Category Archives: future of publishing

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When friends succeed

1746-v1-150x.PNGThe Publishers Weekly edition which was published right before I left on vacation featured Flatiron Books on the cover and I was so pleased to see that.

I have known the founder and publisher, Bob Miller for a lot of years starting when he was an editor at St. Martin’s way back when, through his tenure at Warner Books (now Grand Central) , then Delacorte and then on to establishing Hyperion which, in its day, was a huge success.

Bob is now well on his way to another thrilling achievement with this new imprint of Macmillan Publishing.  After being in business for a little over a year they already have a number one New York Times bestseller: WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE by Oprah Winfrey.  I’m sure this is only the beginning and I am so pleased for my good friend and his super team, which includes the brilliant Amy Einhorn who recently relocated from Penguin .

Over the last several years we in publishing have watched numerous companies consolidate and our colleagues lose their jobs as a result. Many have left the business altogether; others are just getting by or trying to create new careers for themselves within the publishing world.  This isn’t easy, which is why it is always encouraging to see an old colleague’s new success.

We should all be rooting for their success, in fact.  I for one am hoping that we as an agency can contribute to that.  Congratulations to Bob and John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, and your talented crew for your courage in starting something new during a perilous time.

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Coming Not-So-Soon

There’s nothing like the excitement when your favorite author announces the pub date of their next book. You can hardly wait! A year, or a year and a half, sounds so far away! You imagine yourself springing out of bed on pub date, running to the local bookstore, seeing the long-awaited cover sitting there on the NEW RELEASES table. Or maybe you set a pre-order alert online and then you’re crouched over your e-reader at midnight, eager for the new file to blip onto your screen.

Well, for Margaret Atwood fans, and the fans of other to-be-announced authors, that excitement is not to be. A library in Norway has announced a new, carefully curated collection of books affiliated with a newly planted forest. The books in this collection will be published on paper coming from the trees in the forest…starting in 2114. That’s right – a hundred years from now!

trees Margaret Atwood, always adventurous in her fiction, is excited to be a part of this experiment, loving the idea of the distance of time between her and the critical reception of the book. She noted, “When you write any book you do not know who’s going to read it, and you do not know when they’re going to read it. You don’t know who they will be, you don’t know their age, or gender, or nationality, or anything else about them. So books, anyway, really are like the message in the bottle.”

But this is most provocative part of this program to me: Its funding grant includes provision for the library to invest in a printing press, to be sure they’ll have the technology to print the books when the pub date finally arrives, next century. Which struck me as a little bit odd – isn’t the important part of a book the story itself? The words, the plot, the characters? If, (a BIG if) in a century, printing presses don’t even exist, and books don’t even use paper…but people are still reading, and still excited for a collection of books from last century’s great authors…isn’t that just fine?!

What do you think?

Is it important for libraries or literary organizations to preserve the technology of physical books printed on paper if society is outgrowing it?

How would you feel if your favorite author were selected for this collection – excited that they were so honored, or upset that you would never get to read this particular work?

How would you feel if you were invited to participate as an author?

 

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Speed Limits

Writerly corners of the internet have been abuzz this week about this little piece in the New York Times: Impatience Has Its Reward: Books Are Rolled Out Faster:

The practice of spacing an author’s books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same “must-know-now” impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like “

House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad.”

While 24-7 internet culture may be shifting our entertainment expectations, digital publishing is surely of influence as well, with its quicker production schedules and near-instant distribution options. Digitally published authors often hope to capitalize on the binge impulse by including sell pages in the back of their e-books with links to their other titles. As the article quotes,

“It’s so much easier to buy books online,” Ms. Weis said. “The temptation is right at your fingertips because you don’t have to go to the bookstore. We have to play to that.”

As with any new innovation, an accelerated pub schedule is not going to be one-size-fits-all success for every book. As traditional publishers experiment with some of the speedy strategies that have served self-pubbers well, they’re accepting some risks alongside the advantages:

But for many writers out there, all this talk of release dates and market trends is still ahead of you, in the tantalizing future when your book is published. It’s a dream come true for readers to discover your work at all! Don’t be impatient as you pursue this dream – the most important place to slow down is before your project even gets to the market. Not just writing a great book, but revising and re-writing, polling beta readers, incorporating professional editorial input. Digital publishing can seem like a quicker path to the finish line, but it’s still more of a marathon, even a relay, than a sprint.

