I’ve just returned from the Romance Writers of America’s national conference. Change has been the word on our lips for at least a couple of years, but the http://www.flickr.com/photos/23377996@N00/8445100872/in/photolist-dSgmgs-dgXhQU-9K9Gc6-9KpukF-9KsjmJ-9Kpu4F-9Ksjv3-9KcykQ-9Kpu8g-9K9Jk8-9KcwXu-9KsjLQ-9Kcw3d-9K9FDx-9KptVa-9KsjPm-9KptHg-9Kcunf-9KsjxC-7ZqXUw-7ZnMGM-9KegZh-9K9PLe-9KcS9P-9KpuT6-9KvFXG-9K9QSZ-9Ke3N7-9KcUiD-9KuqAy-9KpS1X-9KpRWc-9Kowon-9Ksk3y-9KupUQ-9KsjY1-9KvmYJ-9KdVvu-9Kf5U1-9KvZtY-9KcQNH-9KujvF-9KovSc-9Kuq6Y-9KcCo3-9KaW4X-9KsGLm-9KdhVo-9KenpJ-9Kow5i-9KpSjXswell was washing over every aspect of the conference this year.

The change is self-publishing, and my friends, it is huge.

For the first time I can remember, ever, editors and agents were wooing authors. One notable workshop featured editors from major houses presenting the things publishers could do for authors.

Meanwhile, speakers on the self-pub track, assembled single-handedly by self-publishing millionaire Barbara Freethy, packed the room. The ballroom.  Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble sent their teams to hold meetings, present workshops, and even offer a wine-tasting.  Authors were wooed here, too—by merchandisers and editors for the indies. 

Authors buzzed about the astonishing amounts of money they were making. “If you do exactly what I tell you [in this two hour lunch],” said Bella Andre, who landed the much discussed print only deal with Harlequin for a cool $1 million, “You will make money.”  The author returned a few months later with reports of excellent money–$15K a month.

And yet, many are very frightened. Some haven’t made any money at all—and the reasons are as numerous as in any other field. Some have a bad product. Some have terrible packaging, or bad copy, or a non-existent understanding of web marketing.

Other authors are just afraid. Afraid of change. Afraid of looking foolish if they try it and fail. Afraid they won’t be taken as seriously if they self-publish. Afraid to leap.

Some are afraid that they’ll invest in the new markets and then somehow the new markets will change terms and screw them.  (Like that never happens in traditional publishing.)

Romance novels are definitely at the forefront of the digital revolution. Erotica has long been read in ebook format, and now contemporary and new adult romances are rocking the digital lists.  Other genres are doing quite well, however. Science fiction is growing, and mysteries are very strong.  Sooner or later, there are bound to be cross-overs in literary and non-fiction.

For one main reason–the ability to price, package and reach your own audience without gatekeepers who need to publish blockbusters. It’s a tremendous amount of creative freedom that has already created some new sub-genres because there was no editor or marketing panel to say, “We don’t think stories about post-high school will sell.”

There is also the money. The average return for a writer on a trade paperback book is about a dollar.  On hardcover, maybe you get a bit higher. On mass market, it’s a bit lower. Still. You have to sell a heap of books to make a decent living, and the truth is, shelf space has shrunk insanely over the past five years.  In digital publishing, the return on even a 2.99 book is around 2 dollars. At higher price points, it goes higher.  Do the math.

And oh, it comes in monthly.  Monthly! For a great many established authors, this is mind-boggling.

It’s true there is less respect for self-publishing, for all the reasons that have always existed.  But I predict that the support systems of editorial and design will continue to improve and writers will be able to hire the teams they require.  Many of us are already doing it.

My prediction for the coming year is that we’re going to see more and more big name authors jumping into the waters—and finding great success.  I also predict a lot of new writers are going to go with their creativity and their guts and create new genres and subgenres all over the place.

What are you waiting for?

 How are you feeling about this sea change in publishing? Excited, scared, nervous, thrilled?  




About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.