Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: What Would You Change About Publishing?

Today's query is a simple one, mes auteurs: If you could, what major change(s) would you make to the publishing industry? Everything from author advances to return rates is on the table. Go nuts!


  1. I'd bump it up from DSL to cable. The Slowskys have got to go.

  2. Either my comment was yanked or it never appeared. And it was brilliant. But, bottom line, I'd like to get away from same but different. Because they're not different, they're the same. Broaden thy horizons (which is why e-publishers are popular; they will look outside the box)

    (And if comments are moderated, and my first one shows up, feel free to delete the dupe.)

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. For "traditional" publishing: returns and agency pricing. There's gotta be a better way to improve margins for everyone without sacrificing the bookseller.

  4. Oh man, here's the list;

    1) minimum e-book royalties of 50%; 60% after 10,000 sold.
    2) all rights revert back to author after 7 years. Call it the "seven year ditch".
    3) Less paid out in advances; but that means more given to promotion.
    4) More accountability: not enough people are held accountable for their unprofessional antics. It ruins publishing's image.
    5) Less bickering between the traditional and self-pubbed people. Do what's right for you and move on. Neither side needs an education. They're doing what they feel is right for them.
    6) An ethics committee of some kind. The AAR is like the U.N. -- they look all strong and have a ethics statement, but they have zero mandate or zero idea how to reign bad apples in.
    7) Magic number seven: More respect for the golden goose. If not for the writers, everyone would be looking for new jobs. From booksellers all the way to the C.E.O.'s of the Big Six. Have more respect for your business "partner", the writer.

    No wonder more and more writers are ditching traditional publishing and heading to Amazon and Smashwords for 70%-85% royalty rates.

    Oh man, I just said things that I don't want them to change. Traditional publishing: keep everything the way it is. You're old and dying. Don't change. Just say goodnight.

    (All in good humor)

  5. I had something...but I think DarylSedore pretty much hit much of it right on the head. Great minds think alike, no?

  6. I feel that publishers should, of course, continue to go after the books that sell best, but I think they should also try actively buying a few additional books each year specifically aimed at recapturing the male audience. They are overlooking what men most want to read, and thus shooting themselves in the foot by killing off a important set of buyers.

    I think all agents and publishers should move to using email instead of snail mail.

    I think that publishers should try a different model contract for new writers, one that perhaps offers smaller or no advances but gives incentives based upon how well the first book sells. This might allow them to give more new voices a shot than they are currently doing.

  7. I think the best change for the industry would be on the return policy. It seems unfair to me that publishers are expected to take such risks.

    Is that a policy in the music industry? No, I think not. If the stores order too many CD's do record companies have to take them back with a full refund?

  8. I, too, would like publishers and agents alike to "step out of the box". The climate in publishing smells a little (or a lot) like "fear" right now.

    In submission guidelines, everyone says their looking for different, but they're not. 90% of them (or higher possibly) are looking for exactly the same thing. P.S. If you are an agent who says you rep x, y and z but are really only looking for z, you might think about putting that statement on your website or in your guidelines so we don't waste our time sending to you. I wouldn't even mind if you rivised that monthly as long as you don't misrepresent yourself. Our time is prescious too.

    It is so sad that great writing has to take a back seat to an imposed popularity. And if young people between the ages of 13 and 25 are buying all the novels, maybe it's because publishers aren't printing anything that "grown-ups" want to read. I don't buy "bite 'em and bleed 'em books.

    I write for gown-ups and I have no interest in werewolves. For a writer, you are slowly losing me as a reader. I love what I write and I want to read that from others as well, or at least something that isn't a bandwagon jumper.

    I know that I've mentioned this on another blog recently, but I love the line from agents "it just didn't grab me" (No, I haven't gotten one of those personally, but I know others who have). Well, what's being published right now, "just doesn't grab me". Who's right?

    There is a larger "mature" population (with jobs to pay for books) out there and maybe if you took a chance on some of them, you'd find that you could actually make more money than you're making on werewolves and vampires. I, for one, feel that every reader's taste should be represented by the industry, but it's not. Someone, somewhere has to grow a pair, step out of the box and be first.

  9. Thanks Rayvenne...

    Wendy, I had to come back and comment on your comment. It was excellent. I completely agree with you. I'm so tired of my options at the bookstore. I'm in my forties and not at all interested in 90% or more of what "they" think is good.

    Well said Wendy!

