The Great Publishing Wars of 2012

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

In a decade, after the zombies have taken over the world and are hunting down the last of the vampire empire, they will look back at the great publishing wars of 2012 and go:  huh?

I’ve retreated on the tactical front in the war for the past month as I am under deadline and writing a book I’m excited to share with my readers.  It’s really hard to pull myself out of the snark and action in my current WIP, Area 51: Nightstalkers, and go back to social media.

I’ve been thinking a lot about publishing and have changed my views in a number of ways.

I think there is a tipping point in social media for authors.  Where it begins to detract rather than attract.   Where you are turning more people off than you are being of interest to.  Especially if you are on one side or the other in the indie vs. trad vs. small publisher vs. print vs. eBook vs. the Martians vs. the indie bookstore vs. the chain vs. Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble vs. Kobo, vs. well, whatever the hell one wants to be versus.  When one is versus, then one has alienated a segment of the population.  I had an agent who ran a conference I taught at a couple of times email me and say I wouldn’t be invited to the conference because she was an agent, and I was like, huh?  What did I do to agents?  I guess saying that traditional publishing died in March 2012 didn’t go over well.

I also think the whole author/social media thing has become a little too incestuous.  It’s authors talking to authors. Yes, I know, there are readers out there, but when we take a close look at who is talking to us on most social media sites, it’s other writers.   I look at a lot of the really successful authors and their focus first is on content AND getting that content to readers.  They aren’t too concerned with the publishing wars, except in terms of how to run their own business.  Key words in that sentence are how to run their OWN business. In fact, to be frank, the really successful people in publishing right now are the ones who make the most money off of any war:  the ones who work behind the scenes and supply both sides with needed supplies.  The most critical supply needed in publishing is content. One can have the best whiz-bang device, app, brand, hat, distribution, yada, yada, but it still comes back to content.  We got Cool Gus Publishing running two years ago and it took a lot to build it into a seven-figure business in less than 18 months after a whopping total of 3 eBook sales our first month.  Now we’re shifting from focusing on the actual business structure to increasing our content.

For me, I’ve thrown out a flag of truce in the publishing wars.  I don’t have the time or energy or really the inclination to take one side over the other. My focus is on content and running my publishing company.  I’ve got a conference call next week with a non-fiction writer I’ve known for a long time and we’re hoping to put out some of her old backlist that pre-dates eBooks and we’re really excited about it.  We just put out Your Brain on a Bike by John Brent Pye and have other titles in the pipeline, including those from Colin Falconer and Shannon Donnelly that we’re focusing on.

One thing we’ve learned during our time in the publishing wars is that one is just as likely to be wrong as right.  And even if one is correct for now, if one’s situation changes, they might be singing a different tune in just six months.  That’s how fast things are changing.  There are two key factors in determining a course of action:  the overall situation and one’s personal situation.  That means every single person in the wars is in a different situation.  Thus there is no one ‘right’ position.  As often noted during wars, when each side claims God is on their side, both sides cannot be right.  If they are, then it is a God with a very nasty sense of humor.

Fear.  Every war brings fear.  And I still see fear ruling too many players in this game.  The successful people are the ones who, as my book titles says:  Who Dares Wins:  The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear & Succeed.  There are still too many people looking over their shoulders, wishing for the old days to come back.  In fact, I’ve literally heard people say:  watch, eBooks will die out and print will come storming back.

Uh, no.  That’s like saying that tank fad thing will go away since they use gas and mechanics and are noisy and expensive to make; and the horse, which lives off the land and are easy to reproduce and cheap to maintain, will make a comeback.  The biggest argument for the return of the cavalry was the nobility of it.  A dashing man on horseback with a saber looks a lot better than some grunt inside a tank with his main cannon.  Yep, lots of people arguing that in the 20s and 30s.  Tell it to Poland and France after Blitzkrieg.

