Book Sales Up, Readership Down

From The Authors Guild:

Both publishers and booksellers celebrated the news that print book sales were up 9.1 percent last year. According to Publishers Weekly, booksellers sold 825.7 million books in 2021, up from 757.9 million in 2020. A huge increase in fiction units sold led the way, with young adult fiction sales jumping 30.7 percent, adult fiction up 25.5 percent, and children’s fiction up 9.6 percent, respectively. All told, print book sales have risen more than 18 percent since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

U.S. Readership Lowest in Two Decades
The statistics on female readership are specifically troubling. For decades, women read nearly twice as many books as men, but the gap has narrowed significantly. The average American woman read 15.7 books last year compared to 19.3 books five years ago. While male readership declined only slightly over the same time period, going from 10.4 books in 2016 to 9.5 in 2021, this decrease in the number of books women read will particularly impact fiction sales, given that women account for 80 percent of all fiction sales in the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

The overall decline in readership is likely due to increased interest in other at-home leisure activities, particularly digital streaming services. Just six percent claimed reading to be their favorite way to spend an evening, far below spending time with family (33%) or watching television or movies (23%). Gallup notes that this is only the second time since 1960 that less than 10 percent of Americans didn’t select reading as their top favorite evening activity. 

. . . .

Paper Shortages Continue to Delay Book Publication
“Paper mills are not only cutting back, but they’re switching from book grade papers to, in their view, more profitable types of paper products,” said Integrated Books International’s Bill Clockel in a recent interview. “So even though some mills might have closed, more likely than not they’re not making book papers anymore. That’s the biggest problem that we see. There are other challenges with obtaining consumables, but paper clearly is the biggest one.”

Labor also remains an issue due to worker shortages attributable to both COVID-19 and increased employee turnover, as the quit rate among warehousing workers, which includes book distribution centers, ranked the third highest in the nation in November 2021 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Cautious Optimism
Though the majority of U.S. authors have experienced significant income declines since the start of the pandemic, many in the book industry remain positive. The percentage of Americans reading e-books rose five percent in the past two years

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG will reveal that during the same period of time discussed in the OP, the earnings of many indie authors, including Mrs. PG, from Kindle Direct Publishing have been climbing.

WH Smith’s ‘bestselling’ book charts filled with titles publishers have paid to feature in rankings

From Inews UK:

Book lovers are unwittingly paying for titles which appear to be the top-selling releases of the moment, when in some cases a publisher has paid the retailer to feature them in its “bestseller” charts, multiple industry figures have claimed.

Rankings displayed at shops such as WH Smith, as well as those compiled by online retailers, are determined partly by whether a book has been boosted in a deal with publishers, industry insiders say.

The practice has come to light after a former WH Smith employee alleged that when he worked at the retailer, staff were instructed to display author and TV presenter Richard Osman’s novel The Thursday Murder Club in the number one slot in stores, regardless of sales figures, because publisher Penguin Random House had paid for the space.

“When the last Richard Osman came out, Penguin bought the number one spot on all WH Smith in-store bestseller charts so it had to be displayed as the bestseller in every single store, whether it actually was or not,” Barry Pierce, who worked at the retailer from 2020 to 2021, recently claimed on social media.

. . . .

[T]he chart comprised books that WH Smith wanted to “push”, and was treated as a “promotional space” rather than a “legitimate chart” based on which books were selling the most copies, he claimed.

“Often… our area manager would come in and rearrange the chart so certain books [would] appear higher,” Mr Pierce added.

True bestseller charts based on figures from Nielsen BookScan – which collects point-of-sale data from more than 6,500 UK retailers – are widely regarded as the most accurate reflection of the top selling titles and authors.

The admission has prompted astonishment from readers and authors, but industry figures, who backed up Mr Pierce’s claim, maintained that such agreements have long been part of the way publishers and retailers do business and should not come as a surprise to the book-buying public.

James Daunt, managing director at Waterstones, the UK’s largest bookshop chain, said it was commonplace for other retailers to exchange spots in their charts for money.

Waterstones itself previously accepted millions of pounds each year from publishers to position titles in its “bestseller” charts, but Mr Daunt said he put an end to these deals as soon as he was appointed.

“Since I took over in 2011, Waterstones has never taken one penny to place books [on shelves]. The year before, Waterstones took £27 million [from publishers],” Mr Daunt said.

Link to the rest at Inews UK and thanks to H for the tip.

The question that occurred to PG was, “If a publisher was ethical in its business practices, would it pay for phony best-seller rankings.”

PG is certain a publisher would respond that this was just a time-honored method to increase sales and, thus, profits.

Inquiring minds might ask if calculations of the amount of royalties owed to authors were ever subject to this sort of “publishing industry practice.”

Libraries, Publishers Battle Over Terms for E-Books’ Use

From Bloomberg Law:

States that want to give libraries a better deal on e-books are watching a publishers’ suit against Maryland, the first state to set terms for how digital books are distributed for public borrowing.

Library associations, including the American Library Association and several state groups, have been pushing for state laws to require publishers to distribute digital works to libraries on “reasonable” terms that the states would set. The groups say libraries pay too much for electronic books and should be able to get them at lower prices.

The bills and the law enacted in Maryland have set off alarm bells for authors and publishers who fear the legislation encroaches on copyrights.

Similar suits to the one in Maryland by the Association of American Publishers might follow if bills in other states move forward, copyright attorneys, publishing industry lobbyists and others said. They say the bills propose a radical rewriting of the copyright system that only Congress is able to change.

. . . .

“The Maryland case is very, very significant because we’re hoping and believe the court will say, ‘You can’t do this. This is unconstitutional,’” said Keith Kupferschmid, the president of the Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit that represents a broad group of creators. “And, presumably, other states would at least be a little more cautious. Hopefully they wouldn’t introduce the bills at all.”

. . . .

Library officials back the bills so they can loosen restrictions on the number of digital works that can circulate and not let publishers dictate pricing terms, said John Chrastka, the executive director of the EveryLibrary Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for library funding.

The Rhode Island and Massachusetts bills are based on the Maryland law. Supporters hope the bills can either be redrafted to avoid similar lawsuits or that the Maryland court will throw out the case.

In New York, Brianna McNamee, the New York Library Association’s director of government relations and advocacy, said the bill Hochul vetoed will likely be tweaked based on recommendations from her office.

“The bill’s viability in its current form is contingent on that pending litigation in Maryland,” McNamee said. “In a perfect world, if the suit goes away it would be our hope that it would provide reassurance to the governor and her staff that New York state won’t be sued upon enacting similar legislation.”

It’s not clear that the Maryland law is preempted by the Copyright Act, said Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association. The AAP’s claims aren’t valid in terms of copyright law because it’s actually a matter of contract law, Inouye said.

. . . .

The Maryland law and the similar legislation are preempted by the federal Copyright Act, which gives copyright owners a bundle of exclusive rights, including being able to decide when and how their works are distributed, Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, said.

The AAP and proponents of the lawsuit said they support public libraries and that libraries are essential in expanding readership, but the Maryland law has the potential to harm creators and weaken the copyright system.

“The public libraries are an important piece of providing public access, but they don’t operate alone in a vacuum,” said Maria A. Pallante, the CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

The Motion Picture Association, the National Music Publishers Association, and the News Media Alliance also oppose the bills because they say there could be a potential domino effect in states also creating compulsory licenses for other creative works besides e-books.

“The other industries are concerned because if states start doing this,” Rasenberger said, “then the next thing down the line is going to be movies and television programming.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

PG has suggested on many prior occasions that traditional publishers are foolish in their pricing strategies for ebooks because, after the first copy of an ebook is created, additional copies cost the publisher no more to produce.

In a perfectly-sane publishing world, ebooks would always cost much less than printed books and still generate a much higher profit margin without killing any more trees and shipping physical books long distances from the low-income nations where they are printed.

PG suggests that Amazon’s pricing sweet spot for ebooks per its KDP royalty structure is $2.99-9.99. That’s where the 70% royalty is payable. Everywhere else in the 99 cent to $200 price range permitted by Amazon, the royalty is 35%.

To the best of PG’s recollection, this pricing/royalty strategy is identical to the policy created by Amazon at or near the introduction of its ebook self-publishing option for authors that gave authors who didn’t feel a publisher added value (or couldn’t find a publisher for their books) direct access to what has become by far the largest bookstore in the world.

One of Amazon’s motives for setting and maintaining this royalty structure, indeed for putting a lot of effort to make self-publishing easy in the first place, was the attempt of major US publishers to force Amazon in increase its prices for all books to the suggested retail price set by publishers.

Amazon hadn’t grown into the international giant it is today and American publishers were more focused on killing Amazon to avoid this sort of discounting below their fancifully-created suggest retail pricing structure in order to preserve their effective monopoly over the market for books found in traditional bookstores.

Times have changed greatly since then – lots and lots of physical bookstores have gone out of business in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) and ebooks have become a significant source of income and far more significant source of profits for traditional publishers selling through Amazon.

With respect to ebooks licensed to libraries, traditional publishers have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing. The incremental cost of ebooks licensed to libraries over ebooks licensed to Amazon and other online bookstores is also effectively zero, but publishers still want to charge libraries more for exactly the same collection of electrons as Amazon offers for much less.

PG thinks there are some copyright issues in the states’ litigation claims, but this collection of lawsuits and the potential for yet another loss in court for traditional publishers reflects (in PG’s stupendously humble opinion) the ongoing stupidity of those individuals and conglomerates running traditional publishing in the United States.

Too much greed in the library sales department could end up costing publishers much, much more over the long run. It’s a risk the publishers didn’t have to take, but they did so anyway.

The Spine Collector

From Vulture:

On the morning of March 1, 2017, Catherine Mörk and Linda Altrov Berg were in the offices of Norstedts, a book publisher in Sweden, when they received an unusual email. A colleague in Venice was asking for a top-secret document: the unpublished manuscript of the forth-coming fifth book in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series. The books, which follow hacker detective Lisbeth Salander, have sold more than 100 million copies. David Lagercrantz, another Swedish writer, had taken over the series after Larsson’s death, and his latest — The Man Who Chased His Shadow — was expected to be one of the publishing events of the year.

Norstedts was guarding the series closely. Lagercrantz wrote his first “Millennium” book on a computer with no connection to the internet and delivered the manuscript on paper, at which point Norstedts mailed a single copy to each of the book’s international publishers. With the new title, Norstedts wanted to streamline the process — Lisbeth Salander’s publisher, they figured, should be able to protect itself from hackers and thieves. Mörk and Altrov Berg, who handle foreign rights at Norstedts, consulted with other publishers of blockbuster books. The translators working on one of Dan Brown’s follow-ups to The Da Vinci Code, for instance, were required to work in a basement with security guards clocking trips to the bathroom. Norstedts decided to try sharing the new “Millennium” book via Hushmail, an encrypted-email service, with passwords delivered separately by phone. Everyone would have to sign an NDA.

The unusual email came from Francesca Varotto, the book’s Italian-edition editor, and arrived shortly after Norstedts sent out the manuscript:

Dear Linda and Catherine,

I hope you are well. Could you please re-send me the link to the manuscript of The Man Who Chased His Shadow?

Thank you!

Best,

Francesca

Minutes later, and a few blocks away from Norstedts headquarters in Stockholm, Magdalena Hedlund, the agent representing the book, received a similar email from Varotto. It was strange that Varotto had lost something so valuable, but she and Hedlund were old friends, and the email struck a familiar tone. Plus everyone was scrambling: The book was set for release in 27 countries simultaneously, and the translators had to get started. Hedlund sent her friend the link to the manuscript.

Varotto replied instantly. “I’m sorry M,” she wrote. Varotto said that her password was “disabled/expired.” Could Hedlund send a new one?

Back at Norstedts, Mörk also received an email from Varotto. “Sorry Catherine,” the message read. “Could you please give me the Hushmail code?” Altrov Berg dashed off a separate message to Varotto, asking if everything was okay.

Suddenly, her phone rang. “Why are you sending me this?” Varotto asked. Altrov Berg explained what was happening. Varotto was confused. She hadn’t sent any emails to Norstedts all day.

With Varotto on the phone, the two Norstedts employees scrolled through the messages. The emails looked like ones Varotto would send: The text used the same font, and the signature at the end was styled just like hers. Then, with Varotto still on the line, Mörk got yet another email asking for the password.

They scanned the messages again. Only now did Varotto notice that the signature listed her old job title; she had been promoted two months earlier. The subject line also misspelled the name of her companyFinally, they realized the email address wasn’t hers at all: The domain had been changed from @marsilioeditori.it to @marsilioeditori.com.

