Fear

Well, better late than never!  I went to Albacon last weekend.  It's an annual SF&F con in Albany, New York.  To be more precise, I went to the Friday of the con, which was all writing workshops.  I had prior obligations which kept me from staying longer than that, unfortunately.  And it was unfortunate, because I had a good time, got a couple of new books, and learned a few new things. The panels were decent.  I learned about the glory that is Vistaprint, with a panel of folks advocating grabbing every freebie they offer, as often as they offer it, so that you'll have free "loot" to pass out to people at cons for book marketing.  And there were some other fun bits as well.  I had some very nice chats with some very nice people.  The experience level of the speakers seemed to be spread across as wide a range as one could imagine - from authors with only a book or two in print, through folks who'd been writing professionally for decades.

Naturally, I was a bit curious how people were reacting to the change in the industry, the growth of ebooks, and the new direct markets available to authors.  So I tentatively broached the subject in a few conversations.  And then a few more, to get a better feel for reactions.

It was obvious from the start that very few people at the con had thought about ebooks - and I mean at all.  No one I spoke to owned an ereader.  The most charitable seemed to think of ebooks as some sort of odd fad.  The more hardline answers were from people actively disliking ebooks - because of piracy, because they were new, because they threaten bookstores (which are the goal of every good author, after all...), and because in the end, ebooks are just not really books.  When I broached the "what about Amazon predicting 50% of the market being ebooks by the end of next year?", the reaction was...fear.

People are afraid of change, and afraid of the unknown.  And writers - even writers of fantasy and science fiction - seem to be no better than most when it comes to handling this fear.  I had a long chat with one person, at length addressing my guesses about where change is taking us, and at length addressing various concerns.  By the end of it this author was willing to entertain the idea that there were possibly opportunities here, that these changes were not just disaster.  And this was a smart writer - a rational thinker.

But we've been sold a line.  We've been told that the bookstore shelf is our Nirvana, that the publisher is the One True Way to get there, and that those who tell you differently (like vanity presses) are snakes in the grass, luring us from the course which will lead to success if only we follow it long enough.  And maybe it was true when it was first told.  But it isn't anymore.  And it will continue being less true as time goes on.

A few weeks ago, I had Dean Smith telling me that publishers were probably in no long term threat, because most authors wouldn't be able to make the switch.  We've been raised, from our first stories, the first Writer's Digest magazines we read, the first classes or panels we attended, the first writing books we read, to believe the Holy Canon: thou shalt write a book; thou shalt revise the book umpteen times; thou shalt send book off to as many agents as required to get one; thy agent shall then get thee a publishing deal, after which thy books shall be on bookstore shelves.

Except that now we have really competent, experienced authors saying that agents are often more trouble than they are worth, even in traditional publishing.  And we have other authors pointing out that there are ways to get published that skip the agent and publisher entirely, going directly to the bookstore.  I disagreed with Dean, when we talked about this in his blog comments - I said that I thought writers would adapt much more quickly than publishers.  I'm not so sure I do, anymore.  The Holy Canon has been drilled into so many people, for so long, that I think it's begun to be seen as Truth, instead of as a way most folks happened to do business.  The business is changing.  If we want to seize the opportunities that represents, and not be taken advantage of as things move forward, writers need to be ready to move with the times.  We can't do that if we disbelieve the changes we're seeing because we hold blind faith in an outdated business model.