What Do Editors Want, Anyway?

Most beginning writers, especially those who’ve suffered a few rejections, wonder about the answer to this post’s subject question. What do editors want?What Editors Want

I can’t pretend to speak for all editors. I’ve not reached the point where all my stories get accepted. I’ve never worked as an editor myself.

However, a few years ago, one editor* gave me his answer to that question, and it’s a good one. He wrote, “I’m a stickler for a story having not only a clear protagonist, antagonist, and plot, but a resolution of the plot (in which the protagonist participates) and a change in the protagonist on some level. I like stories that, as Twain once said, ‘accomplish something and arrive somewhere.’ Most accomplish nothing and arrive nowhere. It’s dreadful to read through an otherwise good story and have it end without ending.”

Let’s accept that as a working proposition and break it down.

  1. Clear protagonist. The reader shouldn’t have to wonder who the main character is. I believe the editor chose the word ‘protagonist’ rather than ‘hero’ since the main character need not be particularly heroic.
  2. Clear antagonist. Stories must have conflict. There must be some entity against whom the protagonist struggles. The antagonist need not be a person; it could be nature or the environment. Once again, once finished with the story, any reader should be able to name the antagonist.
  3. Clear plot. By this, I believe the editor was saying the story must portray events in a logical order. The events must relate to the conflict and follow each other with a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Some events will escalate tension and others will relieve it. Overall, there needs to be a gradual buildup of tension until the resolution.
  4. Plot resolution in which the protagonist participates. The resolution is that part of the plot where the conflict is resolved (the bad guy is defeated, the two people fall in love, the protagonist overcomes a character flaw, etc.). It’s important that the protagonist take action to bring about this resolution and not be some bystanding witness to the action. Note: the word ‘resolved’ does not imply happily or favorably. Resolution of the conflict could be accomplished by the protagonist’s death or other defeat.
  5. Protagonist changes on some level. If your protagonist is the same person at the end of the story as she was at the beginning, the reader will wonder what the point of the story was. The clause ‘on some level’ refers to the fact that conflicts are generally classed as external (bad-guy antagonist or unforgiving environment) or internal (character flaw, irrational fear, grief, unreasonable guilt, psychological problem, etc.). Many stories impose both internal and external conflicts on the protagonist. For internal conflicts, the change should be an overcoming of the condition, or at least hope of such problem solving. For external conflicts, the protagonist’s change is generally a maturation of some kind.
  6. Story accomplishes something. This is part of the Twain quote, and is a restating of points 4 and 5. The plot and conflicts must resolve and the protagonist must change. A great way for a story to accomplish something is if it says something useful about the human condition.
  7. Story arrives somewhere. By this, I take Twain to mean that the story must end at an appropriate point, not before the conflict resolution, and not too long afterward.

Save your editor some time, and save yourself another bout of rejection-grief. Check if your story meets all of the above criteria before submitting it. If it doesn’t, it’s not ready.

Of course, even if your story does meet these criteria, that’s no guarantee of acceptance. Who can pretend to know what all editors want? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

* Note: the editor who wrote that is David M. Fitzpatrick, of Epic Saga Publishing. He accepted one of my stories for an upcoming Epic Saga anthology. David has gone into more detail about what he looks for in submissions; see this wonderful blog post here, which includes some great writing exercises, too.

What a Disaster!

Today I’m exploring the world of disaster fiction. There are many, many stories dealing with disasters, from local misadventures to world-wide calamities. I’ll discuss frequently occurring themes in disaster fiction, as well as the reasons people read it. That might help you decide if you want to write such a tale.

DisasterFirst, no disaster story is truly about the disaster. If you want to write about disasters, try non-fiction. As I’ve said before, fiction is about the human condition, so your disaster story is really about the characters, their attempts to cope with the disaster, and how they grow or change as a result.

I’ll make a distinction between disaster stories and post-apocalyptic stories. In the latter, the disaster has already occurred and people are trying to handle the aftermath. In the former, the disaster occurs during the story. I’ll discuss post-apocalyptic fiction in a future blog post.

Types

Though disaster stories are about people, we can still classify them by the type of disaster that occurs, and there are plenty to choose from. You might think all the best disasters have been taken already and the reading public won’t go for one more disaster novel. You’d be wrong; since the stories are about people, there are always infinitely more stories to write.

Disasters can be natural, as with floods or tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, other significant storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, extreme climate change, asteroid or comet collisions, etc.

