Big Publishing

Are You There? It’s Me, Reality: Grit Returns to Young-Adult Novels

23 October 2016

From The New York Times:

Growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, I kept a copy of Judy Blume’s “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” in its classic lavender-tinted paperback edition, tucked away in a closet in my playroom with the vague intention of returning it to the local library, someday. As months went by and I read and reread the novel upward of a half-dozen times, it became clear that I would never give it up. I imagined thousands of dollars of fines accruing and ultimately an arrest followed by some period of detention. Wasn’t the involvement of law enforcement the only proper response to an abject refusal to relinquish something so precious?

. . . .

For women who grew up in the 1970s and early ’80s — nurtured in the fictions of Ms. Blume, Paul Zindel and Norma Klein among others, writers for whom an urbane brand of social realism was the only reasonable métier — the arrival of the “Twilight” franchise a decade ago, with its enormous success, signaled a gloomy period of regression for the young-adult novel.

. . . .

Now, though, the appetite for paranormal lunacy has abated, and issue-driven fiction set very much in a universe of urbanism’s chief concerns is having a renaissance. This week, “All American Boys,” a novel by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, an outgrowth of the Black Lives Matter movement, appears on The New York Times’s best-seller list for young-adult books. The story follows the beating of an innocent black child by a white police officer who thinks he has stolen a bag of chips.

In a similar vein, “The Hate U Give,” to be released early next year, chronicles the story of a 16-year-old prep-school girl who witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed best friend. A movie version of the novel, by Angela Thomas, is already in progress. And right now, prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble in Downtown Brooklyn, is “Bright Lights, Dark Nights,” a novel about racial profiling set against the backdrop of drugs and violence.

. . . .

The recent upheavals in the economy stemming from the financial crisis, the rise of racial tensions and the increased animosity toward immigrants that the current election cycle has fed and exposed have arguably made this new catalog inevitable. The world has intruded in the lives of children in so many ugly ways. Even an amused tone does not preclude political currency. Consider the coming book “June the Sparrow and the Million-Dollar Penny,” which is meant for children between 9 and 12. In it, an orphaned girl who lives along Central Park discovers one day while she is sitting in Gray’s Papaya that her fortune has been decimated in a Ponzi scheme. She is then forced to move from an apartment in the Dakota to an actual Dakota (South).

Some of these books take place in unnamed cities so that they can feel universal to their readers. “The American Street,” highly anticipated and arriving this winter, is a novel set in Detroit but is meant to evoke Bushwick, Brooklyn, during the 1980s when it was a desolate and untamed place. The author, Ibi Zoboi, is Haitian and grew up in Bushwick, and she wanted to tell the story of an immigrant girl coming-of-age in a place where she must navigate a community plagued by crime and addiction.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Brexit-hit firms fear talent drain

21 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Multinational publishers have warned of the consequences of a “hard Brexit” on their businesses, with concerns over whether restrictions on migration would hamper their ability to attract the right talent to work for them.

. . . .

Cengage Learning c.e.o. Michael Hansen said his company would consider moving its European headquarters out of London should a “hard Brexit” strategy be adopted by UK prime minister Theresa May (pictured).

Meanwhile Ian Hudson, c.e.o. of DK Publishing, has said the uncertainty around who will be allowed to work in the country is already impacting recruitment. He said: “I’d like to be able to provide assurance to those staff affected that their futures are secure—and I cannot. We are already seeing this affect the types of people applying for jobs with us, which impacts on the diversity of the workforce, which we all need to improve on.”

Hansen said: “Our concern on the Brexit side, which many businesses in the UK share, is Britain regressing to an isolationism is going to make it harder and less attractive for us to do business in the country. We have, for now, maintained the position of our European headquarters in London. But we will observe what transpires over the next couple of months and I will make a decision that is in the best interests of the company.”

When asked if he could move the European headquarters, which employs “hundreds” of people, out of London, Hansen confirmed: “Yes. We might move it. For us it is important that we can attract, in an easy fashion, talent to wherever our locations are. Obviously, depending on how negotiations between Britain and the EU are going, if it leads to what is now being termed a ‘hard Brexit’, I think that is going to make it harder for us to attract talent.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG seems to recall that Britain has been a premier international trading power for several centuries before the EU came into existence. He will rely upon the UK visitors to inform him whether the OP is a real thing or sour grapes.