Everyone deleted the emails. What other malicious tricks were lurking inside? The IT department at Marsilio Editori began investigating and found that the fraudulent domain had been created the day before through GoDaddy. It was registered to an address in Amsterdam and a Dutch phone number. When an employee tried calling, it went straight to a recording: “Thank you for calling IBM.”

The “Millennium” team was in a panic. The thief didn’t yet have the password, as far as they knew, but was clearly determined to get it. Publishers around the world depend on a best seller like this, and an online leak of the manuscript could derail its release.

But the book’s publication came and went without a hitch. The manuscript never reappeared. What was Fake Francesca Varotto after? Much more than Lisbeth Salander’s best-selling exploits, it turned out. On the same day as the “Millennium” emails, Fake Francesca asked someone else in publishing for an early look at Lot, Bryan Washington’s story collection, as well as a debut novel about an accountant who becomes a fortune teller. Even stranger, the thief had other identities. Later that day, a fake Swedish editor went to the Wylie Agency in London to request a copy of Louise Erdrich’s just-announced novel, and someone pretending to be Peter van der Zwaag, a Dutch editor, asked a colleague in New York for the same fortune-teller book. Fake Peter then introduced his new assistant to request that she be added to a private mailing list filled with confidential publishing information. The assistant followed up with a friendly note: “It’s so busy and overwhelming now with the London Book Fair, isn’t it?” The assistant didn’t exist.

This was a setup Stieg Larsson would have admired: a clever thief adopting multiple aliases, targeting victims around the world, and acting with no clear motive. The manuscripts weren’t being pirated, as far as anyone could tell. Fake Francesca wasn’t demanding a ransom. “We assumed it was the Russians,” Mörk said. “But we are the book industry. It’s not like we’re digging gold or researching vaccines.” Perhaps someone in publishing, or a Hollywood producer, was desperate for early access to books they might buy. Was the thief simply an impatient reader? A strung-out writer in need of ideas? “In the hacker culture that Stieg Larsson depicted, they do a lot of things not for financial benefit,” Mörk pointed out this spring, “but just to show that they can do it.”

When I first heard about the scheme in February, four years after the attempted “Millennium” heist, the thief was still on the loose, exhibiting behavior that was even bolder and more bizarre as they chased after everything from Sally Rooney’s latest to novels by obscure writers never published in English before. This sounded like a fun challenge, a digital mystery to obsess over at a time when the real world was shut down. I texted a friend in publishing to find out more. She quickly replied, “The culprit has been identified.” This was unexpected. The New York Times had two reporters on the case last year, and the FBI had been called in to investigate, but no charges or accusations had been leveled publicly. One of my colleagues, Lila Shapiro, looked into the scam in 2019 but dropped the story after concluding the case might be too baffling to crack. Many in publishing were too paranoid to discuss it. One literary agent, who had become obsessed with solving the mystery, had declined to talk because she feared Lila herself might be the thief.

And yet my contact was certain — or “like 85 percent sure” — that the thief was a particular person, a man who had worked in New York publishing for a decade. He was an outsider in the industry with a reputation for becoming pushy when he didn’t get what he wanted. He seemed to conduct his business almost entirely over email.

Link to the rest at Vulture

FBI Arrests Suspect Scamming Authors for Unpublished Manuscripts

From The Authors Guild:

As we reported a few months ago to members, authors have fallen prey to several scams, including one in which a person claimed to work with an author’s publishing house to gain access to that author’s unpublished manuscript.

The New York Times today reported that, after five long years, an arrest has been made on allegations of wire fraud and identity theft. Picked up when he arrived at New York’s JFK airport, the FBI arrested Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen, whose social media profile claims he works for Simon & Schuster UK’s rights division.

As we previously reported, the accused would send out emails “impersonating real people working in the publishing industry — a specific editor, for example — by using fake email addresses.” He would employ slightly tweaked domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, — putting an “rn” in place of an “m.” According to the indictment, Bernardini had registered more than 160 fraudulent internet domains impersonating publishing professionals and companies.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

BookTok: A Safe Haven for Young Female Readers

From Jane Friedman:

It might well be impossible at this point to host a children’s publishing event without offering at least one session focused on TikTok—or, more specifically, BookTok, the community of young book lovers on the platform. At The Bookseller’s children’s online publishing conference last fall, a panel discussed the power of BookTok and why it’s pushing YA books up the bestseller lists. The latest title to fly off shelves because of BookTok is They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, the second best-selling book of 2021 overall in the UK children’s market—and number-one bestseller in the US.

The marketing power of BookTok starts with peer-to-peer recommendation.

All book marketing research shows that people are strongly influenced by what friends suggest they read, and that describes TikTok on a global scale. But the twist with TikTok is that it goes beyond a simple recommendation or just flashing a book cover. Instead, BookTokers focus on a book’s plot, themes, and genre—the real meaty heart of the book, not necessarily the aesthetic. Panel moderator Charlotte Eyre (children’s editor at The Bookseller) said, “TikTok is about conveying the emotion” felt while reading the book. Author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, an avid consumer of BookTok videos, says, “I really like living through [BookTok readers] as they’re experiencing the emotions.”

TikTok remains a positive place for young people.

TikTok creator Faith Young, whose audience is 97% women, said, “I sort of describe it as the last wholesome place on the internet. It’s just become this safe haven for young women.” Young, who is 22, described growing up as an uncool teenager who spent all of her time reading books in the library. She then discovered her people on TikTok. Georgia Henry, a children’s specialist campaign manager at Rocket (a UK marketing agency), said that, given her job, she hardly ever has time to pick up a book for relaxation, but whenever she goes on BookTok, “I just want to curl up with a cup of tea and open a book and lose myself in a book, and it’s just really inspiring.” Young audiences are now walking into bookstores and libraries in significant numbers to buy and read books. (If you haven’t visited a brick-and-mortar store lately, try it. You are sure to find a display based on BookTok.)

. . . .

However, as with all social media, TikTok requires authenticity and may come more naturally to younger authors. Àbíké-Íyímídé said that posting on TikTok feels like an extension of her overall creator skills—skills she’s built up over time as a Gen Z author. She and her author-peers are using what they know about internet culture and applying it to their publishing careers in how they talk about books and engage with readers online. “Especially as Gen Z we can see when something is inauthentic,” Àbíké-Íyímídé said.

Publishers can use the platform organically and succeed. 

Young said that one of the first accounts she followed on TikTok was Penguin Teen because they have a designated person who creates their social media posts and also shares about her own life. “An important part of TikTok is feeling like you know the people that you follow,” Young said. “It wouldn’t work if [publishers] have loads of different people creating videos.” Similarly, she really likes the content coming out of Sourcebooks Fire, one of her favorite publishers. “They recently casted—no, hired—a new head of social media, and she already had a big following on TikTok, and she now runs their TikTok, and that felt very authentic and I really like their videos.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Color PG skeptical about TikTok. He has visited a couple times, but didn’t find much that interested him. He has, however, read more than a few horror stories about young people getting into bad situations on TikTok.

About Gen Z folks understanding “internet culture,” PG suggests that there are a zillion internet cultures. ISIS and Al Qaeda have internet cultures. Left-wing and right-wing radicals have their internet culture. English-speaking romance readers have their own internet culture. Ditto (likely) for German-speaking romance readers.

PG will grant that there are lots and lots of internet sub-cultures and some authors of books for female teens may be familiar with female teen online sub-cultures, but PG suspects that it’s easy to age-out of a subculture based on age and stage of life.

PG is happy to be further enlightened by those more familiar with TikTok.

As far as traditional publishers and authenticity – that’s a bridge too far for PG.

2022 Publishing Predictions

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog with Ruth Harris:

Who could have predicted the bright ray of light that shined on publishing during this pandemic! But it did shine, and will continue to shine, as people rekindle their love of reading and writing! Publishing is more profitable than ever before in its history…for the second year in a row.

Once the streaming binge of Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and other channels grew a bit stale, people rediscovered books and how reading engages the imagination making it a totally different enjoyment experience than passively watching a screen. Books have been selling at a brisk pace ever since. And the profits reaped by the publishing giants has soared. I wish some would make it back to writers and the publishing staff, but that’s another story altogether.

Now that we can breathe a sigh of relief, what does publishing have in store for us in 2022? Here are my predictions:

1. Self-publishing will continue to grow and be profitable.

Bookstores will continue to prosper, even as Amazon continues to grow its market share. For the year to date (2021), bookstore sales are up 39.6%, to $7.1 billion. And that’s an increase from a huge year last year.

All of publishing is healthy and there is no reason for you not to get back on that horse and finish writing your books.

2. Diversity will grow even more, both with authors and with publisher staffs.

So many high-level (VP and up) positions were created to encourage and hire diverse staff within publishers. To me that’s the second phase of diversifying publishing. Phase one began 3-4 years ago with editors buying books from a more diverse ethnic and cultural pool of authors.

I don’t see that phase slowing down anytime soon either. But with the hiring of high-level diverse employees within publishing companies in phase two, we can begin to see real change in the industry. It will be a joy to watch and we’ll all be the richer for it.

3. Hybrid workplaces will deepen and New York will be the center of publishing in name only.

All plans to return to the publishers’ offices in January 2022 were cancelled as the Omicron variant surged this past fall. I believe this signals a huge shift in how publishing is done. When editorial and art departments can work from home, creativity can soar.

Change can happen. And the bureaucracy will be replaced with new energy and passion when employees don’t have to spend endless hours in meetings. Even with an increase in Zoom meetings, multitasking can make them bearable.

Hybrid work environments, now that employees have their home workspaces dialed in, are a harbinger of the future. And employers will dig the extra profits they make from a dramatic decrease in overhead.

. . . .

5. Supply chain and paper shortage woes will continue.

It takes a long time to straighten out something as broken as the publishing supply chain. Books with a lot of images (children’s picture books, coffee table books, novelty books) are mainly printed in China. But the empty cargo containers in the U.S. are not making it back to China for refilling and that is slowing down everything.

As agents, we see publication dates stretching out to 2025 and beyond. And I’m predicting that it won’t be fixed in 2022. And when you add to that the high cost of paper, the price of books at retail is going up (along with everything else you buy).

6. There will be a legal battle over how ebook sales are regulated to libraries.

Again, states are trying to legislate how much publishers can charge libraries to loan ebooks. This is a big deal, since it is the largest growth area for public libraries…especially during the pandemic. But even after we can once again go out safely in public, ebook reading is experiencing a sea change that some readers will never go back from.

This topic needs to be legislated from the federal level if the publishers won’t see reason.

7. Publishing will look more deeply at changing its business model.

Publishing companies can no longer deny that the 200-year-old way they’ve been running their empires makes no economic sense.

Here’s what Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch had to say about it: “Publishers have long carried the overhead of big-city offices, travel and entertainment, in-person events, book fairs, and other accustomed ways of operating. We’ve been profitable enough that we haven’t pressured ourselves to learn all we could do through long-available online communications, digital marketing, and remote-working capabilities.”

Working from home, freed from onerous commutes, without in-person calls, pitches, conferences, and shows, publishers have opened their minds to new ways of working.” This gives me hope that as profitability soars due to changes in an inefficient business model, authors might actually benefit through modestly higher advances and larger royalty percentages (especially in ebooks…I mean come on!)

. . . .

10. eBooks are experiencing a growing spurt of popularity that is not going to diminish.

When you combine the paper shortage/price increases, supply chain woes and convenience of spontaneously acquiring an ebook in the privacy of your own home without having to get out of your pajamas, the lure is too sexy to resist.

For you self-published authors, time to get out your marketing and promotional hat, put your books on sale, spiff up the covers, really pay attention to your metadata (especially key search terms), so avid readers can find your work. Because ebooks are not going away.

11. Audiobook popularity will continue to grow.

See #10 above for reasons. Add in listening to stories while driving, making meals, exercising and you can see why.

Link to the rest at From Anne R. Allen’s Blog with Ruth Harris

The Sad State of the Traditional Publishing Backlist

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A quietly astonishing moment happened on November 9, the first day of 20Booksto50K, in a panel titled “High-Powered Authors.” Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin said something that caught fire when the video of the panel went live.

At least three people sent me the video and pointed me to that moment, about 38 minutes into the panel. For those of you who don’t know, Kat Martin has written more than 65 novels, had them published traditionally, and has hit bestseller lists for three decades now.

. . . .

Her comments on this panel were all good, many of them about the importance of focus and of writing daily. She has published a few backlist titles through a specialty ebook press, but she’s not self-published. (I had no idea that 20Books had invited traditionally published authors this year, but they had for some reason. Or maybe the trad pubbed writers expressed an interest. Lord knows, they need to be interested in self- or indie-publishing.)

Anyway, at that 38-minute mark, Kat spoke up about her backlist. She was speaking after indie writers who were talking about the importance of the backlist, and how they kept the backlist fresh, how they actually made consistent money from their backlists.