The disaster could be an accident, such as a shipwreck, airplane crash, train wreck, industrial accident, etc. A car crash probably wouldn’t count, since the disaster really should involve a large number of people.

There are other disasters that aren’t natural, and aren’t really accidents either. Let’s call them calamities, and separate them into plausible and less-plausible scenarios. The plausible ones include pandemics, terrorist attacks, major wars, economic collapse, and loss of electricity.

The less-plausible calamities (my own risk assessment; yours might differ) include: alien invasion, uncontrolled release of technology (such as nanotechnology, robot uprising, creation of a black hole, creation of a super-disease or super-creature, etc.), zombie apocalypse, “return” of vampires or werewolves, and attacks by menacing (usually gigantic) animals.

Themes

You’ll find some common themes in disaster stories. Here’s a partial list.

• Despite how far humans have progressed, we need reminding we are small and weak creatures in a big, dangerous universe.
• As disaster looms, people will react differently, going through the Kübler-Ross ‘Five Stages of Grief’ at different rates.
• A large-scale disaster will collapse the normal societal structure, and other structures will form.
• A disaster brings together strangers who must form a team with a common purpose, such as survival.
• A main character must overcome a personal fear or other psychological flaw and rise to the situation.
• A former leader cannot cope with the disaster; a new and unlikely leader must take charge.
• Often the protagonist’s main goal is either survival (of a group) or rescue of others.
• There are good and bad human reactions to disasters, and the characters who react badly often (though not always) meet a bad end. For example, preparation is better than assuming an unchanging future; clear thinking is better than panic, teamwork is better than uncaring self-centeredness; natural leadership is better than using a chaotic situation to claim power; focusing on the goal is more productive than blaming or finding fault.

Purpose

Why do people read disaster stories? These are among the reasons:

• It’s a chance to “experience” the disaster in a safe way, without having to endure it for real.
• The stories can be taken as metaphors for how we can deal with the smaller-scale mishaps of daily life.
• The tales can be metaphors for some perceived societal defect, as in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
• The stories offer lessons in preparation as old as the ant & grasshopper fable.

Conclusion

51aDCvEwjvLI would classify only one of my stories as a true disaster tale. “The Finality” appeared in the anthology 2012 AD by Severed Press. In it, a scientist discovers that time itself is coming to an end, not just on Earth but throughout the universe, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But just maybe the Mayans were trying to tell us something about that.

May all your disasters be the written kind; that’s the hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 30, 2014Permalink

Writing for the Very Young

As someone who’s read books to his children and (more recently) his grandchildren, I’ll offer my thoughts about books for the very young. Here I’m considering books for children who haven’t begun to speak yet.

baby-looking-at-the-bookI believe the writer and reader of such books share a profound duty, one they shouldn’t take lightly. They work together to create an experience, from a first and indelible impression to a repeated pattern that becomes an ingrained habit. Their shared purpose has several facets:

  1. To entertain. This is not as important for this reading audience as it will be when they get older. Perhaps I could have phrased it as “To avoid boredom.”
  1. To teach vocal communication. The child needs to understand the one-way vocal transmission of thoughts and ideas. Sure, you don’t need a book for that, but the book provides something to look at while the speaking/listening communication takes place.
  1. To transmit the joy of human story-telling. It’s a primal human trait; we tell stories.   We convey life lessons through the use of characters, which make the lessons clearer. We pass down the stories through generations, and that strengthens an understanding of ancestors and the past.
  1. To imbue a love of books and reading. At some point the child will realize the book always opens the same way; the pages are always moved one at a time in the same order; the book doesn’t change from one reading to the next; and there must be some connection between the funny little marks and the sounds the reader is making. The child should come to see reading a book as a quiet, comforting experience.

The reader has a huge part to play in accomplishing these purposes. I think it’s important to introduce books in brief doses. Don’t even read the whole book at first. Gradually lengthen the time spent reading. In every case, you should finish before the child is ready for you to finish. In other words, don’t associate reading with boredom. Needless to say, vary your voice pitch as you read, and read with dramatic emphasis.

Enough about reading. For the writer, you have only pictures, words, and book layout to work with.

  1. Pictures. At first, the child will know your book only through the pictures. Make them bold, colorful, and immediately obvious.
  1. Words. The child won’t understand the written words, but will experience them by listening to them. Use short, simple words.   Make use of rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. Use words that sound good together.
  1. Book Layout. Consider cloth or plastic pages for early books, or a thick grade of paper. Don’t put too many words on a page; make the reader keep turning pages frequently.