What do you think? Is the binge-watching spirit of Netflix spreading to the book business?

Do authors need plenty of time to hone their work and build anticipation, or should they shift their focus to publishing schedule that feeds a (hopefully) hungry market?

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Kickin’ It Old School

Over the past month we’ve had some scheduled upgrades and maintenance take place on our server. Sometimes this means that we haven’t had access to our email or –horrors!- the Internet for as much as three hours at a time! Work screeches to a halt, thumbs are twiddled, hair is pulled. How can we get any work done without WiFi?

Oh yeah. People used to work like this every single day. And I’m not even talking about prehistoric hunters and gatherers, or even hardy homesteaders proving out their land in the Ozarks. I’m thinking of the not-so-distant days before e-books and Kindles, before Outlook and Firefox, before Post-Its and Keurigs. The good old days of penciled manuscripts and ink-penned contracts! Ernest Hemingway scrawling in a Paris café, Margaret Mitchell pounding away on this typewriter and using her finished pages to prop up her wobbly couch (or so Wikipedia assures me).

I don’t know that the DGLM office will be investing in typewriters or quills any time soon, but we did find worthwhile ways to spend our analog time. Some of us caught up on reading submissions (on pre-loaded Kindles, natch). Some of us went through the ominous to-file stack that we’ve been ignoring since Thanksgiving. Some of us thought about blog posts we could write when the Internet returns…

What are your tips for non-digital productivity?

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My Year That Wasn’t

As the year winds down and folks wax retrospective about the events of the past 12 months, I’ve compiled my own list of interesting things that I failed to do/read/accomplish in 2013, and hope to remedy in the New Year.
  • I stumbled across this blog, http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/ just a few weeks ago.  This estimable woman read a book from every independent country in the world.  That’s an example I’d dearly love to emulate, though I suspect I will just read her book about having done it. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Spin a novel out of the following  New York Times headline;  Spies Infiltrate a Fantasy Realm of Online Games. I have had no previous inclination toward fiction writing, but this story writes itself. Here’s the first line.  “Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents.”
  • Understand how the age of Big Data (apparently the age in which we live) will affect the way in which books are acquired. The Atlantic had a creepy article–particularly disturbing for its forced  optimism–that looks at the way companies can mine Big Data to make better hiring decisions.  If acquisition of personnel can be better left to an algorithm than a manager, will books follow…
  • Learn to caulk and grout. Because my bathroom demands it, and how hard can it be?
  • Come up with a gift idea like these “Library Candles.” http://www.amazon.com/Paddywax-Candles-Library-Collection-Tangerine/dp/B00BJ5ZAYQ/ref=pd_sim_hg_5 Believe it or not, you can buy a scented candle which, according to its creators, has been carefully created to evoke the works of such literary greats as Leo Tolstoy (Black Plum, Persimmon, Oakmoss) Edgar Alan Poe (Cardamom, Absinthe and Sandalwood) or Charles Dickens (Tangerine Juniper and Clove). Clearly, they are shooting for Dickens of A Christmas Carol, and not say, Dickens of Hard Times or Oliver Twist (Gruel, Bootblack, Coal Dust) or Great Expectations (Moldy Wedding Cake, Prison Ship, Burning Bridal Gown). Obviously certain author candles would not be legal. I’m thinking of you Thomas De Quincy.

What scented candle would you add to the collection?

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How those publishing roles have changed

In the good ol’ days, an author would sell his or her book to a publisher (often with the help of an agent) and  expect that the material s/he delivered would be edited by his/her editor and that the publisher would then publicize, advertise  and sell the book to the best of its ability.  Up until about ten years ago, all of these things did happen in for the most part – with some editors being far more hands on and some publishers being much stronger in publicizing, advertising and promoting the books on their list.

Authors  today are discovering that all of the roles have changed, and rather dramatically.  Agents often have to act as editors, authors have to be their own publicists and promoters, editors act as the overall publishers.  It is no longer enough that an author has written a strong proposal or a terrific manuscript –s/he must have a substantial platform and very solid credentials to be published.

