How Will Online Publishing Impact Fiction?

May 1, 2000
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ASK THE EDITOR How Will Online Publishing Impact Fiction?

By Susan Malone

May, 2000

Last month we talked about how the proliferation of online publishers has impacted the nonfiction industry (which is going great guns), so now let’s focus on fiction.

Is the fiction market changing due to technological advances? Are these changes of substance (what is actually being published) or just of the process of publication? Is fiction going the way of the spotted owl (every novelist’s nightmare) as many would say, leaving behind the reality of first timers EVER breaking into an over-saturated field?

That publishing has been vastly influenced by the Internet and online publishers is indisputable. And, that the evolution of the industry is now occurring by quantum leaps is also fact. That anyone can now have his or her novel "published" for a few hundred dollars, however, does not provide the opportunities for first-timer writers to which it may appear on first blush. Vanity publishing still equals vanity publishing, bringing along all of the distribution problems that it always has.

So what real changes are occurring?

Selling fiction has always been difficult. That hasn’t changed. The mergers of the big NY houses—Bantam Dell, Morrow Avon, Vintage anchor, and others—leave fewer major imprints, fewer venues, to which an agent can submit. That, of course, is the downside, and would seem to make the fiction market even tougher.

Again, however, things are not always as they seem. Noah Lukeman, of Lukeman Literary, said, "I don’t see the fiction market as being especially tougher now than it was a few years ago. It’s always been tough, but there have also always been fiction slots at houses that need to be filled—perennially there seems to be a new crop of debut novelists and a horde of repeat novelists. So I am not particularly worried the market is in decline, if for no other reason than the Grishams and Kings and Cornwells seem to sell enough to carry the weight of most novelists and keep booksellers—and publishers—happy, and thus force agents and editors to pay attention."

Lukeman’s emphasis is on literary fiction, and he has been consistently placing authors with excellent literary houses. "If anything, I find that on the rise," he said, while adding that may just be his experience. And he doesn’t think that the proliferation of online houses has influenced fictional content. "Thus far, they haven’t had a major impact in the way I do business," Lukeman said.

Nonfiction has always been an easier sell to publishers, in part Lukeman believes because it’s easier to categorize, easier to prove a demographic or point to a track record, and far less subjective. But again, that in no way negates the market for fiction.

Some industry experts put the ration of nonfiction to fiction books purchased and published each year at 10:1. That’s a pretty large disparity, and in itself requires a much tougher standard for the novel, from literary to genre category.

In essence, while the technology of buying, printing, and selling books is undergoing an enormous upheaval, the books themselves aren’t changing. Nor the market for first-time novelists to seasoned pros. Selling fiction has always been tough. It continues to be. To write and sell a novel takes talent, skill, perseverance, and luck. And while we can now print a book in a matter of minutes, mastering what it takes to put it onto paper in the first place can take a lifetime.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. SEVEN books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last two years. Her own newest nonfiction, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN, co-authored with Gary L. Malone, MD, is out now. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com

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