You know. Besides giving yourself a billion dollar advance for your work in progress and more marketing hype than a new Apple gadget.
Would you rule with an iron fist or a tender hand? What would you want to see accomplished first?
Nathan Bransford | Writing, Book Editing, Publishing
Helping authors achieve their dreams
Jen P says
(re: bookseller returns – chewing gum also works on sale or return.)
If I were Queen…
2. I would globally ensure funding for literacy campaigns, school libraries and librarians – we need to ensure future readers CAN and want to read, no matter what format.
So many of our suggestions seem to be about working better together – but how to do it? Identify and agree what doesn't work and look at where we can work better. Potentially annual event at an existing and renowned global Book Fair, plus an ongoing industry guru panel.
1. Set up an elected (within an invited selected group) ongoing cross-industry wide guru panel, a single top tier of decision makers – something like the UN of the book world – to work as one book-to-market industry – examining the whole process and gather best practices, iron out inefficiencies, agree standards and embrace the digital age. (yes, it would require buy-in from selected cross-section of agents, publishers, printers, booksellers in all formats, academics, librarians, e-format providers, and e-distributors as well as authors' and readers' organisations, others I have forgotten no doubt.)
Tackle simple ideas such as:
a. Review need for variance in fiction formats: Hardback format outdated, overpriced. More book club genre fiction would be published straight to standard size (not Trade, not oversized, just 5" by 8") paperback. And agree with Dara – one standard for e-books while we're at it.
b. Review Rights Ownership: IMO physically geographical boundaries are outdated for a digital age.
3. Set up the televised Global "Oscars" equivalent for books. Films are hugely diverse and subjective, why couldn't we make it work for books too? Get out the red carpet and blow our own trumpet a little. Recognise, reward and get some global marketing to make books more dare I say, sexy?
Kait Nolan says
Hands down, I would recognize that ebooks are the wave of the future and that readers expect a cheaper product (none of this $9.99+ crap) and start redesigning business structures to accommodate higher author royalties on ebooks that are competitive with the self publishing options and come up with reasons for authors to actually stick with big house publishers rather than going it on their own (because right now, really, there are none). I'd stop living in the past and trying to stunt ebook growth or use it to prop up failing paper sales. It's a new world order, dude, catch up!
April Brown says
Actually, I'd attempt to survey readers, and non-readers, to determine what they really want in a story. What their favorite genres are (with some kind of definition people could recognize).
There are reasons non-readers don't read. Publishers need to know these reasons so they can reach them as well.
Find out what their true preferred book lengths are. How many long books are bought, partially read, then the person becomes to busy to pick back up, so doesn't bother to start over again.
Find out general age ranges that actually read which genres.
Publish enjoyable adult reading level books for people with memory loss.
Claire Dawn says
This is a lesson in how you can't please all the people all the time…
Hart Johnson says
Work PoD in as a back-up system so that huge runs would not have to be printed, shipped, stored, then destroyed (lose 6 digit advances too, except with a long, proven track record). Eliminating the giant waste bubble frees a lot of capital for what the publishing industry SHOULD be spending their money on. Quality books that are varied, instead of only 'sure things' that aren't actually sure.
Kathryn Magendie says
Hire someone smarter and wiser and savvier than I am whilst I sit back with my million dollars and marketing whoop dee do!
Hmm? I would find enough qualified staff to go into every office, help with whatever needed to get do so the whole process would move faster.
So much delusion, so little time. Gad.
Maybe I'm too old but I believe that published books should have very few errors in grammar and spelling unless put there by the author for artistic purposes.
I believe that many publishers no longer have line editors to edit and markup manuscripts to prevent errors.
How many of you that read this actually know that "lose" and "loose" are two different words. We are 'loosing' our language skills. I've noted this mistake in a Houston Chonicle editorial. But that's not book publishing and I digess.
If I had the power I would re-hire or find new line editors for publishing companies so these glaring errors wouldn't occur.
I would focus on the titling and cover design of books. I'm more conscious of how this affects my reading. So many titles sound the same and they have no meaning. Janet Reid says things like this a lot on her blog and it cracks me up "This is hyperbolic and meaningless at the same time." That's how I feel about some book titles. And, I understand that teams of highly creative people put tons of man hours into the title and design of each book. So, yanno, not really sure how I'd go about fixing this one.
I know they say not to judge a book by its cover. But I think it's human nature.
