Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Mash-Up (Part 1 of 8)

Your votes are in, mes auteurs, and after taking careful tally I've decided to cover the following genres over the next eight days:

Tuesday, November 30th: Mash-Up
Wednesday, December 1st: Children's/YA
Thursday, December 2nd: Fantasy
Friday, December 3rd: Mystery/Thriller

Monday, December 6th: Literary Fiction
Tuesday, December 7th: Science Fiction
Wednesday, December 8th: Chick Lit/Women's Fiction
Thursday, December 9th: Romance

And we'll have the usual round-up from Laura on Friday, December 10th.

The usual disclaimer: this is all my opinion, I'm not responsible for any lost time or money you might suffer due to taking my opinion as cold hard fact, this post is not for ophthalmic use, &c &c.

Without further ado—mash-ups!

For those not familiar, the mash-up (in this sense) is a novel that combines a pre-existing text with new material; while the concept isn't new, the literary mash-up of today was more or less created a couple of years ago by Seth Grahame-Smith in his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After the enormous success of the book, a number of "resurrected" classics (e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Little Women and Werewolves) arose, creating a sort of independent genre at the intersection of literary classics and humor.

Funny? You bet. The first time, anyway.

If any of you are currently writing mash-ups, my advice is: cut it out. My sense of the market (based on experience in-house, sales numbers through services like BookScan, and anecdote) is that it's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the lead with a number of imitations (many of which are pretty middling) tied for a very, very distant second. My opinion (opinion! not fact) is that this trend has pretty much run its course, and if you're jumping on the bandwagon now (in the hopes of publishing in 2011, 2012, or later), you're probably too late, regardless of how sweet your title/concept was.

This, by the way, goes for 99% of the trends you're seeing in publishing these days: whether it's vampires, zombies, Vikings, or mash-ups, the flavor of the day is exactly that: temporary. Just like in the stock market, if enough people are doing something for you to notice a trend, it's probably too late for you to capitalize on it. That ship has sailed; keep on doing what you do and don't worry about what everyone else is doing.

Unless, of course, your book is coming out at a time when your genre or topic is a hot commodity, in which case: go even more nuts promoting yourself and separating yourself from the pack than you otherwise would. But this isn't something you can predict or have any control over.

So, my advice for writing mash-ups is:

1. Don't.
2. If you're dead-set on it, at least pick an interesting classic that hasn't been done yet.
3. Make sure the text you're working with is in the public domain. If it isn't, you're going to have to get permission from the author/his or her estate/his or her publisher, and you're going to have to split any profits you derive.
4. You probably won't see (m)any profits.

Tomorrow, dear readers: children's/young adult literature!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Genre Sales Breakdowns (Redux)

It's that time of year again, mes auteurs!

I've gotten a few suggestions via The Twitter, but since I realized many of you may not be Twitter-inclined, I've decided to open up the official vote to the blog. I'll do four genres this week (including Friday, as Ms. Ombreviations will be away on vacation) and (potentially!) another four next week, so vote while the voting's good.

As always, if your genre of choice isn't represented in the poll, please mention it in the comments!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday, November 29th. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Terms to Know: Returns

350th post! Hooray! — E

It's been awhile since I've gone back to the basics, mes auteurs, so today's post is on that bête noire of the publishing world: returns.

The book business differs from most other commercial enterprises in that stock sold by the content provider (publisher) to retailers (book stores) is 100% returnable: if a book store can't sell its stock to consumers, it sends it right back to the house.

This is a holdover from Depression-era economics designed to get retailers to take books under circumstances they normally wouldn't (i.e., by drastically reducing, if not totally erasing, their exposure to risk). With the exception of a very small number of select retailers ("special markets" that don't sell books as their primary product), all retailers are allowed to return unsold stock to the publisher.

What does this mean for you, dear authors?

Well, assuming you earn out your advance, it can (partially) explain why it takes publishers awhile to calculate your royalties, as the returns reduce their gross sales (billing, or the money they made by selling stock to retailers) to net sales. If your royalty structure takes this into account, the publisher needs to wait for returns to come back before issuing you a check.

Occasionally, a publisher will even withhold money against future returns in a kind of escrow account, which means that money that is technically yours won't be paid out until returns are calculated several months down the line.

Granted, the problem could be "fixed" by moving the industry en masse back to a firm sale model (that is, no returns), but even if something like that could be done (which seems doubtful—see below), all it would mean would be a sharp reduction in stock for début and midlist authors like yourselves. If you force the stores to take on their own risk in today's bookselling environment, they'll simply cut their orders for anything that isn't a sure thing (read: James Patterson and Sarah Palin).

The good news is, cats & kittens, that it soon won't matter whether physical books are returnable because the market will shift principally to e-books over the next decade. Problems pertaining to physical books that plague today's publishers and retailers—warehouse space, shipping and return costs, physical co-op, &c—don't and won't apply to e-books, so returns will become a thing of the past and you'll get your royalty statements faster. Some of you who have successfully published e-books already know this.

In short: yes, returns are a pain, and yes, the industry has been running on an outmoded and inefficient sales model for the past 80 years. At this point, however, it isn't worth changing: as e-books become the primary format for the written (and read) word, the issue will become more or less moot.

That said: if you're planning on publishing a book this decade, plan on getting a call from your agent at some point asking if you'd like to buy your returned/remaindered units at cost. And don't be surprised if your royalty statements, should you get any, take their sweet time arriving in your mailbox.

Tomorrow: Thanksgiving festivities begin, meine Autoren, so I'll be taking a short break. We'll be back with the return of genre sales breakdowns on Monday, November 29th!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unfair Use

In case you haven't been on the Interwebz in a few days, mes auteurs, here's the scoop: Gawker published an excerpt of Sarah Palin's forthcoming book, America By Heart, and Mama Grizzly got super mad. She had a judge issue an order for Gawker to take down the leaked pages, and now Palin and Gawker, llc will face off in court on November 30th.

