Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Latest Disagreement with Michael Hyatt

Recently, Seth Godin wrote about why he is Moving On and no longer communicating through traditionally published books. In response to that post, Michael Hyatt wrote Why Most Authors Should Not Emulate Seth Godin. He made four arguments against it. While I don’t totally agree with Seth Godin, I don’t agree with Mike’s arguments either. I will address each in turn.

Most authors can’t get directly to their readers.

If you read the Godin article, this is part of the reason Godin is saying goodbye to traditional publishing. His statement is that the author doesn’t sell to the reader but to the publisher. Mike rightly says that Seth Godin has a much larger platform than most of us, but I disagree with his statement that most authors can’t get direct access to the readers. In fact, when we look at the way the publishing industry works, if an author can’t get direct access to the readers he can’t get a publishing contract either. Publishers have the expectation that authors will bring readers with them, not the other way around. If an author is going to have direct access to readers, he is much more likely to achieve that through electronic methods than through a book sitting on the shelf in a bookstore. Oddly, Mike stated that an author without a platform is like John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” John had a platform and drew crowds. Maybe more of us need to follow his example.

Much content doesn’t lend itself to alternative forms of distribution.

Okay, so Mike has a good point here. There’s a lot of information out there that is best in long book format. It doesn’t work well, for example, to try to publish fiction through blogging. But let’s not forget that there’s a lot of information out there we can present better in non-book form. The question is, are we writing a book just to be writing a book or are we hoping to communicate? If communication is the goal, we can use websites of various forms. We can use video. We can use public speaking. Books are just one form of communication.

Most authors still have need to monetize their content.

Really? Why? Sure, I would love to make a ton of money from selling books. Who would pass up money if it is easy to come by? But do I really have a “need” to make money from my content? I published my first book several years ago and I’m still making money from it. Because of that book, I’ve made a profit from may publishing efforts, but I’ve got a day job. And this is true of most authors. While it would be nice to have the freedom to devote myself to writing, few authors make enough money from writing to cover the cost of writing. For that matter, few authors make any money at all. Most authors don’t even have a publishing contract and yet they keep on writing. We may not like the idea of giving our work away for nothing, but it won’t kill us if we do.

Most authors aren’t prepared to setup an alternative publishing infrastructure.

To this, Mike talked about “the ugly stuff” of publishing, including cover design, editing, typesetting, eBook formats, jacket and marketing copy, etc. My claim is that most authors are better prepared to do that stuff than they are to get a publishing contract. Actually, from what I’ve heard, traditionally published authors are doing a lot of that stuff anyway. Not cover design (not yet anyway), but they write the jacket and marketing copy. They also are responsible for putting together the book video, in many cases. If more publishers would provide expertise in areas where authors are weak, then I could see there being some truth to this argument, but the trend is that publishers are relying on one person, the author, to be the expert in everything. But most authors aren’t the experts. If that means failure at traditional publishing, then of course they will look for alternatives. Traditional publishers should make life easier for authors, not harder. Until that is the case, it is easy to see why authors might want to chuck the traditional publishing process.

I think the root of why Mike and I disagree on this is that we’re looking at it from opposite perspectives. The authors that I hang out with tend to be unpublished or authors with low sales volume. Mike, on the other hand has the opportunity to hang out with people he has described as “important authors.” And while he’s aware that there are a lot of authors out there who aren’t that successful, he has the luxury of giving very little thought to authors who don’t have a publishing contract, since they are little, if any, competition to the books Thomas Nelson publish. It’s hard to see how difficult it is for authors to follow the traditional publishing route when most of the authors you know are not only traditionally published but have achieved some degree of success. But when a root canal seems like more fun than dealing with traditional publishers, it is easy to consider alternatives.