Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
We all recognize that publishing as we’ve known it is undergoing a sea change. It’s worth our effort to be aware of how publishers are working to stay afloat in the midst of high waves because that helps writers to know how they need to adapt to a brave new world.
I’m observing that the traditional, large publishing houses have a major advantage regardless what changes occur: money. Seen any best-sellers lately from small publishing venues? That’s not happening much. Which means traditional publishers have the wherewithal to pay large advances to buy the books that are likely to go really big. And those publishers have the muscle to market a book like crazy.
What are larger publishing houses lacking? Flexibility. When you’re a very large boat, it takes a lot of work to change direction–or even to see where you need to shift to. A smaller publisher can be lithe, flexing in various ways as the wind shifts. Take the death of brick-and-mortar bookstores (I can’t envision how they’ll manage to survive the flood of changes). Large publishers are dependent on those venues to sell most of the publishers’ titles.
But a small publishing house can be very successful by exploring creative outlets–putting a book on motherhood into BabiesRUs or getting a book selected by a large catalog distributor. The smaller publisher has: 1) paid a smaller advance; 2) has a smaller staff to sustain; 3) doesn’t have to sell as many copies to be successful; 4) doesn’t have an immense warehouse full of books; 5) can afford to take risks; 5) will be profitable with placement in a few strong venues. (And, by the way, most authors will see more sales from the imaginative small publisher than from the large publisher that knows how to leverage significant authors but is at more of a loss with lesser known authors.
Ultimately, in the past, a publisher needed to:
In the future, publishers will need to:
use content in multitudes of ways and formats;
be a gatherer of communities of readers;
effectively promote not just titles but also authors.
I keep thinking about publishing lines that used to be crisp and clear–like who is the author, who is the publisher, who is the promoter. Those lines have blurred. The writer is now both author and promoter; the publisher must figure out how to bring reading communities together and to be successful apart from bookstores, which means finding new sales venues. The author is unlikely to be able to create all the ancillary content that will be an expected part of any book; so the publisher will need to step in with additional content providers and the technical support to deliver that content.
We can all be like Chicken Little and rush about proclaiming the sky is falling, or we can be more like Noah and build a sturdy boat now–not when it starts to rain, but now.
At our agency, we’re hard at work to remain relevant not just next year but in the next decade. We’re trying to envision what we will need to do to help our clients transition. In upcoming months we’ll be announcing those plans, but they go way beyond traditional agenting.
What are you doing to prepare for publishing’s changes? Even if it’s small adjustments, tell us how you’re building a boat.
If you haven’t started to build, what materials do you need to gather to begin?
Hello Janet, Great post.
I was wondering what you think about agents who represent an author with multiple pen names. Is this common or do most agents prefer to deal with one pseudomyn?
Your post left me in anticipation for upcoming news from your agency! I love change!
As a non-techie, one of the first things I did to start building that boat was to create my blog (www.sandraardoin.com) and post regularly. I also constantly reassess to see how I can improve it. (I still have to row to Facebook and Twitter, but I’ll get there.)
After spending the past couple of years concentrating on preparing novels to submit, as opposed to creating and publishing my short stories, I plan to try to do both which will keep my name out there.
I want to stay afloat during the storms.
Is the electronic changes taking place such as Kindle and IPAD a positive or negative thing for an author and the publishing companies? I can see that initially the publishing companies probably have to spend money to get the system in place but after that occurs it seems that book sales would increase due to the excitment of the consumer. What is your opinion?
It’s difficult being a new author and attempting to enter publishing for the first time right now. There is no definitive answer about how I need to change in order to accommodate the changes in the industry. The changes are still happening, so it’s like trying to play a new game, but you only know the old rules. However, I think adjusting expectations is a good foundation for that ark. Being willing to consider working under a different publishing model is important for authors, especially wannabes like me.
Morgan L. Busse
Because I write for more of a niche market, I am looking at the smaller publishing companies who cater to my audience. I am also looking at the ebook market as an avenue for future sales.