Most UK authors’ annual incomes still well below minimum wage, survey shows

20 October 2016

From The Guardian:

As publishing prepares for the Christmas rush, with a blizzard of titles due for launch this week on “Super Thursday”, a European commission report has shown that life is less than super for many authors in the UK, with average annual incomes for writers languishing at £12,500.

This figure is just 55% of average earnings in the UK, coming in below the minimum wage for a full-time job at £18,000 and well below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard of £17,100.

In an industry that is becoming increasingly unequal, those at the bottom of the income distribution continue to struggle. Only half of the 317 UK authors who responded to the survey said writing was their main source of income, with respondents who offered a figure reporting total earnings from their latest book averaging at £7,000.

The survey confirms a picture of steady decline in author incomes that was revealed in a 2015 survey published by the Society of Authors (SoA). While the publishing industry has seen revenues begin to rise, with sales up 1.3% in 2015 to £4.4bn, median incomes for authors (a measure that better reflects the experience of most authors) were down 29% in real terms in the last decade.

According to the writer Lucinda Hawksley, who sits on the SoA management committee, initiatives to make life fairer for authors are “utterly necessary”.

“I know from personal experience how difficult it is to be creative when panicking about the state of one’s finances and worrying about the rent [and] trying to meet a publisher’s demands,” Hawksley said. “My books have been well-received and plentiful, which might be assumed to bring in a healthy income, but it is impossible to support myself by writing alone.”

. . . .

A comparison of the legal protections enjoyed by writers across the continent put the UK and Ireland at the bottom of the ranking, with the UK also performing poorly in a measure of authors’ power in collective bargaining. . . . [A] comparison between two countries with the highest number of responses, the UK and Germany, could suggest “that a more protective legal framework may have a positive effect for the authors’ average income”.

In a world where the digital revolution is opening up a bewildering array of new ways for publishers to make money out of writers’ work, the report argues for written contracts that specify where and how an author’s work is to be used. It adds that rights should be limited to uses that are known or foreseeable.

. . . .

“This detailed study shows, yet again, that authors are disadvantaged by an unfair playing field,” Solomon said, “and conclusively demonstrates that simple legal remedies such as controlling the term and scope of contracts can have a positive effect on authors’ earnings, which remain woefully low.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave and several others for the tip.

The latest marketplace data would seem to say publishers are as strong as ever

19 October 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

This post began being written a couple of weeks ago when I recalled some specific misplaced expectations I had for the self-publishing revolution and started to ponder why things happened the way they did in recent years. It turns out a big part of the answer I was looking for provides clarity that extends far beyond my original question.

For a period of a few years that probably ended two or three years ago, we saw individual authors regularly crashing bestseller lists with self-published works. Some, like Amanda Hocking, parlayed their bootstrap efforts into significant publishing contracts. Others, like Hugh Howey, focused on building their own little enterprise and tried to use the publishing establishment for what it could do that a self-publisher couldn’t. (In what was certainly a very rare arrangement of this kind with a major indie author, Howey made a print-only deal for his bestseller, “Wool”, with Simon & Schuster. And he made foreign territory and language deals and Hollywood deals as well.) And we know that there were, and are, a slew of indie authors who self-publish through Amazon and don’t even bother to buy ISBN numbers to get universal distribution under a single title identifier, effectively keeping them out of bookstores.

All of this was enabled by three big changes to the historical book publishing and distribution ecosystem. One was the rise of ebooks, which simplified the challenge of putting book content into distributable form and getting it into the hands of consumers. The second was the near-perfection of print on demand technology, which enabled even print books to be offered with neither a significant investment in inventory nor the need for a warehouse to store it. And the third was the increased concentration of sales at a single retailer, Amazon.Between print and digital editions, Amazon sells half or more of the units on many titles and, indeed, may be approaching half the retail sales overall for the US industry.

. . . .

What the rush of indie bestsellers told us a few years ago was that things had changed to the point that a single person with a computer could achieve sales numbers that would please a big corporation going after sales with the tools provided by tons of overhead: careful curation and development, sophisticated production capabilities, teams of marketers and publicists, legions of sales people, and acres of warehouse space. This had not been possible before ebooks. And the market reach of the amateur publisher was extended even further asAmazon’s share of print sales surged as a direct result of retail shelf space declining with Borders’s passing and Barnes & Noble’s shrinkage.

For a period of time that was relatively brief and which now has passed, agents and publishers worried that self-publishing could be appealing to authors they’d want in their ecosystem. The author’s share of the consumer dollar is much higher through self-publishing. And the idea of “control” is very appealing, even if the responsibility that goes with it is real and sometimes onerous.