I would go to my high window and say: "Loyal minions, fellow elite, let us celebrate our own magnificence." Then I would ply my boot licking servants with caviar, champagnes and exotic foods from around the world. I would close the gates, clear the tables, produce three thousand typewriters and color matched sets of leg irons followed by three truckloads of paper. Then I would look at the manacled throng of posers I had gathered and pronounce my final edict; "Produce or die."
I would hunt down every writer minion in the kingdom and assemble them in the same manner as I had assembled my publishing minions, I would form them into a star chamber to read the works of their counterparts in the courtyard on the other side of the castle.. When each publishing minion finished their book it would be read by the star chamber of writers and majority rule would decide the issue of life or death based on the work produced. When I was done judging my publishing minions I would have each writer select a book to defend. If the work defended was composed of blank pages or a beautifully executed story would not be considered, only the passion of the defense. I would place an equal number of red and green marbles in my royal chamber pot. At the end of each defense of a tome i would arbitrarily select a marble; red for death and green for life and execute the writer on the spot or grant them a small duchy in the country. The writing and publishing minions who survived my reign of terror, henceforth declared unto the reader minions as "The fools purge of fools." would have to team up and produce one worthy piece of work every two years or lose their duchy and their lifes. I would go forth through the countryside as a great clarion on parade screaming like a madman; "Rejoice Rejoice the kingdom is free of schlockish prattlers I your King have done this."
After the great purge I would retire to my library and begin reading the books produced by my amazing handiwork while exercising absolute rule inscribing on the last page my royal imprimatur.
I hath undertaken the breaking of the spell on the land and the people.
May God have mercy on my soul.
Regal Addendum to: The Purge of Fools.
My Court Jester position would be abolished and I would search kingdom wide for a worthy lad to take upon his shoulders the new title: Royal Rabble Rouser to King Author The First.
I would know this lad when I found him in the forest using bow and arrow to slay dirt clumps, displaying the wisdom of advanced political correctness even while believing he is alone and unobserved.
A Rose by any other name... says
I would be a long-view manager, concerned about expanding the customer base. The first thing I would do is issue an edict that every company must support literacy programs for all ages.
Publish less books so that the books that are published have a fighting chance to get on bookshelves of bookstores.
Nothing is worse than doing all that hard work of gaining a publishing contract from a large house, being published in hardback, and then having the big chain stores NOT carry your book because the pub didn't hype it enough.
There are so many people out there being published, but not published WELL, that it's staggering. If a house doesn't believe in your book enough to bring along your ARCs to hand out at ALA or the Book Expo, why the heck do they bother publishing it?
J. T. Shea says
Nora Roberts has co-writers!? She doesn't write hundreds of books all by herself!? I'm shocked!
And, yes, move publishing out of Manhattan. To Cork, in Ireland. Just south of the city, to be exact, on a nice site with north views. Not that I'm biased or anything. Do you think the Big Six will all fit on 2/5ths of an acre? We could dismantle and re-erect the Flatiron Building.
Steppe, many other commenters seem to think publishing is already much as you describe!
Mira, Nathan, I'd introduce a 40/40/40 split. Oh, wait…
well for starters Agents and Pub houses would make less. lets face it, Agents, and Pubs do not do anything. the writer and editor do all the work.
without the author… the system has nothing.
it is cheap to print books. just because the publishers feel they deserve something more than the table scraps from the author does not mean they should get it.
actually i bet the industry as a whole could make more money if all agents were just absolved from the process… call them screeners, they would work for the pub houses and read the slush piles, then pass it off to the editors. no more middlemen, every other industry in the world is trying to get rid of middlemen, why is the pub industry holding onto them for no reason.
nostalgia only creates clutter.
if i were the king, i would just slim it all down, and simplify it. no more egos, no more writers thinking about suicide because every agent wants the query to be different.
it would all be simpler.
Nora Roberts does not have co-writers. She does, in fact, write every one of those books herself.
I disagree with the post at 11:34 — agents can do a lot for you. Tons. A bad agent can do lots of damage too, but a good agent protects you and your interests in a way the average writer just isn't equipt to.
iamfrightenedtoo – that's a risky thing to post on an agent's blog. 🙂
I have wondered if there is a better way to locate debut authors than having agents spend hours and hours going through queries.
But overall, I would strengthen the agent's role as advocate and career maker for the writer. I think that's an absolutely necessary function.
J.T. – I'm ignoring you. I don't do math.
1. Everyone gets a tiara or sparkly hat.
2. Get rid of DRM until such time as there is clear and convincing evidence that piracy actually erodes sales (see also #3)
3. Do meaningful market research and focus studies on readers.
4. Revamp publisher websites so that they attract readers and provide a usable point of sale. Put content there that purchasers care about.
