Can You Do Better?
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 14 2009
With the economic downturn and mass changes in publishing as well as many other industries, I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling about how publishing models are outdated and need change. What I haven’t heard though are a lot of ideas for how those changes should be made.
Let’s face it, publishing is in trouble. Fewer people read books and publishing companies are running on outdated models. That being said, I also think there are a lot of things that publishers are still doing right, and some of what I am seeing others complain about are not things I necessarily think need to be changed. But I’m interested in hearing from you.
Some think the answer is buying fewer books. For some that means only buying premier literature (which sounds to me like the end of commercial fiction). But what does that mean and what about the millions of People magazine readers out there who are willing to plunk down $30 to buy Jenny McCarthy’s book on autism or the autobiography of Kenny Loggins? And what about all of the amazing books that have wowed American and international reading audiences because someone was willing and able to take a chance? Sure, there are a lot of books that fail every year, but how do we know ahead of time that they won’t succeed. Some will argue that the writing is crap, but those same people will say the writing is crap about a multitude of bestsellers. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is one thing that will never truly change about publishing and that is that its audience is fickle and unpredictable. Reading is a personal thing, and while we can look at similar books to try and judge how a book will do, in the end we’ll never know until the readers have their say, and I for one like the opportunity to give the readers many chances to judge.
Some think we should stop paying huge advances to authors, and, frankly, I don’t have any complaints about that. As I say to my authors all the time, if you were meant to make the money you think you should be making on a book, you will. If you feel a publisher is underpaying you, prove them wrong by earning huge royalties. The problem is you won’t make it now, you’ll make it a year, two years, or three years from now. Can authors make that switch and are they comfortable continuing to write with little to no up-front reward?
Some think we should eliminate the return system in publishing, and here’s where you’ll hear a resounding “yes” from me. I just don’t get it. I just do not understand why any business thinks the producer needs to be responsible for the ordering of the bookstores, especially in this day and age. Publishing is the only business that takes the hit for over-orders made by bookstores that seem to intentionally over-order, instead of printing just what consumers demand. What is interesting about this one proposed change is that by making it you will automatically make the changes asked for above. Fewer books will be printed because bookstores will be less willing to take risks on some titles, and advances are going to be lower because unless we know 60,000 copies of a book is going to get ordered, publishers are going to become more cautious. Economically it makes a lot of sense, but environmentally it makes sense too. Why are we printing thousands of books only so that they can be ripped up later? It makes me cringe.
But what about you? What do you think the publishing industry needs to do to enter this new century and save themselves?
I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader and consumer. The main reason I’ve cut down on my book purchases is the lack of voice in current fiction. To cut print cost, publishers now demand the leanest and meanest prose from their established authors.
I used to wait for release dates and get to the bookstore to pick up my favorite authors’ current releases. Except in a very few cases, I no longer have that desire. Writers have tightened their prose to the point where they all sound exactly the same. There is no discernible voice.
I will give two exceptions. I can still pick up a book by Janet Evanovich or Suzanne Brockmann, read a paragraph or two, and tell you who wrote the book. I still rush to the bookstore for their latest releases.
I’m currently devoting a whole week on my blog to niche genres and ebooks because there is untapped potential in those areas. Ebooks and print books can coexist peacefully and niche genres need both to survive.
I think this is a great time for publishers, authors, and readers to brainstorm new possibilities that can lead to realistic innovations and reinvention for the publishing industry.
My thoughts concern the cost of the book to the reader.
I have always been a poor and money conscious person. My husband went out and bought a book brand new by my favorite authors a few weeks ago. It cost $26.00, over two hours income at my part time job.
The bad thing is – that is the worst book that author has ever written! I look at books I bought for $0.75, and would gladly have given $10.00 for the knowledge and enjoyment of reading them.
If books cost less for the reader to buy, they, including penny pincer author me, would buy far more.
What would you rather do with your $20.00 of spending money per month? Buy three books, thereby supporting up to three authors, or save for two months to buy one book?
The buyer had the option to support up to six authors in a two month period, yet could only support one due to the extremely high price of the current books.
I’m with you on returns.
Instead of returning books, booksellers could start selling them with other better selling books of the same genre (Buy this author, get this debut author for 1/2 off). making some money is better than shredding the books.
If they had a large back stock, give them away. By this big name hardback for 26.00, get this debut paperback for free.
The options are there for the booksellers. It’s getting them to start trying them that’s tricky.
ugh. That should be BUY this big name author…
I DO think the returns policy is a mess and should be changed.
Otherwise, I’m not convinced there are that many problems, although it’s possible the big publishers need to adjust their thinking on what a “successful” book is. If it’s only successful if it sells 50,000 copies in hardcover, then the industry, pretty much by definition, is a failure.
What I really see going on is increased fragmentation. The big commercial NY publishers are publishing the “big” books by bestsellers that sell millions of copies and more and more good independent and small publishers are working on the niches, publishers like Poison Pen Press, Oceanview, Midnight Ink, etc. These publishers think 5000 sold is pretty damned good.
It reminds me of TV being broken up by cable and downloads, by the record industry being swamped by independent labels, and maybe even the movie industry. Maybe… just maybe… it’s a good thing.
My mother worked at a large bookstore chain in the cafe section. When the store would do returns twice a month, they were required to only send in the title. Guess who got the bodies of the books not sent out – yep, the employees. She said they would leave with bags and bags of books to take to their friends and family.
I know my first thought as an author was “leave the cover pages there and return the work”. It doesn’t seem fair that the actual story, the actual meat of the book, is left out there to be handed around while the cover is returned. I understand why they do return just the cover, but maybe returns would lower if the stores had to pay shipping on the whole book.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t require a cover to enjoy the story. I’m sure the people with those free books feel the same way.
How do changes occur in an industry that has worked the same for essentially decades?
How can we as consumers help perpetuate that change?
I am not in the business, but from what I know of the business I am in (music), and from browsing remainder tables, it’s usually not the debut authors with big returns. It’s the steady author who had one book pop and then the next book is over-printed, or the “pop” author with waning popularity.
In my industry we have a returns allowance which is a percentage of our buy. I can return product, but very little, so I’m more cautious and selective on the titles I decide to step out on. If I pick wrong, I know I’m going to have to eat the majority of it.
…and after reading Bon’s comment I wanted to add it’s a pain to return product. We have to return the music AND the cover art. It also has to be in sellable condition – no stickers, fully shrink-wrapped, etc.
For my day job I write thought leadership books on the intersection of leading edge business concepts and technology. I hate to sound like the tech guy, but the fact is technology has opened up numerous opportunities for companies to be more innovative in terms of efficiency as well as their business model.