Now, according to Ben Smith of Politico, it does look like Gawker may have been in the wrong: apparently Harper & Row Publishers v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985) establishes a precedent for this sort of thing (dealing with the then-unpublished memoir by Gerald Ford, A Time to Heal). It even seems that Palin could use the avenue of discovery to retaliate against the "lamestream media" that has been "criticizing her" for so long.

The thing is, meine Autoren, after having read the four-balance test of fair use under Title 17 of the United States Code, I really don't see why Gawker's use of Palin's words doesn't fall under the protection of fair use. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.) The four-balance test for fair use basically asks these questions:

1. What's the purpose of the use? This seems, to me, to fall under news reporting/criticism, which is protected.

2. What's the nature of the copyrighted work? This is where (I think) you could make the argument that fair use doesn't apply because the work is unpublished—except that 17 U.S.C. § 107 actually says, "The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

3. How much of the work was reproduced? In this case, a few pages out of a 304-page book. No biggie.

4. Will reproducing this work hurt the market for the book? I can't see how it would; if anything, it will add to Palin's exposure and increase her sales, potentially with an audience who generally finds her insufferable (i.e. most people who read Gawker).

It seems to me that Gawker should be able to print those excerpted pages with or without Palin's permission, and I don't really see why they should lose their case next month. Then again, the precedent of Harper & Row Publishers v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 does sort of complicate things, so I may not have all the facts here.

What do you think, mes amis? (Particularly you lawyers in the audience.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sleep Deprivation Round Up

Friday round-up with Laura:

Morning, friends and foes. I went to the Harry Potter midnight show (because I'm a mature adult, thank you very much), and so the round-up is going to be lackluster. How is this different from the usual? I have no idea!

Speaking of HPotts, check out these insane Potter fan moments. There's a great (but kind of spoilery, so maybe wait on this) interview with the Harry Potter screenplay adapter too. If you want J.K. Rowling status fame, you should sign up with James Frey and the Sorcerer's Writer Sweatshop. Or you can be part of an academic writing sweatshop, and write papers so poor, illiterate folks can get degrees they don't deserve.

Is your day too literate so far? Behold, leaked pages from Sarah Palin's book! She's either pissed about the leak, trolling for more media attention, or some combo of the both. Guess which one I'm leaning toward. I bet her next book is published by Chelsea Handler's imprint, which totally exists now. Maybe it'll be accompanied by Dan Rather's new book? Or a modern translation of the Talmud? These all seem like things Handler would be interested in.

Well, friends and foes, I'm off to caffeinate heavily and try to be functional post-Potter. Or maybe I'm off to read about literary puns. It's a 50/50 shot. Until next week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Other NBA

For those of you that missed it (either in person or via the #nba10 Twitter hashtag), the 61st annual National Book Awards were presented last night in New York City. While yours truly was neither a winner (they have yet to institute a blogging category) nor an in-person attendee, I had fun following via the Interwebz and am pleased to announce this year's winners:

Lifetime achievement award: Tom Wolfe (whose speech apparently went on forever).

Young people's literature: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (NOTE: while her writing may be superb, her website is an example of what yours should not look like). (Other finalists: Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker; Laura McNeal, Dark Water; Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown; Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer.)

Poetry: Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. (Other finalists: Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City; James Richardson, By the Numbers; C.D. Wright, One with Others; Monica Youn, Ignatz.)

Nonfiction: Just Kids, Patti Smith. (Other finalists: Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq; Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward; Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War.)

Fiction: Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon. (Other finalists: Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America; Nicole Krauss, Great House; Lionel Shriver, So Much for That; Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel.)

Suffice it to say, I have four more books to add to the "to-read" pile, including the new Hayes (of whom I'm a big fan, & was rooting for to win—not that I didn't/don't love the other finalists). If anyone's interested, my picks were: Terrance Hayes (poetry), Barbara Demick (nonfiction), and Nicole Krauss (fiction). (I don't read enough children's literature/YA to have an informed opinion.) Congrats to all, however, winners and finalists alike!

What about you, meine Autoren? What do you think of the finalists/winners and their books?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anatomy of a Book Sale (Rerun)

'Tis a busy time of year for us sales folks, mes auteurs, so here's a blast from the past to tide you over while I go to a whole bunch of super fun meetings. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "Anatomy of a Book Sale"
Originally aired: Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing my responses to your questions, today we'll look at how a book sale is broken down. First, I'll quote from an article by Peter Olson, which I've linked to before:

If we assume that the average retail price of a print book is $10, then the average wholesale price is $5 (the $5 difference represents the retailers’ costs for store rent and personnel, including a profit of, at most, only 50 cents for the retailer); the costs of paper, printing and binding are roughly $1, the author’s royalties (15 percent of retail price) $1.50, internal publishers’ costs (including marketing, sales, warehousing, inventory management and distribution) of approximately $2, on average, leaving a publisher’s margin of 50 cents.

So, on a $10.00 book (retail price), the bookseller (e.g. B&N) makes $0.50, the publisher makes $0.50, and you and your agent make $1.50 (my understanding being that you retain $1.27 and your agent keeps $0.23). More detailed information on advances and royalties can be found in Moonrat's post on the subject.

Now it's worth noting that most author/publisher contracts don't specify a single royalty rate, but rather a full schedule of them, which varies depending on different circumstances of sale. This is almost always the case if the publisher is calculating your royalties based on wholesale price (i.e. the discounted price at which they sell the books to the book stores, generally around 50% of the retail price) rather than the full retail price. A full explanation can be found in Stephen Nelson's article on how author royalties are calculated.