When she received the mic, Kat said:

I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.

Note that again: the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.

Traditionally published writers have said that privately for years now, with that same sense of sadness that Kat Martin had. They know their books are tied up, and not really usable. These days, traditional publishers are extremely unwilling to revert the rights to books, playing all kinds of games to keep the books “in print,” when in reality they’re very hard to find.

And that “nice fat fee up front”? It’s not so nice or so fat anymore.

An article on literary novels in the September Vanity Fair pointed out that Sally Rooney’s Normal People sold 325,000 copies in paperback, as if that was a good number.

Paperbacks, back when I met Kat Martin, weren’t successful unless they sold a million copies. If they were trade paperbacks, then half a million. Otherwise, they were midlist.

The Vanity Fair article did talk about the declining advances, though, and contained this bombshell:

Last summer, Jesmyn Ward revealed that the advance for her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones was a mere $100,000—for Sing, Unburied, Sing, which also won a National Book Award. It’s telling that you can win American publishing’s highest honor and still (after taxes and agent fees) make not quite enough up front on your next book to buy a late-model Lexus sedan.

That advance is tiny for an award-winning novel…or used to be tiny, back in the day. But as I’ve been saying here, advances for traditionally published writers have been declining for more than a decade.  And traditional publishers have been playing with the percentages so that when backlist books sell, they no longer earn what they used to.

What is traditional publishing doing wrong with their backlist? Pretty much everything. They’re throwing it out there, and hoping someone will buy it. They’re not repackaging it, they’re not really paying much attention to it at all.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Flog a Pro

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.

“Is that the mill?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I do not remember it.”

“It was built since you were here. The old mill is farther down; much below the pass.”

He spread the photostated military map out on the forest floor and looked at it carefully. The old man looked over his shoulder. He was a short and solid old man in a black peasant’s smock and gray iron-stiff trousers and he wore rope-soled shoes. He was breathing heavily from the climb and his hand rested on one of the two heavy packs they had been carrying.

“Then you cannot see the bridge from here.”

“No,” the old man said. “This is the easy country of the pass where the stream flows gently. Below, where the road turns out of sight in the trees, it drops suddenly and there is a steep gorge—”

Were you moved to turn the page?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

There’s a Yes/No polling button at the OP. The results of the poll when PG checked didn’t speak well for the methods of the traditional publishing industry for reviewing submissions.

Penguin Random House Defends Effort to Buy Simon & Schuster

From The New York Times:

Penguin Random House, the largest book publisher in the United States, said in a court filing on Monday that its plan to buy a competitor, Simon & Schuster, would be a boon for the industry, benefiting authors, booksellers and readers.

The Justice Department has disagreed. Last month, it sued to stop the $2.18 billion acquisition, as the Biden administration takes a more skeptical view of corporate consolidation across industries.

In its complaint, the department attacked the deal on the grounds that it would harm best-selling authors, since they could potentially receive lower pay with one fewer publisher competing to acquire their books. It documented several bidding wars between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster that went into six and seven figures and argued that if the proposed merger goes through, those authors wouldn’t have received such lucrative advances.

By focusing on authors’ pay, the Justice Department signaled that it is taking a more sweeping view of antitrust law. For decades, it has been used to block deals on the grounds that consumers can be harmed when big companies with few competitors can raise their prices. But in its suit to block Penguin Random House, the government does not claim that the prices for books will rise for readers or for booksellers, but instead argues that if Penguin Random House gets even larger, it will have more leverage over authors.

In the joint response filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster said the government’s argument misunderstands the way the publishing industry functions.

. . . .

“The government wants to block the merger under the misguided theory that it will diminish compensation to just the highest-paid authors,” said Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer representing Penguin Random House and its parent company, Bertelsmann, in an interview on Monday. “That is legally, economically and factually wrong, and it ignores the vast majority of authors who will indisputably benefit from the transaction.”

Penguin Random House is defending its plan in part because it stands to lose millions if it does not go through. Acquisitions like these often come with termination fees that are owed to the prospective seller if the transaction doesn’t close. In this case, Penguin Random House would have to pay Simon & Schuster’s seller, ViacomCBS, about $200 million.

Monday’s filing described the book industry as more than just the “Big Five” that consists of Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan. There are other major players like Disney, Amazon and Scholastic, along with hundreds of small and midsize publishing houses. On any given deal, Penguin Random House said, “at least one” smaller publisher will often compete, and some of the country’s highest-selling authors, including J.K. Rowling (“Harry Potter”) and Jeff Kinney (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”), are published by companies outside the big five.

Penguin Random House criticized the government for focusing on the relatively small but influential group of authors who command the highest advances, calling it an “invented market.” Publishers do not “divide the market for book rights into distinct categories based on the author’s compensation,” it said in the response.

“This slender piece of the market does not exist,” Mr. Petrocelli said. “There is no objectively definable market for authors of anticipated top-selling books.”

Many writers outside that group, Penguin Random House said, would stand to make more money as a result of the deal. Authors now published by Simon & Schuster would be brought into the Penguin Random House supply chain, widely considered to be the best in the business, which would make their work more visible and available. The company’s supply chain and distribution network also helps neighborhood bookstores compete with Amazon, the response said.

There is little dispute that the proposed acquisition would reshape publishing, which has been transformed by increasing consolidation over the past decade.

The merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013 helped to accelerate an arms race among other publishers who felt they had to bulk up to compete with the enormous new company. Hachette Book Group has expanded its catalog by buying successful independent publishers, including Perseus Books in 2016 and Workman Publishing this year. HarperCollins has also made acquisitions central to its growth strategy, purchasing the romance publisher Harlequin in 2014, and earlier this year it acquired Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books and Media, the trade publishing division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for $349 million.

But in its court filing on Monday, Penguin Random House said that since 2013, competition in the industry has grown. More titles are published every year, it said, and more than half of the dollars spent on hardcover and paperback books in the United States now go to publishers outside the big five, a higher percentage than before the 2013 merger.

. . . .

Eleanor Fox, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in antitrust and competition policy, said the government’s argument was unusual in that it focused on top author earnings rather than harm to consumers or the market as a whole.

“It’s somewhat unique in this time to focus on the supply market and argue that the suppliers will be exploited,” she said. “They have a much weaker case about consumer pricing.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times (Sorry, but the Times thinks you should pay to visit their website and look at the ads you see there. You can sign up for a limited free subscription, however.)

Millions of followers? For book sales, ‘it’s unreliable.’

From The New York Times:

A book by Billie Eilish seemed like a great bet. One of the most famous pop stars in the world, Eilish has 97 million followers on Instagram and another 6 million on Twitter. If just a fraction of them bought her book, it would be a hit.

But her self-titled book has sold about 64,000 hardcover copies since it came out in May, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks most printed books sold in the United States — not necessarily a disappointing number, unless Eilish got a big advance. Which, of course, she did. The book cost her publisher well over $1 million.

It’s difficult to predict whether a book will be a hit. A jar of tomato sauce doesn’t change that much from year to year, making demand reasonably predictable. But every book is different, an individual work of art or culture, so when the publishing industry tries to forecast demand for new titles, it is, however thoughtfully, guessing. Because there are so few reliable metrics to look at, social-media followings have become some of the main data points publishers use to try to make their guesses more educated.

An author’s following has become a standard part of the equation when publishers are deciding whether to acquire a book. Followings can affect who gets a book deal and how big an advance that author is paid, especially when it comes to nonfiction. But despite their importance, they are increasingly seen as unpredictable gauges of how well a book is actually going to sell.

Even having one of the biggest social-media followings in the world is not a guarantee.

“The only reliable part about it,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble, “is that it’s unreliable.”

An author’s platform has long been something publishers look at — does she have a radio show, for example, or a regular guest spot on TV? But as local news outlets and book coverage have dwindled, the avenues for book publicity have shrunk, making an author’s ability to help get the word out more crucial. And when an author speaks to her followers about a book she wrote, she is talking to people who are at least a little bit interested in what she has to share.

“It’s become more and more important as the years went on,” said Marc Resnick, executive editor at St. Martin’s Press. “We learned some hard lessons along the way, which is that a tweet or a post is not necessarily going to sell any books, if it’s not the right person with the right book and the right followers at the right time.”

Take Justin Timberlake. His book “Hindsight” was acquired for more than$1 million, but when it came out in 2018, Timberlake had bruised vocal cords and was unable to promote it as planned. The 53 million Instagram followers he had at the time weren’t able to make up for it. “Hindsight” has sold about 100,000 printed copies since its publication three years ago, according to BookScan, not nearly the number his publisher was hoping for.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is no global pop star, but she has a significant social-media presence, with 3 million Twitter followers and another 1.3 million on Instagram. Yet her book, “This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman,” which was published in May 2020, has sold just 26,000 copies across print, audio and e-book formats, according to her publisher.

Tamika D. Mallory, a social activist with more than 1 million Instagram followers, was paid more than $1 million for a two-book deal. But her first book, “State of Emergency,” has sold just 26,000 print copies since it was published in May, according to BookScan.

Journalist and media personality Piers Morgan had a weaker showing. Despite his followers on Twitter (8 million) and Instagram (1.8 million), “Wake Up: Why the World Has Gone Nuts” has sold just 5,650 print copies since it was published a year ago, according to BookScan.

It’s difficult to know why this happens. Sometimes, publishing and marketing executives say, there is a mismatch between what people post about on social media and the subject of their books. Perhaps the books don’t provide anything beyond what they’ve already put on Instagram. It could be that the author hasn’t pushed the book to his followers effectively, or that those followers (the ones who aren’t bots, or paid for) aren’t terribly engaged with what he posts.

Or maybe the book isn’t that good. Social media is only one part of why a book does or doesn’t work, just as it is only a piece of why a book is acquired — publishers were interested in Billie Eilish’s book not just because of Instagram, but because she is Billie Eilish.

In an effort to mitigate these issues, some book contracts now specify the number of posts required before and after a book is published.

“In addition to hearing from the agent and reading the manuscript, we want to hear from the celebrity that they are invested in the book,” said Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books. “To say, in the nicest way possible, what would you say about this project and where would this fit in with all the other things you’re doing?”

Link to the rest at The New York Times (via The Baltimore Sun)

Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?

From Book Riot:

Conversations about diversity in publishing and literature have dominated publishing news for several years now, internationally and across all genres and age groups. Many articles have explored the sad fact that, even well into the 21st century, publishing is still overwhelmingly white-centric, with authors of color less likely to be picked up or paid equivalent amounts to their white counterparts, and BIPOC publishing professionals being underrepresented in the industry at all levels.

In the New York Times article ‘Just How White is the Book Industry?’, Richard Jean So and Gus Wezerek explore the revelations of the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, started by YA author L.L. McKinney, where authors of colour and white authors compared the amounts they had been paid for advances. It revealed that BIPOC authors were often paid drastically less for the same kinds of work. So and Wezerek dug deeper into the imbalance in the publishing industry, noting that only 11% of books published in 2018 were written by authors of colour, and speculating that this may be linked to the lack of diversity in publishing itself: ‘The heads of the “big five” publishing houses (soon, perhaps, to become the “big four”) are white. So are 85% of the people who acquire and edit books, according to a 2019 survey.

This trend is not exclusive to the U.S.; UK publishing has come under similar criticism, as discussed by Arifa Akbar in her Guardian article ‘Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?’. Akbar explores ‘how intransigently white, middle-class (and further up the ladder, male) [the publishing industry] remained, from literary festivals and prizes to publications and personnel’, before looking into recent attempts to rectify this lack of diversity that, to many POC authors and publishing professionals, seem distressingly reminiscent of earlier attempts that stopped short of bringing about any significant structural change.

. . . .

Looking at YA publications of recent years, it certainly seems that there is greater diversity, both amongst characters and authors – and these books are enjoying success that counters the argument that “diversity doesn’t sell.” Books like LL McKinney’s The Nightmare-Verse Trilogy, Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys, and Tanya Byrne’s Afterlove feature protagonists and characters with multiple marginalisations, being POC and LGBTQ+, without the stories being focused primarily around overcoming racism, homophobia or transphobia. These authors, and many others, share marginalisations with their characters, or experience marginalisation in other ways. While every marginalised person’s experience is different, and it is possible for authors to write about groups that they’re not part of with dedicated research and the hiring of sensitivity readers, the fact that many marginalised authors writing from their own experiences are being published is heartening, and does seem to support the idea of YA as an area where diversity is being achieved more effectively than in adult literature.