I am not advocating for getting rid of books as we know them and replacing them with Kindles and such–I love books too much for that and they still are a very good product for a number of reasons. What needs to change however is the business model and there needs to be a recognition that technology has to play a role. What that role is should be left to each company in terms of applying their own idiosyncratic methods and business philosophy, but there are opportunities.
Publishing also needs to do a much better job of igniting the next generation of readers as well as new readers. School reading lists need to be updated so that the books kids are reading hold some meaning to them. My 14-year-old step daughter recently read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which she loved, but then has been sent down the path of doom and gloom by being forced to read “Lord of the Flies” and then “Of Mice and Men.” Both are seminal works of fiction, but they are not going to inspire a 14 year old to read.
There are also people out there who don’t read for not other reason than they don’t think there is a book out there for them. They think reading is something elites do (thanks Bush et al) and reject it. Books and reading need to go more mainstream. I have blogged about this (https://www.redroom.com/blog/james-buchanan), but when I look at the stories that get published in anthologies, collections, journals, and magazines it is no wonder the short story is suffering and most people don’t read them. They are boring and don’t speak to any kind of average or consensus experience. People want movies and books that touch them and excite them and speak to their own lives, but the short fiction that gets published does not do any of that. All too often it meets an MFA inspired definition of good writing, which is nothing more than inward looking naval gazing. It used to be that short fiction was published for the explicit reason that it should entertain readers of large consumer magazines, but we have lost that and with it many, many readers.
This is even more frustrating because in our harried world short fiction should be perfect. It is concise and brief, can be started and finished in a night or two, portable and etc. Instead, people are confronted with excellent writing, but a really insidiously boring story.
Anyway, those are my thoughts.
Unintended consequences comes to mind. In so many ways the system seems 'broken', but by 'fixing' the 'broken', something else inadvertantly suffers. The solutions are the usual suspects: reduce costs & increase margins (profits). But how do you get there? Perhaps by expanding marketing & point of sales into much wider venues as technology allows: i.e. the internet, of course; the ever-widening cell phone capabilities expand potential markets, etc. Other than that, I'm clueless.
As a blogging book reviewer, I interact with real readers all the time. Sometimes I’ll read something an agent or editor *assumes* about readers and I’ll shake my head, baffled.
From what I’ve observed, readers who can’t find what they’re looking for in New Releases go to the libraries and used bookstores instead. They do this NOT to save money, although this is a bonus. They do it because the canNOT find what they’re looking for in New Releases. Sometimes, they give up and never come back to New Releases at all.
The sale of New Releases does NOT reflect the needs and desires of these disenchanted readers. I think if someone in the publishing industry would send people out to interview these readers somehow they would have a huge advantage over the competition.
By “naval gazing” I meant that MFA programs have created something of a closed loop by creating writers and defining what good writing is so that it is next to impossible for another voice or point of view to break into that cycle. Short stories are now primarily reflecting the tastes of the MFA crowd and not the average reader.
I have touched on this before. For a true reader, lack of choice tends to get you out of habit.
Price is another issue of mine. A paperback used to cost 4.95, now it’s 7.95. People can find other entertainment for that price. I still buy books, just less of them.
As an author, pay me on merit. Let my book earn the money. Don’t give me an advance, unless you have given me an assignment. If I am good, my name will pay off eventually. If I’m good I shouldn’t need money up front.
As for the bookstore ordering extra books, return the whole book get credit towards the next purchase, but do not return the whole price of the book. Their ordering will get closer to the right numbers. No one will be getting free books. Resell the books whole on half.com or some other discounted place once they are no longer the current thing. Just like they do movies.
Less selection for the readers has to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. People will just stop going to book stores. They will wait for the authors they read to produce another book, because there is no reason to waste their gas to browse if they keep going back and nothing has changed. Then new authors will give up, stop writing because it is too hard to get published. It almost feels like that now from everything I have read.
Kindle may work for a few people, but as an author I have to read my mss on the computer and I have some major eye issues because of it. Most people will NOT like reading it that way. My beta readers never want to read my work on the computer. They always want to print it!
I really don't have any publishing knowledge apart from that which i have learned from numerous blogs and being a consumer.
1. i agree the return system is insane. i understand they 'why' of it, but in this day and age it doesn't make economical sense.
I think bookpublishers will have to wake up and smell the 'amazon' roses. Online bookshops & POD seem to be the way of the future.
Granted this system leaves the debut author out in the cold but considering some of the artful adaptions in regards to royalty contracts (with royalties being tied to returns) out there – perhaps it wouldn't matter.
2. In the US – there is an obsession with hardback novels (sweeping statement i know) – in the UK only really established novels get hardbacks. e.g. The only 'twilight' related book i've seen in hardback is a 22 euro collectors item. Everything else is paperback and costs the consumer 8-10 euro. perhaps they should reverse the hardback – softback cycle and have soft released first and if is successful release 'collectors editions' for thos who like hardback.
3. i don't think books are being read less, i just think the medium for both ordering and reading has changed. Online 2nd hand books are killing royalties for authors and publishers and epublishing has emerged (like the music downloads) with a bang and no regulation (or won't when apple loose their protection rights)
Check out this interesting article about second hand books destroying publishing:
Like you said a big overhaul is needed for 21st century. whether it happens – who knows?
A real book, with great cover art, is the only way to go. Kindle does nothing for me!
Returns have got to make like the dinosaur.
“Hi! I bought these dozen eggs but I want to give ten back.”
“I used a quarter of this nail polish, and I’d like to return it now.”
Doesn’t work, no matter how you try. Although I have seen an old lady bring back three celentines out of the box and they gave her a refund. Only because she could barely see above the counter.
I agree with April and Anon 9:34 — price is a huge detterent for me. If you don’t have the money you simply don’t buy the books you want. I’ve put many a book down because I couldn’t afford the 24, 25, 28 dollar price tag.
Also, though, I think that AUTHORS would benefit from publishers taking on books that they had plans to promote. The way it is now one lead title per season gets ALL the promotion and the rest are condsidered midlist (though half of them are better written, more interesting that the so called “lead title”). Sorry, but if the publisher can’t even back the authors with a little promotion they have virtually ZERO chance of making it.
I like not allowing book returns. It doesn’t make sense to me either. And though advances are nice, they’re not necessary. Most writers have a regular job so to wait for money from a book probably wouldn’t make such a huge difference.
The future is here but we can’t compehend it completely just yet. Kindle and like-technologies will become the norm for delivering ‘books’. In twenty-five years people will read books mostly on PDA devices, etc…printed books will go the way of the Dodo Bird. Just as Blockbuster-type stores will soon give way to direct access through electronics. Books are heading that direction. You will see only bookstores that have become depositories for used books and/or ‘antique’ collector books. Give it up. That’s the future for publishing. The ways authors and their agents will be paid will expand into direct sale tabulations stemming from all these new delivery systems.
