Big Publishing

PRH Still Doesn’t Like the Subscription eBook Model (The Fools!)

26 August 2016

From The Digital Reader:

Penguin Random House has in the past denied that readers want an ebook subscription service.

What with Kindle Unlimited now paying authors and publishers more than the Nook Store, and possibly even more than Kobo or Google, that excuse was getting a little thin, but recently PRH changed its tune.

The global CEO of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle, was speaking at the Global Top 50 Publishing Summit at Beijing International Book Fair in China earlier this week . According to The Bookseller, Dohle said that:

PRH had not signed its titles up for any subscription services, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Mofibo or Scribd, because the ‘all you can eat’ models threaten to “devalue” intellectual property (IP) at a time when most authors can barely afford to earn a living.

In the US, Dohle said 40% of the readership accounted for 85% of publishers’ revenue, so “heavy readers” switching to subscription models would have a “huge impact” on the industry.

He explained that the industry’s existing publishing model, successful for over 500 years, was “robust” and “not broken at all”, and argued that subscription models were “not in the reader’s mindset”. If they became popular, they would ultimately lead to “lower prices” and “a huge devaluation of IP”, Dohle said.

“A la carte is not broken […] I don’t see us supporting subscription models, because we just don’t need it,” he said. “Somehow we have to protect the measure of our intellectual property. Take an e-book for $12, that’s entertainment for 15 to 30 hours. That’s a fair deal compared with a movie and other media formats. I think we have a very robust pricing model in the market and subscription would just change the whole dynamic.”

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says this is wrong on so many levels (several of which are discussed in the OP), but PG has to mention one because he’s heard it so many times before from European publishing executives.

The value of a product or service is determined by the customer, not the seller.

If the customer will pay $10 for a product, that’s the product’s value. If the seller prices a product at $15 because that’s the true value in the seller’s mind, but the customer is only willing to pay $10, the product’s value is still $10.

Perhaps it’s partially a consequence of minimum book pricing laws in some European countries where the publisher sets the retail price, but, unless a customer is forced to purchase an item at a specific price (hello, college textbooks), in a free market the customer determines the value.

If a price is too high, the customer will simply not buy a product. (PG will note that readers in countries with fixed-price book laws regularly utilize a variety of technical means to disguise their physical location so they can purchase books online at lower prices.)

The idea behind the “devaluing” argument is that customers can be easily manipulated by simply charging higher prices. PG believes this is an elite executive’s ignorant view of the proletariat’s “mindset” and the epitome of stupid short-term thinking. Heaven forfend that the serfs ever hear of a lower price for anything. Prices must always go up and never go down.

If a customer, even a “heavy reader”,  enjoys reading books, but books cost more than the customer is willing to pay, the customer will respond in any number of ways — borrowing, buying used, finding something else to do that is also enjoyable and costs less, etc., etc., etc. No consumer is obligated to remain a heavy reader.

Frank Ocean’s release of Blonde marks the start of a major fight in the music industry

25 August 2016

From The Verge:

It was only a matter of time.

The release of Blonde marked much more than Frank Ocean’s musical return after four years away. After satisfying his Def Jam deal with the release of Endless, Ocean released Blonde independently in a move that marks the first shot in an inevitable fight between music labels and streaming services.

The relationship between an artist and a music label has been a notoriously fraught one, but until recently, there was nowhere an artist could run to when they tired of their label besides the next label down the street. Now, in a race to get more subscribers for their streaming services, the biggest company in the world and one run by an artist have positioned themselves as a friendly alternative for musicians. Meanwhile the labels, in a bid to avoid a future they may not be able to survive, may ultimately end up on the side of some fans who want music available through every viable medium.

. . . .

This is the nightmare scenario for music labels. For years, labels have feared that as streaming services grew in power and scope, there could come a time when some artists could choose to forego working with the labels and engage directly with a streaming service to reach their fans.

Up until now this hasn’t been the case with an artist of consequence, for a few reasons. Younger artists need the structure and nurturing that a music label can provide, and established superstars have usually built up a rapport and are loyal to the group of people — most of whom work for the label — that have helped them become stars and simply choose to stay, after getting a big payday.

. . . .

But what Frank Ocean has done is different. This isn’t going independent while still using a major label for distribution, like Jay Z has done in the past. This is a complete avoidance of the traditional musical hierarchy. Ocean has a young, rabid fanbase that primarily interacts with him online; he doesn’t need to distribute physical copies of albums to thousands of stores like Adele or Taylor Swift. He is part of a small club of superstars who don’t need the label system, and who have the leverage to do deals with streaming services instead of re-signing their contracts. And that’s scary for music labels.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Will for the tip.