If I recall correctly, the original question had to do with whether and how bookseller discounting could affect author royalty rate. The short answer is, if your contract indicates your royalties will largely be based on the retail price of your book, then discounting by the bookseller can impact your royalty statements; if, on the other hand, your contract indicates your royalties will be calculated based on the wholesale price of your book, then your royalties will vary depending on how many copies of your book are sold through to book stores by the publisher. Stephen's article (above) does an excellent job of explaining this, but the idea is that if a given account buys more copies of your book, they can expect a steeper discount; a steeper discount alters the wholesale price, thus altering any number that is a fixed percentage of that price (like your royalties).

So, if your percentage is taken off the retail price, Borders, B&N, &c largely determine the size of the check you receive (after your agent's commission and taxes). If your percentage is taken off the wholesale price, your publisher's sales department and those notorious account buyers determine the size of the check (based on how many copies are sold from publisher to account, including initials and reorders).

If you're curious to see how agents view the royalty system, Ethan Ellenberg (of the Ethan Ellenberg agency) has written his own article on the subject, which I highly encourage you to read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cons of Procrastination

We all do it, mes auteurs, whether it's at work, with our writing, or doing simple chores around the house. Why haven't you put together that Excel file that will literally take you ten minutes? Why have I spent three weeks avoiding a bucket of dirty paintbrushes instead of investing the necessary 30 minutes to clean them? Why didn't you write your 1,000 words today, but instead promised yourself you'd write 2,000 tomorrow? And why on Earth did I put off writing this post until eleven o'clock at night?

These questions are somewhat rhetorical, but if you're looking for actual answers, I encourage you to check out this blog post. (The blog as a whole is actually pretty interesting.) More importantly, however: how can you (we) stop procrastinating?

Acknowledge that you're procrastinating. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. In all seriousness: if you don't recognize that you're putting off something that's important to you (in this case, writing), you can't stop procrastinating and start getting work done. We're all expert rationalizers and justifiers. If you direct your energy at explaining away your lack of progress rather than—well, progressing—you're never going to get that short story or novel written.

Try to identify the cause of your procrastination. Ideally, you'd rush home every day from work to sit down at your computer/desk/notebook/&c and start typing/scribbling away. If you aren't, try to figure out why. Does work drain too much of your energy? Are you stuck on a scene you're not having much fun writing? Is your writing space depressing, distracting, or (worse) non-existent? Once you know why you're having trouble putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you'll hopefully be able to overcome the problem.

Set small, manageable goals and stick to them. If your goal is 1,000 (or 100!) words a day, write 1,000 (or 100!) words a day. Period. No excuses, no rationalizing, no justifying. Caveats: emergencies arise. Family is more important than writing. Sometimes you're not going to get those 1,000 (or 100!) words written. What does that mean? It means that tomorrow, you write 1,000 (or 100!) words. Keep moving forward and don't look back.

Periodically reward yourself for sticking to your goals. Whether you do it by scene, chapter, or word count, reward yourself when you achieve a major or meaningful milestone. It needn't be anything big, but the prospect of getting or doing something you truly enjoy as a reward for maintaining your writing schedule can work wonders. There's absolutely no need to "punish" yourself when you fall short; you just won't get your chocolate/iTunes/True Blood/&c fix. (Make sure you pick something you really want.)

That's all I've got for you today, mes auteurs, but if you have any tips for defeating procrastination, don't hesitate to share them in the comments!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Un-E-Bookable

I know you occasionally grow weary of my e-scapades, meine Freunde, so I thought I'd break in a brand-new week with something unprecedented on PMN: a post on the un-e-bookable! Specifically, Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel, Tree of Codes.

The Vanity Fair article/interview (linked above) calls the book "a spare, haunting story that appears to hang in negative space" and "very, very cool." Safran Foer created the book by strategically cutting passages out of Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles, meaning the book is die-cut throughout. That also means that, at $40.00, it's probably the most expensive fiction trade paperback on the market now. While "very, very cool," is it forty dollars cool? Or even Amazon's $26.40 cool?

I've seen the book, mes auteurs (more via hook than by crook), and I must say: I'm actually not super impressed. It could be because I saw a much-handled galley whose pages no longer lined up properly, but the story seemed less to me spare and haunting than jumbled and contrived. Yes, I know it's cool to hate on JSF, but believe me, I'm not hating—I loved Everything is Illuminated and was charmed by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I just think this book is less a testament to good writing (or, I suppose, editing) than it is to how confident publishers are in the JSF brand.

Then again, like I said, it's possible the copy I had wasn't in the best shape. I'll browse at a certain local indie and, if sufficiently impressed, will use my "one free paperback" coupon to the fullest.

To be clear: I'm glad to see a new book (by a major author) that takes full advantage of its physical existence, and un-e-bookable titles like this one help—at least, for the foreseeable future—to guarantee the relevance of the printed page for years to come. To quote the man himself:

I started thinking about what books look like, what they will look like, how the form of the book is changing very quickly. If we don’t give it a lot of thought, it won’t be for the better. There is an alternative to e-books. And I just love the physicality of books.

I do agree; there is an alternative to e-books, and this "book-as-sculptural objec[t]" (again quoting the article) is one of them. Whether it will be popular enough to maintain interest in physical books is debatable, and again quoting Safran Foer (in response to "In this increasingly digital age, do you see a project like this... as one way to preserve the printed page?"):

Not really. These decisions are going to be democratic. This book is simply not going to find a big audience. It’s naïve to think it would. I’m not really interested in resisting what’s going on, even though I have strong ideas about what a good book is. It’s possible to make things that aren’t just money-makers. Something wonderful for its own sake.