Yep, publishing as it is today is done. We are seeing the death throes beginning. But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes a new delivery system will be born. A kind of Darwin’s Theory of Publication at work.
James said: (re: school reading lists — Lord of the Flies and Mice and Men)
“…Both are seminal works of fiction, but they are not going to inspire a 14 year old to read…”
All a teen has to do is walk into a bookstore. John Green, Stephenie Meyer, Scott Westerfield, etc are all exciting and relevant choices. It’s incredibly unrealistic to expect financially struggling school systems to be able to purchase class sets of new, bestselling teen authors. Schools barely have money for textbooks, for pete’s sake.
“But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes a new delivery system will be born. A kind of Darwin’s Theory of Publication at work”
I can hear a musical score booming in the background.
Perhaps this is true anon, i’m really really hoping its not!
I love ‘fiction’ books and would hate to see them kindlefied into hard plastic and lcd screen.
but that being said, about those academic heaving school books – i would not mind seeing them digitised into weightlessness – maybe in 25 years time.
This is such a good question and ought to be sent out there to as many brainstormers as possible. I’m a writer and a voracious reader. I love the feel and coziness of a real book. What if (I admit I don’t understand the industry well) we got rid of hardcovers and only did paperbacks, and printed those on cheaper (recyclable!!!) paper?
No. 2: Yes, get rid of the big advances (Yeah, it’s easy for me to say-I never got one) and don’t waste publisher resources hyping that one book, which, if it’s successful, is primarily b/c of the hype. Let the readers decide for themselves.
No. 3: One of my biggest complaints about a lot of the books I read (or should I say skim?) is that they’re padded with extraneous description, etc to meet a word count to give the reader a larger book, etc. I disagree almost entirely with what the first commenter (anon) said. If a writer has voice, it’ll shine thru all 60-65,000 words of a short novel. If she doesn’t, 100,000 words will not magically bestow it upon her. Publish shorter books and charge less.
I have to agree with James, though. My teen often comes home from school complaining that her teacher protests her choice of book for the reading requirement. If teachers are going to refer to genre fiction as “trash” and force kids to read books they don’t like, it’s going to turn them off to reading.
Luckily, both my kids read voraciously, although I must also gripe about the cost of books. Some of the young adult books, in soft cover, are $14.99. It’s nothing for me to drop $50 at the bookstore buying for my kids. That leaves very little money left over for books for mom.
Print my book, I don’t care about an advance. My first book, I certainly will have another source of income! I’m not stupid. I get crazily rich being an author, then I still don’t need an advance. If you tell me what to write then yes pay me while I’m writing, just like any other job.
As for returns, there needs to be give and take. Sending just the covers back is idiotic. Giving back the whole purchase price is idiotic. Not taking anything back is stupid, also. Pre-ordering a book is one of the smarter things I’ve seen done. It gives an idea of what’s coming, running out of something creates demand. People will rush in to buy the next sequel. If they have run out, some of those people are going to buy other books to curb their disappointment, and there better be some to choose from!
I’m not a fan of the return system, either. But if bookstores can’t return books, they’ll be more selective about what they purchase for sale.
That means — and this is something I yearn to see regardless of what happens with returns — that the publishers ought to put some effort into promoting books by new and mid-list authors.
Over the past week and a half, I’ve come across enough contests for the new James Patterson paperback, Sundays at Tiffany’s, that I think I counted over 100 copies being given away on the various book blogger sites. (My Win a Book blog posts links to contests, among other cool things that authors are up to, promo-wise. Book bloggers and authors send me their links.)
Yes, it cost the publisher very little to produce those books, but even by limiting the shipping to the US and Canada, they’re shelling out quite a bit; they don’t exactly use media mail. It makes me wonder if that money is really being spent wisely. I mean, James Patterson? Hello? Doesn’t he routinely sell out press runs in the hundreds of thousands? Why is he being given such a push?
Yet if those 100 copies had, instead, gone to something (or things) that otherwise might have been overlooked, maybe we’d have another Patterson on our hands. Maybe the publisher would be able to attract enough buzz to a new author, or a mid-list author with a great new release, and now they’d have TWO (or more) authors with a huge fan base.
Promo. Promo the new guys, the little guys. And all of you authors and publicists, send the links to me at Win a Book — I’m trying to be the change I want to see. (and having great fun in the meantime)
I have to say I totally disagree on the cutting words from a book. Even if I don’t read every word in a book, there are always words that create a mood. If I like a book I will go back and re-read and discover something new I missed the first time. Both of my teen-agers (13 and 17) pick up the thickest books they can find first, as do I. I would much rather pay a higher price for a thicker book than waste my money on a stark worded thin book! How many best sellers do you see that are an inch thick? Yeah there are a few, now tell me how many best sellers that are three inches thick?
I agree with Kimber An (and others). As a consumer the reason I don’t buy more books is because I have a hard time finding stories that interest me. I regularly go to the bookstore or wander the reading section of the grocery store looking for something to capture me. I LOVE to read. However, very, very rarely do I purchase anything. When a book DOES get my attention, my interest is mild – not enough for me to plunk down $7.99.
For me, this is about risk. Every time I try something new, I’m gambling with my money that I am going to like it. Guess what? Experience says that I’m usually disappointed with what the bookstore / grocery chain has to offer. Experience says that I will be a happier camper if I pick up new authors at the library and give them a try there first before throwing my money away.
The exception to this is word-of-mouth. I am much more likely to purchase a book that all my girlfriends are raving about. I know their tastes and trust their opinions – less risk. (and often I will buy in hardback when this happens. Considering how tight my budget is at the moment, this says a lot.)
If the publishing industry wants to change my buying habits (and I would actually like them too), the price of books needs to be cut in half. Especially now when we are all paranoid about money anyways. Secondary to that, the quality of writing and stories needs to go up. Give me something I can’t resist and I won’t resist it.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned the many non-writing roles an author can play in a book’s success. Yes, the publishing industry needs to make some changes, but maybe we as writers need to make some too.
Contemporary culture is celebrity-obsessed, and one of the things that indicates to me (other than the obvious decline of Western civilization) is that when readers feel they “know” an author, they’re more likely to buy his or her work.
I’m not suggesting we all dash out and attempt to outdo Paris Hilton (*shudder*), but I do think it’s important for writers to develop a following in whatever ways they can. As a group we tend to be a bit hermit-like (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but burying oneself in his or her work to the exclusion of interaction in the real world becomes more counterproductive daily.
Of course, the unintended consequence of “celebrity fiction authors” could be the supression of the truly talented and shy while the gregarious and gawdawful rise to prominence in the market.
There are no easy answers, are there?
Anonymous, I’ve never been asked to cut length in my stories and, while I appreciate a tightly written story, it’s my voice, not the fact I’ve been told to keep stuff short due to production costs, so I’m not sure that’s a valid argument.
