Since the invention of the book by a little known Holy Joe who was determined to force his morals upon more than just the poor souls forced to share a village with him, publishing tended not to change too much.
Apart from the odd surge of innovation such as the invention of the printing press and the discovery that poor people could also read, or that not every story had to have God in it, publishing tended to meander along in much the same lines, for a couple of centuries at least.
Then e-books happened. And guess what happened then? The rules all got broken. Here are 5 die-hard rules which have been burned to a crisp in the last decade.
1. Author Back Catalogues Gather Dust and Don’t Sell
Back in Ye Olden Dayes (before 2008), when a reader stumbled across a new author, their latest book was often the only one available. If the author was really successful, bookshops might have stocked some of their back catalogue. But if authors were only marginally successful, in that they were considered a ‘mid-list’ author who only sold around 20,000 – 50,000 copies of each of their books, well, good luck to them.
Nowadays, every book published in e-format is available ALWAYS AND FOREVER, unless of course it’s taken down deliberately. So we’ve just found a new author and we like the cut of their jib, we can buy their entire back catalogue immediately.
2. All New Books Cost the Same (i.e. Lots)
Back when I got my first real job, I remember visiting a friend and seeing around 25-30 books lined up on a nascent bookshelf in her room.
I was so envious I almost killed her and hid the body under an unfeasibly large flowerpot. “Imagine being able to buy any book you wanted,” I thought to myself as I scrawled her full name and phone number under the words “FOR A GOOD TIME CALL…” in a urine-scented telephone box. “Someday I’m going to earn enough to buy that many books myself.”
Fast forward not too many years at all, and most teenagers have more free books on their phone than I have on my creaking shelves.
The questions of a) what authors are earning and b) where to pitch the price of your book is a whole other post. Suffice to say, have a look online, and you’ll see books priced any which way but where they are in the shops.
3. Authors Should Never Publish More Than One Book a Year
In the 1980s and 1990s, new books from your favourite author came out once in a blue moon (almost literally – Wikipedia says that blue moons occur once every 3 years. You can thank me for this utterly needless aside when the next one happens in May 2019).
But usually, unless you wore a lot of pink, went by the name of Dame Barbara Cartland and dictated your books at the rate of 6 per hour, you published at most 1 book per year.
Digital publishing is no environment for slow releases, however. Word of mouth goes around fast, and dies faster; in order to capitalise, authors have to move quickly. Many authors I know who have contracts with digital-only publishers are expected to deliver at least 2 books a year.
This is particularly pertinent if you’re writing books in a series of any kind – be that a serialised story or character – but as I mentioned before, in today’s world readers show a preference for multiple purchases, in that if they find something they like, they want more of the same right now this very minute, please and thank you awfully.
Therefore it would suggest that if your book is selling well – as in, trending well, being talked about and undergoing some sort of sales push – you should make some other stuff available pretty much immediately, if you have it. Because in six months, this book will have run out of steam and they’ll have forgotten you already. I hope you have another 5 books twiddling their thumbs on your hard drive.
4. Publishers Know What’s Best For Authors
This isn’t meant as a dig at publishers, because the fact is that nobody seems to know what’s best for authors anymore. Not only have the rules changed, but the field, the ball and the spectators have changed too, the half-time drinks are made out of cheese, and everyone’s wearing glitter and offering brand ambassadorships to the goal line.
Back in Ye Olden Dayes (see above), to use a financial services term, publishers made markets. Their decisions moved the markets. Publishers made authors, and money; authors made money. If publishers decided to make enough fuss about a book, the book made a fuss, and the natural order of things went around and around until Stephen King had his 31st NYT bestseller.
Nowadays, the Next Big Thing is as likely to be a picture book about a selfie-addicted dog doing mindfulness in a Scandinavian jumper as a storybook full of adventures and sex (and possibly adventurous sex).
Nobody knows until it happens, and by then it’s too late – but with any luck, some author is laughing their way to the cyberbank by then, so, well, every cloud, and all that (especially if you’re not keen on the author and they put all their loot into dodgy cryptocurrency which is about to lose 4,000% of its value next Thursday).
5. Everyone has One Book Inside Them
We’re not going to be snide, here, and start banging on about quality, or fair weather/recession writers, or celebrity bandwagons, or whatever we’re having ourselves along with our cup of JealousTea following yet another rejection letter.
Because what the publishing revolution of the past 10 years has taught us, is that everyone might have 5, 10 or 30 books inside them, not just the one. There are simply more opportunities for us to find out. And I, for one, find that absolutely lovely.