Sunday, January 22, 2012

We got it wrong -- the Mayans predicted a new beginning

I’m sure you’ve heard -- a thousand times by now -- the Mayans predicted the end of the world on Dec. 12, 2012. While that might make for good fiction, it’s far from the truth, because what ends is the Mayan calendar, not the world. We measure time in hours and days, weeks, months, years and centuries. The Mayans had their own units of measurement, and Dec. 12, 2012, for them, was to be the end of a measured era, not unlike what we might consider the end of a millennium.

In other words, there would be a next day. It wouldn’t be called Dec. 13, 2012, but it would be there none-the-less.

I do believe this year is another one in the long and, lately, steep decline in the traditional publishing world. I’m no expert, and I’m not one of the many writers with book deals who have seen their income dry up, their contracts disappear. But I have been reading widely about the industry for years. I’ve made my own forays into the world of fiction writing, with a few of my works showing up in print and online. I’ve always made it a point to only submit to paying markets, so that’s limited my opportunities to be published. And I’ll be the first to admit I have not pursued writing and publication with all the ardor often considered necessary to achieve any level of success. Still, given the time I’ve put into it, I’m happy with where I am in terms of the volume of my work which has been published.

I’ve made a few runs at breaking into the world of traditional book publishing with some novels I’ve written. Two of them, middle-reader works aimed at kids in the 9-year-old to 12-year-old group, garnered a bit of encouragement and referrals from a couple of agents, but never went any further. The past two years, however, have been difficult ones in many ways. I coach a high school basketball team, and that takes a tremendous amount of time. My workload on the job has increased significantly, requiring quite a few 12- and 14-hour days. My computer decided to quit working. And my health isn’t as great as it once was.

Yeah, I know, excuses, excuses. That’s not really the focus of what I want to say, though. I’m making a few changes in my life this year, and some of these will allow me to focus more on my writing.

But I’m focusing in a different way, at least on the publishing end, because I believe 2012 is the year many writers -- and more importantly, readers -- will truly realize the old publishing world is dying. Or at least changing dramatically. I believe the big publishers still will be around, pushing best sellers and making money on them. And I believe small, specialty publishers will remain, selling extremely limited editions of books for more money than it takes to feed my family of seven for two days.

The rest? I think you’ll see traditional print publishers continue to fall by the wayside.

So why am I putting a major emphasize on writing more in 2012?

For one thing, I enjoy it. Sometimes it’s like slamming my head against the wall. Other times writing is like having someone yank your teeth out -- without Novocain. But in the end, it’s a process I love, and when I’m not doing it everything else in my life loses a bit of its luster.

Second, I believe I don’t have to depend on the hope, however remote, of making it with a traditional publisher. Electronic publishing, via Kindle, Nook, and other e-formats has opened up the world to writers and readers in a way never before imagined. For writers, each of us now has the power to decide which pieces of our work will or won’t see publication. We decide the title of the novel, the cover design, how it is to be marketed, even the price.

For readers, the possibilities are endless. I recently received a Kindle (thanks to winning a contest by romance writer Michelle Garren Flye) and I’ve been amazed. It seems there is an almost endless supply of novels, novellas, and short story collections. Some are a little pricey for my tastes, but it seems an overwhelming percentage of the works are available for prices ranging from 99 cents to $2.99. Quite a few are even free, while others are available through Amazon’s new Amazon Prime lending library program.

As a reader, that’s hard to beat, especially when I know the writer of a $1.99-cent novel is actually making more on that sale than he would if a traditional publisher sold the work in paperback for eight bucks (because, in the literary world, moving product and making profit is the emphasis, the writer is mostly raw material to be used up and cast aside if he doesn’t like working for little more than a few quarters on each sale).

As a writer, this is becoming a big, brave new world. There are quite a few examples of indie publishers making it HUGE via e-publishing (J.A. KonrathAmanda Hocking, etc.), but that’s really not it. If it’s all about the money, even selling a couple of dozen copies of a novel is a better business deal for the individual writer than having the novel collecting virtual dust on the computer hard drive while one publisher after another rejects, or even ignores, your pitches.

But it is more than the money. As a writer, having the ability to put your work out there, making a connection with readers -- be it a few dozen, a few hundred, or if I may be permitted to dream a bit, a few thousand -- is far beyond the hopes most writers have dared to dream.

So maybe, rather than think of 2012 as another step toward the end of traditional publishing, it’s the beginning of a wonderful new universe.

For writers and readers, there will be a Dec. 13, 2012. And it just might be better than Dec. 12.

Note: Coming up on Wednesday, Jan. 25, a conversation with author and confirmed super-speed-writer A.J. Brown, author of the recently released collection Along the Splintered Path, published by Dark Continents Publishing.


  1. great article. I'm right with you there. I always knew there would be a day after. ;-)

  2. Where the bloody Mayans were concerned, the sooner their civilization ended the better! We badly mis-read them, just about worse than the Aztecs...
    John, I'm sure you will be a great success in e-pub and we look forward to your success this year. I'm in that "few dozen" category myself and couldn't be happier. I also think that a measure of online self-pub success can serve as a (minor) credit with print agents. Couldn't hurt!

  3. Thanks for reading, Cat and Trek, and for the comments. And I think you're right, enough online sales could definitely interest some print folks. The trick is getting to that elusive "enough online sales."