. . . .

I’d suggest that the biggest reason this activity was so feverish 2-to-4 years ago and isn’t so much now was revealed first in a vitally important post by hybrid author and helper-of-indies Bob Mayer and then reiterated by the latest report from the Author Earnings website.

Mayer built an impressive business for himself by reissuing titles of his that had previously been successfully published and gone out of print. He spells out clearly what has changed since the days of big indie success and the plethora of entity-based publishing initiatives.

The marketplace has been flooded. An industry that used to produce one or two hundred thousand titles a year now produces over a million. Nothing ages out of availability anymore. Even without POD keeping books in print, ebooks and used books make sure that almost nothing ever disappears completely. And Mayer’s sales across a wide range of titles — his and other authors whom he has helped — reflect the mushrooming competition. They’re down sharply, as are the sales of just about everybody he knows.

What Mayer wrote tended to confirm that the breakthrough indie authors happened far more frequently before the market was flooded. Authors who struck it rich in 2010 and 2011 (like Hugh Howey) were lucky to get in before the glut. Recommending that somebody try to do the same thing in 2013 or 2014 was telling them to swim in a pool with water of a completely different temperature.

On the heels of Mayer’s piece, Author Earnings made discoveries that seemed to startle even them. For those who don’t know, AE is a data collection and analysis operation put together by indie author Hugh Howey teamed with the anonymous analyst “Data Guy”. The AE emphasis is on what the author gets, (“a site for authors by authors” is what they call themselves) with less interest in what publishers want to know: how topline ebook revenues are shifting.

According to the industry’s best analyst, Michael Cader, the most recent AE report shows, for the first time since they’ve been tracking it, a reduction in earnings for indie authors and an increase for published authors. (Cader may have a paywall; here’s another report from Publishing Perspectives.) But even more startling is the shift in revenue. Publishers have booked 65% of Kindle revenues and Amazon Publishing has 10%. They put self-published authors at 20%, which is down from 25% previously.

. . . .

What this is telling us is that, whatever deficiencies there are in the way publishers are organized for publishing today, they clearly are able to marshal their resources more effectively for book after book than indies can.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG says it’s interesting that Mike and others associated with Big Publishing debunked Author Earnings for its methodology (which, in PG’s distressingly humble opinion, they took way, way too long to understand) and its results.

Beginning in October 2014, as AE released report after report showing indie authors capturing a larger and larger share of the ebook market, the same criticisms continued.

Now, when the latest AE report shows an interruption in this trend, AE has suddenly become a reliable basis for saying this self-publishing thing is just a fad and Big Publishing will be fine after all.

While he doesn’t have any inside information or amazing predictive powers, PG says market data, particularly sales data, flucutuate.

While AE is a brilliant idea, it is a snapshot based on one day’s sales ranks on Amazon. A series of eight AE reports from October 2014 to May 2016 showed that indie authors were capturing a larger and larger portion of ebook sales. With each report after the first, a trend emerged and its reliability strengthened. The first AE snapshot was not a fluke, created by a single day’s fluctuation. Neither was the second, etc.

While PG was as surprised as anyone that the latest AE report showed a reversal of the previous trend, sales data fluctuate. We’ll have to see several more AE snapshots to understand what, if anything, is changing.

However, the economics and technology that underlie indie authors and their success with self-publishing haven’t changed.

  • Large numbers of people who become more and more accustomed to spending their days and nights reading emails, texts, news, etc., etc., etc. from their phones and tablets are unlikely to suddenly decide they really want to read a physical book.
  • The aggressive pricing of ebooks practiced by indie authors is not going to lose its power to attract new readers and retain existing ones.
  • We are not going to see a larger number of physical bookstores opening than are closing. A bookstore is a lousy financial proposition.
  • It’s not going to become easier for traditional authors to support expensive traditional publishers operating in high-cost cities.
  • As time goes by, readers will continue to discover that indie authors produce books that equal or exceed the quality of those created by legacy publishing. Once that discovery is made, it is not forgotten.

Hachette to bring in new royalty statement system in 2018

18 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Hachette will be bringing in more regular, clearer and more detailed royalty statements for authors by the end of 2018, the company has said in a letter to its authors.

Writing his annual end of year letter to Hachette authors sent out yesterday evening (13th October), c.e.o Tim Hely Hutchinson said: “After consulting widely with agents, we have commissioned a new royalties system to produce much better, clearer and more detailed royalty statements.”

. . . .

