Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Brave New World-Seismic Shifts in Publishing

It seems to me that the publishing industry is undergoing a seismic shift. Traditional publishing houses are either closing their doors or absorbed into larger houses. E-publishing is another factor along with a rise in the rate of aliteracy (ability to read but not the desire). So how are these changes affecting the various stakeholders?

Over the next while, I am hosting various individuals who can provide some insight into these changes and the implications for readers, writers and others. My first guest is Melodie Campbell. A prolific author, whose novels and short fiction have been published for over 25 years, and the immediate past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada, Melodie is well-positioned to comment on the changes occurring. Welcome, Melodie!

In your role as an author and also more recently as Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada, what changes have you seen in recent years?

The main change I've seen in six years is the ruthlessness of publishers. It used to be that they would tell us they lost money on your first book. They broke even on your second, and they finally made money on your third. So the idea was, they wanted an author they could hold on to through many, many books. Now, publishers want to make money on your first book. A whole lot of money. If you don't make that right off the bat, they drop you. There is no 'nurturing time' anymore.

What is the impact of these changes on authors? On readers? On the book industry overall?

It's devastating. I can name eight authors who got picked up by the big five publishers four years ago, who have since been dropped. I know more authors dropped than those who have been kept. Publishers seem to want a few bestsellers, and that's it. We used to say in the industry that the bestsellers helped to support the publishing costs of the mid-listers. But now publishers seem to be dumping their mid-listers. This will mean fewer books traditionally published overall.

What challenges and opportunities do these changes present to the various stakeholders?

I see self-publishing becoming even more important. I expect many authors who have been let go by publishers, will turn to hybrid publishing. Companies like Carrick Publishing, which puts a professional spin on books that would have been essentially self-published, will flourish.

How are you positioning yourself to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities?

I write because I love to write. Luckily, I've found two publishers - one midsize, and one small - who like my books. There is great freedom in writing for enjoyment rather than for a living. I make money with my books, but it's Corvette money, not money to live on. And that suits me fine.

Do you have any additional thoughts you'd like to share?

A lot of our problems in publishing today are not caused by Amazon and ebooks. They are caused by people not reading as much as they used to. And particularly, younger people aren't reading for pleasure the way earlier generations did. It's much easier to turn on the television, and there are some really good shows on Showcase and HBO, for example. So I would say our competition as authors is not with ebooks and self-publishing so much as the old boob tube. This saddens me terribly. In my Crafting a Novel classes at Sheridan College, I often have adult students who tell me they don't read fiction for pleasure. But they want to write a novel. This baffles me. Even more baffling, they seem shocked when I ask them, 'who do you expect to buy your books, if you are a writer and you don't read fiction yourself?'

Thanks, Melodie!

The Toronto Sun called her Canada’s “Queen of Comedy.” Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich. Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. She has over 200 publications, ten novels and ten awards for fiction, including the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards, for the screwball crime comedy, The Goddaughter’s Revenge.


  1. Yes, writing for pleasure (or because you're obsessed) seems to be the only option for those of us for whom writing is a body part. I do have hope, though. Many of my grandchildren are enthusiastic readers.

  2. Terrific article, Melody. Thank you for the mention, and yes, at Carrick Publishing our mandate is to help the independent author produce a quality product, while maintaining his or her independence.