All of this can be fairly depressing, especially for the author.  Recently though, I discovered this very clever piece which I think says it all, and I thought, “Well, at least we can laugh about it.”

I guess in the end, as with everything else, change is inevitable.  Over this last decade, authors and everyone else involved in the publishing process seem to be adapting to these  new roles and for the most part, making them work.  And so we proceed….

I wonder how you are feeling about your new role in the publishing process?  Have you noticed the changes?  Are you affected by them?

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Game, Set, MatchBook

Last week Amazon announced a new program, Kindle MatchBook. It’s  not, as some hoped  wondered, a dating site for book enthusiasts, nor is it something out of Fahrenheit 451, as the funny folks at Book Riot suggested. But it’s still something to get fired up about: MatchBook essentially bundles paper and digital together by offering you the e-book at a discount when you buy the print edition.

There’s a lot to love about this. Many avid readers still care about the look, feel, smell of a book as an object, but also love the ease and affordability of e-books, and have been eager for an affordable way to enjoy both formats at once. Do you like to buy books for gifts? Now you can delight your friends and family with brand new hardcovers, and snatch up the e-book for yourself for just a couple bucks more. Did you lend your favorite Neil Gaiman book to a friend who then moved to Australia? No worries, mate – replace it with the e-book for pocket change. That’s right! MatchBook applies to books you’ve purchased on Amazon.com going all the way back to 1995 when the bookstore launched. That’s quite a few lifetimes in internet years.

The titles available with MatchBook depend on publisher participation. So far HarperCollins has signed on, as well as all of Amazon Publishing’s imprint, and titles self-published through Amazon KDP. It remains to be seen which other publishers will jump on board as well. But it’s an exciting first step towards having your book and e-reading it too.

What do you think? Have you been wishing for bundling to become a thing?

Is reading changing?

I’m on vacation next week (Yay!) and for reasons I’ve never really understood (perhaps therapy would help), I’m in that clear-my-desk-of-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-take-care-of-since-January mode while being suddenly bombarded with contracts, manuscripts, and proposals that I’ve been waiting for roughly since, well, January and which have chosen this week to make an appearance with an “urgent” flag attached to them.  Of course, it’s my blog week as well so, in full pre-vacation madness, I shamelessly stole Jim McCarthy’s idea to ask his Twitter followers to suggest a topic for him when he returned from his travels. Several people helpfully responded to my plea and I very much appreciate their input.

The one idea that jumped out at me was submitted by our client Kevin Grange: “People are increasingly reading in shorter bursts on various e-devices. Should we construct stories differently? Thoughts?”

Partly, I sparked to this one because I’ve been fantasizing about which of my books I’m going to lug a physical copy of and which ones I’m going to add to my Kindle Fire.  (My grasp, as always, exceeds my reach here, folks.  I’m packing books like I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement in Siberia instead of a week at the beach with my family.)

Despite my initial impulse to deny that my reading habits have changed at all and that, therefore, there’s any need to change the essential structure of storytelling,  Kevin’s question made me realize that I do, indeed, read in shorter bursts when using my Kindle (or any other electronic device).  In part, this is because, I don’t care what anyone says, my eyes get tired more quickly reading a screen.  Mostly, though, it has to do with the fact that Words With Friends, Ruzzle, Facebook, and the whole of the internet is also on my Kindle along with the 300 other titles and manuscripts residing therein.  So, if I hit a dull patch in my book, there’s always something else to take its place.

But does this mean that authors need to write shorter?  Shorter sentences?  Shorter paragraphs?  Shorter chapters?  Shorter books?  And is it already happening?

Thriller writers have known for years that trim chapters ending in cliffhangers build that all-important momentum, leading inexorably to the climactic scene involving a sinister villain, a put-upon hero(ine), and lots of weaponry.   But, does the fact that increasingly we’re ingesting our literature on e-readers mean that even literary fiction and nonfiction are conforming to the dictates of our ever shorter attention spans?

Instinctively, I want to say they are, but I’ve no solid data on the subject.  Basically,  I’m going to keep this in mind as I read and edit and consider new projects.  Meanwhile, I’ll just restate Kevin’s very good question here and ask what you all think.  For the writers out there, are you consciously shortening your stride when writing?  And for the readers, do you find, as I do, that you have less stickwithitness?

