This YEAR in publishing….
But first, a brief programming note: Next week I will be posting as normal (or at least as normal as things ever get around here) through Wednesday December 23rd, and I will be working my little elf fingers to the bone tap tap tapping at the computer until then. Also making toys. Then I will take a break for SANTAAAAAAAAAA OH MY GODDDDD!!!! Then during the week of the 28th I shall run some posts from Christmases past (or Junes past, Augusts past, etc.).
And then, THEN, the first week in January we will have quite the fun and new and never-seen-before contest (contest! CONTEST!!!!), which may or may not coincide with the publication of Jennifer Hubbard’s heart-wrenching, gripping, unforgettable debut YA novel THE SECRET YEAR, which Booklist recently said is “a fine addition to the PANTHEON of YA literature,” (bolding, capitalizing, and italicizing mine, though I’m sure they meant it to read that way), and which happens to be available for pre-order.
Then, the second week of January there will be another contest, which will mainly be held in the Forums. But we’ll talk about that later because right now the thought of two contests in two weeks is blowing my elf brain.
And now we shall recap 2009.
When I was recapping 2008, I called it the year the future caught up with publishing. Well, if things began to change in 2008, they done really changed in 2009.
The impact of e-books on the book industry remains more theory than fact at this point as they comprise only 5-10% of sales, but they’re booming, and the massive earthquake that they represent is beginning to rumble. Publishers are attempting naked rights grabs (well, the rights grabs are naked, hopefully the publishers aren’t), they’re worried about the elephant in the Amazon, and after a century where they enjoyed near complete control over which books the world reads, publishers are suddenly confronting a future where they may or may not be necessary.
In part because there’s so much free content out there competing for attention, the entire pricing model of the industry is under tremendous pressure, even as publishers continue to pay huge advances for the hottest titles. Because the advertising and promotion tools at their disposal have not yet sufficiently changed with the times, publishers are often relying on authors to generate their own buzz precisely at a time when the alternative publishing options at authors’ disposal (particularly when they can generate their own buzz) are becoming and will become all the more enticing.
2009 is an apt year for all of these events because we’re embarking on a new decade just as publishers are staring in the face of a new era in which they will hopefully continue to ask themselves not what authors can do for them but what they can do for authors and bring their unmatched package of services to bear to remain relevant and vital in the e-book era. If e-books eventually comprise 50% or 75% or 90% of sales and e-book vendors take all comers, publishers are going to have to make themselves appealing to authors rather than the other way around, while still confronting the perennial challenge of how to stay profitable.
Will the polarization of publishing continue, with publishers focusing on a few huge blockbusters on top and a vast sea of small- or self-published books below? Will publishers be able to stay above the sea and help consumers navigate to the books they really want? Will publishers find a way to command eyeballs in the Internet era?
These are challenging times for publishers. And yet I think it’s a great time for authors. We’re in an era when anyone can be a star overnight. In the digital world, something can instantaneously catch on. All that’s standing in the way of an author and bestsellerdom is that magic word of mouth, which moves faster than ever. People who can command an audience are suddenly hugely valuable in a time when there’s an infinite array of content but a premium on those who have a following.
In the new publishing world: Everyone’s got a shot. For better or worse.
Now then! There was still a week in publishing, and lots of news to get to:
Still more reaction to last week’s news that some publishers are delaying e-book releases. Matt Stewart wonders why, in his words, publishers are screwing their best customers, John Gapper in the Financial Times argues that book publishers are right to stand up to Amazon, and an analysis by Rory Maher and Henry Blodget argues that over time wholesale prices will have to come down and it is likely authors who will feel the squeeze.
The new e-book news this week is that Random House CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to agents suggesting that Random House has e-book rights for backlist titles even when the e-book rights are not actually stated in the contract. The irony here is that Random House tried this in 2001 and lost in court. The Author’s Guild is having none of it, and Pimp My Novel has some helpful perspective.
Meanwhile, a French Court found Google guilty of copyright infringement for scanning and listing books as part of Google Book Search. In the US, of course, we have the pending Google Book Search settlement, which is still being revised and will be subject to court approval.
Reader Sarah Pinneo passed along an interesting post by David Pogue in which he pondered whether DRM should be applied to e-books. Interestingly enough, while he supported the removal of DRM for music and used a free e-book to boost his print sales and is about as pro-new technology a person as you’ll ever find, he’s just a tad nervous as an author about non-DRM e-books in an e-reader era.
There were a couple of really fascinating articles on the global publishing scene by Publishing Perspectives this week. First, an informative look into the buzz generating, information swapping, always hustling world of book scouts (via John Ochwat in the Forums). And from France comes news that literary agents are quietly making inroads into what had previously been a relatively literary agency-free publishing landscape (via Book Bench).
You know how I coined the term “male ennui” to classify all those books I receive queries for about disaffected male protagonists who go on a crazy road trip/meet an irrepressible and slightly insane but loveable hot chick who is the only person in the world who sees The Real Him/engage in CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES style lunacy? (Which, by the way, can definitely work very well and I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t write it). Well, the Rejectionist just destroyed “male ennui” in a single stroke with a ten quadrillion times better term: mangst. You heard it there first. Also Le R. has query stats.
