Category Archives: distribution

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Categorizing

Shy, but spunky wallflower meets hot, broody guy.  Sparks fly, complications arise, but true love triumphs in the end.  This could take place in any high school, college, or corporate setting.  And love is love at any age, right?

So, why is there such a flap over bookstore placement of Young Adult vs. New Adult titles?  It all comes down to sex, of course.  The older the protagonists the more sexually explicit the books has always been the rule of thumb.  But, is that still true?  Was the New Adult category created so that everyone involved was of legal age but still playing varsity, emotionally speaking?  Or is there more to this in-between genre that makes it deserving of its own place on store shelves?

I get not putting sexually explicit material next to middle grade or picture book offerings.  But what’s so hard about sliding over a couple of bookcases and hanging a sign saying “New Adult”?  If the problem is that you don’t want kids exposed to inappropriate content, then clear labeling is a tried and true way of dealing with the issue.  Clearly this is a category that is extremely popular for both older teens and adults but one that is having a hard time finding its way into the hands of print consumers because of what seems to me like simple orneriness on the part of booksellers.

Am I missing something here?  What do you all think?

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Who’s Buying Your Book and What are You Going to Do About It?

While stuck on the bus (again) this morning on my way in to work, I was thinking about publishing, and royalties, and authors, and all the things I think about each day as a literary agent. When I finally got to my office, half an hour late for my 9:30 meeting and after over 2 hours of commuting fun, I found this article by Laura Munson who I’ve blogged about before Rejection inspiration when I shared her amazing journey to published, and now bestselling, author. She brings up in a sometimes crass but humorous way questions that many authors have about obtaining sales figures after their book is published. As she puts it: “Any businessperson should be able to see sales reports to judge how to proceed in peddling what she’s peddling, shouldn’t she?” Since publishers still (for now) only report earnings on average twice a year, and usually several months after the statement period closes, and they don’t include any sort of breakdown on where books are selling, how are authors supposed to help tap into new markets or take advantage of popular markets? It seems a basic almost obvious question, and one that doesn’t have a great answer in the publishing model.

In the past, if you had several thousand dollars a year to spend on Bookscan, a database that tracks actual book sales that has been around almost 10 years, or had an agent or editor with access and willing to share numbers, you could access real sales information by location, but it still didn’t track all accounts, only the major retailers (B&N, Amazon, Target etc.). Independent bookstores, for examples, and libraries, don’t report sales to Bookscan. Presumably publishers do have access to more accurate and specific sales data, but they don’t generally share it with authors or agents. I recall hearing that Random House has a ”policy” not to share numbers with authors in between royalty statements. It’s really tough to get answers about where a particular title is selling, and that can be confusing and frustrating for an author, especially a first time author, who is trying to figure out where to focus their marketing and publicity efforts.

The Amazon service which Munson describes, which is pretty cool for authors, especially since it’s free (I wonder what kind of deal Amazon and Bookscan worked out to be able to do this!), offers authors data derived from Bookscan (you can have increased access for a fee). It includes sales figures, updated each week, as well as geographic data, which, as Amazon describes on their website, “can help you plan and measure the effects of your next book tour”. It still doesn’t give you information on which retailers are selling in which quantities, but it’s more than authors ever knew before.

In this highly competitive and difficult market, any advantage you have in learning more about how and where your books are selling is a good thing. It makes me wonder what authors are doing with this information since this program began, and how many are taking advantage of it. If you are a published author, or if you aren’t but can imagine being one someday, what are you doing or what would you do with this sales feedback? Munson talks about considering events in places where her book isn’t selling. Can you think of cool ways to take advantage of this previously proprietary sales data?

Mary W. Quigley is a journalist who writes about women and work issues. Her most recent book is Going Back to Work: A Survival Guide (St. Martin’s Press, 2004). She is also the co-author of And What Do You Do? When Women Chose to Stay Home. Wildcat Canyon press, 2000). She started teaching as an adjunct in 1979 after she received her master’s in journalism from NYU. She teaches research, reporting and writing courses on both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Small-scale publishing

by Stacey

This piece about the successful online magazine Rumpus becoming a publisher is pretty interesting. Because they have a built-in readership, and members through their book club, it seems to make sense to go this route for them. But my question is with such limited resources (a staff of two), wouldn’t it be more efficient to go with a traditional publisher for better marketing, sales, and distribution channels? I’m not sure if they tried this and for some reason it didn’t work out, or maybe they want to fully be in control of the product they are releasing, but this seems like the kind of thing that if it works for them to publish successfully on their own, traditional publishers will be knocking on their door to try to get in on their built-in audience and make the stakes even higher and the numbers even bigger.

I think as an idea, this small-scale publishing has merit, but in actuality will be difficult to manage successfully, and to build on and grow at a sustainable level. And I know that at least one of the Rumpus writers is working on her own book project, and my guess is that she, and others affiliated with the mag, will be going the more traditional publishing route. I’ll be curious to see how it all plays out.

