Trends in Publishing - Meet the Millennium Author

By Fry, Patricia | The World and I, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Trends in Publishing - Meet the Millennium Author

Fry, Patricia, The World and I

Patricia Fry, a frequent contributor, is a publisher from California.

Authors were once remote figures known only through the public eye. Now, almost everyone is acquainted with a published author. Instead of just talking about writing a book, more people are actually doing it. Consequently, the number of authors producing books has increased dramatically. While there's some confusion as to the actual figures, the R.R. Bowker Company recorded close to eleven thousand new publishers entering the field last year.

When thinking of a publishing company, one generally imagines a large office filled with printing presses working around the clock to produce hundreds of titles. Many publishing companies, however, are just business facades set up by individuals who have produced one or two books.

Who are today's authors? What motivates them to write a book and then go to the trouble of producing and marketing it? One factor is technology. No longer is the author at the mercy of traditional publishing companies. For example, he can create an entire book with his computer, print it out, and even bind it at home with a spiral binding machine.


The cost of having a book printed professionally is considerably less than it was ten or fifteen years ago. There are also more options for those who want to see their story in book form: Print on Demand (POD), for example.

Elizabeth Laden publishes the Island Park News in Idaho and writes the "Pen and Mouse" column for the National Association of Women Writers. An expert on the POD phenomenon, she says that this is the fastest growing trend in publishing today. "Anyone can have a book published without lengthy waits, endless submittals, and rejection letters," says Laden. "The [setup] cost is $99 to $199 for a basic manuscript with up to twenty-five graphics."

Laden likes the idea that POD is environment friendly. "Ink, paper, and power are conserved because only books that are ordered are printed," she says, predicting that "POD books will soon be served up to readers in vending machines when they insert a plastic card into a slot."

There is a downside to POD. According to Laden, "Inaccurate, poorly written, and unedited books will be published by POD companies. This could stigmatize POD books." She says that some mainstream book critics refuse even to look at POD books, although several have achieved best- seller status.

Russ and Kathlyn Spencer of Oxnard, California, hired a POD company to produce their series of travel guides. As Russ says, "We can have as few as one hundred copies printed at a time and get books in just ten working days, with any changes that we might need since the previous printing."

For anywhere from $0 to $199, a budding author can jump on the e-book bandwagon. An e-book is a computer-generated book that readers can view on the computer screen, print out and read, or load into a handheld electronic reader to peruse at their leisure.

Larry Hagerty is a freelance writer living in San Diego, California. He says, "Until e-books came along, I'd given up on the idea of self- publishing because I didn't want to end up with a garage full of my own unsold books. E-publishing has opened a new world for millions of writers like me."

He says, "By testing the waters with an e-book, I established the fact that there is a substantial audience for my book, The Spirit of the Internet. I was able to justify making the financial commitment to publish it in paperback."

While Hagerty doesn't believe that e-books will supplant printed books, he agrees that they have their place. He explains, "I think we will see e-books becoming a very important segment of the publishing industry."

Joyce Jace used e-publishing to break into the writing business. "After quitting my full-time job to become a Web writer and author," she says, "I was in a hurry to become successful. …

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