In writerly news, Kate Schafer Testerman asks an interesting question about how best to describe race in novels, Jeff Abbott examines 2010 planners in his Organized Writer series, and Jessica Faust writes about what to do when authors suggest writing advice that conflicts with agents/editors.
Almost finally, if you want to preview some books by some bestselling authors, JC Hutchins is spreading cheer by offering a free holiday sampler PDF.
And finally, finally… well, Elf again:
Have a great weekend!
Let me attempt to bring this back on topic.
The Apple tablet is intriguing. I heard about it some more on Mac Break Weekly. But I'm not convinced that the tablet is going to shatter publishing.
However, the tablet does provide a nice alternative to the Kindle for reading blogs and magazines. I just don't see it replacing the Kindle for reading books. The tablet is backlit, which is okay for reading for a short period of time.
What do you think?
Anon, that's probably a good idea.
I took it down, anyway. In the end it's sort of a pointless sidetrack for this thread. Feel free to contact me if you want to respond.
Btw – I'll take that post down in alittle while. It's sort of personal….
I just re-read your post again, Nathan. Like I said, you outdid yourself – great re-cap and analysis. Really good.
One thing I noticed in the comments – I think people are misunderstanding what you meant, Nathan, when you said "People who can command an audience are suddenly hugely valuable."
Assuming I understood what you meant.
What I think it means is this: Authors who write something of quality or something with a new twist have a good chance to take off through the grassroots. This is not because the author is popular. Popularity will only take you so far.
If the book itself isn't very good, people might buy a copy because of popularity, but they won't necessarily reccommend it to their friends. But there will be many more opportunities for books like 'The Secret' or other books, I can't think of right now, to take off from the grassroots.
So, authors will need to be somewhat good at generating buzz, or hire someone who is, but it's still the quality of the book or the idea that will count in the end.
That's what I think, anyway.
Check out the TV show Gossip Girls. It's so SEXY! 🙂
And everyone have a wonderful holiday!
I think Nathan's not just talking about the books, but the people in the culture who can convince other people to do something, who can "command eyeballs". This is important because it's shifting in the digital age. It used to be TV and print ads. Oprah commands eyeballs. She puts a book up there and those eyeballs zero in and the wallets come out.
So who's going to command eyeballs in the digital age? Because they're out there. Who's got the twitter power? It's gonna be about, at least partially, taking advantage of these vast personal networks. Look at an author like Neil Gaiman. Obviously he can move his own books. But look what his blog can do to propel other books, other causes. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people keyed in to his tastes. If he goes wild for a book on his blog and says he wishes he'd written it… I'm guessing Amazon would suddenly light up like a beacon with sales of that book.
He commands eyeballs. I think part of the industry transition will be trying to figure out how this works and taking advantage of it. Word of mouth via the keypad. How to tap into these networks and get your product seen?
Anon – thanks, but could we drop it now and give it a rest? Please?
Ink – I think you're right. Maybe popularity alone will sell some books, your examples are pretty apt.
Although, you're talking about some major sources. And even then, could you get on Oprah, or could you get Gaiman to promote you, if you had a poor quality work? I think Oprah and such are more careful than that, because they are scrutinized as well.
But, I will say, regardless of popularity, quality has an excellent chance of making it as well.
Two things create buzz. Well, more than two things, but for today let's say it's two things because I can't think of any others:
a. People really like the author or the promoter.
b. People really like the book.
ann foxlee says
I get busy for a few weeks with the x-mas rush, don't check the blog, and when I come back, everything is all SHINY and NEW!
And I thought I was busy. Nathan, I can't imagine how you pack all this into a day (but I'll take it)!
Yeah, I'll agree with that. If your product sucks, your product sucks. Getting your book in Oprah's hands is great. If it's a terrible book, though, it's still not getting on her show.
But assuming you have something good, it's then a matter of trying to leverage platforms that can build an audience. And those platforms are changing a lot for the book industry. Goodbye old time review outlets like Kirkus and hello social media. The book industry, for better or worse, will have to navigate this transition.
So break out your paddles, writerly folk! There be some rapids ahead.
Other Lisa says
Jennifer's book is about high school kids. Er, does everyone here remember their high school experience? It's been a while, but I seem to recall that sex played a rather significant role…
There's a huge difference between acknowledging that and "sexualizing children," and there's a huge difference between, say, a nine year old and a 16 year old.
I think our society has a pretty screwed-up attitude about this, by the way. On the one hand, there certainly are a lot of cultural forces that DO "sexualize children." On the other, our culture has criminalized sexual behavior that involves kids under 18. That is a real mixed message if there ever was one.
I think it really comes down to consent and the ability to consent, and the power balance in the relationship. That's why we look at a relationship between, say, two high school students one way and a high school teacher and a student another way.
I agree. But, personally, I like it. I think it give the writer a great deal more control than previously. Well, like Nathan was saying – everyone has a shot.
There's been a bottleneck in the industry that will disappear.