Music Publishing and Book Publishing, different coasts, same story.

5 Reasons Publishing Hasn’t “Plateaued” that authors need to be aware of

15 August 2016

From author Bob Mayer:

The manta in the industry is that everything’s cool. Everything’s fine. eBooks have plateaued, the changes have been weathered and it’s business as usual.

That might be fine for most people in the business, but my experience over the past quarter century as an author is that the minute an author thinks they have it made, their career is over. The only constant is change. We’ve seen a lot of change and while it would be nice to believe all is static, my prediction is that we’re in for some very dramatic changes in the next three years that authors need to be prepared for.

. . . .

Here are five things I believe authors need to be aware of and plan for:

1. Another dramatic loss of shelf space. This impacts the mid-list author. Reports of Barnes and Nobles demise might be premature, but the reality is, even in its stores, its swapping books out for other merchandise. They’re not going to swap out James Patterson for a stuffed animal, but they will replace a dozen midlist authors for a shelf of soft cuddly thing. Other major retailers have also cut back on shelf space.

. . . .

4. Amazon Publishing outgrowing some of the Big 5. Amazon has already had successes in its various publishing imprints. As it takes more and more of the market (and it IS taking more and more of the market) those imprints will correspondingly eat up more and more of it. My experience with 47North and talking to other Amazon authors is that Amazon takes more chances and changes much faster than traditional publishing. Which means some of the top authors there are going to become: Airport Authors.

5. I’ve been saying this for years, but the vibe I’m getting is stronger and stronger: several big name authors going hybrid and some, eventually, going completely indie. We see the creative discontent among many traditional authors. I think that will be the primary motivation: creative control. But there is also the factor of higher royalty rates. New York had a choke hold on print distribution, but every passing year that becomes much less of a factor than discoverability. For those authors who already have discoverability, the benefits of traditional publishing are growing less and less.

Link to the rest at Bob Mayer

Here’s a link to Bob Mayer’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

A Thriller Writer Takes a Literary Risk

14 August 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

I write suburban thrillers. Over the past decade, I’ve published nine of them, all about recognizable, everyday moms and dads in an upscale setting who, through either a momentary weakness or misstep, end up over their heads in something sinister. I’ve had success with them—five have made the New York Times bestseller list, and all but one have been Top 10 in the U.K.; I’ve been published in more than 20 countries.

But for several books now, I’ve felt pigeonholed by the narrow niche of what my publisher, and perhaps even my readers, expect from me: the familiar suburban setting, the root for–able yoga moms and hedge fund dads, the crisply paced plot-driven story lines with a coda of some emotional resonance at the end (a carryover, perhaps, from my days cowriting with James Patterson). It was how my publisher positioned me. There was a strategy and a goal. I went along willingly. I was writing good books—exciting, suspenseful. They were just not the books I had always intended to write.

. . . .

The truth was I felt like I was perpetually pushing a boulder uphill, continually having to come up with fresh and gripping traps for my characters to fall into, in similar settings, with similar things at stake. I wanted to write books with bigger bones, broader themes, and richer, more atmospheric settings.

. . . .

The One Man is the story of an escaped Pole who is determined to return to Poland, where his parents were murdered by the Nazis, to rescue the one man the Allies believe can ensure their victory in the war. That man is an atomic physicist whose expertise is urgently needed on the Manhattan Project, but he’s imprisoned at Auschwitz. It’s a thriller in the sense that it’s about a near-impossible mission with a ticking clock, but it’s much richer in theme, more deliberate in characterization, and with a far more detailed setting than anything I have ever done.

Writing this kind of book was not without its risks. Would fewer publishers bid for it? Would some of my readers not follow me? As a Jew, taking on the Holocaust is an imposing responsibility, and it was an artistic risk. But I reminded myself that it was far less of a risk than getting into this business in the first place.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How My Two Picture Books Were Stolen by a Major Publisher

13 August 2016

From The Huffington Post:

[O]ne day I had an inspiration for two companion rhyming picture books. It was one of those rare moments when, instead of imagining the brilliant, funny books you wish you could write – the ones just out of reach – I was looking at two books I did, by some miracle, get down on paper.

On a wave of euphoria, I shot the books off to an editor at a major publishing house. The editor liked the stories and asked if she could hang on to them while she decided if she could make me an offer.

