The Changed World of Publishing by Dale T. Phillips

In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer

In the past, most professional novels on the market went through publishers, who set all the terms. Because the costs of printing, distributing, and advertising books were expensive (and difficult for the author to do on their own), it was considered mutually beneficial—the publisher took the financial risks of printing mass “runs” of books and distributing them. They had to guess about the possibility of profit in each instance. It was expensive, and they were taking a chance every time. While few authors lost money if a particular book didn’t sell, they were bound by what was considered sellable by others. So many books remained unpublished.

One statistic said that out of every five books on average, one would turn a profit, two would break even, and two would lose money. So, publishers bet on what they considered would sell. But even when they still had people who knew books (less the case these days), they were wrong so much of the time—and yet still made money. When you’ve got a monopoly on production, you can profit, as there are few challenges.

Everything that didn’t sell more expensive hardback copies was a heresy that traditional publishing fought. Cheaper paperback books were considered an abomination, yet readers loved them and bought even more books of all types, increasing readerships. Ebooks came along, and it was said they’d never be a significant part of the market (it’s rather significant now). The concept of audiobooks was thought marginal, and now they’re getting a bigger share of the market. At every turn, people found other ways of accessing stories without paying a lot for each one, yet with more profit to the creators—the authors. With each new method, smart authors could profit from adopting the path.

Still, printing books remained pricey until the advent of Print on Demand (POD) technology, where printing books became lower-priced, and one only needed to order as small a print run as they wanted—no more hundreds of unsold books in boxes in the garage for the self-published! Ebooks were even cheaper, and they started getting a higher profile. “Self-published” for so long was synonymous with “trash,” because anyone could do it, and it had not been blessed by the gatekeepers of publishing. Self-published authors were dismissed as hobbyists, not professionals. Yet some began creating works as good as the professionals, with astonishing results. Some sold primarily ebooks, and the early days of Kindle became a gold rush for a select few. Having quality items in a limited field can certainly be profitable, and many blasted out their results to upend the publishing world.

Now the publishing world no longer belongs solely to the gatekeepers. It is possible to publish and sell without an agent or a publisher (middlemen between the author and reader), and to keep control of one’s own work. It does mean that anyone wishing to be successful in this path learn a great deal about the ways and means of selling online, in essence becoming a small business. But a true business it can be.

That’s where we are today— any writer has multiple means of getting their stories out to the world without waiting years for a blessing or “go-ahead” from strangers. One can even make money at it, and some can even be very successful by adopting techniques used by successful authors before them. The information is widely available because the independent (indie) community is very open and helpful, and willing to share what works. 

The writers to be pitied are the traditional writers, who came of age in a system that may have worked for them in the past, but no longer works for most. While writing stays the same, many writers have quit, unable to deal with the changes to everything they knew about publishing and unable or unwilling to learn. The sad part is, even with traditional publishers, writers are now expected to do much of their own marketing and selling anyway, but they have many more restrictions, and must do it without many of the benefits that indies enjoy. With the publishing world turned upside down, the indies are now the ones with the best chances of success going forward.

Though I began in the traditional path, getting an agent and trying to get a larger publisher interested, many months would go by with no word and no progress. By attending conferences, learning from blogs, articles, and talking to many writers, I saw that a new path was becoming viable. While I was learning more, I published my first few novels with small presses, who would let me set all the terms: content, covers, pricing, and distribution. After two years and three books, I had learned enough to strike out on my own. Now with 24 books out, I am my own publishing company, and quite happy to produce all my work on my schedule, just the way I like it.

Many traditional authors bewail people finding mistakes in their books, because it is expensive to change the galley proofs, so oftentimes errors remain unfixed. Indie writers can correct any published error and have an updated version in minutes, for ebooks, and days for print.

Due to the changes in publishing, it is now the best time in history to be a writer. One can create stories and get them to a worldwide market, in multiple formats. Anything a writer wishes to create can be up for sale, with no one blocking publication, because they feel it will not sell enough. We have ultimate freedom for our craft.

Dale T. Phillips has published novels, story collections, non-fiction, and over 70 short stories. Stephen King was Dale’s college writing teacher, and since then, Dale has found time to appear on stage, television, radio, in an independent feature film, and compete on Jeopardy. He’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Visit Dale at