Friday, November 5, 2010

The author, the book and the new frontier

(This is not really 'part two', but does flow from yesterday's post about digital publishing.)

I've recently started giving authors some advice about how they may use their stories/content in future to best effect. The advice is pretty simple, and goes like this:

1. What are you prepared to give away for free?
2. What do you want to make available digitally for a small price?
3. What do you want to make available digitally for a less-small price?
4. What are you want to keep for a book?

Many authors are writing blogs, tweeting and so on, and this is all giving away content for free. This is a good idea, but only if it's content that you're prepared to give away for free. As tempting as it is to give away parts of your novel for free - or for feedback - think first about whether or not you want someone to eventually give you money for that story. If you've already trained readers to expect to get that particular story for free, they may not pay money for it later on. This has been the great folly of newspapers around the world - they started giving it away for free years ago and now no one wants to pay for it, and they're acting surprised.

(Actually, I think people would pay for it - they just don't want to have to login or feel that there's some sort of impediment to accessing the content they want. If someone can work out a way to charge everything back to our ISPs each time we click, we'd probably be prepared to pay 1 or 2 cents a page - and that would add up over time.)

It's also important for authors who may make short stories, novellas, novels and non-fiction fragments or stories available exclusively for sale digitally to still keep the book in mind. Books aren't going to disappear. If anything, they're going to become more valuable - but only if authors and publishers treat them as such.

Those of us who work in publishing all love books. They are quasi-fetishised objects for a lot of us. We collect them, we drool over them, we stroke their covers. I believe that books will become even more objects-of-adoration than they are now. If we start to value the book more highly - if we treat a book like a precious object - then it will be worth having. And that depends on us learning to classify content differently, and the author - as the originator of the content - making that differentiation first.

The same reader can behave very differently towards literary novels, non-fiction and genre fiction. That one reader may be happy to dispose of her romance novels - and thus happy to buy them for $2.99 a pop as e-books - but wants to keep her illustrated cookbooks forever. So those forever books need to be gorgeous, but the disposable stories don't even need to (and won't) look like books. She'll happily buy an elaborate enhanced e-book of a children's picture book but would rather pay per chapter or page or even paragraph to access non-fiction content. These are classifications that publishers need to get their heads around, and authors too. In fact, it's the authors who probably have to drive this change on the publishing side, because it's change that has already happened on the reader side.

So, as with yesterday's post, I have identified that there is increasing control and influence for authors. And isn't that as it should be?


Janet Johnson said...

Very thought-provoking. If we don't value our work, who will?

Great post!

Anne Lyle said...

Very good point about accessing different content in different ways. I find ereaders to be good for novels, because they automatically remember where you were, and the linear nature of narrative makes slow page-turns less of a problem.

But non-fiction often requires skimming, and the current technology just isn't up to that. On the other hand, being able to search a book makes indexes obsolete...