Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interesting Times by Reed Farrel Coleman

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the noir poet laureate in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman has published thirteen novels, including six in his Moe Prager series, and Tower, a stand-alone co-written with Ken Bruen. He has won the Shamus Award three times for Best PI Novel of the Year. He’s also won the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards as well as being twice nominated for the Edgar. Reed was the editor of the Hard Boiled Brooklyn anthology and is a co-editor of The Lineup, a journal featuring poems on crime. His short stories appear in Wall Street Noir, The Darker Mask, and several other anthologies. Reed is an adjunct professor at Hofstra University. He lives on Long Island.

Interesting Times
by Reed Farrel Coleman 

There’s an old Chinese proverb about living in interesting times. Of course the deeper meaning is that all times are interesting times. You’ll note that this old Chinese proverb is about interesting times, not necessarily good times.

Right now, for instance, the publishing world is experiencing the greatest upheaval since this German guy invented his printing press. These are hard times for authors like me, but it can’t be argued they aren’t interesting times. There has been a decline in readership. Bookstores, large and small, are closing nearly every day. The number of traditional publishers is dwindling. Budgets are shrinking. Publisher-financed tours, except for those authors at the top of the heap, are a thing of the past. And the burden of getting reviews and publicity for new releases is increasingly falling to the author him or herself. As recently as a year ago, I was unwilling or unable to see that ebooks and dedicated audio books were a real threat to traditional publishing or, more accurately, I was convinced that it would be many years until they were a threat. This is no longer the case. The revolution is here and I would be foolish to ignore it or deny it.

Only a few weeks ago I had a long conversation with a best-selling author with whom I served on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. I asked if this author could envision a day in the not-too-distant future when he or she, either alone or with a group of like-minded authors, might forsake traditional publishing by hiring a freelance editor, a copyeditor, and PR firm and self-publish. The answer was yes, that if he or she had a mind to, it could be done now. That was all I needed to hear to be convinced that the revolution was here, is here.

This will have an effect on everyone involved in the circuit, from the reader—even the most steadfast, book-carrying traditionalist—to the author, the agent, the publisher, and the bookstore owner. I’m sure readers don’t devote much time to thinking about the process—no one likes watching the sausage being made—but readers have to understand that one of the fundamental advantages traditional publishers enjoy is an established distribution network. So, yes, beyond the advance, editorial services, and publicity staff, it is access to that distribution network that an author gains when signing with a publisher. The old railroads were important businesses not because they had engines and cars, but rather because they owned the tracks. In much the same way that airlines and automobiles nullified this advantage, ebooks don’t need tracks. 

Yes, these are interesting times in publishing and they are bound to get even more interesting in the very near future.


Julie D said...

Interesting times, indeed, Reed. Not sure I agree that READERSHIP is down, but I do know that book sales are down, possibly due to ebooks. I also agree--and am living this myself--that marketing, publicity, etc. is and will continue to be solely on us, whether we are with a traditional publisher or not. And, like bookstores, I think that publishing houses are going to have to reinvent themselves somewhat in order to stay alive. Embracing ebooks, not as the new thing that will take over, but as another thing to consider, will be the first order of business for both.

You have many books under your belt, I am new to this, and was shocked to discover that I was not home free once I got an agent. In reality, my work was just beginning.

I will look forward to more insight from you in the future, and I thank you for this.


Janet Rudolph said...

Definitely interesting changing times, Reed. Thanks for posting. Just had an interesting discussion with an author of 8-9 books about eBooks, backlists and more. Interesting times, indeed. We'll see what the future holds.

Professor Neil Plakcy said...

At Sleuthfest this year, the e-book panel was packed, and many authors, published and aspiring, were eager to learn everything they could. It's not the right choice for every writer or every reader, but I think e-books will end up being just another format, like mass market, large print, and audio books.

Neil Plakcy said...

Didn't mean to be pompous-- I have two Google accounts, one as little old me and one in my college prof role and didn't realize which I was signed in under!

Bobbie said...

Yes, interesting times--a way of saying it nicely. I am an average old fashioned reader who loves print books, don't have the need or wish for e-books, but see how it is going that way and that everything is being changed, and as you said, not slowly. As a reader who loves your books, this mishmash of messy times angers me, for you and for others. It isn't about thinking and writing words now, it's about 'business'....I know, I know, that's our culture now, get used to it and go forward. And sheesh, it's not about the venue-print, e-books, audio, whatever--it's about getting the words themselves, someway and somehow, to my enjoyment of reading. But this old fashioned passionate reader, would have not been in the e-book panel. She'd have been in the book room buying Reed Farrel Coleman's book and looking to meet him and tell him how much she loves his work and his attitude. If only there were a way of making that the new fad...but if wishes were horses and all that. I'll just keep plodding along, and watch with the rest of you, as our world changes in this huge revolution. Keep writing, Reed. You do it so well. Add your voice to this mix, it is good enough to cause notice, maybe some of those dollar people will listen. Thanks Kaye for having him here in your blog. Thoughtful post in trying times.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for your thoughtful essay, Reed. There's a lot of upheaval right now in publishing, and it's hard not to focus on the downsides. But hopefully the rise of e-books will attract new readers. And yes, these are interesting times...

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi, Everyone - Welcome and thanks for coming by.

Reed - I feel guilty about asking you to be here. Many of us would prefer thinking of you working on another Moe than see you cruising the blogs. But then too - I'm a selfish wench . . .
So, thank you!!!!

I was one of those people who swore I did not need, did not want an eReader and would always read my beloved "Real" Books. Welllll, without going into it, I've discovered I'm still buying real books but I'm filling in a lot of some of my favorite writers' out of print backlist with eBooks. And discovering a lot of new writers with eBooks. Now I've decided my personal library will continue to grow with both real and "e," and find they complement one another - at least for me.

Here's my big beef with the publishing industry.

That statement they make to writers, "(such and such) just isn't selling today." I think it is the most singularly arrogant statement imaginable. How do they know it's not going to sell if they won't allow the writers to give it to us? And I'm sorry, but I honestly don't think readers can, or should, be compartmentalized so easily as all that.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, Reed, as usual, you are so right. I heard from a very successful author that one major publishing company
Has a new boilerplate contract that does not even guarantee that there'll be a physical book!

The good news, we're buying your book. The bad news, there may not be a book.

But I do agree, we're going to have to start thinking about this very differently.

Earl Staggs said...

The big question for writers trying to break in is which way to go. Do we still try the traditional route of agent-to-publisher or forget that and hop on the ebook train. I'm about ready to flip a coin and hope for the best.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

" . . . a new boilerplate contract that does not even guarantee that there'll be a physical book!"

Oh NO! Hank, this is the first time I've heard this and i hate it. this is just so wrong.

Vicki Lane said...

Interesting -- and scary too!