In essence, my position now is that I’m focusing on doing what I’m supposed to be doing:  producing content and running a business. I’ll keep track of how the wars are going, but the nature of a war is, once people choose sides, they very rarely are willing to surrender and switch sides.  So it will be interesting to watch.




17 thoughts on “The Great Publishing Wars of 2012

  1. Marie Force

    I so agree with you Bob about producing content and running the business. That’s where my focus is, too. People keep asking me why I’m not going to this conference or that one. I always say that my job is to stay home and WRITE. I’m going to RWA later this month, but I wish I wasn’t. I have other things I need to be doing that are more important, but it’s too late now. So with few exceptions, I’ll be staying home to write–and run my business. I’m thrilled to have a business to run, but it ALL goes back to the content.

  2. Okalrelsrv

    Hear, hear! I am so tired of hearing your hits matter more than your actual work. Playing in my own way and flying for my own reasons! Ack rel.

  3. Dan Blank

    Hi Bob,
    I have never been in a war myself, so perhaps I am not qualified to comment on this, but to me, it seems that there is NOT a war in publishing. That there are more options than ever, and that each works for different types of people. And that some successful authors are proving that there is value in not choosing one “side” but in using different options at different times.

    That, the only way that the word “war” is valuable, is in marketing, in getting attention and “rallying the troops.” By “troops,” in this context, I mean telling people who already believe something what they want to hear. I am fortunate enough to know a lot of folks in and around publishing, and spend most of my days chatting with authors. To be honest: no one is a soldier here. No one is treating this as a war. No one I speak to is on a “side.”

    They are all just trying to create good work. If they are an author, that is in crafting an excellent book and giving it a chance to find an audience. If it is a publisher or agent or someone else in the publishing process, it is to assist in having great writing connect with readers, and if possible, via a profitable business model.

    As you know, I have talked about your story in publishing again and again on my blog and in presentations I give. What you have done is inspiring to a lot of folks, me included. But you are very up front with folks that you had a big backlist to kick things off with ebooks, something like 35 titles, I believe? As usual, you and your team are very smart to work with other writers with their backlists, to focus on the content.

    But not every author has that backlist, or that strategic sense to partner with other writers in the way that you do. And most people I know would describe publishing as anything but a war.

    I spoke to a group of 100+ recent college graduates taking a summer workshop on publishing at NYU. It was inspiring to see so many young folks going into publishing. They were smart. Hopeful. And none were wearing warpaint.

    The “war” is in the marketing, where it always is; Trying to convince others that there is something deep and more meaningful they are buying into, and that their product somehow represents this thing.


  4. Bob Mayer

    I use the term war because it is an attention getter and as a former soldier, I find it amusing to see so many military terms tossed around in other venues.

    However, there is a reality which I will blog about in the next month or so that many are ignoring. There is indeed a battle going on among authors that did not actually exist as keenly with legacy publishing. With legacy the battle was for the deal; that would insure distribution.

    We have distribution now. The battle is for discoverability. And the dirty secret no one wants to air is that authors are competing with each other for discoverability. Only one book a day is Kindle Daily Deal. It’s sort of like a digital form of Oprah.

    And I do see quite a bit of outright battling between legacy publishers, legacy authors, Amazon and indie authors.

    1. Dan Blank

      Bob: thanks for the thoughtful reply. Discoverability has been a big buzz word, but I feel like the thing underlying it is expectation. That there are more authors out there now who have greater expectations of what could or should happen. This isn’t a good or bad thing, just my opinion/observation.

      Will each tier of author “battle” for placement and attention. Of course, especially those who run their writing career as a business. They know the value of such things beyond just validation.

      What may not be talked about much is the emotions behind this. Is their envy or negative feelings driving any of this? How many people have you heard of that read 50 Shades of Gray JUST to come away saying “my writing is better than that!” They didn’t read to read, the read to gauge the competition or justify their own talent.

      I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on discoverability and how authors do or don’t vie for attention. But I will say this: there are SO MANY more channels in which to get attention nowadays, SO MANY more ways to market your work and be discovered. Are there way more books being published? Sure. But… how many will take the business/marketing side of their writing career as seriously as, say, you Bob Mayer? Very few. Which creates the very opportunity you are leveraging again and again.