Time passed, and I didn’t hear from her. Every so often I’d write or email to ask if she was still interested in the books. She assured me that she was. Eventually, I gave up on her publishing it, but in moments of despair, those times when the idea that you can write seems like a psychopathic delusion, the very fact that I had written these two books sustained me.

Months went by, then years. I sent the books to other publishers. One editor from Random House wrote: “Your idea is an original one…but the sad truth is that it is very difficult for us to successfully publish [these kinds of books] unless the author is extremely well known.”

. . . .

Much later, I was browsing in our local bookstore when I noticed two colorful picture books with identical titles to those of my two stories. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. There were my titles on another author’s books, shiny hardcover books displayed prominently in the front of the bookstore. I knew you couldn’t copyright titles, but still, two of them?

Slowly, I picked up the books and opened them, first one, then the other. Now I really felt sick. Both books were published by the first publisher I had sent my two manuscripts to, manuscripts which had continued to sit in the editor’s office for the past five years. Although the text of these stories was different, the concept was the same. There was also another, and more significant difference. The writer of these two books was better known than I was.

Later, I read on the (unwitting) author’s website that the editor had approached her with the idea for these two books.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

Sexism in publishing: ‘My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine’

11 August 2016

From The Guardian:

Almost 20 years after Francine Prose investigated whether “women writers are really inferior” in her explosive essay Scent of a Woman’s Ink, the author Catherine Nichols has found that submitting her manuscript under a male pseudonym brought her more than eight times the number of responses she had received under her own name.

In an essay for Jezebel, Nichols reveals how after she sent out her novel to 50 agents, she received just two manuscript requests. But when she set up a new email address under a male name, and submitted the same covering letter and pages to 50 agents, it was requested 17 times.

“He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25,” writes Nichols. “The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me – Catherine.”

. . . .

Responses from agents to Catherine Nichols included comments such as “beautiful writing, but your main character isn’t very plucky, is she?”; responses to her male pseudonym, whom she imagined “as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work”, were “polite and warm”, even when they were rejections, describing the work as “clever”, “well-constructed” and “exciting”.

“No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty,” writes Nichols, who mostly steered clear of overlapping her submissions, although she does reveal that one agent who sent her a formal rejection as Catherine asked to read “George’s” book, and then asked to send it to a more senior agent. The agents, she adds, were both men and women, “which is not surprising because bias would hardly have a chance to damage people if it weren’t pervasive”.

. . . .

Nichols, in her Jezebel piece, goes on to warn that the bias, unconscious or otherwise, will be ending the literary careers of many people. “To some degree, I was being conditioned like a lab animal against ambition. My book was getting at least a few of those rejections because it was big, not because it was bad. George, I imagine, would have been getting his “clever”s all along and would be writing something enormous now,” she writes. “In theory, the results of my experiment are vindicating, but I feel furious at having spent so much time in that ridiculous little cage, where so many people with the wrong kind of name are burning out their energy and intelligence.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The OP admits sexist agents included both men and women. PG doesn’t know of any formal studies, but he would bet the majority of agents are women. And the majority of editors working at publishers and acquiring books are women.

There’s only one logical conclusion – female authors should avoid the sexist hellholes of traditional publishing and self-publish. Starve the biased beast. Male authors should do the same thing in a show of solidarity.

Frontlist Fiction Hits a Dry Spell

9 August 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

No adult fiction title released in the January-through-June period managed to make the top 20 print bestsellers list in the first half of the year. In the first six months of 2015, two novels released that year, The Girl on the Train and Grey, held the first and third spots, respectively, on the print list and were #1 and #2 on the Amazon Top 20 Kindle E-books List.

Publishers have been expecting difficulty getting media attention for their books in the second half of 2016, as coverage of the presidential election dominates the various media outlets where authors usually drum up publicity. But in the first half of the year, the news cycle was already focused on the unusually entertaining Republican primary campaign season and news about terrorist attacks and police shootings. “Current events have gotten in the way” of publishers’s efforts to promote new books, said Carol Fitzgerald, president of The Book Reporter Network.

Whereas two new nonfiction books cracked the top-20 print list in early 2016—When Breath Becomes Air and Spark Joy—the absence of fiction titles may having something to do with timing. Stephen King’s End of Watch, for example, was released late in June and is still likely to put up solid numbers. Even so, End of Watch sold about 75,000 copies in its first week on sale—a good figure, but not close to the 354,0000 copies Grey sold last June, when it first hit bookstore shelves. Since the advent of e-books, gone are the days when franchise authors can regularly post huge opening-week sales of print books. And unlike last year, when Girl on the Train and Grey were both selling well in print and digital, the two lists in 2016 were very different.

