In 2012, traditional publishers were in a normal state of flux. They cut warehouses and printing costs as a reaction to reduction of print sales. That move has been expected for decades. They are adding in more ways to get books into electronic editions where more profit-per-unit-sale lives. Just normal “run to the money” thinking of all publishers.
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Traditional publishers have already started the expected cutting of book lines and mergers. They are also starting new book lines. This will happen at both large and small scales. Smaller publishers will continue to grow into the areas left behind and become big publishers over the years. This has been the nature of publishing for longer than any of us have been alive, so nothing new there at all.
And following the trend that started three or four years ago, they are working to tie down as many writers’ books as possible, and control as many rights. So their contracts in 2012 overall continued to become less and less writer friendly.
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More and more writers, both new and established, moved to indie publishing in 2012. Or more accurately, electronic publishing of their own work. Very, very few indie publishers bother with paper editions, even though sales of electronic books are around the 25% of all trade sales number, with the remaining amounts being paper.
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So the indie publishing movement near the end of 2012 is still in some flux, as it should be after only three or so years in this new electronic-added world. Many writers are doing books or backlist titles themselves, but at the same time indie publishing is seeing the early adaptors starting to get discouraged and dropping out.
Again, this is nothing new in publishing. To make a career in publishing, you have to be ready for a long haul, often over decades. Most writers who went indie two years ago didn’t want to do that, didn’t find the “gold” they were promised after a ton of wasted promotion efforts, and have stopped. Nothing unusual at all. Writers starting off and then quitting was always the way it was even when I came into publishing back in the dark ages. Nothing different. But now it’s not quitting after fifty rejections, it’s quitting after three books up and very few sales.
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Smashwords, the largest distributor of indie work, got faster and cleared out a bunch of bugs in 2012, but still have a horrid accounting system that will eventually drive all but the erotica authors away. But it seems from the outside that Smashwords clearly had a good year even though the Kobo move had to really have hurt them.
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Agents started spreading the myth in 2011 and increased the push in 2012 that writers needed agents to sell movie deals and overseas deals. A total myth, of course, in this new world of world-wide email. But it helped agents feel relevant to focus on an area that before was only a sidelight for them.
And the traditional publishers still have on their guidelines that you need an agent to sell a book, even though most smart writers have figured out that guideline is just a tissue paper roadblock to ignore. Just like the old “no unsolicited manuscripts” was when I came in.
Also, with traditional publishing contracts getting so nasty over the last four years as publishers made rights grabs, agents can’t negotiate a contract anymore. They are not lawyers. These days you need an IP attorney familiar with publishing contracts to even get close to a decent contract.
This area is the buggy whip area of publishing and I sure can’t see much that will save most agents over the next decade or so.
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Many large traditional publishers are in the process of setting up direct submission systems. Because of the draconian contracts that take all rights from writers, it is in traditional publishers’ best interests to get as many books headed their way as possible and not stopped by agents. Electronic submissions systems direct to traditional publishers (already going in a number of smaller genre lines) will put the final coffin nail in the agent world. This is happening fast in many major companies and you will start seeing these new systems appear in late 2013 and the year beyond. And that will start killing the “you need an agent to be published” myth.
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But thankfully, the war between traditionally published writers and indie writers started to sputter in 2012, flared up a few times, and then mostly just vanished as more traditional writers started to work their backlist into indie. There are still a few idiots on the traditional side who flat haven’t bothered to get their heads out of dark places and look around, but they will go away with time. And there are the hotheads on the indie side who look down on traditional published writers. They are usually beginning writers afraid of the larger world.
The main word I heard this last year from writers was “freedom.” It seems that suddenly we all feel free to write what we want, not what we think some editor and sales force might like. That’s great fun and really became a clear force in 2012.
We also have the freedom to not take bad contracts from traditional publishers if we don’t want. That’s a fantastic bargaining chip in a negotiation, so smart writers gained power over the last year. And now writers who care about their work have an option.
“Control” was a word I also heard a great deal from writers in 2012. Control of covers, control of the proofing, control of the quality, control of the rights.