This week! Books!
Yesterday I took the Surfliner down to Comic-Con in San Diego to moderate an excellent panel with film literary mangers and book literary agents on the state of publishing and book to film.
The vibes were noticeably grim. Hollywood is mired in strikes (which everyone supports) and book literary agents, already contending with things taking forever even when they work, are facing fewer people to send books to, with significant layoffs at Penguin Random House and an imprint closing at HarperCollins (more on this in a sec).
And AI is looming as a threat, both from the theft of tech companies using books as training materials without permission (the subject of several lawsuits), and publishers potentially outsourcing some functions all the way up to AI writing the books themselves. Publishers are indeed putting downward pressure on word counts due to the cost of paper, with one agent on the panel noting that publishers were balking at a 120,000 word count for a fantasy novel, which used to be totally standard. Some of these changes are absolutely pandemic holdovers, though agents suspect they represent the new normal.
But! The agents are still acquiring and selling. It’s tough out there, things are taking a long time, but readers are still reading and no one thinks AI can replace a good human any time soon. And it’s always been tough out there. There are no golden eras.
About those layoffs… Like several other publishers, Penguin Random House instituted a buyout program for employees over 60 years old with 15 years of experience, but they’ve now extended that to significant layoffs, including some incredibly successful longtime editors such as Daniel Halpern, leaving authors like Amy Tan in the lurch. The New York Times headline frames it as a “changing of the guard,” but that implies there will be some kind of a shift to younger editors who will step into these longtime editors’ shoes, and I am pretty skeptical that’s the case.
Meanwhile, HarperCollins is closing Inkyard Press, a children’s book imprint within the Harlequin division, and will fold its titles in with HarperCollins Children’s Books, and Inkyard employees will be let go.
This all is contributing to what I wrote about a few months ago about the vast game of musical chairs that’s going on in the publishing industry. Whenever editors are laid off and imprints are shuttered, not only do agents have fewer places to submit to and it’s harder drum up multiple bids that increase advances, but the remaining editors and support staff at publishers now have a huge amount of extra work to manage books in the pipeline they didn’t personally acquire, so they then have less time to acquire and oversee their own projects, let alone manage their incoming submissions, so things slow down even more. Authors who have lost their champion face an uncertain future with their new editor.
So while it may not seem at first blush like a huge deal for one imprint to close and some veteran editors to be laid off, the ripple effects can be extremely significant.
And for a pretty depressing look at how the big corporations can grind down the creative workers that power the system, Noam Scheiber writes about how studios have whittled down the role TV writers used to play into more industrialized, atomized parts, leaving writers with lower pay and fewer opportunities for advancement.
Meanwhile, book merch is very much a thing that’s growing in influence, and publishers are putting a huge amount of care into packages they send to book influencers, which also raises some thorny questions that risk undermining trust in influencer recommendations.
Ever wonder what a “competitive works” clause is and why you should pay attention to it? Agent Kate McKean has you covered.
Janet Manley argues that picture books are too “nice” and that they don’t reflect how kids like dark stuff sometimes. Let children’s books be weird!
And to end publishing news on a more hopeful note, Elizabeth Minkel writes persuasively on the many reasons generative AI will not disrupt books.
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:
- Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
- Too Late by Colleen Hoover
- Obsessed by James Patterson and James O. Born
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
- It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- BTS: Beyond the Story by BTS and Myeongseok Kang
- American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
- Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
- Outlive by Peter Attia with Bill Gifford
- The Wager by David Grann
Young adult hardcover:
- Five Survive by Holly Jackson
- Solitaire by Alice Oseman
- Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
- The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
- Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
Middle grade hardcover:
- The Sun and the Star by Rick Riordan and Mark Oshiro
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Worst Broommate Ever! by Wanda Coven
- The Swifts by Beth Lincoln
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
- How to utilize feedback to improve your manuscript
- Utilize the narrative voice to connect us to the broader story (page 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, I was able to spend some time this week with Jiayang Fan’s heartbreaking essay on what her late mother meant to her, which I can’t recommend highly enough.
Have a great weekend!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes, my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!
Photo: Stirling Castle, Scotland. Follow me on Instagram!