. . . .

 Without a new book getting attention in both print and digital formats, it is hard to build a lot of momentum and word-of-mouth publicity, some industry insiders said. “Buzz happens, but less so,” said Alie Hess, a buyer at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. “Girl on the Train and All the Light We Cannot See were the last ones.”

. . . .

 One publishing executive, who acknowledged being frustrated by her company’s difficulty in breaking out frontlist works, said people seem to be focused on reading just a few titles. Indeed, Jojo Moyes has enjoyed a long run with three editions of Me Before You, and The Girl on the Train and Life-Changing Magic have also had long runs. With people more pressed than ever for time, the theory goes, they don’t want to read something they may not like.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Julia for the tip.

What Do the Financial Reports from the Big Five Book Publishers Tell Us?

3 August 2016

From The Future of Publishing:

This post examines the latest quarterly financial reports from the big 5 book publishers and tries to draw some conclusions from the data. The big 5 are, of course, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. These companies are often seen as emblematic of the state of traditional trade book publishing in the United States.

In April 2015 Publishers Lunch (firewall) took a stab at calculating the overall U.S. book publishing market share of the big 5ers (using Association of American Publishers data). (With qualifiers) the report listed:

Penguin Random House    37%
HarperCollins                   17.5%
Simon & Schuster            11.7%
Hachette                               9%
Macmillan           Not estimated

If we slot Macmillan in at 5%, that’s over 80% of the U.S. trade publishing pie. Sounds a bit high, but it reveals the swath these companies cut.

This post contains lots of provisos (in additional detail at the end of the post). None of the five companies is standalone; they’re all part of much larger enterprises, most not publicly traded, and so none report their financial results with a lot of detail. Some are more transparent than others, but none could be described as forthcoming. Amazon reveals few details about books sales, and Apple the same, so why would we expect these behemoths to be any different? That said, some information is made available, mostly quarter by quarter, with an annual summary. Here we go, alphabetically:


The Hachette Book Group is part of Hachette Livre which is part of Lagardère Publishing which is part of the Lagardère group, “a global leader in content publishing, production, broadcasting and distribution.” It is a publicly-traded company, headquartered in Paris, France. By coincidence (not) it’s run by a guy named Arnaud Lagardère. To give you an idea of what a modern publishing conglomerate looks like, half of Lagardère’s sales are in its Travel Retail division, comprising stores offering “Travel Essentials, Duty Free & Fashion, and Foodservice.”

Lagardère Publishing contributed 31% of sales and 49% of profits in 2015. The U.S. and Canada accounted for 25% of the publishing division’s sales. Our neck of the woods is even less important to the other three divisions at Lagardère. For all the foofaraw about scope and scale, it’s interesting to see that in 2015 the company published only 900 adult books and 250 for young readers. The self-publishing community emits that many titles on a quiet afternoon.

On July 28 the company disclosed its Q1 results. Publishing sales are recorded just for Lagardère Publishing as a whole, though percent changes are footnoted for the divisions. When all is said and done “revenue came in at €970 million” (U.S. $1.08 billion), which Lagardère described as “stable.” In the U.S. there was a “6.6% decline in activity”.

Most of these companies blame the relative paucity of bestsellers when there’s a sales drop (it’s never management’s fault, or the long-term strategy), and so this decrease “was attributable to a less intensive new release schedule than in first-half 2015.”

Nonetheless there were “strong profitability gains in the US.” This was a result of “disciplined cost management.” What, pray tell is “disciplined cost management”? An example could be spotted in June, 2014, when the “Hachette Book Group laid off nearly 30 people, or close to 3% of its U.S. workforce.”

. . . .


HarperCollins is the “second-largest consumer book publisher in the world” (after Penguin Random House). The company issues 10,000 new books each year and has a backlist (both print and digital) of over 200,000 titles. All of this through 120 imprints, each of them as unique as a snowflake.

Some people hold their nose near HarperCollins because it’s part of News Corp, which sounds a bit like Evil Corp, but is different. News Corp is part of the personal fiefdom of Rupert Murdoch

. . . .

News Corp’s Q3 report, released in May, revealed that HarperCollins sales decreased by $44 million, or 11%. That’s a big hit.

