This week! Books!
It’s Banned Books Week amid arguably the most intense and concentrated conservative-led book banning efforts in a generation, which are disproportionately targeting LGBTQ and minority books. I’m re-upping We Need Diverse Books’ post on how to support diverse books during a ban. And yesterday, Representative Jamie Raskin and Senator Brian Schatz introduced a resolution condemning book banning efforts.
I don’t want to be the “Just Vote” guy because it’s not enough without supporting community and national organizing, but please make sure you’re registered to vote with crucial midterms approaching.
Like many on the Millennial/Gen X cusp I absolutely devoured Choose Your Own Adventure Books as a kid, and Leslie Jamison has written a truly great profile of the series and its co-creator Edward Packard.
Nicole Chung interviewed bestselling author Jasmine Guillory, who talks about getting a late start as a writer, writing every day, outlining, and more!
The Penguin Random House / Simon & Schuster antitrust trial is nearing its ruling, and Jane Friedman compiled a recap and commentary, concluding it’s not likely to change the game for most authors.
FWIW, while the DOJ intentionally focused on authors making over $250,000 advances, likely because it’s easier to quantify and create a focused illustrative narrative, as a former agent involved in boilerplate contract negotiations on behalf of my agency, I struggle to imagine a world where the merger wouldn’t affect “downstream” authors, both in the submission/offer process, where there will be fewer options, as well as when agents try to hold the line on contract terms like e-book royalties, advance payouts, and grants of rights. It’s often the deals for authors with clout and the collective heft of an agency’s list that reveal how far publishers will really go with contract terms, and the resulting precedent creates a huge waterfall effect for authors with little to no clout. When one mega-publisher holds still more cards and there’s one fewer publisher to leverage, it’s only that much harder for agents to hold the line.
That waterfall effect extends to smaller publishers as well. While Jane makes some good points about the growing market share outside of the Big 5 and the potential for innovation, the Big 5 are still the giants in the room and have a disproportionate role setting industry norms as the sort of shining beacons on the hill that the smaller presses must compete with as best they can. And given the increasing role of backlists, the consolidation of meaningful distribution channels, and the difficulty breaking out new titles in a pop culture cacophony, any innovative upstart publisher is facing a massively tilted playing field.
In a world where major publishers are increasingly milking the backlist and treating the frontlist like scratch-off lotto tickets that pay off once in a great while, I really struggle to imagine this scenario:
Ultimately, the DOJ may be entirely wrong about what happens to author earnings as a result of the Simon & Schuster purchase. But let’s say advances did decline. Is it possible an acquisition could lead to other outcomes that offer a net positive, like better marketing and promotion? What if lowered advances made it possible for small presses to compete for great authors? Or what if the acquisition led publishers to pay better royalties?
Publishers certainly could invest in better marketing and pay better royalties, but why would they when they are making record profits simply by coaxing more money out of their backlist and producing a handful of mega-hits a year, and agents feel squeezed enough that they can’t even hold the line on ridiculously drawn out advance payouts and ludicrously late payments? I would love to see an upstart new publisher truly upend the game, but I’ve been waiting twenty years for that and I suspect I’ll be waiting twenty more. I’m old enough to remember when Vanguard Press explicitly promised higher royalties and no advances in exchange for marketing. It opened in 2007, produced 17 New York Times bestsellers, and was summarily closed in 2012.
The publishing world will tick on whether the merger goes through or it doesn’t go through, even if the nightmare scenario some merger supporters cite comes to pass where a vulture private equity company acquires Simon & Schuster and chops it up and sells it off for parts. So in that sense, Jane is right. There won’t be a sudden, noticeable apocalypse for downlist authors in any scenario. But meaningful competition in the industry really is important, particularly for the authors with the least clout. I just can’t see a world where further consolidation of the Big 5 and a dominant mega-publisher wouldn’t result in a greater squeeze for smaller authors, who are receiving an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- Vince Flynn: Oath of Loyalty by Kyle Mills
- Fairy Tale by Stephen King
- Verity by Colleen Hoover
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
- What If? 2 by Randall Munroe
- Holding the Line by Geoffrey Berman
- Dinners With Ruth by Nina Totenberg
- The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté with Daniel Maté
Young adult hardcover:
- The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber
- Long Live the Pumpkin King by Shea Ernshaw
- Hocus Pocus: The Illustrated Novelization by A.W. Jantha
- Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
- Belladonna by Adalyn Grace
Middle grade hardcover:
- The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Ground Zero by Alan Gratz
- Amari and the Great Game by B.B. Alston
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
- Don’t let your opening cement in your mind
- Don’t tell an agent what your book is like. Show them. (query critique)
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, the longest book in the world has been produced, a 21,450 page manga series. There’s just one problem: It’s physically impossible to read.
Have a great weekend!
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