Diversity, of course, does not simply apply to characters’ identities. Meaningful diversity must include systemic change that challenges the publishing industry’s centering of white, cis het, and abled experiences and makes the world of publishing accessible to marginalised authors, editors and people working in all other publishing roles. As So and Wezerek, and Akbar’s articles indicated, the publishing industry is still majority white, middle-class, cis het and abled.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Will Publishing Sales Grow Again?

From Publishers Weekly:

When the Association of American Publishers released its final industrywide sales report for 2020 last month, it showed another basically flat year, with sales of $25.71 billion, down 0.2% compared to 2019. The small decline was in keeping with the overall pattern over the past five years. Between 2016 and 2020, overall publishing sales rose only in 2019, up 1.7% over 2018, and 2020 sales were down 3.9% compared to 2016.

The trade segment, the industry’s largest, has been the steadiest performer over the past five years, with sales up 3.1% in 2020 compared to 2016. The adult category was the main driver, with sales rising 4.9%, while sales in the children’s/YA category fell 0.8%. The decline in children’s/YA is slightly deceiving, since 2016 was an exceptionally strong year for children’s/YA fiction, where sales were $3.96 billion—a total that has not been reached since. The religious presses category had the largest increase over the period, overcoming an 8.4% decline in 2020 that was largely due to the lockdown of bookstores and religious institutions.

The higher education and professional books categories had the biggest sales declines between 2016 and 2020; the professional category had a particularly difficult 2020, with sales falling 14.5% compared to 2019. Sales in the higher ed category have declined steadily since 2016, and publishers have been trying to adjust to increased student purchases of digital materials, which tend to be less expensive than print. Pre-K–12 instructional sales had hit $4.38 billion in 2019 before falling 12.3% in 2020 due to the pandemic, which shrank textbook purchases and accelerated the shift to digital materials. The growing importance of digital content has led a number of former textbook publishers to refashion themselves as learning technology companies.

In addition to greater sales of digital materials, the pandemic led to a 19.2% increase in online sales in 2020 over 2019, to $9.5 billion overall. The AAP also noted that 2020 was the first time that the online channel, dominated by Amazon, accounted for more than 50% of trade sales.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be

From Publishing Perspectives:

Our headline, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, is the title of a musically unexceptional but lyrically relevant stage comedy from 1959—if you can understand the cockney dialect and British allusions.

It was written by the brilliant Lionel Bart of Oliver fame.

I thought you might be interested in the following publishing “fings” which “ain’t wot they used t’be.”

. . . .

In 1975, when interviewing me for a job at Oxford University Press, the recently-appointed personnel manager asked me if I was, by any chance, of the “Jewish persuasion.”

He reassured me that it would be perfectly okay if I was, as they already had “one of them” on the staff.

Diversity is now a core objective of most publishers and while there may be quite a way to go, the profiles are significantly less white, less male, and less privileged than they were back then—which must be a benefit to business, customers, and society as a whole.

. . . .

On the production front, the 1970s were a time of change from hot metal, letterpress, and sewn-binding printing to phototypesetting–and now, of course, digital–litho, and “perfect” binding.

There were many pitfalls along the way as we learned the new technologies and then, decades later, had to unlearn them. The one thing I remember above all else was that a correction on a proof cost £1 (£7.50 in today’s money, US$10.06).

Getting it right first time was an economic necessity. It’s now desirable but getting it wrong is more affordable.

. . . .

There have been literary agents since the beginning of time but a major and largely unnoticed change has been the almost universal shift from the standard commission of 10 percent of an author’s earnings to 15 percent and sometimes more.

I can’t think of any other part of the book value chain that has managed to increase its share by 50 percent, although a few very big retailers have tried and are getting close.

In addition, literary agencies have morphed from being an individual’s business or a small partnership into intellectual property corporations in their own right with all the consequential changes in administration and culture.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG doesn’t recall if he’s mentioned this before, but, a very long time ago, when he worked at a large advertising agency in a large city, he went down to the printer to examine the first copy of his client’s full-page print advertisement which would appear in a bunch of magazines shortly.

He examined it right next to a big, hot newspaper printer. After he approved it, his escort told the pressman to wait until they got a distance from the printer before starting it. He couldn’t hear that particular machine start up because the noise from a lot of other huge printers was overwhelming.

The Supply Chain Grinch

From Writers Digest:

I started drafting my YA rom-com I’m Dreaming of A Wyatt Christmas the day my world stopped. It was March 2020 and my three children were home on their first day of spring break. At the time, we didn’t know that they wouldn’t be back in the classroom until September 2021.

Wyatt Christmas was written in the scraps of time I stitched together between figuring out if I needed to wipe down groceries and quarantine mail, where to buy toilet paper, and how to entertain and prevent a school-less preschooler from interrupting his brothers’ virtual classes. I wrote from 10 p.m. to midnight, from 3 a.m. until whenever my then three-year-old woke up and came looking for me.

In order to keep myself awake enough to write at 3 a.m., I had to really love this story—really love this world—and I do. I filled this book with all the warmth and Christmas feeling I could cram into the chapters. Working on it was an escape—one I hope translates to the readers. And like so many books written during the early pandemic months, my cozy Christmas book was about to make its way to bookstores.

At least I thought it was. Like so many in the publishing industry, I’ve gotten a crash course in supply chains these past few weeks. Wyatt Christmas was supposed to hit bookstore shelves October 5. It didn’t.

This is not my first pandemic release. I’m typically a book-a-year author, but I’m Dreaming of a Wyatt Christmas will be my third release in the past 18 months. The last two books in my Bookish Boyfriends series came out in May 2020 and January 2021. While launching without in-person events hasn’t been fun, I thought I knew how to make it work. I bought a ring light, signed up to embarrass myself on TikTok, and made a virtual escape room for school visits. But publishing has always been a roller coaster—you never know if the next drop is going to leave you elated or nauseated—and I was about to encounter one more loop on the track.

Who knew back when we all giggled about the boat stuck in the Suez Canal that it was just the beginning of what we’d be learning about shipping and supply chains? Not me! Dangit, karma!

A few weeks ago, my publisher emailed me with the news: Wyatt Christmas wasn’t going to arrive in time for its original release date, and they gave me a new one: October 26. I took a deep breath and made some corrections to my planner. We all agreed that this was fine. This was good, even; my Christmas book would come out closer to Christmas.

I made graphics. I filmed Instagram stories. I decided to proceed with the virtual launch event I had scheduled on October 5 with author Jen Calonita at Doylestown Bookshop. It wouldn’t be a “launch” event for me, but Jen’s middle grade novel, Heroes, the final book in her Royal Academy Rebels series, was coming out that day, and I could use our talk to encourage preorders.

Ninety minutes before the event started, I got an email from the bookstore: their preorder link was down. While Doylestown Bookshop pivoted to accepting phone and email orders, and I sent frantic emails to my publicist, we realized it wasn’t just a one-store issue. The buy links didn’t work on any of the bookstores I checked. It didn’t work on IndieBound or Bookshop.org, or on Barnes & Noble’s website. The book was unbuyable, due to complications with the on-sale date change.

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Yet one other reason to stay away from traditional publishers.

That said, an innovative organization would have improvised a strategy to launch the book in a different way.

Book sales were way up during the Covid lockdown. These were, of course, virtually all online.

An innovative organization might have organized an online launch for the ebook and a POD hardcopy.

As it is, when the supply chain is worked through, there will be a zillion other book launches because traditional publishing can’t figure out how to launch a book without their highest-cost/lowest-profit sales outlet – the traditional bookstsore.

The If-Only Lawsuit

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

The United States Justice Department is suing to stop the big merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. That I can write about without a lot of research, because I’ve been following this merger for a long time.

. . . .

However, this suit is worth mentioning…

Because it’s fifteen to twenty years too late. The Authors Guild noted that in their response to the news of the DOJ suit:

Today’s decision by the DOJ was unexpected given that so many other major mergers and acquisitions in the publishing industry have gone through recently and over the last few decades with nary a raised eyebrow, leaving us with only a handful of companies dominating the industry.

Yeah. Exactly. Those of us who suffered through the previous mergers know what bullshit the PRH and S&S are feeding the press. No effect on competition? In the 1990s, my books routinely went to auction, and we always got a higher price for the books than the initial offer.

By the end of the decade and into the early part of this century, there was no one to have an auction with. The book had to be a potential (and obvious) blockbuster. One of my editors backed out of a possible deal when she heard that another editor at a different imprint in the same gigantic merged company wanted the book.

Oh, my editor said to me, she can pay you more, and their imprint will probably take over mine in a year or so.

Guess what? My editor was right. Eighteen months after the merger, the “overlapping” departments and imprints were cut as a cost-saving measure, putting my former editor out of a job, along with everyone else on her team. The cuts and trimming, for the sake of the stockholders, mostly hit the most experienced people in the purchased company (not the one that did the buying) because experienced folk are paid more.

. . . .

All the promises in the world mean nothing when large companies merge.

I read the complaint for the suit the day the suit was announced. The complaint is worth reading because, if nothing else, it’s a what-if. What if the DOJ had been on this as the mergers started twenty years ago? What would the traditional publishing landscape look like now?

I can tell you: It would look completely different. Instead of the traditional part of the industry being dominated by five large conglomerates, the traditional part of the industry would look the same or better than it did in the early 1990s. There would be a lot of publishing houses, a lot of working editors, a lot of imprints, and a lot of competition.

Indie wouldn’t be as attractive for many big name writers because those writers would still be working. Just this morning, I discovered that a writer whose work I loved decades ago has gone indie. Why? Because he hasn’t been able to get anyone to buy his books for…you guessed it…twenty years.

This happened to a worldwide bestseller who hit the top of the major lists for decades and whose work was made into three feature films. He couldn’t sell another book because his genre was “passé.” His genre? Horror. No one at the big houses would touch horror twenty years ago, and even the smaller ones looked askance at it.

If anyone had any brains, they would have seen that the genre would become as big as it is now. Right now, the people greenlighting movies and TV shows and buying books are the generation who grew up reading R.L. Stine. Of course, they want more horror. It was on the horizon.

The multitudinous publishing houses of the 1980s and 1990s could have afforded to play the waiting game—at least one or two of them, or maybe even three of them. Even better, the editors there who would have had long careers would have seen the writing on the wall and pushed out reissues of this writer’s books as the horror boom started.

The five large companies that exist now have no idea what they have in inventory. They have no institutional memory because they’re really not an institution. They’re parts, slammed together to make a great stock portfolio, so that they can be traded and bring in profits for the stockholders. Forget the books, forget the product, forget the employees, forget the readers. The books literally are widgets that are, in the minds of the people running the company, interchangeable.

If this weren’t true, then Simon & Schuster would not be up for sale. ViacomCBS would keep it and mine the inventory for projects for various TV, streaming, and movie projects, not to mention gaming rights and other things. A book publisher owned by a media company? Sounds like a surefire way to make even more money, right?

Nope.

There’s no vision here.

And the suit by DOJ is as stuck in the past as that little dream of mine was. Yes, this merger by PRH and S&S is truly anti-competitive, just like all the other mergers were.  And the impact, should the merger go through, on the traditional publishing industry will be profound…although not as profound as all of the mergers that preceded it.

What has changed is the rise of indie publishing. Writers do have somewhere else to go. They can publish their own works. They can reach the same readers that these large companies can, because these companies are no longer interested in publishing books. They’re just manufacturing widgets.

One very ironic thing that has emerged during the entire discussion of the merger is this: For about a decade now, companies like PRH and S&S denied that indie writers in any way contributed to the publishing industry. “Flotsam and jetsam” were some of the words floated around about indie publishing; “garbage” was another.

Now, though? Now that they need us? We’re part of their defense.

Oh, no, the attorneys for PRH and S&S have been saying all year, we’re not in control of the market. See this large thriving market over here? Those indie writers? They’re part of the industry too.

. . . .

The traditional publishing industry, as I have written many, many, many times, is broken. New writers can no longer anticipate having a career in the traditional publishing industry, let alone making a living at writing. And even a lot of the big guns are watching their income fade because of the policies and behaviors of these megacorporations.

Sure, there are always a handful of books that make millions. But once upon a time (twenty-five years ago), there were hundreds of books that made their authors millions. Enough books that Publisher’s Weekly devoted an entire month of issues every spring to cover the sales figures, never going below 250,000 for hardcovers and 500,000 for mass market paperbacks.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Justice Department Sues to Block Penguin Random House’s Acquisition of Simon & Schuster

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to block Penguin Random House from acquiring rival Simon & Schuster for nearly $2.18 billion, the latest in a series of aggressive antitrust cases brought under the Biden administration.

The department’s complaint, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., focused not on the prices consumers pay for books, but instead on the competition between publishers to secure rights from authors, especially bestselling ones. The industry paid authors over $1 billion in advances last year.