Safran Foer is right: this book won't find a big audience (relative to his usual crowd), and were it coming from any other author, it would be virtually unsalable (although some would argue it's virtually unsalable as-is! Get it? Oh man, I crack me up). Again, however, I agree that there are going to be alternatives to e-books in the future, and while the democratic force of the Reading Public will push the e-format more and more forcefully as time goes on, I'm convinced there will always be a place in the market for books as objets d'art.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Slightly Creepy Round Up

Friday round up, from Laura

A lot of things happened this week in publishing, folks, but I haven't heard a one of them, because the pedophile guide hijacked the airwaves. Yep, that's right, there's a pedophile guide on Amazon that was self published straight to the Kindle, and people are mad (not surprisingly). And you know what? After selling only one copy, all of the media attention gave the book a 101,000% sales boost. What? Tons of media attention put money directly in the pocket of a man who wrote a guide to being a pedophile? This is my shocked face. Now can we stop paying attention to this guy and handing him our money? (Amen. — E)

Plus, other things happened too. John Grisham sold 70,000 copies of his new e-book in one week. And I'm happy he has our money! Temple Grandin has a new book coming out, which should be faboosh, and Brittany Murphy's mom is writing a tell-all, which just feels icky already. Maybe she can use some of these writing tips from Vonnegut. Or maybe we should all just watch literary movies this holiday season instead of thinking about her book, or read the most popular authors on Facebook. Or, hey, we can read what George Bush read in office.

Well, I'm off to France, where e-books have fixed prices—I can still read the new New York Times e-book bestseller list there. Until next week!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: The E-Complaint Box

Happy Veteran's Day, everyone! If you haven't yet thanked someone who has served or is currently serving our country, please do. (Thanks, Dad!)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, mes auteurs, only 7% of on-line adults who read books say they read e-books. For the 93% of you who don't (yet), my question is: why not?

I've heard a variety of complaints against the e-book format, from pricing/cost to display issues to nostalgia/preference for the printed page. Wherefore the holding out, all ye hold-outs? You can't all be waiting for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.

To the comments!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The First Billion Is The Hardest

(With thanks to T. Boone Pickens, who is also on my List of Billionaires with the Coolest Names Ever.)

We've all known that e-books are kind of a big deal, meine Autoren, but the requisite benchmark facts & figures haven't been consistently available. Well, good news, everyone!

Forrester Research has found that e-book sales are closing in on one. Billion. Dollars. (For 2010.) And with sales up 176% year-on-year, they project that that billion-dollar figure will triple by 2015. Some of you might be thinking: "that is totally bananas." I'm thinking: "it's probably going to be even more than that."

As I've recently mentioned, I believe that parity between physical book sales and e-book sales (that is, the point at which electronic sales will comprise 50% of the market) will be in 2013 or 2014. Keep in mind that currently, only 7% of on-line adults who read books read e-books; as the price of devices comes down (I think the magic number is under $99) and the industry further adapts to the electronic format, I expect that number to spike. My guess (and this is just a guess!)? At least 30% over the next three years. If 7% of on-line reading adults are generating a billion dollars in e-sales this year, how much money will 30% of on-line reading adults generate three years from now?

It's hard to say. The industry made $35 billion in 2009, but that was almost exclusively physical media (e-books accounted for only $169.5 million, or 0.48%, dollar-wise). If the industry were to make another $35 billion in 2010 with $1 billion representing e-book sales, that percentage would jump to 2.9%. My guess is that the industry will make a little more money next year, but over $1 billion will be in electronic media sales. At that rate, it's not difficult to imagine double digits next year and parity two or three years after that.

It's true that e-book pricing will become an even bigger problem over the next few years, and I expect that, on average, e-books will become cheaper as more competitors enter the market and attempt to undercut each other. There's already some downward pressure on pricing from retailers like Amazon, so unless publishers withdraw from third-party retailers altogether and begin selling directly to consumers, there's no reason to assume e-books will stay at $14.99 (or $12.99, or even $9.99). But! Another topic for another day, mes auteurs.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Open Thread!

'Tis the season, mes auteurs, and I've been swamped with meetings and required reading. Thus: open thread!

Ask questions, leave comments, make requests, &c &c. I'll try and pop in from time to time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanks, Nathan

As many of you by now know, mes auteurs, Nathan Bransford is leaving the industry. As he announced on Friday, Nathan has left his position as an agent with Curtis Brown and is now installed as a social media strategist for CNET. (See here for extensive media coverage.) This is what happens, dear readers, when you have INFINITY BILLION BLOG AND TWITTER FOLLOWERS. Seriously. Take notes.

In all seriousness, though, I'd like to take a moment/this blog post to thank Nathan profusely for all the help, advice, information, and kind words he's offered over the past several years. His blog has been indispensable to me since 2007 and was instrumental in my decision to work in the industry; in fact, it's because of Nathan that PMN even exists.

I know all of you, too, have come to depend on Nathan's daily posts for help crafting your query letters, industry news, and encouragement in the face of rejection, and while he's not closing up shop and will continue to post about the industry, it's still a little sad knowing he won't (at least in the foreseeable future) be representing you and your work. As for me, I'm sure I can find someone else to hawk Bros and Vampires and More Bros: Also Some Zombies and Explosions. But it won't be the same.

So in honor of Nathan's nigh-decade-long tenure as a literary agent and his impossibly helpful blog—Prithee, Inform Me, meine Autoren: what's your all-time favorite Bransford blog post? Your most oft-quoted Nathanism? The piece of advice that time and again has helped you put your rejection letters behind you and your keyboard in front of you?

My favorite is Digging for Mushrooms. I'm not sure why—I guess I just like the extended metaphor. Also books. Also mushrooms.

What about you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Copyright Wrongs Round Up

Friday's round-up, courtesy of Laura:

I want to share something I learned recently, friends and foes. It turns out: everything written on the Internet isn't proprietary, and can be lifted and reprinted elsewhere for free! That's what the editor of Cooks Source told a writer she stole from, at any rate. And it seems like she's been stealing for a while—there's a whole list of jacked material. On a slightly larger scale, Alaa al-Aswany found out that, even though he had not sold Hebrew rights to his famous novel The Yacoubian Building (which is faboosh, FYI), someone translated and distributed it anyway. And people are mad that he's mad, because clearly this is a political issue, not a copyright issue (before anyone says anything, yes, we're all aware that the reasons al-Aswany wouldn't sell Hebrew rights are politically motivated. But that doesn't excuse or justify straight up theft of copyrighted property). Insult to injury: Harry Potter is causing an owl shortage, because people keep stealing owls. Oh, the humanity!