While I wait to hear back from publishers, I am continuing to be a part of the Christian sci-fi/fantasy community by participating in forums, reviewing books, and blogging.
Morgan L. Busse
An added note, Janet, your posts the last few days have been real eye openers (more women than men read mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels? Wow!)
BR, I suspect that lots of pen names means writing in lots of genres. I can only respond for myself, but my first thought is that you need to focus. How can you build rapport for so many audiences? How do you keep each audience adequately supplied with your product that they build loyalty to you? How do you stay up with your audiences via social media when you have to present yourself as many different authors? A pen name sometimes makes sense because you’re writing to two different audiences that have little or no overlap. But if you’re writing to many audiences, I don’t think you’re positioning yourself well for where publishing is headed in the future. (Check out my blog this Friday for more details.)
Salena, if we’re going to talk exclusively about Kindle and iPad rather than e-readers in general, Kindle was bad news for publishing because every Kindle book sold is a loss of revenue for publishers. Amazon priced e-books at a level that encouraged people to buy Kindles, not to make money selling e-books. Authors also suffer from lower royalty payments with Kindle sales. It was a recipe for disaster.
But Apple created a different financial plan for books sold on iPads and actually worked with publishers to formulate a win-win situation. Publishers get to set the price books sell for on iPad, plus Apple created what’s called an agency model in which publishers get paid a commission for offering books on iPad. Authors still aren’t making as much on e-book sales as they are on physical book sales, but iPad, in essence, saved publishing’s future.
As you can see, it’s pretty complex, and no one understands the implications of decisions being made today (such as how the agency model will work for publishers), but for the moment, we all owe iPad a big thank you.
And now a word to those of you worried about physical books disappearing. NOT! I believe, if for nothing else but the beauty of a bookshelf full of tomes, people will continue to buy physical books. The fear of their disappearance is akin to the fear people had of radio dying when films came on the scene, or movies going belly up when TV was developed. We seem to assimilate new technology as another way to be entertained or to gain information, but we don’t tend to discard the old method.
Janet, thank you for the explanation of how technology is working for and against the industry. I am a little old fashioned and love buying phyical books. I am open to new technology and I know that in order to succeed in this industry an author has to be open to new things. I hope that technology continues to move in the direction of helping not hindering the industry. 🙂
Remarkably thought-provoking post! Love the analogy that building a platform is like building a boat. My deck-building efforts include two websites that might be described as “tribal.” Each focuses on a specific niche market, but these interest “tribes” are cohesive and growing. I have also enjoyed writing articles for related magazines. In addition to building name recognition, these can bring in some handy monetary encouragement. 😉
Thank you for your intriguing views on large and small publishing houses. It’s good to take notice of those differences.
To build a boat, I’m working on improving my writing craft to be able to creatively convey information to readers in relatable ways. (I hope I never stop working to improve my writing craft, though!) Continuing to read and research ways to interact with readers and fellow writers (like through social media as well as through content) is important in any publishing changes.
I wonder, too, if doing as Lynn described helps build that boat stronger. As writers, it seems often suggested that we hone in on one genre and build up our reputation for good writing there. Maybe staying in that genre, but expanding to multiple venues (like books, magazines, and blogs all on the topic) helps stay afloat amongst all the changes in publishing too. I know I’m attempting to do just that as a new writer trying to learn more, practice writing more, and break into the field.
I’m enjoying the discussion and thoughts all you other wonderful writers are adding to Janet’s helpful posts this week!
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Janet, I think you’ve really hit upon the secret the publishers need to learn. If a new author has to hire a freelance editor (which more and more are doing to get their work publishing ready) and promote their work, then why would they still want to go with a big house for services that are shrinking in value? It seems to me, the big houses nee to offer what the smaller ones cannot—connections, promotion, marketing. That will make them desirable and writers will still pursue publication with them.
If they select wisely and market well, readers will learn to trust those books too.