Another thought on book layout—as the shift to e-books continues for adults, e-books will soon appear for adults to read to small children. From what I can tell, the ones available now still have real pages to turn, and the book narrates its own story without needing an adult. I think there would be value in a sturdy e-reader able to display pictures and text, but requiring an adult to read it.

Whether you write books for little tots or read books to them, please take the task seriously. If you do it right, you’ll spark a love of reading. If you do it wrong, the child will forever consider reading boring. Thank goodness Mom and Dad did it right for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 12, 2014Permalink

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

In 1989, author Stephen Covey came out with his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’m a sucker for self-improvement books and found Covey’s book inspiring and practical. At the risk of insulting the late Stephen Covey, I’ll dare to suggest seven habits of highly effective fiction writers.

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleCovey presented his seven habits in a logical order, with a nice, organic structure. His phrased his habits—aimed at helping people live better lives—as brief directives, but took about a chapter to explain each one. They included such things as “Be proactive,” “Begin with the end in mind,” and others.

In a similar manner, my suggested habits have a rough order to them, but are not as neatly structured as Covey’s. My habits do not parallel Covey’s, but they do consist of brief directive statements which require some explanation. Here they are:

  1. Listen to your inner storyteller. First and most important, you’re a writer because you have story to tell, because you can’t imagine not writing. Keep that inner spark always burning; it will sustain you through the difficult times.
  2. Form the discipline of writing. Sometimes your inner storyteller doesn’t yell loud enough, and the rest of life’s obligations close in. If you’re to be a writer, you still need to write, write, write. There is no substitute for time spent with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard.
  3. Get help with the craft. Seek all kinds of help. Study English again. Develop your vocabulary. Read about writing. Read the classics. Attend writing classes and conferences. Join a critique group.
  4. Follow your muse. As you write more, you’ll think of characters, plots, and settings during odd, idle moments when you’re not writing. That’s your unconscious, creative voice—your muse—talking. Pay attention. Though she may lead you to unimagined and uncomfortable places, she might help you develop your unique writing voice.
  5. Submit your best. Don’t rely on editors to see the genius of your story through all the spelling, grammatical, and plot errors. Do a thorough job of self-editing, thinking critically, viewing your manuscript as a reader and English teacher might. Submit only when you can honestly say it’s your best product and you’re proud of it.
  6. Be a professional. Present yourself to the world as if you’re already a successful author. Establish an author website. Don’t get so angry at editors, reviewers, blog commenters, or readers that you descend into flame wars, emotional outbursts, or other unprofessional conduct.
  7. Actively seek improvement. This may sound like number 3 above, but that earlier habit is about the initial learning of fiction writing; this one is about continual development, honing, and advancement of your craft. It means to cycle through all the habits as you go, improving known weak areas, always working to ensure your next story is better than all the previous ones.

Long-time followers of my blog will recall my post proposing 15 writing virtues. The seven habits I’m advocating today are another approach. It’s easier to remember 7 things than 15 anyway, right? There are many paths to self-improvement, and you’re free to find your own. For now, it’s back to growing and improving for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 7, 2014Permalink

Just Your (Writing) Style

Style is one of the five fundamental elements of fiction, along with character, plot, setting, and theme.  It’s also the most difficult of the five to explain or understand.

StyleI like to start my blog posts by defining terms, but this time I’ll let the definition of style emerge as we go.  For now, I’ll say that every author writes differently, with certain identifying characteristics.  In theory, if we took a sufficient random sample of any single author’s writing, we could identify the author by the style.

According to Wikipedia, the components of style include:  Fiction-writing modes, Narrator, Point of View, Allegory, Symbolism, Tone, Imagery, Punctuation, Word choice, Grammar, Imagination, Cohesion, Suspension of disbelief, and Voice.

Each item on that long list does contribute to style, but some are more important than others, and some are more characteristic of a particular story than of the author’s general manner of writing.

To me, the major characteristics of style are Tone, Word choice, and Grammar:

  • Tone is the attitude displayed by the writer toward the subject matter of the story.
  • Word choice, or diction, relates to the author’s vocabulary.  Does the author stay with simple, understandable words or employ arcane words?  Does the author embellish with adjectives and adverbs, or let the nouns and verbs do the work?
  • Grammar is all about the structure and logic of sentences.  What sentence patterns and lengths does the author prefer?