The longview…

It’s probably the worst kept secret in publishing that DGLM has been successfully repping a lot of Indie authors.  In fact, the recent RT conference was filled to the rafters with our clients (prompting a delightful voicemail message from Larry Kirshbaum of Amazon to Jane…but more on that in another blog post or over drinks at BEA).

We’ve learned a tremendous amount from these authors about how to successfully self-publish and these lessons have  direct and significant application to traditional publishing.  The smarter houses have committed to a partnership with us and our clients, showing tremendous vision and flexibility in the way they have modified their systems to accommodate the special needs of people who can sell oodles of books on their own, thank you very much.

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Grand Central, and PenguinUSA have all been aggressive in offering huge deals that are enticing to our authors not just because of the money involved but because of their afore-mentioned flexibility in terms of publishing schedules, contractual terms (including options and non-compete clauses), marketing and promotion, and their genuine desire to help grow these writers’ careers.  And, here’s where the partnership aspect is important.

Some Indie authors are looking at what these publishers are offering and scoffing, especially if the advances being discussed are less than seven figures.  They think, and rightly so in most cases, that they can make that money themselves without giving such a huge percentage to a third party.  They also feel (again, rightly so in most cases) that they can market themselves more effectively than a house that is publishing hundreds, if not thousands, of books per year.   But, as we’ve often discussed on this blog, that’s a shortsighted view because of the intangibles.

The beauty of and frustrating thing about publishing is that it has never been an exact science—and given how many English majors work in this business, that’s hardly surprising.  So much of what succeeds in our world is due to serendipity and that most fickle of all phenomena, taste, that it’s impossible for a publishing “formula” to  show  a higher rate of success than, say, Derek Jeter’s batting average.    But, despite that, publishers offer a wealth of intangibles that are actually quite measurable over the course of a career, among them editorial support, an understanding of the book buying marketplace that is more macro than micro, a team of professionals whose job it is to make the author look good, a belief in books that is almost evangelical, and a brand identity that has evolved over centuries and that will continue to do so.

So, when an Indie client says to us, what can Publisher X do for me that I can’t do for myself, my answer would be, they can help you establish and grow your career with a goal toward longevity.  Given our success with negotiating non-compete and option clauses that allow Indie authors to continue to self-publish while they are working with a traditional house, I honestly don’t see the downside to also having a publisher’s imprimatur as an adjunct to your own publishing efforts.  I do, however, see how having books published by S&S or HC or GCP can enhance your brand and raise your visibility among readers.  Given how crowded and competitive the Indie marketplace has become, I would be heartened to see that an author has been or is published traditionally when deciding whether to buy his/her book.  I think many readers feel the same.

The bottom line, of course, is that as with all of our clients, we want our Indie authors to have long, prosperous publishing lives and we feel that, under the right conditions, a trade house can be an invaluable partner in achieving that goal.    I’d love to hear what you all think about this because it is a subject that I’m becoming very passionate about.

 

 

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Where else can we buy books?

I just got back from a wonderful week in Los Angeles visiting Disneyland with my family. It is such a magical place.

Of course, being the book person I am, it struck me as surprising that there were so few books available for sale at Disney. They have a gazillion shirts, mouse ears, key chains, and tons of other Disney-marketed paraphernalia, but where are all the books? I recall seeing one shop that had a few books. My goodness, they should have a bookstore at Disney! I would have gladly bought a few keepsake books for the kids.

It got me to thinking about other places that should sell books and don’t. I mean, the market has changed so much that traditional bookstores, although they still provide an important sales outlet, are not the only place successful books are sold. Over the last few years, books have made their way into Costo, Target, Crate & Barrel, and Anthropologie, to name a few. These additional outlets are incredibly helpful from a sales perspective.

And I think we all need to start thinking outside the box to find new outlets to sell books. What about movie theaters? I’d totally buy the book version of a movie I loved if I didn’t already own it.

I recall years ago a client of mine who wrote a cookbook about rotisserie chickens called Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue had the brilliant idea to sell the book alongside rotisserie chickens at supermarkets. If ever there was a place to sell cookbooks, supermarkets are an obvious choice!

So, Disney, A&P, and Clearview, can we work on selling books to your customers? And where else would you like to see books sold? I bet we can come up with some really great ideas.