Social network sites like Goodreads.com are deepening the relationship between readers and the publishing industry at a fast rate. Publishers can now connect directly to readers who support a certain writer, genre or subject, and groom readership for a new book. Last year Goodreads hit 14 million members.
As much as writers crave to tell stories, "readers crave interaction," says Elizabeth Khuri Chandler, Goodreads' co-founder. "We're living in a world where there's more books to choose from than ever before, and if you want to read a book, you can pretty much read it instantly. The problem isn't content or access anymore, it's 'what do I read next?'"
The site, among others, is creating a new marketing model for the industry; publishers give away books to launch new titles, create live video chats with authors and link to blogs to track a title's popularity, which can generate buzz, even for unknown writers.
Colleen Hoover, who self-published her novel "Slammed" in January 2012, gave away several copies to influential reviewers on the site in February, and it caught fire. In August Simon & Schuster's Atria Books picked it up and published another of her books, both of which landed on the New York Times best-seller list. Warren is wrong when she says that self-publishing is creating uncertainty or cluttering the market; it is driving publishers to understand what readers want. "The Internet gives publishers and authors an opportunity to find an audience that was very difficult to find in the offline world," says Jo Henry, director of Bowker Market Research in London.
One example is a new genre — new adult fiction — that was born after publishers noticed on social media sites that an increasing number of older women were buying young adult fiction for themselves; more than 14,000 titles have been released since 2011 under the new designation, according to Goodreads.
Countering the myth that young people don't read is this: Generation Y, those born from 1979 to 1989, spent more money on books than baby boomers in 2011, according to Bowker; 43 percent of Generation Y sales were online.
The rise of e-books is eliminating production and warehouse costs; even the costs of print book production are falling because of digital formatting. These developments are allowing publishers to take greater risks with unknown writers or little-known genres.
Who won't benefit from all of this? Writers such as celebrity bio scribe Kitty Kelley, who told Warren that "publishing right now is a scary business" and that the shift means "publishers are not giving the huge advances they used to."
Indeed. The millions Kelley typically receives will likely go the way of the dinosaur once publishers, like their counterparts in the music industry, realize that niche publishing is more sustainable over the long term because it grooms an expanding network of loyal readers, as opposed to impulse buyers.
In this environment, as Warren notes, doubt is never absent, but it is tempered when you realize your work is resonating more deeply than you once thought.
Which means, for most writers who hear the call, the publishing world shouldn't be such a scary void to enter once the time comes to send their manuscripts out. That doesn't mean doubt is never absent, but when it crops up, I find the easiest way to drain it from my head is to take a long walk and circle back to where I began.
Mark Guarino is a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, where he covers national news out of the Midwest.