  10. I'd like to second all of these. Especially Wendy's. Editors are all 20-somethings. Readers are mostly over 40. Grandmas aren't reading Meyer because they're so eager to relive their high school years. It's because it seems like our choices are limited to vampires, nursing home cozies or Patterson's torture porn. We need more grown-ups in publishing!

  11. I don't agree with the characterization that "editors are all 20-somethings," although it's true that the young(er) editors are probably doing more actual editing than most of the senior folks in editorial.

    I also don't agree that there are no "books for grown-ups" out there. I'd say a full half of the books on my desk, which are fairly representative of what's being published now, are for "grown-ups" (30+).

    It's not all poorly coiffed vampires and disillusioned 20-somethings, ladies & gents.

    All best & thanks for reading,


  12. Everyone has made great points here.

    As an author, I'd like to see publisher's give more respect to the writers. As stated above, no one in the publishing industry would even have jobs without the writers.

    So, higher royalties, and more control in the author's hands. Like if the title gets changed, and what the cover art looks like.

    Raven Corinn Carluk

  13. Hi Raven,

    While I agree with you that authors should retain the greatest possible control over their work, there will be times when a title or cover change will be in his or her best interest sales-wise (regardless of whether (s)he sees it that way).

    All best & thanks for reading,


  14. Raven,
    While I do agree when it comes to titles, I'm not sure I'm fully on board when it comes to authors and cover art. Authors write the books. They aren't the ones paid to research which kind of cover art is selling, and which ones do dismally on the shelves.

    I do agree with a certain degree of approval when it comes to their cover art (Justine Larbalestier's original LIAR cover comes to mind), but not the creative control. I can't help but cringe and think of how many covers might lead to something like this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell

  15. What I'd like is not the same thing as what publishing needs. I'd like publishing to respond faster and to be able to take on more niche books--the quirky stuff that will sell but not in huge quantities.

    What publishing needs is to be rid of the returns system, and that might mean it needs to encourage ebooks to supersede print books--

    --which is a prospect I have issues with. Offering a book only in electronic format makes it inaccessible to the poor, and that's a group that includes children, i.e. our future audience.

  16. Something that makes itth more possible for skilled but learning authors to get a foot in the door. Apprenticeships, maybe, or something of the kind.

    Also eliminating the stigma against self-publishing so authors can go the way indie musicians go if they so choose-- not to combat the traditional model, but to complement it.

  17. I would say simply, look beyond the three letters after a writer's name that seems to automatically blind most publishers to the fact that just because someone has those three letters doesn't mean that they're good writers.

    Formuliac drivel should not take the place of the well written/well crafted stories that hundreds of other writers who don't have those three letters produce.

  18. Return policies. A business that orders too many brochures from a printer can't return the extra ones. If a store orders more of a product than ends up selling, the STORE has to take the loss, not the manufacturer, right?

    So why is publishing an exception to that?

  19. Publishing is a business. It's pointless telling someone what's wrong with the way they run their business, all you can say is what doesn't happen to suit you personally. Another agent, whose blog I no longer read, was personally furious with me when I wrote the publishing industry is quite extraordinarily inefficient, and doesn't seem to be concerned about it. But the market will win out -- inefficiency and market success do not sleep together.

  20. I don't know, Eric, it seems to me that Wendy is more right than you give her credit for. I haven't been able to visit a book store for years (since I live in Azerbaijan) but this week I got to visit a Barnes & Noble. I was aghast at the fantasy section. What used to hold loads of wonderful sword and sorcery and epic fantasy is now teeming with Romantasy novels. It's definately a put off. I still see sword and sorcery and epic fantasy there, but it's just the same old ones I saw years ago when I last visted. If there are new ones they are being overwhelmed by the Romantasies.

  21. I cannot say what I would change about publishing because I know nothing about author advances or return rates. I am not into the money end of writing. I write because it's fun and gives me great satisfaction.

    I morphed into a cartoonist! Take a look at the marjorie-cartoons! You might laugh at the bad art in the caption driven pieces. Also, check out my replies to SPH, in marjorie-palimpsests. And make me happy and laugh!

  22. I think Daryl Sedore should open an agency in,,,Ooooooh Canada.

  23. Elizabeth; that link is great. And I agree that it can get ridiculous. But there should be some say in the matter.

    Eric; big problem I see with not giving the author any control, is that you're basically telling the author they don't know what they're doing. That they don't understand what will sell, and not to worry their pretty little head.

    Making a change to the title or cover idea because it will sell better is a sign of the greed of the publishing industry. Suggestions on title changes are one thing. But if the author wants it to be called "Fatties Must Die", there's probably a reason.