If only we could go back to a simpler age, where Walkmen roam through novels and a 23-year-old Oscar Wilde wants to be famous, or at least notorious. Thank goodness for a love of all things retro, bringing us the PacMan Moleskine (with a super cute video at the link).

Alas, readers, we have to live in the now. The now that brings zooborns to print (oh em gee, baby elephant! baby elephant!) and Vooks to the Kindle. A now in which Gabriel Garcia Marquez is starting a new novel, the damn successful Janet Evanovich is looking for Patterson-esque co-writers, and Cash Money Records is starting up Cash Money Books. It's a time of progress, in which you can sign an e-book or win an award for writing good gay literature for young readers, a time when kids actually are reading, just maybe not in the narrow "only a book" sense.

So buck up, kiddos, and have a nice weekend, curled up with some of the best books of 2010 or a book-based horror movie. Until next week!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

World of Tomorrow Week, Part 4 of 4: The Independent Renaissance

Part four of four, meine Autoren! Without further ado—

A Little History

For those who don't remember (though I suspect many of you do), before the late 1970s, independent stores were the primary retailers of books. Where chains (such as Walden Books or B. Dalton) existed, they were mall operations that generally didn't stock a large number of titles; for used, rare, or non-commercial books, independent stores were the way to go.

The '70s saw the purchase of Barnes & Noble by Len Riggio, however, and within a decade he had converted the company into a retail chain. Barnes & Noble bought B. Dalton in 1987, and by the 1990s, Barnes & Noble was the largest book retailer in the United States. Borders Books (which now, more often than not, is accompanied in print mentions by the adjective "beleaguered") evolved more or less contemporaneously, acquiring Walden after itself being acquired by K-Mart.

All this to say: by the 1990s, independent stores had lost their dominance in the market and were being replaced left and right by outlets of the rapidly expanding book store chains. The chains could offer title selections and deep discounts that the indies couldn't, and as a result, the number of independent booksellers has decreased by over 60% over the past twenty years.

On average, that's an independent book store closing every two days.

The Rise of On-Line Retailing

Granted, on-line retailers like Amazon didn't exactly help the situation. Although Amazon didn't become the monolithic book retailer it is today until the early 2000s, the convenience of on-line shopping and deep discounts similar to those offered by the brick-and-mortar chains (not to mention great deals on shipping and, later, aggressive bestseller and e-book pricing) set the stage for phenomenal growth. They are now the largest book retailer in the world and the largest on-line retailer in the United States.

Needless to say, the combination of lower prices, greater selection, and increased convenience offered by chain book stores and on-line retailers took a significant bite out of independent booksellers' bottom lines. Many closed; others contracted. Several that had planned to invest in their businesses by opening additional locations were unable to do so.

The Fall of the Chains

As I mentioned yesterday, right now I'm predicting that the major brick-and-mortar chains will, without significant reallocation of their business to the Internet, be all but gone within a decade. The decrease in physical print runs coupled with the increasing cost of warehousing, shipping, and rent for physical storefronts has already caused store closures for both Borders and Barnes & Noble. As e-books replace physical copies as the go-to format for mass production and consumption, the sprawling physical presence of brick-and-mortar chain retailers will become unnecessary and unsustainable. That is to say: easy come, easy go.

While some think that this will lead to the complete domination of the market by electronic retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble's .com operation, I think that consumer demand for physical books (albeit reduced) will remain strong, and physical store locations offering in-person browsing, readings, community events, book signings, and immediate access to used/rare books will ensure the survival of independent book stores. Moreover—if they play their cards right and participate as much as possible in the new media and formats—they could see something of a renaissance.

The Independent Renaissance

Again, as mentioned yesterday (and above), I think independent book stores offer experiences and benefits that are simply unavailable from e-retailers like Amazon. Amazon cannot host authors for readings or signings; it cannot function as a community center; it cannot grant you a quiet space to read or meet friends for coffee.

As the economy begins to recover and the e-revolution continues, I think it's pretty unavoidable that 1.) the chains will continue to close underperforming stores, 2.) existing indepedent book stores will begin to see their sales recover, and 3.) more money will be available for the creation of new small businesses (indie booksellers included).

Beyond this, however, independent stores can take advantage of social networking sites (like Twitter), electronic ordering systems for quick acquisition of new titles from publishers (instead of relying on paper catalogs), and potentially even in-house distribution of POD titles and e-books. This goes back to my theory that, over the next ten years, the industry will see a lot of consolidation; I see no reason why indies can't offer e-books as well as the age-old experience of browsing physical shelves.

The independent book store of tomorrow will be able to cheaply print copies of books that it doesn't have in stock, will be able to offer access to e-books, will promote local authors and host events, and will actively participate in on-line discussions about literature via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They will adapt to changes in culture and technology, and they will continue to be relevant so long as reading remains relevant.

And despite all the doom and gloom surrounding this industry, remember: reading has been relevant for thousands of years, mes auteurs. That's not about to change anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

World of Tomorrow Week, Part 3 of 4: The Future

And now, mes auteurs, you're about to embark on a journey through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop: The Twiligh— I mean, publishing world of tomorrow!

(Also, dear readers, please don't think I'm ignoring you by not responding to recent comments on this series. First, it's conference season in the Land of Publishing, so I'm short on time; second, I want to foster as much of a debate between you folks as possible, and it gets complicated if I keep gallivanting into the comment arena to clarify or expound.)

That said—on to the exciting and terrifying future!

