By Erin L. Cox
For the last few years, as publishers go from print to e-publishing and so many people leave traditional publishing or trail-blaze into new sectors — technology, entertainment, social networking — and discover how those intersect with book publishing, it creates a problem that publishers and freelance folks alike often struggle with — what I call “the inertia of possibility.” I will define that as there being so many possibilities for ways to move forward that you are literally overwhelmed by the options and, thus, do nothing.
Yesterday at Book Expo America, while all of the conferences were running concurrently trying to better market to bookstores or e-readers, bring in bloggers, support audio publishers, and give insight into the buzz books for this fall, I spent a good deal of time talking to friends and colleagues both in and outside of traditional publishing and asking them about the future. While most of what was said was off-the-record because it was personal or proprietary information, the gist was that there are plenty of opportunities out there but, because the industry is changing so rapidly and no one is pigeon-holed in a job/no one partner and technology has shaken to the top, anyone can do anything!
As a creative, future-focused person looking at which way to move forward in this industry, there are a lot of options. Without some idea of what will be viable or where the industry is going, it is hard to decide which direction to go and whether or not the opportunity to shake up your traditional role in publishing is worth taking. Should you stick with your ten years experience as an editor or should you become an agent? Should you look into technology or business? Could you be the publishing person at a tech company to help them work better with publishers and develop better hard/software? It is hard to know if a project that you devote all your time and energy to is going to pay off in the end. For some, that means having 14 jobs that provide multiple revenue streams and will be pared down eventually to the one that makes sense for the future, but for others, it means looking at all the options and wondering if taking a traditional publishing job makes sense until it all shakes out.
Publishers aren’t immune to this either. How many projects/partnerships can we look back at through the years and say that we devoted a lot of money towards a technology, marketing program, or other option only to have it disappear in a year or two. As the industry makes dramatic changes and is still so much in flux, some publishers are adopting a more cautious “wait and see” attitude. We will be continue doing what we’re doing until something else pays off…even though signs point to needing to be more aggressive in some ways or others. We are still paying million dollar advances. We are still doing back of the arts page ads in the Times. We are still branding our authors instead of ourselves.
Neither option is bad for publishers or people (as long as you can pay your bills), but cannot last for long. It’s an exciting world that we work in now and the show this week proves that. The energy is high and the ideas are flowing…but in order to move forward, we need to chart a path and follow it. At fairs like this that bring publishers and booksellers, marketers and developers, it is a great opportunity to work together to find those right opportunities as a whole and move forward.
Of course, I will likely always have these 14 jobs because I like what I do and I drink enough caffeine to keep a small army awake for a week…but that’s just me.