    Not having approval over covers and titles is really hard for an author. You've just spent however long writing, and perfecting, and creating a work of art, to have someone slap an outer coating on it that has nothing to do with your work. It would be like raising your child to be intelligent, well-spoken, literate, and have Hollywood decide she needs big boobs and blond hair to be a success.

  24. Hi Raven,

    In my experience, most authors do not know what they're doing when it comes to cover art. (Most—not all.) I'll concede that this is generally not the case with titles.

    Publishing houses buy books because they think they can turn a profit in so doing. Changing covers is not a sign of greed, but a sign that the house wants a reasonable return on its investment. That's not to say that some houses aren't greedy—I think some are—only that cover images are not always (or even generally) an indication that they are or aren't.

    Racism/whitewashing, vis-à-vis Liar or Magic Under Glass is, I think, a much more important (and prevalent) problem.


  25. The last bastion of publishers is distribution. Right now, very few Indie authors can hope to sell (or give exposure to) their book in the volume reputable publishers can

  26. Improve the mechanism for helping writers to spend time writing so books can be made.

    It's time to let the non-writers cover the 'day jobs'.

    I call this the Washing Machines Make Very Bad Cutlery argument.

  27. US vs. World copyrights needs to be pulled out of the 19th century and into the 21st, not only for electronic rights for all parties concerned.

    The truncated publishing dates for the different formats have never worked for me as reader/buyer, but I speak as a buyer of English books in a non-English country, and as a reader who always ends up ruining hard covers. I must travel to a different city to browse and buy. If I notice a new title that looks promising but in too expensive HC form, chances are I'll completely forget about the book by the time the paperback comes out. Nowadays I order online in the UK, but still waiting for the paperback is annoying and the risk is that I'll end up forgetting to buy the books I wanted to read...

    I understand the market mechanics of bringing 1 title under the public's attention 2 times or more, but I wonder if the money spent on the overhead needed for those separate publication dates isn't better spent on a yearly worldwide backlist promotion for the first 5 years of that title or something.

  28. Wry Wryter,

    I just have to ask: Was your comment serious or snark?

  29. Any celbrity that wants to sell a book, tell them to co-author with a new writer that can write. I'm happy that celebity sells books - everyone has to make a living - but so many of them are so dreadfull that they ought to be done for environmental pollution. I'd be quite happy to have some name that can sell but not write added to my book. I'll do the writing and the celeb name can do the selling. Everyone ought to be happy. The public get better books, the celebs make money for no work, the publishers sell books, and new writers get a leg up.
    OK I appreciate that this is anarchic and dubious in many ways, but chewing up about a third of the total publishing capacity and flooding bookshops with books that are just gimics from people who have made their name at something else is also a crime.

  30. To Wendy's comment about mature readers...They tried that. It was called Harlequin Next. You'll notice that line is no longer around. You want that type of book, SUPPORT it with your dollars.

    This is not a "let's play fair in the sandbox" industry. It's a business, plain and simple. Publishers want to make money. You want publishers to give you something different? Make sure you BUY the books when they come out. Publishers are doing a lot of paranormal because IT'S SELLING.

  31. I agree that the return policy should be altered in such a way that it is not so devastating for the publisher or the bookseller. With more efficient printing technology and faster shipping, I am surprised that this has not been addressed yet by either party.

    Also, I wish those so-called "easier to read" mass market paperbacks would die. They are more expensive, they cramp my wrists, and they don't fit the shelf. GRRR!

  32. Returns policy.

    I've completely remodeled two homes, doing much of the work myself. I know the strong points of the construction and I know what appeals to me and what doesn't. That doesn't make me an expert in selling real estate. What made me an expert in real estate is lots of education, lots of independent study and a whole lot of hard-earned experience.

    I have all I can do to learn my craft as a writer. I am not in the least bit interested in trying to learn the ins and outs of publishing professionals.

    I may not like the comic covers on some books, but I am not the one who has studied the market trends and art design. Apparently those covers appeal to a certain audience.

    I just want to write and write well enough to be published traditionally. I will leave the rest to agents and editors who know what they are doing.

  33. I love my title (Diary of a Small Fish), but if a publisher wants to change it to Coffee and a Cigarette because coffee and cigarettes are "hot," then I'm good with that. I'll put on fishnet stockings and bark like a coyote in the middle of Filene's Basement if that's what they think will sell.

    Well, in a manner of speaking.