The Big Shrink (Publishers)

Over the next decade, I expect publishing to become smaller. Not in the sense that there will be fewer retailers and publishers; on the contrary, I think there will be more (see Consolidation and The Independent Renaissance, below). What I mean to say is: the giants (that is, the Big Six) will need to scale back their operations in order to remain profitable, and this will probably result in a net loss of jobs in the industry.

As the shift to e-books continues, there is/will be a temporary need for more employees at large publishing houses (chiefly for e-book conversion and on-line marketing). As publishers streamline their process, however, not only will they no longer need additional staff for the sale of electronic media, they'll actually need fewer personnel as the print runs and sales of physical books decline. Increases in overall title count may counteract this to some extent, but as everything from production to warehousing scales back, fewer people will be necessary overall.

Additionally, I'm predicting that the industry will consolidate somewhat (see below), meaning that jobs previously offered by publishers may increasingly be available with agencies and retailers.


As print runs decrease and e-books become the norm, it will 1.) be increasingly fiscally feasible for smaller operations to turn out a greater number of books, and 2.) no longer require that there be so much specialization and segmentation within the industry. A new, "boutique" literary enterprise employing a few literary agents, editors, tech gurus, and a small staff of on-line marketing and sales folks will be able to do the e-work currently undertaken by individual agencies, publishers, and retailers. Why sign with an agent, have him/her pitch to a house, and have that house deal with the logistics of selling it through myriad channels (often requiring greatly varied and/or incompatible information and file types) when you can get it all in one place?

Amazon already maintains in-house editors, and the Wylie Agency's Odyssey Editions fiasco telegraphed the intention of (at least some) literary agencies to take on roles that were previously the province of publishers and/or retailers. I think this signals a shift toward greater consolidation in the industry over the next ten years. Whether this means Amazon will be taking unsolicited mss or Simon & Schuster will open their own e-book store remains to be seen, but I think this niche will be filled by companies that already have a strong toehold in the digital market.

The Big Shrink (Retailers)

With the rise of electronic media and on-line retailers like Amazon, brick-and-mortar chains are under enormous pressure to adapt. I've previously likened the current environment to the Cretaceous era immediately preceding the mass extinction event: smaller/independent retailers are the scrappy mammals, brick-and-mortar chains are the dinosaurs, and Amazon (or Internet book retailing in general) is the comet. I don't think this is too hyperbolic.

Unless big chains like Borders—which, according to Publishers Lunch, will be seeing another round of layoffs and store closures—and Barnes & Noble can move a sufficiently large percentage of their business to the Internet, they won't (à mon avis) be around ten years from now. Eventually their operations will shrink to the point where their offering of a physical storefront is outmatched by independent stores' ambience, personality, and community involvement (see below), and they'll likely transform into an all e-operation, selling physical books via the Internet. Since Amazon already does this better than they do, I imagine they'll simply go out of business.

The Independent Renaissance

Finally, meine Autoren, I believe that the combined effects of e-book popularity and brick-and-mortar chain downsizing will lead to a resurgence of the independent book store. Offering everything you can't get from Amazon (locality, community involvement/events, readings, rare or limited edition physical books, &c), they'll expand to fill the roles they lost with the rise of the major chains in the early 1990s. But! More on this tomorrow.

Questions, (dis)agreement, conspiracy theories? To the comments!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

World of Tomorrow Week, Part 2 of 4: Self-Publishing

It's no secret how I feel about self-publishing, mes auteurs. Granted, the publishing world of tomorrow is fast approaching, and with the rapid and pervasive transformations currently occurring in the industry, it's not surprising that the arena of self-publishing is also undergoing some changes. Ultimately, however, I still don't think it's a good idea to self-publish your work in an attempt to make money or establish yourself as a legitimate author. Here's why—

Faster ≠ Better

These days, nothing stops you from converting your beloved ms to a .pdf and posting it on your blog for the world to see. Not that many people do this; I'm just saying that if you're looking for quick and dirty, you can self-publish your work in a matter of minutes.

If you want your book to look a little more slick and reach a wider audience, there's a panoply of options open to you, including—but not limited to—Lulu, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, and (increasingly) Amazon (via CreateSpace). Be forewarned, however, that the vast majority of titles produced via these self-publishers do not compare to their traditionally pusblished counterparts: they are not as well-written, they contain significantly more grammatical errors, and their overall design (typesetting, cover image, &c) are not as good. They also don't sell very well at all (almost all sell fewer than 100 copies).

I'm not blaming the printing technology for the general inferiority of self-published books; devices like the Espresso Book Machine can produce copies virtually identical in quality to mass-produced, traditionally published books in a matter of minutes. Frankly, I'm blaming the self-publishing authors.

You're authors, folks. You're not graphic artists, you're not marketing gurus, you're not salespeople, you're not copywriters. (At least, most of you aren't.) If you're all these things and you've written a very niche book that publishers won't touch, go ahead and self-publish. As usual, I'm not aiming this advice at the outliers: I'm aiming it at the vast majority.

So, by all means, eschew the traditional method of publication and save 18 months (minimum) if you'd rather produce a sub-standard text that no one except your friends and family will read.

This Goes for E-books, Too

More on this below the next header, but just because you're not creating a physical book doesn't mean you should skip traditional publishing altogether (so long as you're writing something you believe will appeal to a wide audience; your family's genealogy or a book that will only appeal to Kazakh agronomists living in Indonesia are good candidates for self-publishing).

As e-books become a larger and larger component of the market, more and more people will flock to e-self-publication as a means of getting their words out there. The more voices there are competing for attention, the more difficult it becomes for any one voice to succeed on its own merits. Not only does your e-book have to be phenomenal, it has to command attention in some way; in other words, someone has to vet it. (More on this under Brand Management and The Democratization of Publishing is a Myth.)

Every Author Needs an Editor

When you write a book for publication, you're creating a text for someone (generally many someones) besides yourself. This means, mes auteurs, that the presentation of your story that seems optimal to you may not be optimal for the greatest number of readers; there are probably a myriad grammatical, typographical, and stylistic errors/problems to which you are blind; and the aspects of your work that you find most clever/entertaining/engaging might distract or turn off a large number of potential fans.