However, I do have to agree that the returns system for book sales needs to be addressed. Books that have their covers ripped are not supposed to be sold or given to employees, yet I find them in the sales bins at the Salvation Army or Goodwill all the time–that’s dead wrong, yet at the same time, filling landfills with unsold books is, IMHO, criminal. I don’t have answers, just complaints! The system needs to be changed, but I also would hate to give up the chance to browse through a bookstore in search of something new to read. I think ebooks and POD are the future, but how that will be implemented in a way that keeps the industry alive and thriving is beyond me.
I agree that you shouldn’t cut words from a book that someone’s written, as long as the words aren’t padding. I am not a writer, just a reader, but what I don’t like is paying for a thick book and then finding out that much of that thickness comes from the author describing what the grass looks like on the way to a building and then what the outside of the building looks like and then we get to the inside…this is not atmosphere. It’s padding and I feel taken by that author and the publisher.
Great topic, Jessica. I know very little about the publishing industry other than what I have learned through posts like this one. As a pre-published author I would gladly forgo any advance for a possible higher royalty rate.
I do agree also that the return policy is absolutely insane. The publisher obviously must cover the costs of returns and that is reflected in the price of every book. And the printed quantity can never match the demand for any one title–unless of course it’s POD.
I’m not sure where epublishing and self-publishing are headed, either. There is a stigma attached (real or not) that self-publishing or any “non traditonal publishing” method is on a lower social order and not worth pursuing. Some day that may change, but in the meantime the author/agent/publisher/big book store structure will have to change at every level if it is to reinvigorate itself. I don’t have the answers.
Great things to think about! Thanks!
I really liked disorderly’s thoughts above. Perhaps there are things we as writers need to change as well!
I know that when an author is published, he or she needs to contribute to advertising their work, right? Do you have any prior posts about this? I’d like to know how much advertising an author is responsible for.
I still buy plenty of new books in both non-fiction and fiction. I might not buy as much in the same genre as in previous years (I never liked urban fantasy or paranormal romance, and it’s difficult to find heroic fantasy in the new releases), but I’m still buying.
As an author, I’ve always been willing to receive only a small advance or none at all. I look for publishers who give advances, though, because that’s a sign of a valid publisher.
As for returns, I think most people agree there’s a problem. But the trick is getting the bookstores to give up their current nice deal while still being willing to take risks on new titles. Switching how this is done will unsettle the industry for years since everyone will have to figure out how to make/stock the right balance of books. As an author, I must admit that thought makes me a little nervous.
Once upon a time, I owned a small bookstore, and I couldn’t afford to take a chance on unknown authors without the option of returns. I would have had to forego them entirely and stick with the bestsellers.
Now I’m on the writer end, and I certainly don’t want bookstores to ignore me because they can’t take the chance. But I understand the economics of it as well.
I’ve seen a lot of promo lately, primarily done by new / midlist authors. As a reader, it is starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth rather than sell me on the books. Why? Because the book has to live up to the hype. The more books that do not do so, the more jaded I become about quality of story vs. fancy websites, large web presences, and free giveaways.
I have never picked up a book because the author was hard-selling me (either directly or indirectly). I regularly pick up books that have ‘buzz’. True ‘buzz’ is based on quality of writing and excellence of story not marketing.
Kate, you may never have been asked to reduce your word counts, but if you research publisher requirements, you’ll find many have reduced the word counts on their lines in the past few years. Some that formerly wanted a standard 100,000 now ask for 85,000 to 95,000.
And as a reader, I’ve been disappointed lately in many of my favorite authors’ books. Perhaps it’s not related to the above, but they are all starting to sound the same. I’ve heard this same opinion voiced by other readers/friends, so I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I am a big-time consumer at the bookstore who is spending less on books by choice.
I agree with most of the opinions above, especially on the issues of the return system (outdated and wasteful) and the cost of books. And audiobooks, don’t get me started on them. Why in the world would an audiobook created from a book that was published 5 or 10 years ago be $49.95. It’s ridicious. The pricing model has to change, or readers will buy less and less books.
As a bookstore purchaser would you take a chance on a new author if you recieved most of your purchase price in the form of a credit towards future purchases?
And word of mouth or cover art, normally are my reason for picking out my books? If I read something I really like, I try to find something similiar to it based on the cover. I read Twilight based on word of mouth, then selected books like it based on cover.
In my perfect world, the big bucks offered to celebrities would be parsed out, with only a portion being paid up front and the remainder upon reaching certain sales milestones.
I understand why publishers compete for the big names, but if the person isn’t a tried-and-true draw, why give a million or more up front without any evidence that the book will sell?
The returns system should definitely go the way of the dinosaur, and wouldn’t it be nice if bookstores invested in Espresso book machines instead? They would have access to publishers’ full list of titles and would only need to print as many copies as they needed.
In fact, I bet the profit to both bookstores and publishers from such a system would be such that publishers could subsidize the cost of a prototype. Believe me, if I knew I could go to my nearest bookstore and take home the book I wanted within 30 minutes, I’d no longer order online. I quit going to bookstores because they never have what I want. Sure, they offer to order it, but I can order it myself and have it delivered to my door.
As for people who complain about the quality of writing that makes it into print, I echo the sentiment but I don’t think publishers would do better by going more literary and highbrow. There’s a place for all kinds of books and the bigger problem is availability. Espresso machines would help. So would inexpensive e-books and sample chapters and short stories for free or $1. With so much to choose from and books so costly, the “try before you buy” option is a great teaser and has sold me on books outside my usual reading genre. We need more of this!
And finally, we should all stop beating up on each other and ourselves. Authors that commit the Seven Deadly Writing Style Sins become best-sellers and go on Oprah. Writers that turn out polished works of genius go unnoticed and even unpublished. There is no magic formula, no special incantation that’s going to lead to success. Rather, it’s a matrix of many factors including, but not limited to, basic competence, good story, and lucky timing. Life isn’t fair. The best don’t always win. We need to be the best we know how to be and let the rest go.
Well, maybe publishing and literary agents shouldn’t be so picky about what they throw away and give new writers a second look. If they want to get out of this crisis it’s time to step it up.
The problem with books is… they are *work* to read. You have to ACTIVELY enjoy investing yourself in the *work* of reading a book… (using your imagination, rooting for and emotionally understanding characters, keeping track of plot, – last, but not least, learning about life and being able to cope with it from different points of view, which requires thinking and introspection!
Unfortunately, we live in a time when this is PASSIVELY acquired. Which means it is NOT emotionally, nor intellectually digested and made part of one’s humanity!
Haste yee back 😉
I think the industry needs to try to make a print-on-demand version of itself, at least for paperbacks.