If the Simon & Schuster deal were permitted, Penguin Random House—already the world’s largest consumer-book publisher as measured by revenue—would hold unprecedented control and outsize influence over which books are published in the U.S. and how much authors are paid, the Justice Department alleged.

“By reducing author pay, this merger would make it harder for authors to earn a living by writing books, which would, in turn, lead to a reduction in the quantity and variety of books published,” the lawsuit alleged.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department’s suit aimed “to ensure fair competition in the U.S. publishing industry” and was part of a broader push to use antitrust enforcement to protect economic opportunity.

Bertelsmann SE, the parent of Penguin Random House, agreed to buy Simon & Schuster from ViacomCBS Inc. last November, a deal that sought to create a publishing behemoth in an industry that has been dominated by five major players, including Simon & Schuster.

The publishers vowed to fight the Justice Department in court and said their deal would improve their efficiency and make titles more widely available for consumers and retailers.

“The publishing industry is, and following this transaction will remain, a vibrant and highly competitive environment,” the publishers said in a joint statement. They said they compete “with many other publishers including large trade publishers, newer entrants like Amazon, and a range of midsize and smaller publishers all capable of competing for future titles from established and emerging authors.”

The deal has faced criticism from writers’ groups, and the lawsuit was quickly welcomed by some authors, including Stephen King, a longtime Simon & Schuster author, who said via email that he was “delighted” by the Justice Department’s merger challenge.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but, if not, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Singing the Supply Chain Blues

From Publishers Weekly:

I was flying from the Bay Area down to Orange County recently, thinking about my first book and its publication date just a few weeks away. Was there anything we’d failed to do? Was our social media effort gaining any traction? What should I say at my upcoming events at Rizzoli in New York City and Book Passage in San Francisco?

And then I looked out the window as we passed over the Los Angeles harbor. Ships, as far as I could see, were anchored for mile after mile. I wondered if my books, coming from Hong Kong, were on one of them, or backed up somewhere across the Pacific Ocean. I suddenly had a very bad feeling.

From the time I began working on my book—an attempt to surface my guiding principles that had shaped my work in architecture—my publishing guru, Gerald Sindell, had been preaching the meaning of “pub date.” It took me a long time to fully understand the significance of that date, but it had begun to sink in, and I had become a believer. Not only a believer—over time I organized my life around pub date. It had become my true north, my lodestar.

Pub date is not just the date a book happens to be available in stores. It can become, in a life that may only comprise one book, the single moment in which what one has to say has the potential to be news—to get attention, to enter into the public discourse. My book turned out to be a bit of a memoir, but much more so a polemic, a plea to architects and the communities that work with them to understand that architecture is not just about pretty buildings, but that architecture, done right, shapes lives.

So I had hoped that my pub date was going to be the moment when the attention of a reviewer here or there, an influencer on Instagram, and/or a respected authority in the academic world would coalesce into some kind of buzz, piquing the interest of the general reader and inspiring them to browse the book online or in person, and maybe take it home. As an added inducement, we had folded a large poster of the nine principles that the book was built around, and hoped it would soon be up on designers’ and students’ walls everywhere.

Soon after my flight landed, I called my editor-in-chief and pleaded once again to find out when the books would be in stock at Ingram’s warehouse in Tennessee, and when they would be on the shelves of the bookstores that had preordered them. After much pressing, the timeline became clearer.

The books were likely to go on board a vessel in Hong Kong soon.

Gulp!

And then they would take about four weeks to reach California.

Okay…

And then it could take a month to get through customs and into the publisher’s warehouse.

I added this up, and we were looking at late December. Then they would need to find an available trucker and get the books to Tennessee. Add a month or so for that. So, basically, pub date was gone. The supply chain stories I’d been reading about without any particular sense that they might affect me, suddenly did.

Having blown past the Christmas season and the hope that our fully illustrated big-enough-for-a-coffee-table book might become a popular gift, we’ve suspended our publicity for a few months. Working with the publisher, the painfully receding event horizon of that magical moment called pub date has whizzed past January and February (wrong time to introduce a design book, apparently)—so April 5 is now our new date.

I’m not feeling very good about the many thousands of dollars invested so far in our marketing efforts. I’m planning to send a note to the hundreds of early orders for the book that have come from the architecture community to slow down expectations. And then, somehow, in a few months, we’ll need to fire up our efforts once again and attempt to catch the public interest before the zeitgeist is kidnapped by other, unknowable events that might, or might not, sweep in next April.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Owner of Scholastic leaves the $1.2 Billion Harry Potter publisher to his Lover and cuts out his two sons and ex-wife

From The Daily Mail:

The owner of $1.2BILLION Scholastic Corp. – which publishes books like ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ and ‘Magic Schoolbus’ – died suddenly in early June and shockingly left the company to a past flame who works in the company.

M. Richard Robinson Jr., who died suddenly on June 5 during a walk in Martha’s Vineyard, left the the company to Iole Lucchese, the company’s strategy officer; not either of his sons, siblings or ex-wife, The Wall Street Journal reported

She also inherited all his personal possessions, according to the The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the 2018 will that outlined the succession plan, which family members are reportedly unhappy about.

Family members and former colleagues said Robinson, 84, and Luccesse, 54, it was an open secret that they were in a longtime romantic relationship, but said they believed the couple broke up years ago.

Robison said in his 2018 will that Lucchese, who has been with the company for more than three decades, is ‘my partner and closest friend.’

Scholastic Corp. publishes some of most-well known titles like ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Clifford,’ ‘Magic Schoolbus’, ‘Captain Underpants,’ among others.

Family members told the paper that they’re reviewing their legal options.

. . . .

He left behind two sons – Maurice ‘Reece’ Robinson, 25, and John Benham ‘Ben’ Robinson, 34 – his ex-wife and mother of his boys Helen Benham, and siblings: Sue Robinson Morrill, Barbara Robinson Buckland, Florence (Dover) Robinson Ford and William (Bill) Robinson.

Reece Robinson, who’s done documentary work, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that it was ‘unexpected and shocking.’

‘What I want most is an amicable outcome,’ Ben Robinson, who operates a sawmill and workshop that produces lumber, flooring and furniture from trees in Martha’s Vineyard and lives off the land work, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

He told the paper that he never met Lucchese until they spoke about his dad’s estate last week and said this was ‘like salt in an open wound.’

‘We expect to have a collaborative approach with the estate,’ he said without elaborating.

. . . .

Meanwhile, the woman who’s heading the company now has been there since 1991, when she became an associate editor in book clubs and moved up the ranks until se was named chief strategy officer in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Two years later she became sole president of Scholastic Canada and in 2018 she added the title of president of Scholastic Entertainment. 

She’s a Canadian with a home in Ontario and a permanent US resident, according to an affidavit filed in New York Surrogate’s Court. 

Former staffers told the Wall Street Journal that she and Robinson had ‘sweet’ and ‘contentious’ moments, where the battled in meetings about the direction of the company. 

Former staffers said she wanted to expand the company. 

Despite the public bouts, people who knew them say Robinson relied on her and she remained part of his inner circle, the Wall Street Journal reported.  

The company declined comment.   

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail

The New York Times recently released a story about the current succession battle going on for Scholastic, but it’s behind a robust paywall.

How Amazon Changed Fiction As We Know It

From MSN:

During my interview with literary historian Mark McGurl, I glanced out the window to see an Amazon truck rumbling down my block. It was a fitting metaphor for our conversation about Everything and Less, McGurl’s provocative new literary history about how Amazon has reorganized the universe of fiction. “Amazon has insinuated itself into every dimension of the collective experience of literature in the United States,” McGurl writes. “Increasingly, it is the new platform of contemporary literary life.”

With its staggering American market share of 50% of printed books and upwards of 75% of ebooks, Amazon has changed literary life as we know it. But the Everything Store hasn’t just changed how we buy books: according to McGurl, the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University, it’s transformed what we buy, what we read, and how we write. In Everything and Less, McGurl draws a line from Amazon’s distribution model to the contemporary dissolution of genre boundaries, arguing that Amazon’s algorithm has effectively turned all fiction into genre fiction. In lucid and well-argued prose, McGurl goes spelunking through the many genres shaped by Amazon’s consumerist logic, from the familiar realms of science fiction to the surprising outer reaches of billionaire romance and Adult Baby Diaper Erotica.

Perceptive and often deeply funny, Everything and Less raises compelling questions about the past, present, and future of fiction. McGurl spoke with me by Zoom to discuss the Age of Amazon and all it entails: the dissolution of genre boundaries, the changing role of the author, and the reasons why all hope isn’t lost.

Esquire: Where did this book begin for you?

Mark McGurl: One day, I realized that I had become an inveterate Amazon customer. Then, as a literary historian, I got to thinking through some basic facts about the company. Amazon started as a bookstore, which itself is fascinating. 25 years ago, Amazon did not exist; now, it’s a dominant force in book publishing. That seemed to call for some analysis of what the rise of this company means. Not in any simple sense, like, “Amazon now dictates how literature is supposed to be.” It’s never that simple, but Amazon does illuminate the world in which reading happens. Literature now coexists with lots of other things in the world that it didn’t in the past; Amazon is a bright lamp illuminating that fact.

ESQ: How would you describe the characteristics of the novel in the Age of Amazon? What’s the house style of an Amazonian novel?

MM: There’s tremendous variety in fiction, so the task is not to simplify that variety. It’s a circus out there. From Amazon’s perspective, all fiction is genre fiction. In the early 20th century, literature was systematically divided between so-called genre fiction—entertaining fiction, escapist fiction, science fiction, romance, Westerns, thrillers, etcetera—and literary fiction. What Amazon does is look at the literary field and say, “It’s all genre now.” Genre is the overriding rule of literature in our time.

ESQ: When you say that Amazon looks at all fiction as genre fiction, do you mean that Amazon algorithmically sees it that way?

MM: Yes. One of the amazing things about Amazon is how many genre categories the platform has. It’s literally thousands. There are bestseller lists of a more conventional kind, but when you look toward the bottom of any book listing on Amazon, you’ll see it ranked at a certain number in hugely varied categories, from divorced women’s fiction to Swedish fiction. Amazon has created endless ways of dividing the novel to produce a generic form. This is continuous, of course, with marketing. The broader market phenomena we’re talking about are product differentiation and market segmentation. All big markets understand that certain products will appeal to certain audiences. In literature, genre is the marketing of that world of distinctions.

ESQ: Early in the book, you write about a story called “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, which started at 58 pages before sprawling into a 1,500-page opus, following reader demand. You use it as an example of how publishing to an eager readership can shape the continued life of a work of fiction. Looking at this, I ‘m reminded of someone like Dickens publishing serialized fiction. When an author self-publishing on Amazon is paid by the amount of pages read, how is that so different from the tradition of authors getting paid by the word?

MM: It’s very much continuous with that. Arguably, the strange hiatus was in the early 20th century through the mid-20th century, with the coming of literary modernism and a widespread assumption that literature should be something apart from the market. But in the longer run of the history of publishing, writing for the market has been the norm since the 18th century. The story of Amazon is in some ways deeply continuous with that, even though the mechanisms are fairly different. We’re not talking about serial publication where you’re waiting a month for the next installment, but you are thrown back into this sense of serial production. In some ways, it really is the roaring back of the Dickensian moment in literary history. If you want to make it as a self-published writer, writing one book will not do it. Even a great book won’t do it. The whole game is to gain some audience with a really good book, then continue to serve that audience. That’s what happened with Hugh Howey. He wrote a great short story, which really took off. Then, to serve that audience, he had to keep writing more installments. Before long, he had this massive epic, which has now been optioned for the screen. Certainly the Dickens spirit is back, and Amazon is its sponsor.

ESQ: That seems like the full life cycle of writing, these days. From self-published to runaway success to optioned for the screen.

MM: Cable is something we really have to think about. Only a very small number of novels can be made into cable series, but nonetheless, it really has become a thing. HBO hovers out there as a possible final destination for your work, which will explode its popularity. We live in a world where visual culture is the dominant culture, whether it’s cable television or the internet. Literature just has to relate to that however it can. Granted, I think writers are largely happy about this. As a novelist, you could very much aspire to see or participate in a well-made rendition of your story.

ESQ: Speaking of being an author today, you use this new term: “author-entrepreneur.” You write, “In the Age of Amazon, the job of writing fiction converges with the job of marketing it.” Can you explain the ways the role of the writer has expanded, and the ways in which it has absorbed the labor traditionally done by other people?

