by Tess Gerritsen
You live and you learn. And what I’ve learned, over the past two decades as a writer, is how many times I’ve been wrong about developments in the publishing biz. When I go back and see old blog posts of mine, I have to either wince or laugh about how poorly some of my predictions have come out. Which only proves that too much of the time, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
But I’m willing to admit it.
Here are some of the things I’ve been absurdly wrong about. Or maybe just a little bit wrong about:
“E-readers will never be popular.”
I believe I made this assertion as recently as, oh, 2007. I said that no one would want to bring an e-reader to the beach, that we’re all too attached to real books, and that those gizmos were just too reader-unfriendly. But then I had a conversation with a Kindle zealot and, in September 2008, I bought one. And blogged about it. Not just blogged about it, raved about it. But I still didn’t see it taking over the publishing world.
“E-books will always be a small segment of overall book sales.”
Can I stop whacking myself with the wet noodle? I was so wrong about this, I want to blush. As Sarah Weinman writes in Daily Finance, e-sales comprised about 25% of overall sales for John Grisham’s latest novel. And they were more than 50% of overall sales for Laura Lippman’s recent hardcover release. I’ve seen the growth in my own sales, and the steepness of the curve, from last year to this, has been nothing short of breathtaking. The good news is that my total hardcover sales haven’t really declined because of it, which makes me think that many of those e-customers represent growth in overall readership. Or they represent readers who are buying both formats. I have absolutely no doubt that within the next few years, e-sales will make up 50% of the sales of most new releases.
“Piracy will destroy publishing.”
This past January, I blogged about how many of my books were turning up on pirate sites. I foresaw the same calamity falling upon publishing that fell upon the music industry. I worried about authors starving because too many readers would just swipe our work for free. I noted how many thousands of my books had been downloaded for free from sharing sites.
I think I worried about it for nothing. Because e-readers have become so popular, and downloading books has become so easy and for some titles, dirt cheap — that customers are bypassing those virus-ridden free-sharing sites and downloading books legally. The iTunes model, it turns out, works for books as well. It’s just a matter of keeping the books affordable and available. And if a reader steals one of my books? Well, I’ve come around to agreeing with publishing guru and author Joe Konrath: if the thief really really loves the book, maybe he’ll actually pay for the next one.
“Traditional advertising for books is the gold standard.”
By traditional, I meant the use of print ads in places like the New York Times and USA Today. But after an online conversation with marketing guru M.J. Rose, I was forced to re-think my position, which I blogged about here. And now, in 2010, I can tell you that I think print advertising is pretty much wasted money. For my last book, ICE COLD, no major print ads were bought at all. The advertising was pretty much all online, with two ad spots on television during the debut week for “Rizzoli & Isles.” I don’t think we’ll be going back to newspaper ads for the next book, either. Because why spend tens of thousands of dollars for an ad that will just be lining birdcages within 24 hours?
As for TV ads, that’s something else that authors should re-think. It’s cool, it’s glamorous, but for the most part it’s an expensive bust. Consider this fascinating article, which analyzes the effect of a TV ad on one author’s book sales. His conclusion: it’s a huge waste of money. Now in my case, this may not be true, because I was advertising on “Rizzoli & Isles, a television show that was built on my books. So I was playing to the same audience that already likes the characters. But if you’re just putting up an ad on a random TV show that has nothing to do with your books, you might want to think again.
“Self-publishing is a fool’s game.”
Back in 2006, I wrote a blog about how self-published books almost always fail. And I revisited the topic here. I’m not going to entirely back away from that stance, if what we’re talking about is print books. I still believe that if you pay to print your own book, you’re facing insurmountable odds when it comes to getting that book into stores, getting it reviewed, and finding any readers to buy it. But something drastically changed between 2006 and today, and that is the e-book revolution. Now you can self-publish your manuscript with Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and then sell it through their e-stores. True, you’ll face competition with all the thousands of other authors who are also self-publishing their books. But as Joe Konrath has proved, it is possible to make a living as a self-published e-book writer. Again, the odds are stacked way against you. But your investment is minimal, and there actually is the potential for an income.
Bottom line? If you’re a first-time author who’s been offered a traditional publishing contract with an advance, I would still say you’re better off taking it. Because you can’t dismiss the advantages that a real publisher can give you, from distribution to marketing to editing. But if you can’t find a publisher, or you’ve been fired by your publisher, there is now another way to sell your book to the public.
“The vampire/zombie/fairy/werewolf/blahblah craze can’t last.”
When it comes to trends in public taste, I don’t know what I”m talking about. And neither does anyone else.
So what have the rest of you been wrong about? Which trends did you dismiss, which developments did you pooh pooh?