5. Talk with best and brightest from all levels, including booksellers, about how to revamp the returns system. Until books can be printed at the point of sale, I don't see how, other than offering discounts for books sold on a non-returnable basis, the returns system can be eliminated. More regional printers/warehouses?
I would work out a deal with all of the cell phone companies to put poetry on every cell phone
Ditto MIRA, but add give authors the right to veto any aritstic measure taken on their book. Whatever has your name printed on it should truly represent you. LIKE THE COVER!!! You may sell it to a publisher, but your name is still on it!!
It would be to get rid of the the literary agents.
Too much power has been placed in the hands of too few people.
Here in Canada, a well known literary agent recently berated a person via her Twitter feed for having been critical of a book written by one of her clients.
The agent wrote: "At least my client is published… what have you ever done?"
This agent has so much power that she could probably take ten books that were publishable, and, on a whim, simply choose whichever ones SHE wanted to get published – and what would happen to the other writers, equally as talented? They wouldn't get published, of course.
The agent Ed Victor once gave a speech at a writers' conference in London, and explained that he would build his client list by meeting famous people, or from being introduced to new people through friends. A young writer, who had been struggling for years as an unpublished novelist, stood up and said to Mr. Victor, so what happens then if I don't know you?
And Mr. Victor smiled and responded: then you don't get published.
Big problem right there.
The literary agents absolutely do not respect the apprenticeship that novelists must go through in order to learn how to write fiction. Sorry, but they don't. If you've spent twenty years of your life working ten, eleven, twelve hours a day either writing, reading, or thinking about fiction, then that means nothing to them.
In no other profession would that pass.
If you were a doctor, or a lawyer, or a banker, and you spent ten years in school, then upon graduation you would be granted an immediate interview and shown the proper respect, and likely offered a job.
If you're a novelist, forget about it. The agents just don't care about that.
Just look at this website. The agent's advice is this: Don't quit your day job.
Don't quit your day job? So a person who has decided to live in abject poverty in order to write, and learn how to write, full time, is what… an idiot… a fool?
Actually, I would argue that quitting your job is almost essential to becoming a skilled novelist – nothing that's worth anything has ever come without a price; you have to work for it, and earn it.
I would say that a person who has quit their job to write full time is a person with a purpose in life, and is clearly someone willing to do whatever it takes to become a novelist (sacrificing a home, a family, food, transportation… everything). I would say that that's a person who should be treated with respect, rather than ridiculed at a site such as this.
Get rid of the literary agents. The sooner the better.
Nathan Bransford says
Wow, anon. I doubt I'm going to change your mind, but in case anyone else is curious…
1. Agents aren't a monolith. One person does not speak for the entire industry. There are plenty of good apples in the bunch.
2. I'm a writer in addition to being an agent, so how could I fail to appreciate what writers go through?
3. Advising people against quitting their job unless they can afford it is prudent financial advice. You don't have to quit your job to write a novel. I didn't quit mine. If someone does: great! That's their choice. I'm not ridiculing people who do, far from it.
Sorry, but the cover is not an "artistic measure" — it is a selling tool, one of the most important in the publisher's arsenal. It does not have to fit whatever you think "truly represents you." It has to make the customer want to pick it up.
And, Nathan, your response about the agents is exactly. That screed is jaw-droppingly wrong in every way.
Yosser, sounds like your mule is kicking. You might need some R&R. I can't put it better than this website has, but writing isn't everything. In fact, why do we write? I write letters to my mother, and my sister, and sometimes my dead grandfather, and sometimes fleeting love that left a particle of the good stuff, but man oh man life itself is far more important. "Those who write" sounds like an identity crisis. Or, more simply, an attempt at an identity. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
J. T. Shea says
Anonymous 1.52 pm, your arguments are identical to those put to Nathan by a certain person in February in the 'Ask Nathan' part of the forums, and ably answered by Nathan then. Pure coincidence, I'm sure…
Is Ed Victor the only literary agent in the world? And when were you ridiculed on this site?
Spending 'twenty years of your life working ten, eleven, twelve hours a day either writing, reading, or thinking about fiction,' was your own choice and a privilege not afforded to many.
If you spent ten years in school to be a doctor, lawyer or banker, you would learn the peculiarities and limits of the human body or law or finance, and not sulk when they are not changed to accommodate your whims. You would jump through innumerable hoops, fiery or otherwise, and learn to work with other people.