MM: In previous decades, the writer was supposed to write his or her book, then the publishing house would take care of the rest. You could remain innocent of how the sausage was made, except when you were asked to do readings. Self-published writers don’t have that luxury at all. Folks who make a living as self-published writers know so much more about marketing books than prestige writers. Apart from creating the book, there’s so much ancillary work they have to do. They have to know pricing strategies, email list cultivation, and cover design. It’s all very exhausting, which is why the most cutting edge of the phenomenon is for self-publishing to operate like a farm system. A writer develops an audience, an editor at a major publishing house will notice, and then they’ll convince the writer to go legit. What that writer gets is relief from all the ancillary work. That’s the argument that’s made to these folks: “You’re spending all these hours cultivating your email list. Do you really want to be doing that, as opposed to creating fiction?” The level of knowledge that a self-published writer has to have is orders of magnitude different from a more traditional writer.

. . . .

ESQ: For self-published writers, Amazon has removed traditional barriers to publication. If you’re self-published, you don’t need an agent or a publisher. What does that mean for the literary world? Is this freeing us from gatekeeping, or is the filtering provided by agents and publishers important?

MM: At some point in the middle of writing this book, I realized I wasn’t going to solve that conundrum. I’m populist enough and democratic enough that I can’t help but appreciate the idea of anyone being able to give this a try. On the other hand, there’s just no denying that the quality control issue is a real one. There’s so much c*** out there. Does the bad stuff impede your access to the good stuff? Do you trust recommendation algorithms and reviews to lead you to things that are actually good? I eventually stopped trying to resolve this dilemma. Quality matters, and the fact that lots of bad books are being published isn’t something I want to celebrate, even as I’m happy for people who can try their hand at writing. The way we think about self-publishing now is like a zombie apocalypse, with so many books coming at us in a zombie hoard—including many zombie novels! It’s hard for me to want to eliminate all the zombies. I think there’s just too much creative energy there, even as there’s certainly a limit to how much time we can or should give to works that aren’t great.

Link to the rest at MSN

“I think there’s just too much creative energy there” which the subject of the OP believes is a bad thing.

So the world would be a better place if we could just stifle a lot of creative energy?

Which, of course, leads us to the question, which voices should we stifle?

In a prior life, PG spent a lot of time in New York City and enjoyed his experiences there. He also spent a lot of time in Chicago and enjoyed his experiences there. A lot of different cities are wonderful places. PG loved his visits to London and Paris and would add Florence and Oxford as most enjoyable smaller cities outside the United States.

That said, PG suggests traditional publishing in the U.S. would be a much healthier business if it weren’t concentrated in one city. And if it weren’t populated by a quite narrow and extraordinarily homogeneous group of people.

Look at how much energy and creativity a Seattle company brought to the book business.

Jeff Bezos was a banker in New York City, but he headed to Seattle and started by hiring people from that area when he began building the biggest bookseller in the world, then the biggest seller of everything else.

Could Amazon have happened in New York? Count PG as skeptical.

Could Microsoft have happened in New York? Apple? Google?

Again PG loves New York (particularly when someone else is paying for his expenses) and it is clearly a world-class city. However, some parts of New York, included, but not limited to publishing manifest all the drawbacks of provincial business cultures despite the fact they are located in a large city.

IP is the New PrimeTime

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 JP Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia . . . . said, “IP is the new primetime.”

Television execs are acting on this. They’re becoming platform agnostic (which raises its own problems) and they have learned, because of the pandemic, that people want to watch good television. They don’t care if that program was produced in 1980. They will binge whatever appeals to them.

Which is why the upfronts were so odd this year. A few networks didn’t even push their fall line-ups, which used to be essential for ad revenue. Now, these networks are pushing their platforms or even, at times, their older programming, trying to pair up the right ad with the right program in the right way so that consumers will see it all.

What I wrote in my blog was that, for publishers, IP should be the new frontlist. Rather than promoting the new books and titles at the expense of everything else, traditional publishers should be mining their backlist for items that will capture the moment.

For example, let’s take the pandemic. (Please, as the old comedians used to say.) If publishers had been smart, they could have combed their backlist for stories of survival in the middle of a plague.  Or maybe a few books that would make us all feel better about the extent of the pandemic we’re currently in. With just a little time on the Google (as a friend calls it), I found a dozen lists of good plague literature. None of the lists were published in 2020, by the way.

. . . .

The point isn’t whether or not the books are still in print—although that’s part of this argument. The point is also that the publishers themselves should be putting books like these out as part of their front list, books they’re throwing money behind so that readers know about them and buy them.

Because of my crazy summer, I decided to wait to write this small series of posts until the fall.  By then, every time I looked at the title of this blog, which I had listed as “IP is the New Frontlist,” I had forgotten where I saw the original quote. I had, instead, thought that some savvy book publisher person had said that at a book conference.

I decided to wait to see if publishers took any action on this before I wrote about it.

Shows how dumb I can be.

In those months, as the TV/film industry continued to alternately reel and innovate because of the pandemic and the impact on that entire industry, the book industry decided to pretend that nothing had happened in 2020—except an election here in the States and an insurrection in January of 2021.

They commissioned new books to deal with all of those things because—to be fair—no one had time-traveled to the future to write books on those things in 2019.

But publishers didn’t look through their inventory to find books relevant to those things. I have some books in my personal library, books on impeachment, on the U.S. Constitution and on the 1850s, which provides a rather terrifying roadmap for where we are now.

Publishers also didn’t look for books on health and wellness to keep people sane in lockdown or tons of classic literature on plagues and pandemics or incredible escapist fare for those of us who wanted to think of anything except death and dying.

To show you how little traditional publishing plans, the Bridgerton tie-in edition for Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, which was the basis for the first season, didn’t receive any promotion or advertising. The book released on December 1, but when I searched for it around December 15, I couldn’t find it. Avon put no money behind it.

They thought the series was going to tank.

That’s so different from the way most TV or film tie-ins are treated. Some of that was pure bigotry—traditional publishers make a lot of money on romance novels, but never think of them as anything other than garbage.

But some of it was sheer ineptness. It didn’t matter that the show was being produced (and shepherded) by Shonda Rhimes, who seems to have a golden touch with what she does. Nor did it matter that the show was on Netflix, which promotes the hell out of everything.

Avon saw a 20-year-old book and thought that putting together a tiny tie-in edition was more than adequate. It was so in-adequate that I couldn’t find the book two weeks later.

Friends overseas couldn’t get copies at all, and were begging for copies from the States. Then, when the book took off, it took a while for Avon to realize they needed Bridgerton editions of the whole series.

The book sales were skyrocketing and the books were increasingly hard to find. That’s terrible planning on the part of Quinn’s publisher. I’m sure Avon knew the TV show was coming; they just didn’t think a backlist series was worth their time.

Whoops.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Interrupting Bias in the Book Biz

From Publishers Weekly:

There’s been a lot of ferment about racial equity in publishing, but will it yield concrete results? Much of the focus has been on announcing new imprints aimed at people of color, but that’s no substitute for changing the forces within publishing that create problems in the first place.

Publishing houses have been hiring and promoting more people of color, but in order to do so they often have to promote from outside the industry. That suggests that subtle and not-so-subtle forms of bias are stalling the careers of people of color, or driving them out of the industry altogether. Research documents that bias is constantly being transmitted through formal processes such as hiring and evaluations and informal processes that govern access to opportunities; publishing is no exception. Here’s how the five basic patterns of bias occur in publishing, as well as some suggestions for bias interrupters—metrics-driven, evidence-based tools that are designed to surgically eliminate them:

Prove-it-again bias: Pedigreed white men are assumed to be competent, whereas other groups have to prove themselves repeatedly. “It took seven years of interviews for an editorial assistant position,” says Amistad editorial director Tracy Sherrod, who is African American. To overcome this, publishers should ensure that all candidates—whether for hire or promotion—are assessed by the same objective criteria agreed to in advance, rather than by “gut.”

Tightrope bias: White men need only be authoritative and ambitious to succeed; others need more political savvy to find ways of displaying authority and ambition that are seen as appropriate. “White colleagues are able to speak their mind, but when it’s my turn, I can’t be direct or forthcoming without coming off as aggressive,” says Ebony LaDelle, associate director of marketing at HarperCollins. “I know that I and a lot of people like me have spent hours trying to figure out a way to write an email that appeals to a white colleague or make myself more pleasant in some way, because they can’t handle honest criticism. I’m just tired of tiptoeing around my feelings to protect theirs.” To guard against this, publishers must keep track of who gets personality critiques in performance evaluations and look for demographic patterns.

Tug-of-war bias: This occurs when bias against a group fuels conflict within the group, especially when there’s just one “diversity slot.” Even the experience of gender bias can divide women: “ ‘Race is your thing, feminism is my thing,’ I’ve been told by several of white women—including some I had trusted as allies. Evidently, if you advocate for racial diversity in a field dominated by white women, you will never be anything but the angry brown minority in the room.” Publishers need to recognize that the experience of gender bias differs by race—and make sure there’s not just one diversity slot.

Racial stereotyping and disrespect: This appears to be more prominent in publishing than in other fields. Stereotyping translates into career disadvantage: “As the only Black staff member at the press, I started to notice that I was asked to attend meetings every time there was an issue with a Black author or Black bookseller,” a source told the Scholarly Kitchen in 2018. “At the same time, I was often excluded from higher-level meetings that were more appropriate to my role.” This experience makes clear the need to avoid stereotypes, and match opportunities to talent and experience, not demography.

The maternal wall: The final pattern may be less of a factor in the publishing world: maternity leave is a given in the industry, and Covid-19 has shown the potential of remote work. Going forward, make sure that opportunities are equally available to remote, hybrid, and on-site employees.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that self-publishing can help anyone avoid the cesspool of traditional publishing.

The curious case of the midsized publishers

From Nathan Bransford:

Now that Workman has been acquired by Hachette and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been acquired by HarperCollins, where have all the midsized book publishers gone? Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly surveys this dying breed and cites the difficulty of building a backlist, the capital needed to grow into midsized publisher, and ongoing acquisitions by bigger players, but there are still publishers like Kensington who are holding on by focusing squarely on their niche.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG suspects that midsized book publishers are having the same financial problems as the rest of traditional publishing is experiencing. The small folk just don’t have the financial resources that the big publishers do.

When a little publisher is swallowed by a big publisher, those people working at the little publisher who aren’t fired outright get new bosses and any promises the survivors made to the little publisher’s authors disappear into the wind.

If a commitment is not inserted into a written contract, for virtually all legal purposes, it doesn’t exist. Certainly, it doesn’t exist for the big company because it took over the rights and obligations in the written contract.

That said, PG suggests that the big publishers are facing exactly the same market forces that battered the little publishers into selling out.

The Titanic will take longer to sink than a fishing boat.

Public Domain

PG apologizes for the sloppy Photoshop job, but he was in a hurry.

AAP StatShot Annual Report 2020: US Book Revenues Flat at $25.71 Billion

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) today released the StatShot Annual report for calendar year 2020, estimating that the United States’ book publishing industry generated US$25.71 billion, a slight decrease of 0.2 percent from 2019 revenue of $25.77 billion.

The AAP makes the point that this is consistent with past StatShot reports, the American book publishing industry’s revenue having ranged between $25 billion and $26 billion since 2016.

In a prepared statement, Maria A. Pallante, AAP’s president and CEO, is quoted, saying, “The 2020 results are remarkable and inspirational for a year that people will long associate with an unprecedented public health crisis, worldwide suffering, and colossal business disruptions.

“That publishing is resilient is nothing new, but we should nevertheless take a moment to recognize the incredible dedication and innovation of the industry in serving readers and the public interest during such an isolating and confusing time.”

Here’s a quick breakdown by sector:

  • Trade: In 2020, total revenue, including directly reported and estimated data, in the industry’s largest category, trade (consumer books), increased by an estimated 6.0 percent to $16.67 billion, and by 8.6 percent in directly reported revenue
  • Higher education: Revenue from higher education declined 5.7 percent to $3.10 billion
  • PreK–12:  Revenue declined 12.3 percent to $3.84 billion
  • Professional books: Revenue declined 14.5 percent to $1.68 billion
  • University presses: The smallest category reported that it grew slightly, by 2.9 percent to $391.7 million in 2020

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that if your revenues have been between $25 and $26 million for 4-5 years, your business is flat, not growing. Yes, it didn’t grow during the Pandemic, but it also didn’t grow before the Pandemic.

Here’s more detail from the AAP report:

While eBook revenue had declined since 2014, during calendar year 2020 the category was up 11.7%, coming in at an estimated $2.12 billion. Downloaded Audio continued to grow, and was up 13.2% as compared to 2019, with an estimated revenue of $1.42 billion for the year.

The Online Retail channel, which includes sales of digital products as well as physical products sold via online platforms, increased 19.2%, reaching $9.53 billion in revenue, and representing 37.1% of all estimated industry revenue.