That is to say: you need someone else to read your work before it goes to press.

Not only that, you need (à mon avis) someone who is familiar with the current market, someone who knows the ins and outs of your genre and can speak to what is effective and what isn't, someone with whom to collaborate to produce the best piece of art of which you're capable.

Brand Management

In the world of publishing, meine Autoren, you are the brands. As a début author, your goal is to establish yourself as a brand in your chosen field or genre; you want people to say, "Guys! The next Francisco Battlebro thriller is out!" Or, "Oh man, I just got the new Sylvia P. Conundra mystery from Amazon!" Your reputation as a writer, your name or pseudonym, are social currency in the Land of Books; you need to establish yourself if you want to succeed as a working writer.

Here's where publishing houses come in. When your book comes out from a publisher (big or small, venerable or brand-spanking-new), it says that someone besides you has read your work and loves it. (Or, at the very least, can sell it.) Further, that house is investing in your talent (they paid you instead of the other way 'round, remember?) and wants you to succeed! They want the world to know your name and buy your books and make them (and you) money. That house uses their team of professionals to design, market, and sell your book, and it's their job to help brand you and make you a household name.

When you're flying solo, that's all up to you. And the vast, vast, vast majority of the time, the author who attempts to do this on his or her own does not succeed.

Past Sales Affect Future Sales

Remember BookScan? Well, if you decide to self-publish in any meaningful way and receive an ISBN, BookScan will be able to track your sales. And, as I've mentioned before, a poor sales history can scare off an otherwise interested agent or editor.

If your poor sales are the result of publication through a previous (legitimate) house, you can at least explain to your new agent or editor that those sales were, at least in part, the fault of said publisher (poor positioning, little or no marketing money or co-op, mishandling of stock, &c). If those poor sales are the result of your efforts at self-publication, you've got no one to blame but yourself. Yourself, and the reading masses who you tried to reach directly because agents and editors were keeping you from your adoring public.

The Democratization of Publishing is a Myth

Finally, there seems to be this rumor floating around that the rise of the e-book and the sophistication of current POD systems (where physical books are concerned) will not only make editors, literary agents, and publishing houses obsolete, but will usher in a Golden Age of Publishing where a true merit-based democracy will rule, and the reading public will determine, by show of electronic hands clutching electronic dollars, who will succeed and who won't. No more gatekeepers; no more insiders and outsiders.

Alas, mes auteurs, this myth has existed since the time of Gutenberg (and probably before) and is no closer to reality than it was six hundred years ago.

As I said earlier, the sheer volume of voices competing for attention guarantees that a system of separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff will be necessary. Consumer recommendation systems (like those employed by Amazon) are helpful, but insufficient; people often give five-star and one-star ratings to books for nepotistic, spiteful, or downright bizarre reasons, and while this might not affect titles with large followings (read: established brands), it can wreak havoc on lesser-reviewed titles. Which, if branding is determined by consumer review, will be all of them.

All this to say: there has to be a way of identifying, cultivating, and branding talent such that the fresh, engaging, and important voices are heard, and the rest are left to their own devices. While word of mouth is a necessary condition for this to occur in a free market, I don't think it's sufficient. Another filter is necessary, and that filter is the publisher.

That's all for today, bros and she-bros. Tomorrow: what I think the publishing landscape will look like by the year 2020!

Monday, November 1, 2010

World of Tomorrow Week, Part 1 of 4: eBooks

Happy November, mes auteurs! It's world of tomorrow week here on PMN, and we're kicking off the new month/week/feature with a discussion of that troublesome new(ish) format, that enfant terrible, that enigmatic elephant in the room: the e-book.

A Little History

First, I hesitate to call e-books "new," since they've been around in one form or another since the early 1970s. Granted, they were impossible to read and not exactly portable, but they were there. They became slightly more popular as computer technology improved; I know several people who have been reading them since at least the mid-'90s. However! It's undeniable that the format has undergone a virtual (get it?) renaissance in the past three years due to the release of myriad dedicated e-readers, chief among these Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's nook.

Since 2007, e-book sales have annually been increasing by hundreds of percentage points (that is, doubling, tripling, or more), and these sales have largely been fueled by consumers (like you!) seeking lower prices, more convenience, and greater portability. Physical books aren't seeing anything like this. While I certainly sympathize with those of you who remain unwaveringly supportive of the physical book, I caution you not to do so at the expense of missing out on the digital revolution. Physical books certainly have a place in the market, but e-book market share is growing exponentially. Eschewing them out of nostalgia or spite is, frankly, shooting yourself in the foot.


This has been a contentious issue for awhile now. Here are the basics:

· E-books are not free to create. Yes, the overhead associated with creating an e-book is much lower than that for a physical book: the publisher does not have to pay for printing, shipping, or storing physical texts, nor do they have to deal with the expensive specter of returns. However, many mss that are fine to send to the printer for the creation of physical copies are unsuitable for the production of e-books: the flow of text may not translate, facing pages may be split apart, images may need captions added, &c, &c.

Granted, as publishers become more accustomed to preparing mss for e-production, this issue will begin to be dealt with from the get-go, but it's not a factor that can be ignored at present. However—

· E-books should be cheaper than physical books. As a consumer, you're not really buying a book when you purchase an e-book; you're purchasing a permanent license to read that book. Further, while e-books aren't free to create, they are much cheaper, and so it makes sense that the final product should cost less for consumers to purchase.

Here's where I put in my plea for patience, mes auteurs. If you see bizarre pricing on Amazon, or if the e-book somehow costs more than the physical book, or any other aspect of the book's price or availability pisses you off, please do not retaliate against the author by giving the book a one-star review. I understand I'm largely preaching to the choir here, since most (if not all) of you are writers and most (if not all) of you would never do this to a fellow auteur, but it does happen and I do want to discourage this practice.