Publishers would supply electronic files to bookstores, whose “shelves” would be computer terminals where customers could browse for books. When a customer buys a book, the store would print it on the spot, and pay the publisher electronically.
The publishing company loses some control over their final product, but they get a system where every book they sell makes them a profit, and there are no returns.
Customers would (ideally) get cheaper books (P.O.D. quality isn’t wonderful, so that would be fair) and a wider selection because the bookstore’s capacity isn’t limited by physical size.
This system would also be better for the environment, since there would be fewer books pulped.
With the economy as it is, our public library is seeing dramatic increases in usage in both non-print and traditional print collections. Many patrons who are finding money to be tight are more likely to try a new author at their local library. This also means that there are often long waiting lists for the one or two copies the library can afford to buy. It would be great if the publishing industry could find a way to work with that public library demand – maybe even book rental programs so that libraries can get multiple copies of popular releases to get through those first few months of high demand?
As much as I’d like to be one of those authors getting a ridiculously high advance, I have to imagine that the handful of big advances mean less money and promotion for the rest of the publisher’s list. I can sort of understand it when it’s a proven author who will ultimately earn the money. But I do wonder how many of the big advances received by celebrities are ultimately earned back in royalties.
Good ideas! Like the adage, I think writers and publishers should work smarter, not harder in selecting and promoting new books. Let the writers be responsible for doing much of their own PR work and give them ideas/tips on what to do and how to promote their works–not just in bookstores but in creative settings, based on your book.
How about tie-ins w/ thier subject matter?
Bookstores can start book reading groups and in-store promotions. Instead of only advertising works by brand-name authors which will sell anyway, they can take out ads promoting new authors.
Let authors earn their advances and not reward celebs with huge advances, esp since they don’t need them… Give new writers a chance and don’t only publish big-name authors and stars.
By employing creative ideas and marketing/sales strategies, we can overcome this (let’s hope) temporary situation.
People think nothing of spending $25. for a night out at the movies–why not for a book?
After all, a book is forever.
I think the entire selling model needs to change. Here’s how.
1) Each bookstore is essentially a POD producer. What I mean by that is that they have electronic access to each publisher’s entire stock. They also have the means to print those books in-store. This is entirely possible with current technology.
2) Book stores have no more than one copy of each book. These are all open and free for perusal, and individual stores can decide what gets displayed on their shelves. (According to local popularity stats – if one book gets sold frequently in that store, the book continues to have shelf life.) However, they have electronic access to essentially everything, whether in-store or not.
3) When a customer buys a copy, they have two options. A) Pay X dollars and wait for a few minutes while their copy is printed out. Pay 1/2X (or some fraction) to download the book to a digital reader.
4) I also envision a system where insanely popular books (ie Harry Potter) are still released in traditional hardcover on a particular date. Other specialized books (coffee table, photo, etc.) would also be stocked in-store. But all standard paperbacks and trade would be printed on-site.
I’m not sure I have any sage advice on how things should change. But I can tell you that the book publishing industry isn’t the only ones with this kind of problem. I left the newspaper business a few years ago and they have some of the same issues. Newspapers and books are targeted for the masses, trying to be all things to all people. The problem is that the market is increasingly segmented. I almost think it will come down to small/medium sized publishers that align themselves with those segments. It will be a smaller and smaller pie, in my opinion.
– stop paying $$$$ to celebrity authors. People might give them as presents, but they’re not enticing anyone to read; and someone who only drops $30 twice a year isn’t a client worth covetting. You want the people who skip lunch in order to buy a book once a week.
– stop paying $$$ to a selected few unproven authors who are then put under tremendous pressure to perform. (A number of the plagiarism/’true story’ scandals of the last few years appear to have been avoidable – but if you offer a chance of a lifetime to an author with little support otherwise, what do you think will happen?
– stop trying to publish only the bestsellers. Non-fiction has to have ‘a platform’ and authors are expected to be able to provide assurances of being able to sell X copies and invest Y marketing budget. (A $30K advance of which I have to reinvest $25K in order to get the contract sounds lousy to me.) Novels, on the other hand, have to be ‘high concept’ which means they all sound the same, and many of my favorite books would have fallen by the wayside by that criterium
– publish a wider range of books. It’s not me, it’s the publishing industry. If I weren’t friends with writers who a) write great stuff and b) reccommend great books to me, I would despair. While I probably will like one or the other Urban Fantasy title, the genre leaves me cold. Romance Does Not Work For Me at all, and books that cross over and attract Romance readers leave me out in the rain. I find many ‘high concept’ novels gimicky and would rather read something that’s a bit quieter, a bit less sensational, in which the world does not get saved – but that are solidly grounded in the genre and playing with its tropes – less new ground, better execution. I’m having a hard time finding those books.
– Another thing the publishing industry needs to do is to rethink its relationship with book stores.
Every time I go into a mainstreet bookstore (other than Borders/UK, who get it right in my opinion) I come out without books. Why? Because of the three shelves both of my local stores have, 70% are given over to a small selection of authors and series-tie ins. (I happen to like and own Terry Pratchett’s books, but I’d rather see six titles and twenty other books than his whole oevre.) The rest are books that have little appeal to me – I either own them already, or I have tried the author and not liked them. This leaves me with three or four books to discover, and quite frankly, that’s not worth going into a bookstore for. I haven’t taken a chance on a new author on the basis of ‘something caught my eye’ in five or six years. I buy books, I read avidly, I am just not served at all by mainstream bookstores. And the more publishers are paying kickbacks for selected titles to be promoted heavily, the fewer others seem to make it onto the shelves.
– bring back the pocket-sized MMPB. There’s a disturbing trend to a) trade paperback (the drawbacks of a hardcover without the endurance) and b) larger-sized MMPB – that also take up more shelf space and mean they are harder to store, read, and carry around. When you’re short on shelfspace, that sort of thing matters.
Oh, yes, and my word verification is ‘typo it’ which I just wanted to share…
I think it would be great if bookstores were a giant cafe/restaurant/music place. Live bands, live classical music, live readings, etc. Maybe even movie showings, etc. Make it a place where people want to go hang out with books. A really comfy reading area, plenty more chairs, etc. More tables with laptop plugins, places for people to work and write amongst books.
And then there would be books, but most would be samples to look at in the store, with the first few pages being more of a sales pitch than the beginning of a book. Maybe there’d be a few very special pre-made books to buy.
All the others would be made on that new book machine, the one that prints and binds a book in like three minutes.
I struggle with the royalty/advance thing. I get serial pay (not an advance) and then later royalties, but I find it difficult to convince myself to try a royalty-only pub. I always need the money! I suppose it should be that way, although I think, in many cases, they should make the royalties higher, particularly for ebooks.
Personally, I hate the idea of PODs and electronic books–it feels too much like work. Ugh!