Bookstores experienced lower foot traffic, and as a result Physical Retail, which comprises all sales to bookstores and other traditional retailers, including their online sales, saw a year-over-year decline of 11.3%, coming in at $5.13 billion. In addition, the U.S. Export market declined 2.8% to $1.27 billion during 2020. The Direct-to-Consumer channel also suffered a significant decline.

In terms of Trade (consumer books) publishers, this year marks the first time that Online Retail represented 50% of revenues, up from 43.3% in 2019. Across all of Trade, Direct fell 45.6%. There was increased revenue for Children’s & Young Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction, however units declined 9.5% for Fiction titles and increased 0.9% for Non-Fiction titles.

In Higher Education, an increase in distance learning helped to further accelerate widespread adoption of cost-effective eTextbooks in both sales and rentals––including models such as inclusive access––resulting in an estimated 5.7% decline to $3.10 billion as compared to 2019. PreK–12 education publishers saw a 12.3% decline to $3.84 billion as compared to 2019.

Link to the rest at Association of American Publishers

The inflation rate from 2016-2020 was not severe, but if the book business was flat on an inflation-adjusted basis during that period, sales would have increased 14%.

In other words, $1 in 2016 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1.14 today, an increase of $0.14 over 5 years.

(2021 inflation is significantly higher than any year in the 2016-2020 era, up 5.7% so far during the year. but, since 2021 isn’t finished yet, we won’t know how high the year’s total inflation number will be. Unless the traditional publishing world substantially increases its growth rate, 2021 revenue growth on an inflation-adjusted basis will be quite bleak.)

Per Statshot’s 215 report, overall publisher revenue for 2015 was $15.4 billion, down 2.6% from the previous year.

If the traditional book industry’s revenues had been keeping up with inflation during the 2016-2020 era, the 2015 revenue of $15.4 billion would have grown to $17.6 billion in 2020.

Again, compared to the remainder of the economy not just during 2020’s Covid economic mess, but during the years before Covid, traditional publishing has been in a continuous decline for a long time. When PG checked 2010 publishing income, per Publishers Weekly, 2010 trade publishing sold $27.9 billion worth of books during that year.

PG acknowledges that Publishers Weekly data for 2010 from Bookstats, may reflect a different manner of data collection and aggregation than that used by AAP for its StatShot numbers, but PG is fairly confident that the 2020 publishing business generated much less than the 2010 publishing business did.

That said, PG is happy to have visitors to TPV who are inclined to dig more deeply into the data propose corrections/modifications, etc., to PG’s quick and dirty take on the statistics.

(2021 inflation is significantly higher than any year in the 2016-2020 era, up 5.7% so far during the year. but, since 2021 isn’t finished yet, we won’t know how high the year’s total inflation number will be. Unless the traditional publishing world substantially increases its growth rate, 2021 industry revenue growth on an inflation-adjusted basis will be quite bleak.)

The great book shortage of 2021

From Vox:

If there’s a particular book you’ve got your eye on for the holidays, it’s best to order it now. The problems with the supply chain are coming for books, too.

“Think of the inputs that go into a book,” says Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute. “There’s paper, there’s ink, and there’s getting the book from point A to point B. All of those things are affected.”

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been exacerbating existing problems in the global supply chain for nearly two years now. Add to that pressure a global labor shortage, a paper shortage, the consolidation of the American printing industry, and an increased demand for books from bored stay-at-homers across the US, and you’re faced with what Baehr says is a “perfect storm” of factors to create what some observers are calling a book shortage.

However, that doesn’t mean holiday book shoppers will be faced with empty shelves at their local bookstore come December, cautions Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt. “There is no book shortage as such at the moment because the nature of the publishing cycle is that these books are planned many months ahead,” Daunt says.

Most of this fall’s major releases have already been printed or have their printing runs scheduled, and any delays to those scheduled print runs are expected to be minimal. Still, some titles have seen their publication dates bumped by weeks or even months. Of those, some now won’t reach shelves until next year.

The place where readers are most likely to find themselves in a crunch, though, is with surprise bestsellers. Every year, there are books that do much better than either publishers or booksellers expected them to and sell out their initial print runs. Normally when that happens, booksellers immediately order more books, and publishers are able to print those books and ship them out rapidly. In 2021, that’s going to be a lot more difficult. If a publisher unexpectedly sells out of a book early, it may not be able to send new copies to bookstores until well into 2022.

. . . .

More people are reading books

According to industry tracker NPD Bookscan, printed book sales have increased 13.2 percent from 2020 to 2021, and 21 percent from 2019 to 2021.

“Usually a good year means going up maybe 3 or 4 percent,” says NPD books analyst Kristen McLean. “The growth that we saw last year and this year is pretty unprecedented.”

McLean says it’s clear that the pandemic is what’s driving the growth in book sales, in part because of what kind of books are selling well and which aren’t. As global lockdowns began in March of 2020, sales of traditionally high-performing categories like self-help books and business books plummeted, while sales of educational books for home-bound kids and first aid books for emergency preppers took off.

Since then, McClean says, book sales have tracked closely to the trends of the quarantine era: a lot of bread books early on, a lot of books on social justice and race in the summer of 2020 during the George Floyd protests, and books on politics during the presidential election season. Then, after the election, sales of adult fiction began to really take off — a trend McLean pointed to as telling.

“That’s one of the things I look at really closely,” McLean says. “When someone buys a nonfiction book, that could be because it’s a reference book, or because they want to understand something that they’ve heard. But when someone buys an adult fiction book, generally that’s for pleasure reading. So that is a good leading indicator that people are really engaging with books.”

Reading is one of the hobbies that people have started to pick up over the course of the pandemic. And overwhelmingly, they’re reading printed books, not ebooks.

“Ebook sales did go up last summer,” McLean allows, noting that many of the social justice titles of the summer, such as Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, rapidly sold out in print, driving readers to ebooks for their immediacy. Generally, however, ebooks are holding steady at just 20 percent of the US market.

“There’s just more people who want to read and prefer reading print,” McLean says.

. . . .

The paper shortage begins with the wood pulp shortage. According to a report from the printing company Sheridan, the price of wood pulp rose from $700–$750 per metric ton in 2020 to almost $1,200 per metric ton in 2021. Sheridan cites an environmental initiative in China that shut down 279 pulp and paper mills as one of the major drivers behind the spike in pricing, as well as a global backlash against plastic and the rush to replace plastic products with paper alternatives.

Meanwhile, with shoppers increasingly ordering products online, the price of cardboard in which to ship goods has gone up with demand. So paper factories have begun to invest more in producing cardboard, shifting their resources away from making book-grade paper in the process.

“You have a combination of both fewer mills producing book paper and greater demand for wood pulp elsewhere, so that there is both a price and availability issue,” explains Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group.

A shortage of raw materials is also wreaking havoc in the inks market. According to a report by the Business Research Company, the same Chinese environmental initiative that led to a shortage of wood pulp has also led to decreased availability of resins, monomers, photo initiators, oligomers, and additives. Moreover, ink manufacturers are rapidly consolidating. All of these issues combined means ink prices are steadily rising.

. . . .

Most book printing happens in the US. Books with heavy color printing, like picture books, are sent to China, but in order to keep the cost of shipping low, most publishers do the rest of their printing domestically. That’s getting more and more difficult to manage.

Until 2018, there were three major printing presses in the US. Then one of them, the 125-year-old company Edwards Brothers Malloy, closed. The remaining big two, Quad and LSC, attempted to merge in 2020, but then the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit. Quad responded by getting out of the book business entirely; LSC filed for bankruptcy and sold off a number of its presses. Smaller printers have continued to operate, but the infrastructure to keep up with the demand for printed books in North America is in shambles.

So if demand is up, why are so many printers shutting down?

Part of the issue is that printers find themselves squeezed by Amazon in both directions. As a major book buyer, Amazon has a lot of leverage to negotiate on price, allowing it to purchase its books from publishers at very low cost. Publishers pass the resulting losses along to their printing presses. Following the rules of capitalism, printing presses would like to pass the loss along to their workers in turn — but in the rural distribution regions where most of these presses operate, the other major employer is Amazon warehouses. And Amazon has set the floor for wages at $15 per hour.

“I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing,” O’Leary says. “But you’re competing for labor.”

The labor shortage also means that even when printers raise their wages, they don’t have anyone to hire. The industry is chronically understaffed. “Printers, binders, the true book manufacturers, they could all hire an additional 10 to 20 percent of their current workforce without even batting an eye,” says Baehr.

Meanwhile, very few new players are entering the game. Part of the reason is that it costs a lot of money upfront to enter the industry. “It’s a capital-intensive business, printing,” says O’Leary. “You have to spend from several million to more than $10 million on a printing press, and you generally amortize that over a long period of time.”

So right now, publishers and printing companies have to pay more for the paper that makes up any given book, more for the ink that prints the words in the book, more for the time at a printing company to get the book printed, and more for the labor to staff the press to get the book produced.

Then come the problems with shipping.

. . . .

“Los Angeles — which is a major port of entry for the United States — New York, and New Jersey are all pretty full up,” says O’Leary. “We’re hearing reports of delays of weeks for getting things cleared.”

“Containers are not moving out of ports and onto trains quickly enough,” explains Chris Tang, a UCLA business professor specializing in global supply chain management. “And on top of that, all of the warehouses in the Midwest are full. So everything is stuck.”

. . . .

Even more pressing, however, is a shortage of truck drivers. There just aren’t enough trucks on the road to pick up as much stuff as we’re currently shipping around the world. “We’re talking tens of thousands fewer truck drivers than we need,” says O’Leary.

And as stuff sits in warehouses, waiting to be picked up by increasingly scarce truck drivers, the price of storage goes up, adding to overall shipping costs. “It used to be around $3,000 per container,” Tang says. “Now the price is closer to $20,000.”

. . . .

One of the big underlying problems when it comes to printing and shipping books is the same labor shortage that’s currently roiling the rest of the country. There aren’t enough press operators to get books printed, and then there aren’t enough truck drivers to get them to bookstores. Wages have gone up, but there still aren’t enough people working.

. . . .

In the long term, it’s likely that as current agreements between printers and publishers expire, the printers will begin to charge publishers more for their services to better manage the rising costs of paper, ink, and labor. At that point, book prices will likely go up. No one is entirely certain what that increase will do to the book retail market, but it’s unlikely that demand will keep scaling up indefinitely.

Link to the rest at Vox

Dave and Goliath: maverick writer Eggers makes a stand against Amazon

From The Guardian:

The plight of the high street bookshop, struggling against the power of the online giants, is a common complaint either side of the Atlantic. But not often do the prominent players, the authors and publishers, put their words into action and take a stand against the tide.

This month, Dave Eggers, the award-winning campaigning author, is to risk American sales of his new novel, The Every, by limiting access to the hardback copies. Only small bookstores will stock it.

It is a typical move for Eggers, who has long pushed back against the conventions of the industry, setting up his own non-profit publishing house, McSweeney’s, in 1998, two years before his breakout bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But it is also something that fits neatly with the subject of his new book. A sequel to his 2013 hit, The Circle, it is a dystopian satire, featuring a company that looks much like Amazon.

For the US release of the book, on Tuesday, Eggers will allow hardcover editions to go on sale only in small bookstores. Weeks later, Vintage, a division of Random House, will publish an e-book and a paperback version. Even then, customers won’t be able to buy the hardcover on Amazon.

Eggers’s maverick move has been met with great gratitude by America’s independent bookstore owners, who are struggling with the huge post-Covid shift to online services.

“It’s made us feel like the author and the publishing industry really care about the smaller stores,” said Laura Scott Schaefer, owner of Scattered Books in Chappaqua, New York. “It’s been hard to compete with the bigger retailers. Any small advantage we can get in any kind of space is great.”

Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Miami and creator of the Miami book fair international, goes further. He believes Eggers is recognising “the important role independent booksellers play in the ecology of our literary culture”. Kaplan sees Eggers’s innovation as support for stores more than an attack on Amazon, which, after all, has had a negative impact on a wide range of other small businesses. The larger question for Kaplan is what would be lost if independent bookshops disappeared.

“You’d be losing a diversity of voices when you lose a diversity of sellers. The people who sell literature in a community help people to discover voices that might not otherwise be introduced,” he said.

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

PG just checked on Amazon (US) and the book is available for pre-order in Kindle, paperback and audiobook formats. It’s scheduled to release on November 16. As usual, no preview was available from Randy Penguin.

PG will let those with more information about sales of speculative fiction in hardback decide whether this heavily-promoted virtue-signalling will save any bookstores or not.

The Gilded Edge: Bohemian Tragedy

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Bohemian literary colony at Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., gained notoriety in the early 20th century not only for its drunken bonfire parties, embrace of free love, and hosting of left-leaning poets and writers such as Robinson Jeffers, Sinclair Lewis and Jack London. It also became infamous in those decades for a tragic love triangle that resulted in three suicides.