Publishers Weekly looked behind the data. The foreign currency shortfall was $6 million. The ebook sales hit has a convoluted reasoning: In 2015 ebooks sales were 22% of the total, in 2016 ebook and audio together accounted for 21% of sales. You do the impossible math.

More striking is the revelation around the bestseller burden. The report includes one of those “blame it on the bestsellers” statements. The decrease, it said, was “due to lower revenues from American Sniper by Chris Kyle and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.” The company’s actual legal SEC (Securities and Exchange Commssion) filing says that the loss of revenue in the quarter from both authors was $29 million!

. . . .

According to Publishers Lunch (paywall) American Sniper sold 851,000 copies in all of 2015 and the movie tie-in added another 355,000. The list price is $9.99 for the paperback. There are two Kindle editions, one at $9.99 and an enhanced version at $7.99 (with the predictable result that on Amazon the paperback is $1.50-$3.50 cheaper than the Kindle editions).

Assuming, for argument’s sake, that HarperCollins receives roughly half of that amount for each copy sold, the total 2015 print sales for the book were just over $6 million. Assuming that the ebooks are selling at about industry average ratios, around 25%, ebook sales would add roughly 300,000 copies to the pool.

By last year the Divergent titles had already fallen off the bestseller lists: their sales crested in 2014. Still, there are four titles in the series, plus a boxed set: between them they’d probably have been a top bestseller.

The four Divergent titles retail for $12.99 each in paperback, or $29.98 for the set. The Kindle editions vary from $6.99 and $7.99 to $9.99 for Allegiant (with the predictable result that the paperback is $2 cheaper on Amazon than the Kindle edition).

So what’s the average revenue per title for these bestsellers? Let’s be generous and go with $7.50 per. To drop $29 million in sales in three months there would have to be a drop of at least 5 million unit sales.

. . . .

After many years of growth the big 5 are now reporting sales and profits mostly flat or declining. They’ve pared expenses through layoffs and consolidation, and my sense is that there’s not much more paring that can be done.

What seems inevitable is another merger or acquisition.

Link to the rest at The Future of Publishing

Book publishers do not do SEO like the big guys do although they could

3 August 2016

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

Partner Pete McCarthy pointed me to an article a couple of weeks ago that also introduced me to a website called Viperchill and its gifted, self-promoting SEO/Marketing creator, Glen Allsopp. The linked post, which I strongly urge you to read, enumerates quite painstakingly the techniques used by 16 online media companies with a large portfolio of brands that enable them to dominate specific search results in Google across a very wide range of topics and categories.

The example ViperChill explained in detail was how Hearst created a lot of traffic very quickly to a new site and business it had created called placement of content and links to BestProducts from the very big brands that Hearst controls (Cosmopolitan, Womens Day, Marie Claire, Esquire, Elle) resulted in Google placing BestProducts startlingly high in search results.

This is a result of three elements Google values a great deal: “domain authority” and “inbound links”, nested in “content” that seems “natural”. “Natural” suggests that Google believes the content is genuine information, not a ruse to point to an otherwise irrelevant link.

This is tricky and problematic stuff for Google, as the story makes clear. Google’s objective is to deliver the most relevant search results for a user. While Womens Day’s editorial opinion about the best nail polish would seem worthy of high “authority” (which ultimately translates into an elevated position in the search results), Google does not intend to confer that authority on a nail polish suggestion that is motivated by BestProducts’s commercial interests. How can Google tell what motivates the placement of content and a link on Womens Day’s web site? They may still be figuring that out.

In other words, what is working so effectively for these brands, enabling them to use the collective authority of many powerful domains to drive traffic to something new and different, may not work forever without some serious adjustments. But it sure is working now!

This information wouldn’t be appearing on this blog if it didn’t have application to book publishers. It demonstrates a very large opportunity for many of them. The precise size of the opportunity depends entirely on the number of individual web domains that publisher controls or influences, the authority of each of the domains according to Google, and the judicious placement of content and links among those sites to push the desired result to a specific search term.

These powerful multi-brand content organizations have such massive traffic and authority that they can influence Google search for the most searched terms on the Internet. No book publisher would have comparable capability. But for terms that are more publishing-specific — those that reference books or reading groups or book genres or authors — the larger book publishing organizations have the ability to influence search results exactly the way these big outfits do.

. . . .