Books make great gifts and can be recycled; not so for POD books.
I agree that books should be recycled–given to schools, libraries, nursing homes and homeless shelters–not tossed out like trash.
I agree with Anon 12:39 who suggests authors be more responsible for promoting their books–they have the most vested interest in its success.
Cover art helps identify the book and is half the reason I’m attracted to a book in the first place. Please let’s preserve “old-fashioned” hard copies–the system has worked well for over 500 years.
I am not going to go searching through hundreds of descriptions on a computer to find my next book. I will however look through shelves of books at Barnes and Noble or other bookstores. I cannot put an Ebook on my bookshelves. It’s really cool idea to have a POD bookstore, but it better print a professional quality book. And what happens when a kindle crashes and you lose all those books you paid for (like I did with the pictures on my computer)? Or what happens whe the new and improved electronic item comes out and the books on your kindle are useless? And then last but not least can you read a kndle out in the sun? I can’t see my computer screen outside. There will always be places where a kindle is just not gonna work. I want the real thing, and so does everyone I just ate lunch with. There wasn’t one vote for electronics.I don’t think it’s the answer ofr the way of the future.
Oh yeah, Haste yee back, I’ve never had to work at reading something I liked. As someone mentioned earlier, only the stuff that was crammed down my throat when I went to school did I ever have to work. And their right, it isn’t a good way to get kids interested in reading.
I completely agree on returns, and as soon as you said it, my thought was that eliminating that system would automatically lower advances and save some trees.
I also like the suggestion of packaging books together–buy this bestseller, and get this debut/other author for a fraction off, even if it’s only for a limited time. Books are getting more expensive, even for mass market paperbacks. I can hardly afford hardcovers anymore, much as I love them, and I often find myself unwilling to try a new author if their book is only available in that format, unless there is a lot of hype that piques my interest. I tell myself I’ll wait until it’s out in paperback (either trade or mass market), but if everyone thinks like me, the hardcover won’t sell, and the book will never make it to paperback…
Green Knight said:
“…I find many ‘high concept’ novels gimicky and would rather read something that’s a bit quieter, a bit less sensational, in which the world does not get saved – but that are solidly grounded in the genre and playing with its tropes – less new ground, better execution. I’m having a hard time finding those books…”
AMEN! I’m sick to death of being sold the hype of high concept only to have the writing be boring and the “concept” itself having all most nothing to do with the story. Unusual hooks are great, but it seems the more outlandish the hook the more the writing doesn’t live up to them.
I would forgo an advance if only the publisher would actively market the book instead of putting it in a catalog and forgetting about it.
And returns at bookstores? Please. Why, why, why is this accepted?
I won’t make any claims to brilliance when it comes to the publishing industry but I do think the “return policy” issue is ridiculous. As a writer, I’d be fine with lower advancements if it also meant fewer “returns” or books being “destroyed.” A destroyed book defeats the entire purpose for me.
I support the idea of books converted to files for your kindle but I can assure you that a “paper” book will always be my preferred method of choice.
I don’t argue over book prices because it’s a price I’m willing to pay. The written word is my passion. If I can’t ingest it daily, I’ll have serious withdrawals.
I’m sure that printing fewer books or taking on fewer clients has some economic wisdom but I cringe to skim more off the top of an already evaporating market. With other forms of entertainment making it difficult for the book industry, I would hate to see us make it any easier to make reading an endangered species.
When I go into a bookstore these days, I often read a blurb and a few sample page and think, “seen this before and seen it better.” Most of what I find today is highly derivative and poorly executed in “genre,” “literary,” and mainstream “blockbusters.” It seems to me that literary and genre/mainstream fictions have gone to extremes. The former obsesses with being “literary, profound, and/or cerebral” for its own sake, that an interesting and well constructed plot is lost; the latter obsesses with sensational, non stop action plots that atmoshere, thougtfulness, and strong writing are abandoned.
Take urban fantasy for example. While I like Kim Harrison, early Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and Jim Butcher, where are the Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Charles De Lint stories? Bull and De Lint are still publishing, but what about new voices in this tradition with a fresher take? Most of De Lint’s latest offerings pale in comparison to his 80s/90s work, and to a degree I do find that authors become stale in a way after decades (that’s not to say they shouldn’t keep writing or that I don’t find their work appealing, but even the Kings and De Lints of the world reach a high point in their careers then start recycling). I want a new De Lint or King with the same quality or promise of these authors in their earlier careers/high points, but for the 21st century. No one is stepping up though.
We need more hybrids like The Thirteenth Tale or The Historian (though not quite as bloated and a little less pretentious, but with the same great atmosphere and sense of suspense). We need an updated Bronte, Du Maurier, and Dickens with contemporary sensibilities (and perhaps stlightly faster pace) but without falling into badly written sensationalist dribble. The Romance genre needs more earlier Danielle Steel (Zoya, Jewels), The Thorn Birds, or even 80s Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon.
The Harrison, Hamilton, Harris, and Butcher clones have become ridiculous. It’s not that my interest in the supernatural has waned, but how many badass and snakry invesitgators/cops/bounty hunters with a troubled past can you have? The return to some of our gothic roots could be interesting–examining the psychology, horror, and eroticism of the human fascination of the supernatural. Paranormal romance, which started out promising (I love a good fantasy and romance) has ultimately become just as bland and predictable as urban fantasy. Also, urban fantasies need to stop being so long and open ended–10, 15 books is annoying; end the story on a high note and within a few books (at least epic fantasy seems to be taking note, with the new writers actually sticking with trilogies instead of 10+ Jordan/Erikson sagas, though Martin/Jordan clones need to stop too).
The economy is certainly in play, and the decline in reading in favor of other activities has a role, but I think the quality of what publishers and agents are giving readers is significant in what’s wrong with the industry. In hard times, publishers should consider not the reader who buys one or two bestsellers, but the reader who buys books all the time because they love to read. These are the people who will still give their cash in a poor economy, but they won’t spend it on crap.
James Buchannon –
Watch the “Bush is against reading” fallacy. The guy has a lot of faults, but that’s not one of them. Check his wife on the subject.
Any change that requires other people to give up what they already get (ie celebrity advances) is a non-starter. You’re better off looking at the whole subject as bi-modal: one fix for the midlist, another for the megabooks. For purposes of the midlist fix, assume that the megabooks don’t exist and that all books sell long-tail 50k copies and down.
Because megabooks have *no* effect on the midlist. Those “crazy” megabook advances wouldn’t be there if there weren’t “crazy” numbers of people likely to buy those particular books. That money wouldn’t go somewhere else, it just wouldn’t exist.
Actually, there might be a slight umbrella effect. I’m sure that Harry Potter fans bought quite a few other books during the months between JKR events.
