Saturday, May 10, 2014

Career Moves: We All Gotta Make 'Em

It's impossible to avoid the changing landscape of the book industry. Everywhere you look, the digital revolution is a hot topic of discussion. Things are moving rapidly and authors are faced with some tough career decisions. 

But how do I decide what-if any-move is best for me?

Figuring out the answer to that question is the reason I've dusted the cobwebs off this blog. 

This isn't a sudden, spur-of-the-moment thing for me. I've been researching and discussing this topic with family and friends for several years. I knew I'd have to make a move eventually. If I didn't, the moment could arrive in the form of a fiery meteorite capable of mass destruction. 

Now that meteor is burning in the sky, it's a case of move or die.

This week, I got the news the line I write for at Harlequin Mills & Boon is closing. It isn't the first time I've faced an upheaval. At the start of my career, the line I wrote for merged with another. Back then, they simply wanted me to keep doing what I was doing, so I did. 

This time it's different. 

Luckily, I have the support of a fabulous editor who will help me in any way possible. I know not everyone has that and I'm damn grateful for it! And I have a track record: Twenty-four books and two short stories under my belt by the time I finish the last book on my contract (hopefully at the end of June). There are other lines within the company I can pitch to and there's a big, wide world of publishing out there I've never explored before. With options which weren't open to me at the start of my career. 

Those are all good things.

After speaking to my editor yesterday, I felt excited about the possibilities.Twenty-four hours later, I have to admit I'm also a little scared.  I want to make a smart, educated decision, so there's more research involved and a lot of thinking to do. As it is, I know I want to keep writing. Quitting isn't an option. It would also be nice if I could afford to keep eating. 

Those are my basic requirements moving forward.

Of course there are also things like artistic freedom and time invested versus monetary gain, etc., etc. but we'll get to that in a bit.

First thing I want to do, is take a look at the bigger picture.

What has happened before, will happen again.

For those who might not be aware of it, I spent a decade working in the music industry, and then, like now (even after I'd moved on to other things), I was fascinated by what happened as the digital market grew. It was exciting, it was scary, it could be an awful lot to take in, and I think all those things are equally true now. Particularly when you're trying to predict the effect it will have on your career. 

So in order to make some decisions about my future, I've been looking at what's happening now in comparison to the past. 

Hopefully, it will help form the basis of my career road-map from this point, on. 

Final destination currently unknown.

Vinyl to Digital

When I was a kid music was bought on records. Singles and albums. From the record store. The chart was released every Sunday on the radio and bestsellers influenced sales. None of that changed when tapes and the Walkman appeared. None of it changed when CD's came along.

It was business as usual. 

The game-changer was the Internet.

People started downloading their music. Falling sales in record stores led to closures. Big companies like Sony and BMG merged. 

Despite this seismic shift in the landscape, some things remained the same. Charts still influenced sales. Bestselling, big name artists still sold by the bucket load. 

But something else happened further down the food chain. Artists started releasing their work independently. They put it online. They had videos on YouTube. They made their music available to download. A lot of it was free. Some of wasn't. Suddenly some of them started to make money. Hell, some of them got big. What's more, they even signed recording contracts with major labels. (Justin Bieber, anyone? Love him or hate him, there's no denying he's a huge success.)

And it didn't stop there. Big name, best-selling artists made changes, too. They started their own labels, released their own material, and sometimes, for a limited time, it was also free.

Any of this sound familiar?

Print to Ebook

People have always bought books in print. We buy them in book stores, at newsagents, in airports and at the supermarket. We can get them from libraries. None of that has changed since I was a kid.

But as we all know, the Internet has been a game-changer here, too.

Now people are downloading books. Book stores are closing. And a week ago it was announced Harlequin had been bought by News Corp and would become a division of HarperCollins.

Best-seller lists still influence sales. Big name authors still sell by the bucket load.  And yes, writers are publishing their work independently. They're making money at it. Some of them make a lot of money. A few Indie authors even signed lucrative print deals. (And in reference to my earlier comment, it could be argued E.L. James is the publishing equivalent of Justin Bieber.) 

