Friday, June 24, 2011

JK Rowling, Donald Maass, and the Ebook Revolution

So a week or so ago I said that I wanted to start reading 5 books about writing or editing a year so I can continue to push myself and polish my writing. Yesterday I starting ready my first book for the year, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. So far it's really good, and he makes some great points and adds some wonderful insight into the business of writing and the world of publicists, editors, and so forth (much of which, by the way, makes me want to shrink away from traditional publishing altogether, but I digress. That is not currently The Plan.)

But there was one part that made me chuckle.The part where he talked about the future of ebooks.

When I was skimming the first chapter to see what it talked about, I spotted his words on ebooks and starting reading with interest at what he'd say about them. I actually recoiled at one point, taken aback and almost offended at the tone of what seemed like smug assurance, and I thought--"How reliable is this guy if he doesn't see what's happening in the industry?" But then I flipped to the front, saw that the book had been published in 2001 (I nodded, understanding immediately) and continued reading, this time with almost too much relish. I wanted to see what this savvy agent would say about how ebooks would shake up the industry, since I have the advantage of 10 years (11, really, since the book was written in 2000 and published in 2001. Much can change in just one short year when it comes to technology).

Here's one quote:

"So, will e-books save us from the harsh realities of traditional trade book publishing? No. I'm afraid that is just another myth ... But back to the revolution ... is there no hope that the heartless hegemony of the publishing conglomerates can be broken? Will e-publishing ride to the rescue of the midlist?"

(Actually, yes, many mid-list authors have tremendous success switching to self-publishing and e-books now)

He does say he's "keeping a close eye on developments" regarding ebooks. But later he writes:

"...[R]evolution? Sorry to say, it is unlikely to happen."

I giggled, because I read this soon after seeing the news that JK Rowling is self-publishing the Harry Potter e-books. (Yes, the publishing house is getting a small cut, but she is retaining full control and rights, and in their released statement Scholastic says they are "key players," not publishers. I believe they're being paid mainly for marketing/promotion. You can see a lot of good discussion about this here and here).

And let's not forget about Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and many others who've made millions through e-books. And in AH's case, she's actually been able to negotiate very favorable terms for breaking into traditional publishing, too.

Now, I don't know if he was speaking at all to self-pubbing/indie authorship, or if he was simply referring the the technology. But given the fact that he references POD, I think he was lumping self-publishing in there.

I would say on the heels of JK Rowling's announcement (not even touching all the other authors who've been so huge the last few months) e-books (and self-publishing/indie authorship) could be called a revolution. Because the changes going through the industry are pretty revolutionary.

Now, lest I sound like I'm shaking my fist at the horrible Big Six and sticking out my tongue or something, I don't consider myself in one camp or the other in terms of loyalty (although I do have a stake in the indie world, I would also love to be traditionally published as well). I don't want to see traditional publishing simply disappear. They've brought me almost every book I ever loved. There's a lot of great people in that industry. But I do think adaptation is needed. What's going to happen in another 10 years? I have no idea. Not a clue. But the tides are swiftly turning.

To be fair to Maass, I don't think anybody really saw it coming in 2001. Least of all those in the publishing industry.

I think it's pretty amusing to see that underestimation confidently preserved in this 10-year-old book, that's all.

Other than that (or should I saw especially because of that??), I am really enjoying Writing the Breakout Novel. Maass does have a lot of brilliant things to say about the craft. Thanks to everyone who recommended it.


  1. i've heard maas is a wealth of wisdom! the ebook thing is changing CraAazy fast!!!

  2. Yeah, the book is brilliant. Definitely a must-read for any writer. I'm really enjoying it.

  3. It's nice to know that the book I'm writing WILL be published when it's done, one way or the other. I didn't have that assurance with the first book.

  4. Jaimie: So true. I feel like the new frontier of self-publishing takes a lot of pressure off of writers. You don't have to write for agents and editors anymore. If they don't want it, there are plenty of other options now. And I think self-doubt is a HUGE impediment to creativity. So, win-win for us.


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