I’d say there is definitely an umbrella effect. I’m personally guilty of it.
We need new material. We need new voices. We need to get rid of the fat cats who’ve lost their mojo. People have to stop acting like sheep and be more discerning in their choice of reading material and stop buying on name only and instead look for content. We need to save the trees. The industry needs a blood transfusion.
If writing and publishing was really about bringing creative talent to the world, and not just a money-making business, new authors would have a fighting chance. In my perfect world:
1. Each contract would stand on its own merits, it would be for one book and one book only. No two and three book contracts. If the authors next one is rubbish, tough luck, it doesn’t get published, no matter who they are or how many books they’ve had published. And they have to go through the same process every time by submitting to their agent a completed manuscript, not selling on their established name, or outline, or synopsis only.
2. Hardcover costs are too high for the general public, they take up too much space, they aren’t necessary.
3. Put a cap on first time print runs. For everyone. Then switch over to POD. The publisher should provide one free “Not For Sale” book to be used for shelving and advertizing purposes only.
4. Reduce the exorbitant advances some authors get. This would prevent publishers from sinking huge amounts of money into the big name only, and that book bombing. It also levels the promotional and marketing field for all authors.
5. No returns from booksellers. Promote books in advance and take pre-orders. You buy it you have it until you sell it, even if it ends up in the markdown bin.
6. Authors and their agents would have more say in the cover artwork and design of their book. It seems the author has been relegated to the bottom rung of the ladder and yet, the author is the creator, the artist. So what’s wrong with that picture?
I have O- Robena, the perfect blood, and the perfect book LOL!
I think the publishing industry needs to be systematically dismantled, the physical assets liquidated, and the personnel retrained as primary school teachers or something.
I don’t think it’s remotely possible to save it, nor do I think trying to save it is a good idea. I think it’s a good thing that all the money is draining out of that swamp.
And, no, I’m not at all worried that I won’t have anything good to read when the publishing industry is finally defunct.
I expect I’ll continue to have plenty of good things to read; I just won’t have to pay anyone for the right to read it.
[anonymous because i can see where a literary agent might not enjoy being confronted with this viewpoint]
Good HB and trade books will always have their fans and buyers. There’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands…
Let these few technos have their POD books and we’ll see “instant books” popping up in malls like fast-food chains. McBooks, anyone? I don’t think so!
I believe publishers need to go with less paper.
Submissions and copy edits could be done by email and, I think, reduce some of the company’s overhead.
But it’s the return policy that is killing the industry.
I also believe (and I could be wrong about this)that the mistaken notion of discontinuing promotion for authors (book signings, release blitzes) have reduced reader interest in books.
A combination of returning to some of the tried and true ways of garnering interest and getting with the times (and technology) is my suggestion.
As a reader, I’m much more interested in a book if I meet the author and hear a bit behind the book. There’s a reason why the Oprah Book Club books have sold well.
Many great individual ideas here, but the various interests are not coming together to step back from means and look at the ends they want to accomplish.
I get the sense that all of the stakeholders – publishers, editors, agents, authors, consumers – know their piece of the pie very well, and so maybe think they know what the end goals are. As a newer writer, for example, my personal “end goal” is to make a decent return on the hard work I’ve put into writing my book. Does that save an industry? No. Just like mass layoffs saves cash flow in the short run for publishers, but does not effect real change.
It might be high time to bring together these varied stakeholders for a series of “think tank” sessions, starting with developing big-picture end goals, such as (examples only) increasing reading by the general public, or making books more affordable. Once those end goals are established, now you can work back into means. Not a quick fix, for sure. But likely more sustainable. There are tons of writers’ conferences every year, and people flock to them. Why not something like this?
Anon 5:33, why would anyone bother to write if they thought they would never get paid for it? Don’t you think a writer should be paid for their work?
There’s this new-fangled thing happening out there now called e-publishing.
I worked in the music business for a numnber of years (not as a performer) and found the same thing happening there. Believe me, I could play you demos that sounded as good or better than what was topping the charts. The old saying was, “You can walk into any honky tonk in Nashville and hear better than the Grand Ole Opry.”
Some of it’s luck and some of it is the shotgun approach.
As far as no returns. On the surface it makes sense, but I always worked on the basis of “You can’t sell what you don’t got.” being able to nudge the order up a little because it’s returnable may put product on the shelf and sales in the register.
BTW the music industry worked with a similar system. (Don’t know what they do now. Been away too long.) You could return X percent of your total purchases. You never had to worry about selling Elvis or the Beatles, but their numbers created an escape hatch for the ones that never found their audience.
To sell a product (and make no mistake about it, books are, whether we like it or not, products), one needs marketing strategies that speak to the consumer. Without identifying your target market, concentrating on reaching that market, and presenting your product as something the consumer cannot do wirhout out, one cannot succeed. And that is precisely why the publishing business is in dire straits. Beyond the lack of quality (there’s simply too much junk “product” out there), book publishers have failed to follow basic marketing principles. In effect, the publishers still live in a 19th Century World, waiting for the consumers to come to them.
I think that authors should wait for the cash based upon the sales. I worked for awhile in the game making industry with a friend and he earned some ridiculous amount like, 17 cents per game. Crazy. BUT…he still makes money for that AND he has continued to create new games. I suppose an author would continue to write, because they feel they must write and if they get their money later, so be it. If I was told that I have a deal, but only would get money based on sales, I’d jump for joy!
Having said that…in the game industry…Barnes and Noble only agreed to buy 10,000 units of his game if they would have a return clause of 80 percent! So…there was the potential of having 8000 games back in storage if they decided they didn’t want to sell it or price it as suggested, etc. So…those two items don’t work well together. I assume it’s similar for books, and basically, I’d sell less to B and N and would not give them the right to return so much and I suppose that means selling in small batches. Hmmmm…
But I’d still print up kids books by the ton because I’m still buying them by the ton.
There. This post doesn’t read very well nor does it make much sense. hmmm. must get to bed then.
Anne-Marie writes… “why would anyone bother to write if they thought they would never get paid for it? Don’t you think a writer should be paid for their work?”
Hmmm… that’s an interesting question. Let’s broaden it a bit. Why would anyone bother to speak, to sing, to play a musical instrument, to write code, to paint, to dance, to make sand castles, to make any kind of art, in short: to attempt to create beauty— if they thought there wasn’t any money to made from it?
My point above is that I simply don’t see the intermediation between readers and writers that the publishing industry tries to provide as a capable of sustaining any operating margins. The information technology revolution hasn’t rendered the publishing industry completely obsolete yet, but it’s doomed. Many people in the business are in denial about that, but the doom hangs over them like a black cloud. Certainly, they all can see how hardcopy books will be like typewriters soon— sold mostly in antique stores and only crafted new for upscale collectors of fine artisanal works.