The news follows Hely Hutchinson’s interview with The Bookseller in April last year, in which he intimated that payments to authors would be made more frequently. “Actually, a fairly low proportion of contracts get royalty payments as the advances are often unearned, but I do think that more frequent (probably monthly) payments will come and we will invest in new royalty systems over the years to make that easier,” he said at the time. He also envisaged different types of contracts: one would be low advance, higher royalty, paying more often; another would be traditional high advance, lower royalty, paying  less often. “I’d like to be able to offer those packages and within three years or so we will be able to—if there is demand” he added at the time.

Hely Hutchinson’s letter also warned authors that times were “tough” for the book trade, despite recent publicity about an increase in print sales. He also expressed concern that controls on immigration shoud be given priority over free trade in the government’s Brexit negotiations.

He warned authors that the “well-publicised” resurgence of print was “not the whole story,” explaining that the sales had been skewed by the craze for adult colouring. The trade print market and publisher values had still fallen by 11.5% between 2011 and 2015, and by 27% for fiction, he said.

He further warned that the e-book market will have fallen by about 22% for Hachette by the end of this year from its peak in 2014. This he attributed to “the imposition of UK VAT at the full rate on e-books, changes in e-book trade terms and, to a smaller extent, self-publishing”. This drop was also reflected in the company’s results for the first half of 2016.

“For part of this time, growth in revenues from e-books made up for some of the shortfall, but that is no longer the case. So times are quite tough for trade publishers, even if they are sometimes mitigated by particular lovely successes,” he wrote. “This is probably a long-term trend, as more of consumers’ time and money is spent on the many new or recent digital platforms for information and entertainment.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to Diana for the tip.

PG says that the royalty statements he has seen from most publishers could hardly be more primitive.

An Exclusive Interview with Lee Salem

17 October 2016

From Calvin & Hobbes:

1. Calvin and Hobbes grew to become an incredible phenomenon. What was it about Bill Watterson’s work that initially caught your attention?

I remember first looking at Bill’s submission for Calvin and Hobbes. It was so breathtakingly simple, fresh and professional that I had to set it aside with the thought, “This can’t be as good as I think it is.” On a second look, and subsequent looks, it was. It still is, to my mind. Bill had taken a near-universal situation – a child with an imaginary friend – and turned it into something archetypal. When I circulated the samples, the response was positive, though there was some concern about readers “getting” whether the tiger was real or imaginary. I think every strip in that initial submission made it into the starting set of six weeks.

2. How has editing Calvin and Hobbes changed the way you view comics?

Editing Calvin did not change the way I viewed comics as much as dealing with Bill changed the way I viewed the syndicate/creator relationship. For a few years, the relationship between us and Bill was very testy. We wanted calendars, products, licensing, and he wanted none of that. It became so acrimonious that Bill went public in a speech at Ohio State, calling us “money-grubbing bloodsuckers.” That speech was picked up by the AP and I still wince when I think about it. Each side had its points, but eventually we were able to get past all that. The fact that Bill agreed to “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” showed how far we had come.

. . . .

4. Calvin and Hobbes fans were heartbroken when the comic strip ended on Dec. 31, 1995. Can you share what you felt and thought when he told you he wanted to end the strip? What were some of the factors that influenced his decision to retire the strip?

We had known for a while that Bill would retire, but coming one year after the end of The Far Side was tough to take, as a fan of the work of those two amazing cartoonists and as someone employed by the company that lost those two.

Bill thought he had said all he could say about Calvin and about Hobbes. Tom Thornton, then the publisher of Andrews McMeel Publishing, and I visited Bill to try to convince him otherwise. Clearly we failed. I think an additional factor was that Bill carried some wounds from the earlier period when our relationship had soured and the wounds continued to affect him. But the relatively short lifespan is part of the great allure and mythos of the strip. We or Bill’s legions of fans might have wanted him to continue, but only he could make that decision. And he walked away at the top of his game.

Link to the rest at Calvin & Hobbes

Pearson sales drop 7% after third quarter

17 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Pearson sales dropped 7% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2016 as the company’s c.e.o John Fallon again described market conditions as “challenging”.

The results are in line with the company’s half-year results, which also saw a 7% drop.

The fall in revenue was attributed to expected declines in UK and US assessment businesses, as well as “cautious buying patterns” among US college campus bookshops, which it said were managing their own supply chain and inventory “more efficiently”. Fallon refered to it as a “temporary phenomenon” and pointed out there was no fundamental change in the buying behaviour of students or the propensity of professors to adopt its books.

. . . .