Although your style may change as you mature in your writing, readers like it better when authors maintain a consistent style.  Style can set you apart from all other writers; it can be the factor that keeps readers buying more of your books.

If you’re wondering how to go about creating your own style, I recommend you read the list created by author David Hood in this blog post.  His eleven-item list can seem intimidating, so just focus on items 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7.  I think if you learn the rules of writing, expand your vocabulary, read a great deal, experiment with different styles, and learn about literary techniques, your own style will emerge naturally.

What’s more, you shouldn’t have to work too hard to continue using your newly discovered style.  It should flow from you in a natural way.  Unlike your stories, which are overt acts of creative effort, your style is something that should emerge.  In a sense, you’re unleashing it, not creating it.  Even if it does require a little effort at first, in time it will get easier.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a better understanding of style now, that signature or fingerprint that identifies you and separates you from other writers.  With any luck, readers will love your style.  For now, I’ll sign off in the usual style of—

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

Cliché Okay, or So Passé?

Every writer tells you to purge clichés from your prose (and I will too), but then those same writers go ahead and use clichés in their own books.  Sadly, I have too.  That’s not due to intentional hypocrisy; it’s just that the nasty critters are so darn hard to eradicate.

ClicheWhat’s a cliché?  It’s an overused expression or phrase.  Before becoming a cliché, the short collection of words started out being clever.  The original author discovered a compact, understandable, shorthand way of stating an idea.  The trouble began when others liked the phrase and repeated it.  Over and over.  Eventually readers got sick of it.  The expression lost its freshness and became annoying.

Apologies up front—I have used some clichés in this very blog post.  Again, it’s just because the infernal vermin can be difficult to spot and exterminate.

You can understand why it’s unwise to use too many clichés in your writing.  They mark the work of an unimaginative and lazy amateur.  Such writers just go for the easy, readily-available, (and perfectly apt) phrase instead of thinking deeper about fresh, new ways to express the same thought.  The prose comes across as tired, hackneyed, trite, and stale.

Your first draft may contain clichés by the bushel-full.  That’s because you were writing at full speed to get the basic thoughts down, knowing you would come back later.  At that fast pace, you’re more likely to grab the convenient phrase that comes to mind, the combination of words you’ve heard a hundred times—the cliché.  Make a point of hunting for them as you edit and proofread your later drafts.

The best place for spotting clichés is in descriptive passages, where you tried making a comparison between some object or situation in your story to a more real-world example familiar to the reader.  Many, many clichés are of that type, handy for relating one ‘thing’ to another in a few, image-enhancing words.

How do you know if you’ve written a cliché?  There are lists of clichés online, but by definition clichés are always being created and a few get forgotten through lack of use, so the real list is dynamic.

If you find one in your prose, what do you do?  Probably the easiest thing is to delete it and substitute some non-cliché that conveys the same meaning.  A more creative alternative is to give the cliché a clever twist, especially one that delivers your message even more exactly than the cliché would have.  Consider the twist imparted to the cliché ‘passing the buck’ by President Truman when he posted a sign on his desk reading, ‘The buck stops here.’  Of course, that saying became famous enough and repeated enough to become a cliché itself.

When is it okay to use a cliché?  I’d say it’s more acceptable in dialogue, since that’s the way people speak.  You can also use them in book or chapter titles, but make sure they fit and are appropriate to the book or chapter text.

At the end of the day (cliché), when all is said and done (cliché), you’ve got the gist (cliché) of clichés and been put in the know (cliché) by—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

 

FAQs About My Latest Book

RallyingCry72dpiEver since I’ve been dropping hint after hint about my upcoming book (Rallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis), questions have been pouring in.  Flooding in.  Give me a break, I’m drowning here!  More questions came in than I could answer individually.

So I paid for some time on a supercomputer that compiled all the questions, sorted them, combined similar ones, performed complex statistical analyses, and spit out a list of the most frequently asked questions.

Below are those FAQs, complete with answers.

1.  What is the book about?  In “Rallying Cry,” an aimless youth meets two old geezers who spin bizarre war stories. They tell of a secret World War I regiment in France with ship-sized helicopters and mechanized walking tanks. Just as an inspiring shout can move soldiers to action, perhaps all Kane really needs to turn his life around is a rallying cry. In “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” a ship captain and his crew of explorers return to find Atlantis gone. While facing violent savages, braving fierce storms, and solving internal disputes, they must somehow ensure their advanced Atlantean civilization is not lost forever.

