out an eBook?
The answer is I don’t know. Probably at some point I would realize that something about what I was writing didn’t achieve the level of quality or marketability that publishers and agents are looking for, and I might have tried to put my talents and interests into something else. That sort of happened to me with music. Much as I loved playing the piano, at one point I realized that no matter how hard I practiced, I would never achieve the level of artistry necessary to be a great concert pianist.
But I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who just wants her work out there the opportunity that e-publishing presents. Sometimes there are specific markets looking for a particular theme, and they’ll find books that fit into their theme by hook or by crook. Other times, a self-published author puts in so much work and effort to do her own marketing that she achieves a measure of success without a traditional publisher. And of course, there are the Christopher Paolinis of this world.
Whatever the changes in the publishing world, publishers like Bloomsbury are not going away anytime soon. I think readers respect the professional filter that helps ensure that a book in a bookstore is of a certain level of quality. Opinions and tastes will always differ, and no one is always right. But I’m guessing that readers, even faced with the comparatively small mountain of choices they have today, will look for guidance—in the form of a publisher they can trust, a review, a personal recommendation—when they decide to invest time, money, and emotional and mental effort into reading a book.