We may find that people are alot more interested in books than we thought they were. The market could expand.
I love the new ads for the Sony reader. They act like everyone wants to carry around something so they can read all day. Of course. Who wouldn't? Excellent! 🙂
On a side note, Nathan, I noticed that you're taking some time off. Cool. You deserve it.
Rest up. For the contests. 🙂
I don't want to talk tpo much on this thread, but Nathan, I also want to say – I think this was a couragous post on your part. You really put it all out there.
Awesome post. Truly.
Joyce Carol Oates published a YA novel that is actually titled Sexy. The word doesn't necessarily denote pornography or titillation. In fact, I think most people would agree that pornography is not "sexy" at all.
Nathan Bransford says
Non-Gordon people: I appreciate the sentiment, but please don't take the bait.
Josin L. McQuein says
Neil Gaimon's a good example of how one voice on line can cause a ripple effect. Just this week, there was an author kerfluffle on Amazon when some romance writer took exception to a 1-star review and decided to blast the reviewer for "obviously having a personal agenda" against her and lamented that that one bad review was going to cost her the next contract with her publisher. A few people jumped in to defend the reviewer's right to say she didn't like the book.
Well, NG mentioned it on his blog and on Twitter and at last count there 40 pages of comments. For around 25 of those the author belittled and insulted anyone who dared dislike her book or to imply that her "defending" herself would lose her readers.
The book dropped 60,000 slots in one day.
Eventually, her comments started getting minimized so no one had to read them, she called the FBI and said someone had threatened her life in the comments (they didn't), and the commenters started calling/e-mailing her publisher to leave messages about how horribly unprofessional one of their writers was and to inform them that she was crediting her editor with everything wrong with her book because the editor ruined it. Shortly thereafter, the author disappeared from the conversation.
Both Mr. Gaiman, and this author saw the result of instant social networking – one realized how it worked, one didn't. NG sent out a message knowing it would reach a lot of people, the other author seemed to think she owned her Amazon reviews and could control them.
Kind of a ramble, but the short version is: Having the means to reach millions is one thing, knowing how to use it is another.
Nathan Bransford says
I've treated you with nothing but respect and I'm now sorry to say that you've worn out your welcome. I'm going to delete any and all comments you make from here on out. Sorry it's come to this, but you've had every opportunity to reform and have chosen not to do so. I wish you well.
Long time coming.
I agree totally, and think it's going to be interesting to see how things play out in the industry. Not just in terms of how publishers try to maneuver in the new landscape, but for authors, too. It seems the lights are always on when you're online. Words and their repercussions seem to spread instantly. It's gonna be fascinating to see how it either helps or harms writers.
For those of you who are interested, Amazon is currently listing a release date of Jan 12 for The Secret Year. (I've got to get my order in!)
Under 'product-details' Amazon claims that The Secret Year is a hardcover book with 1 page, though I think that might be wrong.
(By the way, when you guys tell other people that you're writing a novel, or that you've just finished writing a novel, do they always ask you how many pages it is? I get that all the time – and when I say to them that the novel is approximately 100,000 words [for the obvious reason] they always say they don't know what that means.)
Also, has anybody here read an advanced copy of The Secret Year? Is this the author's first published novel?
Michael Youffner… Younger.
And what about that Evans game winner? I do believe that kid can play.
Your avatar – I totally forgot that even Snoopy is writing a novel.
By the way, a funny thing happened to me last week – I was in a family restaurant, and the guy in the booth beside me was sitting there half dressed up in his Santa costume. He had a worried look on his face, and was sitting there talking to his friend about the novel he was writing – ya gotta do what ya gotta do, boy!
Where one novelist might choose to support himself by being, say, a literary agent, another might choose to be Santa Claus. You have to respect that.
God I love this crazy world.
Nathan Bransford says
Evans for ROY!!
That's hilarious! Even Santa is writing a novel. Hope his elves are helping.
Snoopy is the saint of all struggling writers.
That Jennings kid is pretty fun to watch, though. Sort of like what Iverson would be if he was actually a point guard. 🙂
Though I'm still sort of curious to see what Griffin does when he gets back. He's a beast. But with Kaman and Camby there he won't be handed the keys in the same way that Jennings and Evans have.
And my boy DeRozan may not win Rookie of the year, but I think he has a pretty good shot at the dunk contest. That kid can rise up.
And now I'm wondering what kind of novel Santa has cooking up. I mean, he already has a great distribution channel. And talk about platform…
Nathan Bransford says
Since Gordon seems determined to not let this go and is now personally harassing me and my coworkers, I have changed the post and will explain my position because hey, it's Christmas and this isn't something I really want anyone losing sleep over, least of all my clients, my coworkers, and myself. It's distracting the discussion from the merits of the book, which is so completely fantastic it is almost indescribable.
I am obviously completely against the sexualizing of children and, as someone else pointed out, President Obama recently called insulation sexy. Obviously the word means something different to my generation than it does to others. I intended the word to mean "edgy, scintillating" etc.
I'm closing comments now and hope we can all just have ourselves a merry little Christmas and not get so worked up.