Alton Gansky on the Changing Face of Publishing

Alton Gansky is a fulltime writer with an eclectic background. He has been a firefighter, spent a decade in architecture, and twenty-two years as a Baptist minister. He is the author of forty or so books, both fiction and non and has written for a variety of businesses.
In addition to his own writing, Alton has, through his company Gansky Communications, provides writing services to publishers, agents, businesses, and other authors. He is a sought after co-author and public speaker.
Al has been a Christy Award finalist (A SHIP POSSESSED) and an Angel Award winner (TERMINAL JUSTICE). He holds a MA in biblical studies and lives in central California with his wife.

So many aspiring writers think there is a set path to getting published, would you tell us about your journey to publication?
My path to publications was not a direct one. I knew early on—grade school—that I wanted to write, but I went an entirely different direction. Like many young people, I ping-ponged from one interest to another. I returned to writing in my twenties but had no success. I was working in architecture at the time and that kept me busy. I have an eclectic background (banking, firefighter, architecture, pastor, and few other things). I had a few articles and reviews published and assumed I’d write nonfiction books, but I loved story and gave novel writing a shot. When I was done, I sent it to a pay-to-read agent. This shows how little I knew about the publishing industry. He took the money, had someone read it, then sent a few comments. It so discouraged me that I put the book on the shelf for five years.
My good friend Jack Cavanaugh called one day to tell me about the contract  he had just signed—a contract that led to a series of nine books. He then asked about my book. I moaned and whined and he listened with the patience of Job, then applied a a metaphorical boot my rear end. I reworked the book, submitted it and Victor Books (now Chariot-Victor) published it and several other novels. I’ve done about forty books now and am still learning the craft.
What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the industry since you began, and how have they affected you as an author?
There are too many changes to discuss in a single blog. Publishing, like most industries, changes over time, but it hasn’t changed this much since the invention of the moveable press. Here are a few that come to mind:
  • Print on demand/just in time printing. The way publishers print physical books has changed remarkably over the last decade or so. Once a publisher ran a few thousand books, and stored some in a warehouse, ready to fill orders as they came in from bookstores. Many publishers have done away with that model and print based on orders. This makes sense for the publisher and doesn’t hurt the author unless it slows down the delivery of books. 
  • The rise of clicks over bricks. changed everything and continues to do so. Amazon is a bookstore. Sure they sell everything except military equipment but they are still thought of as the place to buy books. Others have followed them (iBooks, Barnes & Noble for example) but have not made the same progress. Amazon continues to change publishing by making it possible for almost anyone to publish a book. This has led to . . . 
  • The “entrepreneurial author”: the writer who writes and publishes his/her own material. Some of it is poorly done, but professional writers have jumped in and are producing worthwhile, well-crafted material. A growing number of authors are bypassing publishers in order to improve their unit profits. 
  • A publisher’s dependence on the author to do the bulk of marketing and promotion. Author participation has always been part of the publishing partnership, but in some circles, much of the weight falls on the author. That brings problems. 
  • The increasing importance of writers conferences in helping authors make it into the publishing universe. Conferences are not new, but the degree to which editors and agents have come to depend on conferences have reached a new level of importance. 
  • The advent of e-books, e-mags, e-newspapers. This phenomenon is not going away. Authors, agents, and publishers are facing a new paradigm. It’s a good thing. I’m one of those who thinks the rise of digital content is a grand thing.
Give us your predictions on how readers will enjoy books ten years from now.
The trend in technology is to meet three needs: communication, entertainment, content delivery. That will continue and the lines between the three arenas will blur. Apple changed things with the iPad and Amazon changed things with the Kindle. Other companies have joined the fray, but these two are almost unassailable. Physical newspapers will continue to decline as will some magazines (although magazines are in a better position to survive). Many people read magazines and newspapers on a digital device. Digital publications have an advantage because they are a media rich environment. I read The Daily on my iPad and every issue has print, photo, video, and music. A physical magazine can’t do that. (Incidentally, the number of iPad owners doubled over the 2011 Christmas holiday. Doubled!)
I can see a day in the near future in which books (even novels) will be media rich. This trend has already begun. I downloaded a book recently that read to me and added sound effects to match the scene.
Digital books allow reading across devices. This week I downloaded a short story by James Scott Bell. I read about a third of it on my iPad and the rest of it on my iPhone using a Kindle app. The app syncs between the two devices so I pick up on one device where I stopped on the other. This makes the book ubiquitous.
Physical books will be around for a long time. Readers love the feel of a book. E-books will not replace p-books anymore than television killed movies and radio.
If you could share anything with an aspiring author what would it be?
Learn the craft. It takes time. It takes effort. Study what other writers are doing. Then get started writing. The more you write, the better you get. There is no substitute for determined effort. Oh, and don’t put your work on the shelf for five years as I did..