Example: a publisher who has accepted Apple's agency model is selling an e-book on Amazon. Due to said model, the publisher sells the book through Amazon at a fixed price, which Amazon cannot alter, and Amazon takes a cut on each sale.

The physical book, however, is sold by Amazon on the wholesale model, meaning the publisher sells it to (rather than through) Amazon at a fixed discount, and Amazon can then re-sell the book to consumers at whatever price they want. This means that, occasionally, a physical book can cost less than its e-version. This is mostly Amazon's fault, and only slightly the publisher's (and certainly not the author's).

· The publisher and the retailer have the right to sell an e-book for a profit. It's called capitalism, folks. If a publisher can't sell an e-book at a profit for $2.99 a copy, you're not getting it at that price, no matter how much you carry on. E-retailers like Amazon (in fact, almost exclusively Amazon) have accustomed customers to these prices by selling their e-books (and bestselling physical books) at a loss for years. When publishers assign prices through the agency model, they aren't being greedy when they tell you you can't have a book for $1.99 or $2.99 or $9.99; they're trying to stay in business. Granted, sometimes they do it in confusing and/or stupid ways. Again, however, to quote Bender Bending Rodriguez: the truth is often stupid.

This is one of the most exciting, unpredictable, and (honestly) scary times to be working in publishing, mes auteurs, and a lot of industry insiders (particularly—no ageism intended—the older ones) are bewildered by e-book sales. They're afraid those sales will damage the big chains; they're afraid those sales will destroy the independent book store; they're afraid those sales will eliminate the hardcover or the mass market paperback or physical books altogether; they're afraid they'll lose their jobs. To be fair, in some cases, these fears have a legitimate basis. But I would say ninety-nine times out of a hundred, e-book pricing is determined by numbers and sales projections, not by irrational hand-wringing.

Sales and Distribution

Currently, the e-book market is dominated by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with a little influence from the Apple iBookstore. As time goes on, however, I fully expect smaller e-book publishers (taking advantage of the minimal overhead and the vast sales floor that is the Internet) to get in on the game. I'll address this later in the week, but I imagine self-publishers and "boutique" e-book publishers (combinations of agencies, small publishing houses, and independent booksellers) will start to gain appreciable market share over the next three to five years.

Keep in mind that all this means maintaining your on-line presence (via your author website, blog, Twitter account, &c) will become increasingly important. If your books are principally being sold via the Internet, you need to be present in and selling yourself via that same medium. This is more important if you're with a smaller house; the branding of the larger houses will help you to some extent, though if you're solidly midlist, don't expect a lot in the way of marketing or co-op.

I don't think the larger houses will start selling directly to consumers, as large e-retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble would retaliate by pulling those publishers' titles from their e-shelves, which (I imagine) would do those publishers more harm than their DTC operation could offset. For better or worse, I think the Big Six are in bed with Amazon for the long haul.

Parity with Physical Books

I've been known to tout the year 2015 as the point in time when e-book sales will reach parity with physical book sales; that is, the point where e-books will comprise 50% of the market. Given the current rate of growth, however, I'm now more inclined to estimate parity occurring in late 2013 or early 2014.

Parity means that fewer physical books will be produced, although I strongly disagree with industry professionals who believe it will be a one-to-one correspondence (e.g. the market can only support 200,000 copies of a given title, so if 100,000 are sold as e-books, only 100,000 will be sold in physical form). I am convinced that hardcover buyers and e-book aficionados are, at least for the time being, almost entirely separate markets, and moreover that e-books are encouraging non-readers to read, not converting current readers wholesale to the e-format. All this to say: greater e-book sales will, à mon avis, mean more sales overall, not the same number of sales split different ways.

What You Can Do

Finally, dear readers, what you can do:

· Make sure there's an e-book. It sounds basic, but it's essential: make sure there's going to be an electronic version of your book. If your agent sells the rights, do your best to make sure those rights are exercised; if you reserve them (which is quickly becoming less and less common), make sure you find someone to sell that e-book for you.

· Get as much e-exposure as possible. Make sure that your e-book is available on the Kindle, the nook, via Google Editions (when it's available), via the publisher's website (if applicable), &c &c. Link to it on your blog, tweet about it, put it on Facebook, keep a permanent link somewhere on your website, and so on. Mention it in guest blog posts, on podcasts, in interviews. You want a digital footprint to rival Bigfoot's.

· Try to ensure the e-book is mentioned wherever the physical book is found. Every time the physical copy is brought up, try to get the e-book plugged as well. While they may (in the near future) be packaged together, the two formats are currently treated as more or less separate. Even a single line reading e-book available will help generate sales. This goes for all electronic and all printed promotional materials.

· Target your audience. Find out from your agent, editor, or publisher who's reading e-books in your genre and target those people. Guest post on blogs they read; try to get advertising on websites they frequent; ask about electronic co-op in the form of e-mail blasts, coupons, and splash pages on e-retailers' sites. E-book fanatics are among the most voracious and loyal readers of all. If you can get them hooked on your book(s), you're advancing your career in a major way.

· Innovate. True, there are a number of genres (such as cookbooks, children's books, art books, and graphic novels) that haven't yet made the leap to the e-book format; it's currently the domain of fiction and narrative non-fiction. However! If we've learned anything from our sojourn through the wond'rous world of electronic media, mes auteurs, it's that the industry is changing rapidly. If you're shopping, say, a picture book, keep in mind that it may be the norm to produce it as an e-book by the time it's represented, sold, and ready for publication. Ditto for other image-heavy or non-traditional media. For all you know, there may be e-pop-up books coming. Remember: at this pivotal stage in the history of publishing, if you're not a step ahead, you're a step behind.

That's all for today, meine Autoren. Tomorrow: self-publishing returns!