Writers blocked?

Ever thought of publishing your own book? I’ve not yet published a book but of late I’ve been thinking of creating an e-book. I enjoy book design and have had 10 years of design experience in book publishing.

Before I started my own business, I was fortunate to work with writer and book publisher Tim Chamberlain, as the senior designer at Streamline Creative. Together we would walk through the book design process; start with a manuscript, creating the design and layout through to print production. When at last we unwrapped the advance copies from the printer, it was always a thrill to see how our creative endeavours looked in the printed book.

Recently I connected with Tim and asked him to share his thoughts on today’s publishing world from the perspective of a publisher and writer. I found it insightful so I wanted to share it with you.

'Rolling Thunder' won the Environment category of the Montana Book Awards in 2002. It was published by Exisle Publishing, design & artwork by Streamline Creative

‘Rolling Thunder’ won the Environment category of the Montana Book Awards in 2002. It was published by                  Exisle Publishing. Design by Heather Lee for Streamline Creative.

Writers blocked?

It’s never been easy for an unpublished writer to succeed in having a book accepted for publication. How much more so now, with publishers retrenching, restructuring or shutting down? Recently in New Zealand these changes have impacted on some of our largest publishers.

Book industry ruptures

Pearson Education, Hachette NZ and HarperCollins are among the casualties (33 staff lost their jobs at HarperCollins, while Hachette axed 15).

Did those multi-national branch offices quit or downsize too soon, before the dust has settled from publishing’s shake-out? Presumably the foreign decision-makers would have had little sentiment for a small and struggling market.

The seismic ruptures of the book industry are largely an outcome of the digital revolution and the resulting shift in the way that content is being ‘consumed’. Fewer printed books are being read and sold, with independent bookstores as well as the chains suffering from a sharp decline in revenue and profit. Retailers are reluctant to order new titles from local publishers (they’d rather tell the publisher to email a JPG of the cover and they’ll order one copy if they get an enquiry). Last time I visited a Whitcoulls store (one of their largest), they had replaced books with toys across most of the shelving adjacent to the main door.

Reading declines – imagine that

New Zealand readers increasingly buy printed or e-books online from overseas, for reasons of price and convenience. But book reading is declining and I think it’s our changing lifestyles that are to blame. Addiction to the instant gratification of social media – especially by younger people who admit to having very short attention spans – means that fewer of us are inclined to curl up on a couch and make the effort of reading a 300-page novel or non-fiction work. That’s a great pity, because few activities awaken the imagination like the one-on-one engagement you get by reading a good author – especially in a well-designed print format.

Vanity no longer

Where does all this change leave the aspiring writer? Ironically, it’s now easier than it’s ever been to get published, because you can publish yourself, and without the stigma of the redundant label ‘vanity publishing’.

Digital publishing business models offer the writer a tempting split of the revenue with one or more of the monolithic international e-book retailers – who needs a publisher now?

Before e-books, an author fortunate to have a publishing contract often had a multiple book deal, and if they were deemed ‘bankable’, they would get an advance on royalties. The publisher would look after the rest of the process, from editing, design and artwork to printing, distribution and marketing.

The self-publishing author needs to finance their project and have some expertise in most of these fields. That’s fine if they are reasonably well off, and have loads of time and a flair for marketing. But I believe a writer needs to concentrate on writing, because time and talent are his or her most valuable commodities – and working on the words is probably what he or she would rather be doing anyway.

New breed needed

Who will handle the rest of the publishing process then? A literary agent? Unlikely – at least not the kind who has traditionally served professional writers and the industry. I foresee a new breed emerging – an agent who will manage all or most of those functions the writer needs to outsource so they can focus on their writing. Someone with a book trade background may be well suited to this role, especially if they’ve had experience in both production and marketing, and more so if they understand the nuances of social media. A good job, don’t you think, for some of those bibliophiles who are being laid off by the publishers?

Tim Chamberlain


Do you have a publishing question that you would like answered?

I would recommend you connect with Tim. He has a wealth of knowledge to share about the publishing industry and enjoys helping others.


Tim Chamberlain

About Tim Chamberlain

Tim is Managing Director at Streamline Creative Ltd, which he founded in 1990. His work skills include editing, production and project management for independent publishers and self-publishers. Streamline Creative is based in Auckland and has clients in New Zealand, USA, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Tim can guide and assist you with unedited manuscript to delivery of printed books and other publications. Non-fiction and natural history are his speciality areas. He is also a published writer whose interests are running, photography and travel. You can connect with Tim on LinkedIn.


Heather Lee

Heather Lee

Heather has had many years experience as a graphic designer in both the advertising and publishing industry. She enjoys helping others by providing solutions to visual problems for print and the web.
Heather Lee

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