Books simply won’t be mass-market products anymore. People who want cheap hardcopy will get the digital file and pay a printer to stamp out individual copies on demand. Superstar writers will still amass huge audiences, and readers will know and love the personas of their favorite writers. But they’ll all be electronically self-published. For most writers, electronic self-publishing will be completely unprofitable, but the good news is that it won’t cost very much money. Just time. And once people stop watching so goddamn much television, they’ll have plenty of time outside of work to write and self-publish.
So, back to the question: why would anyone bother to try to create beauty if there wasn’t any money to be made doing it?
Anon: 3:00 You are so wrong!
Antique stores? E-books are not better than hard copies, just different, so they’ll never replace actual books.
The market is big enough for all kinds of publishing outlets, but your doom and gloom predictions won’t happen in this lifetime, thank goodness.
I have read–not certain it’s true since I’m not an industry insider–that the midlist is not profitable and exists mainly because bestsellers prop it up. If that’s so, then the publishing industry must be fraught with inefficiency. It seems like it ought to be possible to make money off books that sell to a small but consistent audience.
I’ll agree with those who say that kids are being made to read the wrong books in school–books that feel more work than fun. There are so many outstanding YA and middle-grade books out there that are both wonderfully entertaining and have something to say. I wish these books made it into classrooms more often.
I’m not going to agree that the problem is poor quality books or poor quality writing. There are always more excellent books out there than I have the time or money to read (and I read about 100 a year). I do find that most of the quality is in the midlist, however–bestsellers tend to be disappointing and forgettable–so I’m particularly concerned about the decline of the midlist, especially in the current economy. If the midlist goes away, there goes my reading material.
Anon 9:56 & 3:00 get it. The future is upon us. Simply look to your children and you can see where books and the selling of such are going. Electronic. Period.
Kids today are totally electronic-centric. And it will only grow moreso. To badly paraphrase an old departed comic strip character,Pogo: The enemy is here and it is electronics.
Come on, extrapolate. Look around you. Offices are going paperless. Big Box stores are going under right and left. People are commuting less, working online from their homes…it don't take no genius to see the handwriting is not going to be on the paper but on the screen. And it will happen in the next twenty five years or so. It simply makes good business sense and that will be what decides it. If you want to hold those pages in hand…then print it off your screen. I don't like it any better than most of you, but thems the facts, Max. Read it and weep.
FWIW: I think publishing will correct–but not as it was, or as deep. We’re in a period of stark reaction now that is going to sift/morph. But I don’t think e-publishing is the complete answer, as many cannot afford Kindles, readers, phones, etc., or cannot print out downloads, or want to read them PDF whatever. Everyone probably knows this, but it isn’t the book industry alone; it’s cuts in magazines, etc. We’re in a passage now where politics, Suzie Orman’s 2009 guide, Twilight, etc., rank higher. Just as our personal budgets need to be lean and working, so do the publishers of all kinds. They were just slow to wake up and probably overbought, obligated to publish, do or die, within so many months according to contract. Authors hit during this time will have unusual sellthru numbers that will probably cause difficulty. Fiction trends are already affected by the economy and war. But I do believe in some sort of correct into a different publishing mode.
Sure, for a quick read like a newspaper, e-reading is fine.
I read the NYT online cuz I don’t live in NYC. Why not have both models for readers–actual books and POD outlets? But especially for fiction, it’s hard to curl up with a computer or a Kindle.
Stop with the spam.
I’m disappointed to hear you, an agent, say do away with advances. We work very hard for one or two years to get that manuscript so these advances show good faith by the publisher for taking our commerical property.
Who will I go with? Not always the largest advance, as other elements come into play. But I won’t go with the one offering no advance.
Anon 3:36, I’m sorry you find my viewpoint on the doom facing the publishing industry as “gloomy” when I actually think the impending demise of the business model they use will be a cause for celebration— at least, a celebration for readers, the writers they enjoy reading, and certain elements of the current publishing industry that find clever ways to reinvent themselves for the new business environment. Literary agents, on the other hand, are likely to see their roles as slush sentinels, project shepherds, deal negotiators and compensation distributors completely obsoleted in one fell swoop. I don’t expect it to be pretty for them…
Cait London, I too think the slow shrinking of the publishing industry into a tiny niche industry is going to take a while, but I can’t see how it isn’t inevitable within the immediately foreseeable future. I don’t accept the rebuttal that electronic readers are too expensive for mass market publications. I’m old enough to remember when a digital wristwatch was a status symbol reserved for people who owned cars that cost more than my parent’s house. Now, they’re cheap enough you can give them away free inside breakfast cereal. So it will soon be with cheap, disposable text reader appliances. (By disposable, I mean that when the battery drains out the first charge, then you just recycle it.)
I agree with all of your suggestions in this post. As a writer, I’d add these as well:
1. Help me be a better business woman. I’d like to know every month how my books have sold and pending royalties. I should be able to look that up online. I’d like to know where they are selling well and try to figure out why.
Sales are an important barometer. Not knowing the size of the royalty check, or the amount of sales, cripples any business decisions. I would have no way of knowing if a school visit, book tour, or newspaper article had any effect.
2. Is there a marketing plan and budget for my book? A media buy? Could I add to that budget or plan and improve it with my own investment? Most small-time authors won’t have that option, but it’s an important thing to know. If I can afford it, I’d assist with promotion.
3. I work at the Kansas City Public Library, and many authors come to speak. We invest a lot in promoting them…and some authors make it really, really tough. No photos. No bios. No consistent communication and lazy follow-through. A crappy website. Crazy speaking fees. If you are fortunate enough to be published, please create a decent media kit.
And have a good presentation. We just hosted Kate DiCamillo, and she was a gem.
I think my RSS reader is a little behind, but here I am. I agree that publishing needs to change, but I’ve been calling for solutions for a while now. And not many people have them. In Curtis Brown’s book he says that the way to turn around publishing is to get rid of the return system, and his explanations are so easy to understand. It makes perfect sense and you begin to wonder why in the world the book industry works the way it currently does.
As far as advances go…it’d be nice to get some money up front…but I’m not sure how big that advance needs to be. Ebook authors routinely go without advances, and I’ve heard that some don’t really even need an advance, what with several publishers paying monthly! That is of course if you build your name and sell well.
Whatever happens, I think changes need to be made, small and large.
And I do think that those changes are happening. Just slowly…
The publishing industry has to change in order to survive. By instituting changes like lowering, or eliminating advances, and eliminating returns the industry can become more profitable while opening up the process to more writers.
The unfortunate thing is many authors tend to think the industry should be ran in a specific way and any deviation from that model is anti-author or “scamish”. POD technology and modern business practices are slammed, and newer authors are lulled into expecting the world from their publishers.