  34. I don't know enough about publishing to have an opinion on what should change. Still trying to learn what IS and roll with it (which might well mean going unpublished for a long time). But the comment above about not being interested in 90% of what is published made me scratch my head. Because I'm an absolute snob about what I spend my very little free time reading and it is far less than 10% of what's in the bookstore. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.
    Do I wish lesbian cross-dressers of the nineteenth century were as much in demand as vampires right now? Maybe, but then again, something is always the fad. And I've never been much of a fad follower. My book will find its way.
    It has always been thus.
    Pick up a novel by a hot seller of the C19 like E.D.E.N. Southworth and you will see what I mean. Schlock that nobody remembers today. But hot while it lasted.

  35. Julie Weathers: I agree. Just because you can write doesn't mean you can market. There is a reason for professionals....agents, publishers, editors. Reading a few self-published books I have noticed a difference in quality. That is not to say there are not excellent self-published books out there. I think they are more difficult to find. The self-publishing option is definitely a good thing. Having said that, we need the professionals. We writers need the professionals. No matter what we all say, the ultimate goal is having your book in a bookstore.

  36. As a older reader, Harlequin Next held no appeal to me. They were mass-market with very silly cover art. If publishers tried to reach their older readers in a more appealing way, they would support the books. I'be been bunches of book signings and the people you see are mostly women who are 50 plus.

  37. Megan: Oh, please do not mistake my comment about "grown-up's" and "mature readers". I wasn't talking about romance novels poorly marketed to women over fifty. I was speaking of people of any age with the intelligence to not get weak in the knees over a seveenteen year old with a shaven chest - oh, wait, he wouldn't need to shave because he's not old enough to have any chest hair. I'll argue semantics if you want me to. And you know what - if I see a book worth buying, I absolutely will. There, and I didn't even have to use all caps. Ciao.

    Just a side note to Wry Wryter who (as I perceive it)implied Canada's inferiority. I thought this topic was about publishing -not bashing other countries - look in your own backyard before you go throwing rocks! Oh, wait, go ahead and throw them - I've got health care.

    Sorry to our host, but some things just need to be addressed. Ignorance is not bliss.

  38. Sorry guys,

    But I LOVE the health care line. Funny as hell...

  39. Cut advances, eliminate returns, and (for traditionally printed books) pay royalties up front based on the size of the print run. This would force publishers to behave like any other manufacturer and pay close attention to supply and demand. Smart publishers could drastically reduce their risk and bestselling authors would still see a big payday.

  40. Wendy Tyler Ryan: You know, the persuasiveness of your arguments is considerably diminished by your willingness to insult those who like the things you don't like.

    I don't appreciate the charm of Edward Cullen either, but implying that anyone who does must be unintelligent and immature is not only incorrect, it makes you seem egotistic and socially inept.

    Just because you don't "get" something doesn't mean it's bad.

  41. Daryl and Wendy are so right on, I don't know what to do with myself. Where does one BEGIN? It's so true that Big Publishing needs to start thinking outside their elitist NYC publishing box. By self-publishing, authors are “crowd-sourcing” the publishing process: the people are choosing what they like best, rather than letting old-school publishers choose for them. I am SO sick and tired of my options at the bookstore. Same old, same old...

  42. jjdebenedictis: So you would have me get slapped around and not defend myslef - is that what you would do? You might want to read what I said over again - I was not insulting anyone and I certainly didn't throw the first stone. There are different forms of intelligence and certainly different levels of intelligence at different ages. For example - do you get all crazy and goo goo eyed over Justin Beiber? I was simply saying that there are readers who want a little more meat.

    My first comment to Megan was a clarification because she totally missed it. She was talking about something I wasn't. I don't see any insult there. My second comment to Wry Wryter was exactly what I said - have you actually read his or Megan's comments?

    There are three things I will defend absolutely - my family, my country, and the ability to speak my mind using my craft.

  43. Wendy Tyler Ryan:
    I was speaking of people of any age with the intelligence to not get weak in the knees over a seveenteen year old with a shaven chest

    This comment, specifically, is where you implied that people who like that sort of thing are unintelligent.

    And yes, I have read the comments. It is possible for someone to understand the situation and still disagree with you.

  44. "Eric; big problem I see with not giving the author any control, is that you're basically telling the author they don't know what they're doing. That they don't understand what will sell, and not to worry their pretty little head."

    Well, we don't. Let's be real. We do not know what will sell. We have ideas of what works but we don't have the industry know how to really understand how covers translate in to sales. I do think we should be able to have input, but usually, we do get some.

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