Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between The Pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Publishing Today

     I touched on this subject several months back and have been watching it closely for a while. The world of publishing appears to be experiencing unprecedented growth but with no clear direction.

    In past generations writers had only a few options. While the traditional houses preferred working through literary agents, they would still accept manuscripts from individual authors. And for those with deep pockets and little patience there were the subsidy or “vanity” publishers who would produce your work as long as you paid all the bills.

   Home computers and digital technology have changed all of that. Now that we can cut and paste and have been blessed with a delete key, almost anybody can write a book… And many have.

    Today, agents and editors are swamped with manuscripts, mostly the work of amateurs but surely a few masterpieces lurk in those mountains of paper. The challenge to the publishers is further complicated by the need to streamline their business practices, meaning smaller staffs with fewer editors. As a result, the screening responsibilities have been handed off to the literary agents, opening the doors to burgeoning opportunists in that field.

    Digital technology has spawned an entirely new type of publishing house as well. With the “Print on Demand” capabilities now available a publisher no longer has to lay out the capitol for large print runs and then warehouse the product and facilitate distribution. POD only produces the book “after” it is ordered, no storage problem, no expensive inventory, and most importantly, no large investment.

     Most of these “Print on Demand” publishers deal directly with the author, bypassing the agent. Editing, if offered is usually at the author’s expense. Many of them will accept any manuscript.

     Electronic books, or e-books offer yet another option to the aspiring author. This part of the industry has a very cloudy future. It may explode into a huge business or it may fall flat. There are many arguments on both sides of this street but not all of the cards have been dealt yet. At this time, there is no clear leader producing hand held e-book reading devices. They are currently in a price range that scares a lot of buyers away and there are software issues that need to be resolved. One we get a reasonably priced, user-friendly reader out there, we might get some answers on where this segment of the industry is headed.

     This rapid expansion in the publishing business has also attracted a share of carpetbaggers. Some “Literary Agents” make their money from reading fees and editorial services. These agents sell very few manuscripts and should be avoided. The red flag is the reading fee.
There are a few POD publishers whose income is derived primarily from the authors buying their own books. They offer virtually no distribution service or promotional support.

      The literary world has a few watchdog groups who police the industry. They do their best to honestly evaluate the character of those offering author representation or publishing services. A good place to start looking would be an organization called “Predators and Editors.”

2004 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.