Does Random House know something we don’t?

by Michael

April 3 is right around the corner! For those of you who don’t pay attention to, well, any form of media, that’s the day that Apple’s iPad finally hits the stores. And, being the nerd that I am, I have to say I’m pretty excited. I love product launches, and Apple does them like no other. (I was very disappointed by the lack of excitement surrounding the launch of the Palm Pre when I went to purchase it on day one last year, but I digress.) I think our readers know how this relates to books, but in case you don’t, Apple is launching their iBookstore that day, as well. They’ll be offering books from all the major publishers, with one huge exception: Random House. When Steve Jobs announced the iPad back in January, he said that 5 of the 6 biggest publishers were onboard for the iBookstore. The absence of Random House was conspicuous, but they released a statement afterwards saying that they were working on an agreement with Apple. I’d assumed there’d be one in place by this point, but it looks like the iBookstore could very well launch without the largest trade publisher on board, as reported by the Financial Times. Honestly, I was really surprised. Until last week.

That’s when this article popped up on an iPhone fansite. It purported to show the working iBookstore, along with the prices. And the price for 27 of the 32 listed bestsellers that day? $9.99. The same price that publishers have been fighting against in the Kindle bookstore. I was thrown for a loop. The reasoning behind the to switch to the agency model was to take control of pricing and get rid of the expectation that ebooks cost $9.99. But here we were at that price again. Then, only two days later, a new screenshot showing most (but not all) of the bestsellers at $12.99. Color me confused. This pricing kerfuffle brought to mind this New York Times piece about publisher agreements with Apple. The piece suggests that Apple wanted the flexibility to drop prices for hot books that would be majorly discounted in print. As of today, it’s not at all clear what iBookstore pricing will be on April 3.

Thinking about the possibility of an ebook sold at $9.99 is troubling. In the agency model, retailers act as an “agent,” selling books at prices determined by publishers and collecting a percentage of each sale (30% in most cases). Authors are generally being offered a percentage of the net income from these sales—publishers are pushing for this to be 25%, so we’ll roll with that number for the purposes of this argument. In the agency model, with a book priced at $9.99, authors will earn $2.50 per book or less. Compared to the $3.75 they currently earn on a $25 hardcover (15% of list price), this is a dramatic reduction. Comparing this amount to what authors would earn under the current ebook market conditions is nearly as depressing. In the current sales scheme (the consignment model), a retailer is buying the book for about a 50% discount, then selling it at whatever price they like. Assuming the same $25 price list price for the ebook (which is pretty standard) and same 25% royalty for electronic books, the author receives a royalty of $3.13. (The question of why they would receive less than they do on the hardcover in this situation could be a blog post in itself.) If ebooks eventually make up 50% of the market (a number I believe is possible), that royalty arrangement will radically alter author compensation. That, obviously, concerns me. I’d really like to hear more directly and transparently from publishers on this issue. What effect will these arrangements with Apple and Amazon have on authors? It seems, from the Financial Times piece, that Random House may soon be having these conversations. But what about the other 5? Is it wrong of me to expect a little more openness? This makes me all the more impressed with John Sargent at Macmillan and his willingness to blog about their plans, admitting what they do and don’t know.

So, is there something in the Apple agreement that we don’t know about that Random House does? Or is it just, as Mike Shatzkin thinks, that Random House is trying to maximize their profits in the short term with the idea that they can jump on the bandwagon if the iBookstore takes off? We’re going to learn a lot more about all of this in the coming days.

On April 3, I’ll be picking up an iPad for myself (no willpower!), downloading the iBookstore, and most definitely tweeting about the experience. If I have important publishing observations, I’ll post them here, too. Looking forward to hearing what you all think about this.

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Misconceptions

by Jessica

I was chatting with some colleagues about assorted misconceptions about publishing, and I thought I’d pass along three.

1) In the name of writing an arresting, throw-down-the-gauntlet type of query, insult the agent to whom you are writing. Every so often I get a query that dares me to look past my own evident myopia/mediocrity/corporate co-option and read a project so mind-blowing that it will challenge everything I presume to know. Although it’s true I am near sighted (and entirely open to earth-shattering literary experience), I’m always a little astonished that anyone imagines contempt might be an effective conversation starter. I do wonder whether the writer in question started out composing less strident letters, and has simply grown bitter over time. If so, I get it. Rejection is excruciating, and who wouldn’t love to craft some cutting cri de couer? Satisfying? Certainly. Self-sabotaging? Probably. Calling an agent a tool seems a poor way of hiring one, but perhaps even Pyrrhic victory can be sweet.

2) I often hear it bandied about that it is harder to get an agent than a publisher. Comforting as this may seem, I feel fairly certain it’s not true. To find representation, you must convince only one person that your story is well-crafted, saleable, and worthwhile. To get a book into print, you generally need to convince a battery of people with disparate tastes and interests, a long, highly particular history of success and failure selling books, and improbably high sales targets that your work is worthy and commercially viable. Most slots on a given list are carefully guarded, and awarded to people who can play some active role in rounding up readers. In the case of business books, an “active role” might take the form of a “buy-back” in which a company or foundation commits in advance of publication to buy ten or fifteen thousand copies. Quite a deal sweetener, also something like the publishing equivalent of Stone Soup. The house brings the stone, but the author brings all the other ingredients, including a baseline of sales. Getting an agent means recruiting a single (albeit tenacious) ally; getting a contract means winning over a whole team.

3) Once you have a publisher, your book will be available in bookstores throughout the country. Not always the case. Publishing houses, even those with great distribution, are not solely responsible for the number of copies shipped. They may announce an ambitious first printing, but the bookseller accounts have a say in how many copies they will take, how many stores will stock it, and for how long.

Any misconceptions that you have encountered/discovered? I’m happy to add to the list.