Monday, December 3, 2012

Rising Tide Theory – Edit or Sink!

President John Kennedy coined the expression, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  He meant that improvements in the economy lifted all citizens, but his concept has wide application. What does this mean to writers?

Rising tide will float all boats
Less than a decade ago, there were no
e-readers, no e-books and no widespread self-publishing. Aspiring authors suffered little possibility of ever seeing their ramblings in published form unless they paid far too much to a vanity press for a garage full of books that would never sell. For most, the dream truly was little more than a fantasy.

Along came internet publishing. E-book readers quickly followed, along with dire projections of the end of traditional publishing. “Bookstores will go bankrupt.” “Mainstream publishers will die on the vine.” “Big name authors will suddenly discover stiff competition for a rapidly dwindling share of the reader market.”

Any town crier in medieval times would be proud of the loud proclamations of doom and gloom.

What really happened?

Some predictions did come to pass. One large bookstore chain, Borders, closed their doors, but it had little to do with growth in self-publishing. They were managed by stupid people who made bad business decisions. "Used book” stores have seen sales dwindle with the advance of e-readers. Many, including my favorite, have closed their doors. New “authors” did indeed explode onto the literary scene in such numbers that most vanished into a cacophony of unknown talking heads. A tiny few soared to great heights on the backs of fiction that went “viral.”

Big publishing houses seemed to ignore the growing changes. They stood in the muddy swamp of traditional literature like dinosaurs casually chewing on literary leaves while staring in mindless wonder at the glowing spot in the sky above, an approaching ten-mile-wide meteor. I suspect they thought all this self-publishing was hoopla, a passing bubble in time that would burst, leaving behind a sticky residue of dwindled hopes and failed dreams. Boy, were they wrong!

Ironically, traditional publishers might just be the big winners in all this literature evolution. “How is that?” you ask.
Will YOUR boat float when the tide hits?
Self-publishing created a vast pool of substandard writing foisted off on the public by catchy graphics and low prices. Took a little while, but readers finally caught on. Even “free” books are not getting the downloads that they once did. Price used to be a major factor in book sales. No longer. Consumers figured out the REAL price of an e-book . . . their own time. Bad writing, poor editing and over-hyped, under-delivered e-books have left them cautious about wasting precious free time on crap. For a dollar or two more, a properly edited, well-written e-book from a publisher with strong writing standards can immerse a reader in a wonderful world of suspended reality.

This is where traditional publishers come back into the picture. Historically, competition among authors, and strict editorial standards, resulted in quality books. Readers could always trust what they were getting. As the newness of the e-book craze matures, demand for superior writing is returning, yes, even for $2 e-books. Prices for electronic downloads dropped so low that the only major decision for a reader now is how to spend their limited pleasure-reading time.

Big-(number of the month) publishers are now aggressively positioning to enter POD and self-publishing markets. Their reasonably priced, strongly edited offerings will capture a large share of the consuming public in the near future. Authors who avail themselves of services by such mainstream companies and smaller publishers that also maintain high expectations will produce the higher standard of books that readers crave. The future belongs to quality . . . sales will follow.

Promotions, professional graphics, direct sales from reputable publishers (eliminating the cost of distribution through Amazon or B&N) are necessary, but, most importantly, writers/authors who are smart enough to invest in high quality editing will thrive. All others will find water spilling into their metaphorical boats as the tide rises.
Leaky boats don't float!
There you have it. Great writing and quality editing is more important than ever. That rising tide WILL, indeed, lift all boats, but only those that are seaworthy. My advice to my fellow writers is simple. Get professional editing . . . the tide's coming, so make sure your boat doesn’t leak!


  1. This rings absolutely true. Even though I am struggling with the self-publishing option (since traditional is elusive), I carry around the baggage from my days as an academic. External validation of your writing (peer reviewed journals, major book publishing contracts) were what got you tenured and promoted. There was a reason for the gate-keeping in academia, and we are seeing evidence for the analog to gate-keeping right now in indie-published books. If you write it, they will come, just doesn't hold true.

    1. In academia, I believe that old expression "Publish or perish" still holds true.

      The early e-book surge provided wonderful opportunity for a few writers to find readers. Since then, a massive volume of poorly written self-pubbed books, and even some small-press e-books with marginally competent editors, have flooded the "indie" market to the point where readers are becoming increasingly skeptical of "cheap" books. Sure, the price may be low, but what value do readers put on their own time?

      Personally, I see nothing wrong with self-publishing. The point of my blog is that no matter how we choose to publish, it is imperative to stand out from the crowd by investing in our work. That means spending time with good beta readers and obtaining professional editing, either by direct contract or through a good publisher.

      The other issue is that, as traditional publishers begin to market directly to the consumers (in lieu of B&N or Amazon), self-published authors who go through these outlets will get greater exposure to an increasingly more selective market.

      Sharon, thank you for your insight and sharing...Dean

  2. Interesting way to look at it, Dean. People always seem to think the way things are going at the time will extend long into the future. There are plenty of turns and twists and reversals.

    In the end, you're right. Time is valuable and quality does count.

    1. With change, comes opportunity. The old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared", will serve writers well in the current publishing climate.

      Thanks for your comments, Terry.

  3. Exceptional post and wise advice as always, Dean. Playing catch-up now that I'm back online and make it such a wonderful experience being back online...

    ~Main Character of "BLOOD TIES~


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