Friday, March 4, 2011

The Future of Book Publishing for Freelancers

Today I had the honor of speaking to the Indianapolis Freelancers Group on the future of publishing. My co-presenter was Mary Bednarek, Executive Acquisitions Director, Dummies Tech, for Wiley.

Mary and I have both been knocking around the local publishing scene for more than 20 years, but we managed to never meet one another before today. No matter. Our approach to the subject was in sync (“Great minds…,” she told me later). She expanded on and reinforced my points below and added the perspective of a much larger publisher.

As promised, here is the outline I developed beforehand:

1. The current situation is difficult for some freelancers.
  • Economic contraction has caused some publishers to reduce their title counts—trying to publish smarter, not harder.
  • Everyone is still recovering from the massive publishing layoffs in December 2009.
  • Publishers are keeping more work in-house and asking for more productivity from employees—especially in the third and fourth quarters of the year.
  • Nonfiction book sales are declining overall because people can get “good enough” information online for free.
  • People who have had a steady gig with one publisher are suddenly finding themselves without work.
  • Employment for editors, writers, and authors is expected to rise by 8% by 2018; however, competition for these jobs is expected to be fierce (see the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook).

2. How will the shift to e-books affect freelancers?

  • 40 million people will have e-readers in 2011.
  • Penguin’s e-book revenues were up 182% in 2010.
  • Borders bankruptcy means fewer opportunities for people to find and buy printed books.
  • Content still needs to be edited and indexed.
  • More proofreading may take place in PDFs.
  • Book design for text-heavy books will be simplified and more utilitarian for easy conversion to e-books. It will pay to be familiar with XML, Mobi, and how to convert PDFs to other e-book formats.
  • More advanced apps and readers (iPad, Blio) will require richer content, with animation, embedded videos, audio, and so on.
  • Everybody thinks they need an app, but nobody seems to be able to recommend a good iPhone app developer!

3. Networking is still the key to finding freelance work.

  • Publishers are reluctant to hire someone they have never worked with before. It takes time to evaluate and train new freelancers. Most have their tried-and-true favorites and don’t need more help beyond them. It’s really a buyer’s market in Indy!
  • Look to people you worked with when you were in house.
  • Find people for whom you formerly worked who have moved to other publishers. (The “Macmillan Diaspora” has produced an amazing array of connections all over the country. Find them on LinkedIn and Facebook.)

4. Look to nontraditional markets.

5. Follow the experts online to see where they think it’s all headed.

Mary urged freelancers to go out and get their hands on the various e-readers and familiarize themselves with how text looks in them. She also provided this great list of resources for editors:

Obviously, nobody can tell you exactly how this tumultuous time in publishing is going to pan out. My former next-door neighboor Andy Harris, a Wiley author, suggests that things in publishing might seem like they are out of order, but it's really just the beginning of a new order. It's exciting (and a little scary) to think where it all might lead.