      1. Jim F. Kukral

        The truth is, the war is already won, traditional publishers just haven’t seceded yet. But oh yeah, it’s over. There’s no doubt in my mind that in 2-3 years most of them that have decided to continue not to adapt will either be out of business or be a tiny fraction of what they used to be.

        The new players will be self-publishers pushing books through Amazon and hopefully other channels and hybrid publishers like Hyperink who actually understand that perhaps the author should actually get the lion’s share of their work, because frankly, it’s their work and they are doing all the work to promote it anyway.

        So the fight continues with me, but it’s not about winning. We’ve already won. The fight continues to keep people aware of the opportunity that they all have to write a book without a gatekeeper saying we are allowed to. That’s a fight worth fighting.

  5. Seeley James

    Great article, Bob. You are right, authors should focus on content first and readers second. The easy trap for indie authors is that writing to other authors sells a certain amount of books. From what I can tell, 20-40,000 books. Then it stops. Reaching readers is still done the old fashioned way: word of mouth and advertising in the right places for the genre.

    As for the last century’s publishing business: why is Rupert breaking up News Corp? Separating the troubled news and publishing businesses low margin business from the higher profit movie business. Publishing houses are now commodity dealers like Proctor & Gamble, not the entertainment developers they once were.

    BTW: God does have a nasty sense of humor, ask Job.

    Peace, Seeley

  6. Keith Ogorek

    I do think many view this time we are in as a war, but I don’t think it has to be characterized as such. There are people on all sides of this discussion who are passionate about what they believe is the best way to get published. There are people who champion DIY as the only way to get a book in the market. Then there are those who recommend assisted self publishing. Finally, there are those who still believe traditional publishing is the only way to assure curated content gets to the market.

    I don’t know why it has to be one or the other. Instead, I think authors should inform themselves of their options. Then based on their skills, goals, patience and budget make a publishing decision.

    War implies winners and losers, but I think there is room for everybody to win in the current transformation of publishing. There is more opportunity for authors and more choice for readers. I think that is a victory.

  7. Stefon Mears

    Good post, as usual, Bob. If publishing is a war, then I guess I just want to be a war profiteer. I’m not interested in fighting. I just want to keep my head down, keep writing, and sell my stories the way that makes the most sense at the time.

  8. Tasha Turner

    Too many people are seeing it as a war and wasting too much time fighting amongst each other that would be better spent writing. It is so sad to see. Such a waste of time and effort.

  9. Bob Mayer

    That’s exactly my point. I was being ironic in comparing it to war, which is why I started with vampires and zombies.

    Anyway. Energy is best devoted to positive efforts.

  10. Erin

    Very interesting article. Your actions and reactions are very heartening in the face of a lot of negativity in the industry. I wish there was more thought like yours right now: let’s stop being so negative and/or one-sided and just work on creating our own best product. The best way to help publishing is absolutely to make your own publishing more efficient and customer/audience-friendly.

  11. JR Tomlin

    Sometimes providing content — in other words writing — means pulling back. Considering the writing that I want and need to get done in the next 18 months, I am going to have to pull way back from the interweb thingie. That includes “social media”. I must admit I always did social media more for fun than as a sales tool though. My sales tool has mainly been Amazon. They know how to sell WAY better than I do. I’m just a writer. What do I know?

  12. Dalya

    So, we Indies are the ones in the tanks? I love it! Pew pew! I guess knocking down the gates and the fence solves the whole gatekeeper issue. 🙂

  13. Sri

    As an editor, I totally agree with you that winning the publishing war boils down to content. Just like a lousily-written book on a snazzy tablet isn’t going to be a best seller, a wonderfully-written paperback isn’t going to die an oblivious death. Intelligent readers will seek out great content and spread the word around. That said, what authors must do is to make a riveting book even more popular by marrying it with the right medium.



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