2.  Why two stories in one book?  I was in a generous mood.

3.  Why are these two particular stories combined?  They seem so different.  Actually, they’re both perfect fits for the What Man Hath Wrought series, which contains stories of alternate history involving people grappling with new technology.  The tales are quite different, though, but that means any reader would be bound to like one of them, at least.  That makes the book a pretty good purchase, I’d say. 

4.  What inspired you to write these stories?  I’ve written about that before…here and here.

5.  That’s a great cover.  Who designed it?  It is a wonderful cover.  Charlotte Holley of Gypsy Shadow Publishing designed it.  The bearded soldier gazes at something while a huge steampunk airship glides overhead and a big explosion goes off in the background. 

6.  Where can I buy the book?  Right now you can get it at Smashwords and Amazon.  Soon it will be available elsewhere, too. 

7.  You wrote an Atlantis story before, didn’t you?  What a memory you have!  My Atlantis-based story, “The Vessel” was published several years ago in an Atlantis anthology.  “Last Vessel of Atlantis” is that same story, with a title change and a few other alterations.  Definitely worth enjoying again.

8.  When will you have a print version rather than an e-book?   When the What Man Hath Wrought series is complete, I’m thinking about having a print version of the series.  It won’t be for a little while yet, since I have more stories I’d like to add to  WMHW. 

9.  What’s the next story in your What Hath Man Wrought series?  But that would spoil the surprise! 

Thanks for submitting your questions.  I’d invite more, but the deluge nearly crashed the supercomputer last time and almost tripped a wide sector of our national electrical power grid.  Let’s avoid tempting that fate, shall we?  I suggest you read the book, post a review, and before long there will be another book by—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

Technical Difficulties

I know I said my latest book, the two-story compendium of “Rallying Cry” and “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” would be released today, March 1st.  I’ve just been informed that due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the book launch will be delayed a few days, perhaps as much as a week.

Please Stand ByMy many fans around the world, and on other planets, and those in alternate universes (I know you’re out there and that you read my stuff) must be disappointed.  I assure you, no one is more distressed about this than I am.

Why the delay?  The fact is, publishing an e-book is a complicated business, so I’ve been told.  There’s the virtual ink to pour in, the imaginary rollers to align, the invisible type to set.  There are gears that turn, levers that snap, boots that kick buckets over, marbles that roll down inclines into chutes, balls that fall into bathtubs, cages that catch mice.  It’s very involved.

With all that bewildering complexity, it’s amazing that e-books get published at all, let alone on any kind of schedule.

Meanwhile, you were surfing to the various bookseller websites all day since midnight, searching for my book, ready to put it in your shopping cart and to hit ‘place order.’  And now you have to wait.  I know what a frustration this must be.

But think how much worse things are for me.  I’ve had to postpone the lavish book launch party, reschedule the reservations on the yacht, tell all the celebrity guests to come back in six days, delay the skywriter service and the fireworks team.

Still, I feel pretty bad about the whole thing.  As a service to you, I’ll make some suggestions for fun things to do while you wait, things to take your mind off the anticipation.

1.  You could buy and read any of my earlier books.

2.  Read them all already?  You could read one or more again.  They are all good for re-reading since you can pick up subtle and enjoyable nuances you missed on first reading them.

3.  You could peruse my earlier blog entries.  You’ll find some real gems there.

It’s sad this has happened, but we’ll get through this challenge together, you and me.  Think of it as just another of life’s little trials.  Are you going to mope around, wallowing in misery?  Or are you going to pick yourself up, shake off those blues, rise above your gloom and despair, and manage to make it through the day?  Be brave, be resolute, and be patient.

I’ll tell you just as soon as the book is available, believe me.  Soon enough your persistence and suffering will be rewarded and you’ll be the happy owner of the latest book by—

                                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

Formula for Success

Have you ever written formula fiction? Is it good or bad to do so?  What is it, exactly?

formula 2If your story re-uses the plot, plot devices, and stock characters of other stories, then you’ve written formula fiction.  It’s different from the term genre, in that genre fiction makes use of the same setting and style as other works within the genre, but genre fiction may vary plot and characters considerably.  I termed such writers formulists in a brief discussion here.

Although literary critics tend to dismiss formula fiction, there are so many published stories, it’s difficult to come up with entirely new plots and characters.

Usually there’s a good reason why a writer chooses a formula.  It works!  It’s a curious thing that readers enjoy reading formula fiction.  They’re comfortable with the character types, and although they know how the story will come out, they follow along anyway.  Readers can forgive a great deal if the author tells the story in an interesting way.

