Tuesday, 21 May 2013

More rules I could do without

Why are some writers so fond of rules? Why are some indie writers so fond of rules? Isn't one of the main benefits of self-pubbing that you don't have to toe the line any more?

Back in 2009/10 when I was submitting Remix to agents, there were more rules than you could shake a stick at, and writers would anxiously obsess over them on forums. Double spacing yes, but should we really use ugly Courier or was Times New Roman acceptable? Agents, we knew, were captious and huffy creatures.  There were lots of crimes that would result in an agent tossing your three chapters unread into the bin. These included omitting to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (I forgot once, and sure enough, didn't get the form rejection I was looking forward to adding to my collection). You had to study the agent's precise requirements and observe them to the letter, or she wouldn't even curl her pretty lip over your typescript.

We all did what we were told. To be fair, until Amazon changed everything we had no choice. (I may say it's still going on - read Carol Blake's handy list of 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent. Reading that made me realize just how much I love not being a part of that scene any more.)

What irks me now is indies coming up with their own rules. Our book, we are told, will not be ready to publish until we have hired a professional editor, proofreader, formatter and cover designer. Not may not, but will notFleur Philips goes further: “One thing I feel indie or self pub authors MUST do for publicity and marketing is to hire a really good publicity firm to handle marketing and public relations ... if you can’t afford it, find a way to make it happen!” (Plih. Bog off, Fleur.) Others tell us we must write several books a year to succeed, and divide our time between marketing and writing.

To which I say, we are big grown-up indies. I can decide for myself whether or not I need to pay a proofreader (not, actually) and do all that other stuff. I do not need the new orthodoxy telling me what to do, and neither do you.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lessons for Big Publishing from Kodak

Whatever happened to Kodak? Recently I treated myself to a new digital camera (a Canon ixus 500 HS, since you ask, and I'm very pleased with it). This morning a thought popped into my head; why, when I was browsing the internet for cameras, were there no Kodaks there?

At one time, Kodak was the big name in cameras and film. In 1900 they launched the Box Brownie at $1.00, which brought photography within the reach of the masses. The brand was huge throughout the twentieth century. 

Last year they went bankrupt.

I bet you didn't know that in 1975, a Kodak engineer called Steve Sasson created the first digital camera, which took photos with a modest 10,000 pixels. Kodak went on to patent many digital technologies which are used in modern cameras, but it wasn't till 1995 that they launched the DC40, their first digital camera. What happened next? Not a lot. Kodak was afraid of cannibalizing their own business - 90% of film sales, 85% of camera sales in the US - so digital was left on the back burner, while other manufacturers rushed in to fill the gap. Digital boomed, while legacy photography dwindled, and Kodak dwindled right along with it.

Does any of this sound familiar? When ereaders appeared, Big Publishing hoped they were a passing fad, ignored the opportunities digital offered, and colluded to keep ebook prices high so as not to impinge on print sales. Meanwhile Amazon flourished and self-publishers became a force to be reckoned with.

Let me quote Pete Pachal's conclusions from his interesting article on the subject:

"The most immediate takeaway from the fall of Kodak is clear: Don't be afraid to cannibalize your own business in the name of progress. This is seen time and again in the digital revolution: Sony's reluctance to develop a competent digital Walkman left an opening for the iPod. Blockbuster laughed off Netflix in the early days, then went bankrupt when it couldn't compete with its Web-based competitor. And iPads may be eating up some Mac sales, but Apple's bottom line is stronger than ever.

"True innovative spirit is much more often found in smaller companies and startups rather than old-school behemoths of yesteryear. After all, if you don't have much to lose, you tend to make many more all-in bets. But, as Kodak has shown, if all you do is play it safe, the cost just to stay in the game will whittle you down until you've got nothing left."