You CAN write well and tell a story, but you're your own worst enemy at the moment.
This has become interesting. Do people think that a bunch of words on paper, marks in ink, and soon just electricity generated holographic symbols, that apparently tell a story, will somehow change the world for the better, as if it is a heroic quest of some sort, as if we will stand upon the throne of truth at some point and the world will finally get it and live in immaculate peace? Man, writing is pure luxury. Pure, adulterated, luxury. I love it, but I know what it is. I know what it has given me, but I still drive a trash truck on the weekends. Go figure. And no offense intended to those who try so hard, but chill people, chill.
I'm with you Jeff. It is about the joy of writing as an art form. Seeking publication is a whole different subject.
Writing a story to the point where only one ending can possibly close the story and finally figuring out what that ending is and feeling like you hit some cosmic lottery and tapped into something mysterious, just enjoying the whole process, and when its truly done and it is the best you can make it, giving it the final touches and putting it away until the detachment required to succeed at the process of seeking publication arrives. For ages people have written to express themselves or sold stories only to the locals in their area, even performing them as dramas or simple dramatic readings to a audience hungry for a well built story. A well written story with heart and soul won't whither on the vine it will get published sooner or later. Some agents are surely blowhards and some agents surely forward the cause of writers more than others whether through bluster or humility or like N. through sheer persistence and good humored common sense.
If I were the Big Publishing Poobah, I would champion an unknown-yet-deserving author. In fact, each publishing house, in addition to their bottom-line projects, should champion and pay $$ to 1-2 authors a year just because they believe in their work.
Have you seen the movie MISS POTTER? Everyone in her life and in publishing told her her "bunny books" would never make a dime, but because one man in publishing believed in her, she's now the best-selling children's author of all time.
Poem In October says
It's been said already, but I would definitely start by banning returns, or at least banning pulping.
I had no problem with returns in concept until I found out how they work: fully HALF of the inventory at EVERY book store gets its cover ripped off and the book is mashed to a pulp. Did all you commenters know this all along, or am I the only one who had noooo idea until a few months ago?
I am amazed that this happens in an age where (a) so many people are buying hybrids trying to be somewhat better to the environment and (b) there are schools and libraries all over the country/world without enough books to go around. Geez, what a waste. Changing that system would definitely be my first order of business if I were the Reigning Publishing Monarch.
I'd be spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to compete with Amazon, which is quickly becoming the publisher of choice for many bright and talented authors. I'd offer more publishing options for nascent talent — ebooks with a compelling royallty rate (digital first, as Carina press is offering), network marketing, speedier publishing (don't make an author wait 18 months to see their book in print). Lower advances but higher compensation on the back end for authors, and the promise to keep their book in print in digital format forever.
The writing is on the wall: Most publishers are heading toward bankruptcy or mergers to survive. Aggressive cost cutting will be the order of the day — POD at point-of-sale is one option, ebooks is another.
Build brand recognition for the publishing house. If you truly believe readers value quality or a particular editorial voice, then market that quality.
Revive backlisted books, especially in digital format. This is money being left on the table.
NG James says
Publish all books in trade paperback and eboook formats first, then paperback if sales are good, then hardback as a special edition.
New readers can pick up the best new releases for cheap, bookstores can start buying their stock–instead of the current returns system–because the format is less risky or they could keep a wider inventory for longer, and authors could make more money per book sold because the up front cost of publishing is lower.
Re: DeNile.com. There is one. https://www.thenile.com.au/
J.T. I find it to be somewhat disconcerting… actually, I find it to be highly disconcerting… that you were able to identify me, even though my comment was posted as Anonymous – I don't get that?
You must be psychic or something?
Is my IP address available for The Great Unwashed to look at? What's the point in posting as Anonymous if you're not?
J. T. Shea says
Anonymous 1:52pm/7:21pm, don't be disconcerted. We only know what you chose to reveal about yourself. Even those of us who wash do not know, or care about, your IP address.
Neither am I psychic, as far as I know. As I explained in my comment, your arguments against literary agents are the same as were put to Nathan in February, word-for-word at times. No great powers of deduction needed.
BTW, do I deduce correctly you were also Anonymous 8:30 pm in the HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL comments on August 18th?
Amy Collins MacGregor and Bethany Brown says
I'd create a series of tests, rules and licenses manditory before one could buy a publishing house. The purpose of which would be to keep banks, fund groups, venture capitalists and other non-book people out of decision-making positions. If you are not a book person, you can invest and share in the rewards, but you cannot make publishing decisions.