I’ll discuss plot types in a future blog post, but with formula fiction there’s no real attempt to vary from a proven plot line too much.  Just re-use what’s been done before, perhaps with slight deviations in setting or style, or specific plot events.

The use of stock characters frees the writer from having to include a lot of explanation or description.  After only a few words, the reader understands all there is to know.  Again, it’s possible to vary a bit from the standard character type, but there’s little need.

I said it’s a curious thing that readers would enjoy formula fiction, but perhaps it’s not so mysterious.  Before there was a formula, there was an enterprising writer (or oral storyteller) who conveyed the story for the first time.  It struck a chord.  It was successful.  After that, why not just do variations on a popular and effective theme?

Examples of formula fiction include romance, horror fiction, and space opera.  Each of these has withstood the test of time because each has appealing characteristics that really reach an audience, and keep on reaching generations of new readers.

In the case of romance fiction, readers enjoy the odd or awkward meeting (the ‘meet-cute’) between man and woman characters who seem opposite or ill-fitting at first, then they warm to each other, only to have a parting of the ways, and finally reunite in love at the end.  An overdone plot line?  Apparently not yet, since this formula sells more books than any other by far.

In horror fiction, at least the cinematic type, the audience sees a mixed-gender group of characters who are isolated in some way and face a horrible entity bent on their destruction.  One by one the characters are killed until only a lone female—the so-called final girl— is left to either defeat the entity or escape.  Another plot line that has not run its course.

For space opera, readers are treated to a heroic character in the distant future, somewhere in outer space, confronting a menace threatening the survival of the hero’s people.  The hero strives against the evil force, and just when it appears all is lost, the hero is able to defeat the menace.  This formula continues to work.

Despite what critics might say, there’s nothing wrong with formula fiction, particularly if you’d like to sell your stories.  There’s plenty of room within the constraints of the formula to display your creativity as a writer.  So, like a mad scientist (Mwahahaha!), go ahead and use your (fiction) formula to take over the world!  Good luck, says—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

The Publishing Times, They Are A’Changin’

To distort a line from a Bob Dylan song, times are indeed a’changin’ in the publishing industry.  In the long march from storytellers to clay tablets to papyrus scrolls to bound books to electronic books, each technology has brought a revolution and we’re now in the middle of one.

Publishing

After Gutenberg’s printing press and right up until the Internet, the book publishing industry had optimized into a fairly lean and stable operation, full of specialized tasks.  Each task was fairly well understood.

The writer wrote, and sought an agent.  The agent sought a publishing house and handled all the contractual details for the writer.  At the publishing house, of which there were only a few big ones, the editor polished the prose.  Upon agreement about the text, the publisher took care of cover design, printing, distribution, and marketing to booksellers.  The bookseller catered to the reading public, offering books for sale from their stores.

Despite all the middlemen, that process had been pretty well honed such that readers could still obtain books inexpensively.

With the advent of the Internet, much has changed, and it’s got all of the middlemen wondering what their future role will be, if any.

For the writer, there are software word processors and Internet research options, but not much else has changed.  A writer still must create the prose.

At the other end, the reader has more options, including e-readers and audiobooks, but for the most part reading is unchanged.

But agents, editors, cover designers, marketers, distributors, and booksellers are all left wondering what’s going to happen to them.  These days, writers can connect directly with readers, bypassing all the former steps.  An author can work with a single website such as Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and others, to get e-books directly to the reading public.

These websites offer many services, but the writer must do most of the tasks formerly accomplished by middlemen.  This includes reviewing the contract, editing, cover design, and marketing.

So where is all this going?  At what sort of equilibrium state will all this turmoil settle out?

It may be too early to tell, but I think there will be places for all the publishing middlemen in the future, assuming they adapt to an Internet-based world.  Some writers still need agents, editors, cover designers, and distributors.  Some readers still want bound books.  Much like the continued (but low) demand for horseshoes and oil lamps, there will be niche markets for all these functions.

As for me, I have yet to take the full plunge into self-publishing.  So far, with my short stories, I’ve been dealing with an independent ebook publisher, and with publishers of anthologies.

If Bob Dylan’s right, and the times they are a’changin’, where do you think the book publishing industry is headed?  What change would you like to see?  Leave me a comment and perhaps we can change things together, just you and—

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

December 29, 2013Permalink