Pearson has rolled out “very tight cost management” measures across the company since January and its restructuring program to make £350m savings over two years is now 90% complete, the company said. It had aimed to cut a tenth of its global workforce, accounting for 4,000 redundancies. According to c.f.o. Coram Williams, Pearson also continues to consolidate its real estate, with the closure of 19 office properties from around the world. Meanwhile a new finance system also went live in the UK in its third quarter.

Pearson said it was beginning to realise the benefits from systems integration and warehouse consolidations following the merger of Penguin Random House, and this was was “softening the expected impact of reduced demand for e-books” after last year’s changes to digital-terms. PRH was said to have benefited from million-copy multi-territorial film-tie-in sales for The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Me Before You and After You by Jojo Moyes, and The BFG and other classics by Roald Dahl, as well as from sales of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and John le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel. “The fourth quarter [for PRH] will benefit from new fiction, nonfiction, and movie tie-ins across all formats from bestselling and prize-winning authors,” Pearson said.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Penguin boss admits the company read too much into the eBook hype

15 October 2016

From The Telegraph:

Penguin wrongly lost confidence in the power of the printed word and invested “unwisely” amid the rise of eBooks, one of the company’s bosses has admitted.

Joanna Prior, the managing director of Penguin’s general books, said the firm jumped the gun and incorrectly pre-empted a major shift towards digital books.

The “bad moment” means Penguin – one of the UK’s biggest publishers– now takes steps “much more cautiously” than it would have five years ago.

The comments came after figures showed eBooks sales fell for the first time since 2014 last year. Experts said the data showed reports about the death of the traditional book had been greatly exaggerated.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ms Prior said: “There was a definite moment when we all went shooting out after the shiny app thing and spent money on that and invested probably unwisely in products that we thought could in some way enhance the book.

“We somehow lost confidence in the power of the word on the page, which was a bad moment.”

. . . .

During the talk, the two women also suggested it was a good time to be a debut novelist, as publishers were looking for writers with “no track record”.

They admitted this was sometimes bad news for authors who had already produced two or three books.

“If you are a brand new name it is fantastic, and success is bigger than it has ever been, but to be in the middle it is very difficult… talented people are in danger of being sidelined,” Ms Alexander said.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to SFR for the tip.

PG says you can be wrong. And you can be wrong about being wrong.

Wrongness knows no boundaries.

Publishing risks ‘becoming irrelevant’, warns Penguin Random House boss

14 October 2016

From The Guardian:

The chief executive of the UK’s largest publisher has warned that the books industry will “become irrelevant” if it continues to fail to reflect the society we live in.

Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK, was speaking as the publisher launched a new scheme intended to discover and mentor authors from the UK’s under-represented communities, whether this means they are writers from a poorer backgrounds, from LGBTQ or BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) communities, or writers with a disability.

“We feel very strongly about diversity in publishing. For me it is a real problem when we don’t reflect the society we live in. It’s not good for books, or culture, or commercially. We are going to become irrelevant,” said Weldon. “We know we have a real issue, and we have been slow. We have to address it.”

. . . .

“It ties in to some of the conversation since Brexit. Whatever you think about the outcome of that vote, it was a very clear signal, not just to the publishing bubble, that voices are not being heard,” said Weldon. “People recognise it is a real issue. I don’t think we realised we had a problem 10-15 years ago, but now we do … When a publisher has a bestseller, it’s easy to [just keep publishing] what sold yesterday. [But] there are amazing writers out there who we aren’t commissioning. The whole industry needs to change.”

Penguin Random House is not alone in attempting to address what a report into diversity in the books industry described last year as “an old mono-culture” still prevailing in publishing. The Writing the Future study found that “the past 10 years of turbulent change affecting the UK book industry has had a negative impact on attempts to become more diverse” and that if the books world fails to become less homogenised, it “risks becoming a 20th-century throwback increasingly out of touch with a 21st-century world”.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Celebrity book advances: How much stars got paid to write

13 October 2016


Celebrities can get paid staggering amounts of money to write books.
Stars typically receive a handsome advance which is like a signing bonus that the author receives before the book is published.

As Brian Klems from The Writer’s Digest explained, an advance is “paid against future royalty earnings, which means that for every dollar you receive in an advance, you must earn a dollar from book sales before you start receiving any additional royalty payments”.

. . . .

  • Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011). Advance: $US6 million
  • Amy Shumer, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (2016). Advance: $US9 million
  • Keith Richards, Life (2011). Advance: $US7 million

Link to the rest at and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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