Probably the first big insight that created the success of Google was the recognition that links to content or a website told you something valuable about the worth of that content or website. So from the very beginning of SEO two decades ago, domain owners have understood that getting links is a way to improve their rank in search and increase their discoverability. What is documented in this article is that when one entity controls a large number of authoritative domains, they can constitute an ad hoc “network” that gets them the power of inbound links without having to persuade somebody outside their family of their worth. That’s particularly important when you’re trying to launch something new, as Hearst was with BestProducts.

And which publishers do every day with new books and debut authors.

There are two big steps publishers need to take in order to put themselves in position to execute this strategy effectively. The first is that they have to enumerate and understand all the web presences they own and control. Obviously, that includes the main domain for the publisher. But it also includes individual book sites, author sites, series sites, topical sites, or any other sites that have been created and which are regularly used and posted to.

In fact, any site that has meaningful domain authority can be helpful. We’ve worked with sites that have long since been defunct but that still have “weight” in the Google-verse. Those can be revived and used to impact SEO for current projects.

The second is to enumerate and understand all the related sites, owned or controlled by others, but where there is a mutual interest in some property between the publisher and the website owner. These will largely be sites for titles or authors, but might also include corporate sites for some authors and movie sites for some others.

. . . .

[T]he more the publisher can orchestrate these links, from their own sites and tethering their authors to each other on the web, the more the publisher adds otherwise unobtainable value for the author that costs nothing but a little administrative effort.

Indeed, the value added for authors, which would be tangible and visible, is one of the most important strategic reasons why publishers should heed the advice in this post.

. . . .

An understanding of this opportunity also makes clear why authors having their own websites with their own domains is an important marketing component.

. . . .

Perhaps it is not surprising that we think it will take a powerful outside consulting team to make that happen, at least in the first place to do it.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

For PG, this was a blast from the past. Mike is talking about SEO 101, as practiced fifteen years ago.

PG knows this because he was in charge of marketing for an enterprise software company at that time and one of his tasks was running an SEO operation that did what Mike talks about plus much, much more.

As mentioned before, PG regards Mike’s posts as an indicator of what forward-looking people in the traditional publishing business are thinking about.

PG has some doubts about whether publisher-driven SEO of the type Mike describes is going to move the needle on book sales, but the fact that Mike is telling marketing and sales types at publishers something they don’t already understand astounded PG.

Yes, he knows he shouldn’t be surprised at anything technically retrograde about Big Publishing, but these people never fail to astonish.

Books Are an Agent’s Game

31 July 2016

From Inverse:

This week, we spoke with Molly Friedrich, a top literary agent with over thirty years in the game, having represented the likes of Frank McCourt, Sue Grafton, Terry McMillan, and Jane Smiley.

Because you’re so established, do you still feel the need to keep up with industry trends?

I would never run my business according to any kind of trend. At writers conferences, people talk about what’s selling. You see people poised with pens, and you think, “By the time you write it down, it’s going to be over.”

Do you usually try reading the book of the moment?

If three people tell me to read a book, and they’re not in publishing, I make a point of reading it. Sometimes, like with Fifty Shades of Grey, it takes ten days. Other times it can take years.

. . . .

You mentioned Fifty Shades of Grey — when that was at the height of popularity, people outside the book industry were bemoaning it. As someone in the industry, did you share those concerns?

No, there were people who have not read a book since college reading it. But, often with a book like that, you’ll see moms reading it, and then the teenage girls will read it. The idea that your first sexual experience would be anything like an introduction to sex as illustrated by Fifty Shades is really sad. But, any book that rises above and beyond itself is, to me, a cause for celebration.

. . . .

I sold one book where the editor said, “This is the book I’ve been waiting for all of my career.” And everything that happened with that book went wrong. It didn’t get great reviews, the sales reps didn’t love it as much as he and I did. It just didn’t work. A lot of times when books seem to work, the author has secret help. There’s advertising money kicked in, or the author has an uncle who is famous and that rolodex is being pushed around. But I’m talking about the pure debut when the author has no MFA, no set of connections; just the book. That’s disappointing when that happens, because you don’t have anything to do except try your hardest. Some books are more successful than others. Sometimes there’s something that gets perceived as an unfortunate step, and you rebuild. That’s hard but incredibly important to be able to do. That’s the business of calling upon relationships and being profoundly collaborative with the publishing house to figure out how we can resuscitate this person’s book career. It can be done.

. . . .

As the industry is changing with the rise of ebooks, has that impacted you much?

Ebooks have been very healthy for publishers. They have not been healthy for authors. Publishers are making a load of money — very little of which is going to the author’s statement.

Link to the rest at Inverse and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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