Now we have big name authors forming online publishing labels and taking control of their digital releases. It's all very familiar. 

Looking Forward

The reason the landscape of the publishing world is changing so rapidly is a template already exists. In a sense, it's being terraformed. What that means is we have a short window of opportunity to look into the future before it happens.

We don't have to guess the direction digital publishing will take. All we have to do is watch how the music industry adapts to new technology. Where it goes, we'll follow.

Of course, there are differences. For example, I don't see books becoming collectibles in a small percentage of the market like vinyl anytime soon. But to make this comparison, we have to think of books as CD's. People still buy them. They're just buying less of them. And that number is decreasing every year. 

Five or six years ago I bought CD's and downloaded music. For a while I loaded the CD's onto my computer and added them to my playlists. Those CD's then gathered dust on a shelf. Now, I download all my music.

I'm following the exact same path with books. I buy them in print form, at least 90% of them online. But in the last few years, I've also started downloading EBooks. The books I've read take up a ridiculous amount of space in my small home, many of them gathering dust on a shelf. Will I ever stop buying them? Right now, I'd say no. I love how a book feels in my hand and the act of physically turning a page. But honestly, I think it's only a matter of time.


No matter what I decide to write or how I choose to sell it, EBooks are the way forward. It might hurt to give up print and the opportunity to hold my book in my hands, but in the long run (or until such time as I become a runaway best-seller) digital has to be my top priority.

Ideally, I want both. And with the widest distribution possible.

So that's my first decision made.

Next on the list is $$$'s and time invested versus monetary gain. Watch this space!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you've made decisions about your career. Got questions, I'll answer them, too. Just pop them in the comments.


K.L. Townsend said...

No way can I compare my dreams of a writing career to your actual career, as I am at a different place than you, but this is a topic I thought about often.

My goal is to embrace print and digital. I still have goals to be published with one of the major publishers, but I won't shy away from digital publishers either. I've been planning to keep aiming for the big pubs for fantasy/science fiction, and go digital for my paranormals. Is it a good plan? I don't know. I just don't want to put all my eggs in one basket.

Again, I am so early in my career that I might be making a lot of assumptions. I don't have the background that other people might have.

I'm really sorry to hear your line is being closed. I was afraid that would happen.

Trish Wylie said...

It's a topic we're all thinking about, no matter what stage of our career we're at!

We all knew the line wasn't doing well. It's just sad for all concerned when there was so much talent there. It is, however, the kick up the ass I probably needed about now. Change can be scary.

The problem with a lot of the major publishers at the mo, is competition in the marketplace. It's at an all time high and authors have so many more options than they had before. As do readers. It will take time for the playing field to level out and before it does I suspect we'll see a great many more changes. Some of them good, some of them not so good.

Not putting your eggs in one basket is the safest option. But you've also got to think in terms of the best deals available to you. I'll be talking about that a bit in the next blog. ;)

And yes, print and digital is the ideal scenario. But distribution is key. Will the print books go overseas? Into how many markets? What will the percentage be there? It's a LOT to think about.

Amy Andrews said...

Great blog, Trish. You're right, we just have to look to the music industry to see what's going to be happening in the print world. It's scary and worrying sometimes but there's also enormous potential - we just have to know how to embrace it.

KISS being axed has been gutting but yeh, maybe its the universe cutting our apron strings? Whatever the future holds, I hope there's going to be more Trish Wylie's because I'll follow wherever you go!


Sally Clements said...

Very interested to read your next post, Trish!

Trish Wylie said...

Yes, Amy, knowing how to embrace it is the trick, isn't it? Both scary and exhilarating at the same time. But we're a smart, savvy bunch of women so put our heads together and we'll figure it out, right?

I like the apron string analogy! Do feel like I've been playing it safe for a long time now. And right back atcha my friend! You've got an auto-buying friend in me. xxx

Trish Wylie said...

Should be up on Thursday, Sally. So keep an eye out for it. ;)