In “The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America,” Catherine Prendergast, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, exposes the myth behind the colony’s creation and the desperate powerlessness and exploitation of two women involved in that circle.

The book centers around the poet George Sterling, his wife, Carrie, and the poet Nora May French. Sterling and French had a passionate love affair, and over the course of the unfurling tragedy, all three ended up taking their own lives.

Ms. Prendergast, in her first work of narrative nonfiction, organizes her book as a dual narrative: the story of the characters in the love triangle, interwoven with her own detective work in the archives. She ties these two strands together beginning in San Francisco, less than a year after the earthquake and firestorms of 1906 that razed much of the city. French takes abortion pills to end a pregnancy, but also writes about the experience amid her painful contractions. “It takes some kind of woman to write a letter about an abortion to her boyfriend while she’s administering it,” notes Ms. Prendergast, who soon adds that it is one of the very few early-20th-century first-person accounts of abortion in existence. French survives that terrible experience, but nine months later, despondent and with “no taste for the poor compensations of living,” she dies in Carrie’s arms, at the Sterlings’ cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

In explaining why this happened, and the subsequent cyanide suicides of George and Carrie, Ms. Prendergast examines the seamy truth of the Carmel colony—that Sterling was, in fact, hired by the Carmel Development Co. to entice his circle of San Francisco friends to what was then “a square mile of nearly barren dirt next to a bay.”

Carrie, whose mother had run a boardinghouse, often found herself single-handedly feeding the colony’s residents in her cottage, struggling to find adequate provisions when money was tight. Meanwhile, George was openly carrying on affairs with women who visited or decamped to Carmel, most notably French but many others as well. Both Carrie and Nora were what were then called New Women, those on “the trailing edge of the Gilded Age who sought to enjoy the spoils of economic expansion.”

Sterling, a protégé of the writer Ambrose Bierce, was San Francisco’s unofficial poet laureate and a prominent member of the city’s Bohemian Club. A mostly forgotten poet today, he wrote plays for the club’s midsummer gatherings and was held in high regard by many of its members.

But in the years after French’s death, Sterling struggled with alcohol and faced an uncertain future, with constant financial stress. In 1926, a few days after the 19th anniversary of French’s suicide, Sterling arranged a banquet at the Bohemian Club for the critic H.L. Mencken, but never made it to the festivities. He burned most of his papers and killed himself.

Ms. Prendergast makes a convincing argument that French, who died at the age of 26, was a more gifted poet than Sterling. She was, as the author tells us, “the sensation in her time.” Yet she was repeatedly exploited. “Nora May French, whose reputation was used to bolster the colony’s image, was passed along a line of Bohemian men who treated her as a perpetual ingenue, co-opting her talent in an attempt to claim her as their personal discovery; they plied her with unwanted editorial advice while maneuvering her toward the bedroom.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (The link is supposed to be free, but PG apologizes if you hit a paywall. He hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG will not include an Amazon ad showing the cover because, while the marketing department for the idiot publisher (Randy Penguin) likely worked hard to get a Wall Street Journal weekend review, they’re holding to book for its official release date (October 12) to make a big splash in physical bookstores.

PG predicts that more than a few WSJ readers (who, on average, have lots of discretionary income with which to purchase interesting books, antique cars and a lot of other things) will have forgotten about the book and the review in nine days. PG just checked to confirm that The Wall Street Journal is the largest paid circulation newspaper in the US.

With an apparent list price of $28 for the ebook (discounted to $14.99 by Zon), the same price as the hardcover, Randy Penguin is apparently trying to induce people to purchase the printed book, which generates a much lower per-copy profit for the publisher than the ebook does because Bad Amazon or something like that.

Apparently, there is not a review for the book in The New York Times (Sunday issue less than half the circulation of WSJ). If there is one closer to the release date, we’ll know that the geniuses of Randy Penguin mistook the little bang for the big bang in two different ways.

Supply Chain Woes…Traditional, Indie, And More

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, a regular reader of my blog forwarded a tweet to me from a bookseller and writer about supply chain issues for books. He then suggested I blog about those issues.

I had planned to, but I had a vague hope that they would improve. The bookseller’s tweet disabused me of that notion.

The tweet is below. Read the thread, and note that she does have a book coming out. In fact, I had initially thought she was a writer, not a bookseller and this had happened to her. (That’s what I get for reading things early in the morning.)

Well, it had happened to her, but her as a bookseller, not her as in her current release.  Here’s the link to the tweet.

For those of you who won’t bother to read the thread, she goes on to say that this is extreme red alert territory, because the book comes from Random House. Others chimed in with knowledge about other books going through similar issues or the way that they’re dealing with this.

I know some of you live under rocks and/or have decided not to pay attention to anything right now (and boy, do I relate), but surely even you all have noted the supply chain issues.

Your favorite grocery store doesn’t stock the same things it used to. My cats’ usual cat food has been discontinued (after years) because it includes some kind of tuna that’s no longer available. (Every supplier I know suggests I get them chicken, but Cheeps loathes chicken. I know. He’s not really a cat.) Fortunately for the cats, I found a variety pack of other food that they like better (even though that has supply issues as well), so all’s well that ends well there.

But half of what I usually buy, whether in person or online, has had some kind of delay due to some missing part. In 2020, we bought a new living room set, and that included 2 ottomans. The couch and loveseat were in stock, but the ottomans weren’t. It took four months for those to be delivered.

So, when we bought another new furniture set because of the move, we instructed the poor sales person to show us only items that they had in their warehouse. That took forever, because most sets had only one or two items in the warehouse, not everything.

We also somewhat optimistically partnered with another company on a game for a 2020 Diving Kickstarter. The game manufacturer went to China for his product, which hadn’t been a problem in the past. Then…well, you know. After a year, we will be refunding the game money. We’ll do the game when we have it in our hot little hands and not before.

The game manufacturer is dealing with this kind of delay on many of his products. I can’t imagine what that’s doing to his bottom line.

The New York Times had a pretty good article on the supply chain issues. (I’m sure you can find others.)

Paper books are no exception. In fact, Ingram sent out a series of warnings about the problems it anticipates in the Fourth Quarter. As those of you who follow several indie publishers on social media probably already know, one of those changes that Ingram Sparks has implemented are price increases, effective on November 6, 2021.

These increases are not small. The U.S. market will see a 6% increase, and the U.K. and Australia will see a 3% increase. As one publisher noted, that will make some of his hardcovers $40 or more. Ingram helpfully adds that they will be “We will also be identifying titles that will move into negative publisher compensation because of these price changes…”

In other words, they’ll let publishers who are going to lose money with the new pricing structure know before the new structure hits.

That’s just one way this is impacting publishing. There are other ways.

Let’s start with traditional first, because traditional publishers are making some amazing and difficult decisions. I actually have some empathy for them, because they’re not built to absorb this problem. Then I’ll move to indie, which can deal with the problem, with patience and a bit of creativity.

Traditional publishing, as I have written many times, is built on the velocity model. Books must sell quickly out of the gate, and then taper off later. Sometimes books that sell quickly sell faster than expected, and the demand is higher than originally thought.

In the past, the solution (though not ideal) worked well enough: the moment it became clear that the traditional publisher would blow through their inventory, they would sent in an order for reprinting. In the unlikely (but joyful) event that the first reprinting wasn’t enough, there would be a second, third, fourth and fifth.

Those days are now gone. As you can see from the tweet above, a book published two weeks ago has sold very well, but the publishing representative, talking to the bookstore that wants more copies, had the unenviable task of telling the store the book would not be reprinted.

At all.

Sounds like a stupid thing to do, right? And it is. If traditional publishing had a different business model, they would simply tell booksellers to be patient. The reprint would come eventually.

But that’s not happening.

This is because traditional book publishers must reserve time with their printers. Because everything is new, new, new, the new books get the most attention. Their printings are scheduled months in advance—a practice that has been part of traditional publishing forever.

Because of the supply chain problems and worker shortages and driver shortages and a whole bunch of other things that have an impact on paper books, there is less time to be reserved from printers, not more. That means that traditional publishers are pretty much guaranteed to get their first printings on their latest releases…and nothing else.

Even those first printings are delayed. As Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing noted, it used to take two weeks to get a book printed. In July, it was taking her eight weeks.

Ingrams is encouraging booksellers to stock up early on the “hot” books of the season (whatever you guess they might be). But Ingrams is also encouraging publishers to print more books than usual, so that they will have books on hand, rather than run out.

But that traditional publisher, Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing, included something quite savvy in her post. She wrote,

It is entirely possible to lose money by selling more copies than anticipated because an algorithm or overoptimism or “just in case” caution leads to large orders that force publishers to print more copies, only to have that demand evaporate, and all those freshly printed, last minute copies are sent back to the warehouse in a tsunami of bruised, tired cardboard boxes.

Remember, in traditional publishing, returns get eaten by the publisher. Booksellers who over-order can send books back for full credit, if they do so in the right amount of time.

So the traditional publisher put a lot of money into the product and find that they can’t sell it.

This is hard enough for the publisher. And Trubeck isn’t the only one dealing with this, quite obviously. If you read through that thread on Twitter, you’ll see Random House authors mention that their first printing sold out in 2020, they were promised a reprinting, and it never happened.

It won’t happen.

There’s not enough room in traditional publishing right now. I like Trubeck’s voice, so I’ll show you once again her publishing perspective. She notes that on Ingram, many of her books show no copies available. But readers can order from her directly because they have copies stashed at the office. (I have no idea how big her offices are or how many direct sales she makes. Probably not enough.)

Here’s what she says about that:

It’s as scary to anticipate losing sales as it is to be too late with an additional print run, but we will have books available for those who do an extra google search. This line of thinking leads, of course, to this thought: “boy I hope CBS News does NOT cover our October release, and nothing is nominated for a major award this fall!”

Now imagine that from the traditionally published writer’s point of view. They believe they hit the jackpot. Their book came out and got reviewed positively in every single mainstream publishing venue. Their book is the book of the moment—the kind of book that gets a crapload of attention, like so many political books got last year. Suddenly everyone wants to read that book, so folks who like paper order paper…and are told the book is out of print.

Then the book gets nominated for every single major award in publishing (that the book is eligible for). There’s no way, with a minimum of an eight-week delay on printing and time reserved ahead for the new, new, new, that their book will ever be reprinted in time to catch the wave.

Their publisher, who has been around the block a few times, knows that. Knows it very well in fact. So well, that after all the early COVID returns in 2020 (for full credit from closed bookstores) and because of all the supply chain issues and everything else, the publisher won’t even try to reprint.

The publisher will pat the author on the head, congratulate them for a job well done, and move to the new, new, new.

And the writer’s big perfect and wonderful launch—in which everything went right according to the traditional publishing gods—will result in a ruined career, because the books will not sell because there are not enough copies of the book to sell.

Worse, the people who read ebooks don’t like ebooks priced over $10. So, ebook readers will hear about this book, click on it, see that the price is $14.99 and will not buy. The paper book buyer will pick up the ebook, if forced, but will look at the price and think, “What the hell am I getting for my $14.99? I want something to put on my shelf. Ebooks should be cheaper.”

As a result, the ebook sales will increase, but not enough to cover the lost print revenue. Not by a long shot.

(And if you think I’m exaggerating the ebook prices of traditional books, I’m not. I did a spot check on books released this month—books that I preordered in paper from traditional publishers—and the cheapest one I found (from a non-bestseller) was $11.99.)

Sadly, this pandemic and the supply chain problems that will be with us, according to one estimate I saw, until early 2023, will tank a lot of traditional writers’ careers.

Yes, traditional publishers will know that a book that came out in 2021 will have lower print sales than a book that came out in 2019, but honestly, they won’t care. Because there are always new, new, new writers lining up to be fleeced. I mean, traditionally published.

Sigh.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

In separate motions this week, Amazon and the Big Five publishers asked a federal court to dismiss the latest iteration of a potential class-action price-fixing claim filed against them on behalf of indie booksellers.

According to court filings, the booksellers’ Amended Complaint, which was filed in July, accuses Amazon and the publishers of illegal price discrimination under the Robinson-Patman Act. But in their motions to dismiss, both Amazon and the publishers insist there is no illegal agreement to fix or otherwise restrain prices, and that the amended complaint is legally deficient and must be tossed.

“The Complaint recites that Amazon is a leading book retailer, takes issue with ordinary price competition, and tries to illogically and conclusorily claim that Publisher Defendants conspired with each other and with Amazon to confer a monopoly on Amazon, despite Publisher Defendants resisting Amazon’s growing position in the market for decades,” reads the publishers motion to dismiss. “This is simply not plausible. After realizing its originally pled Sherman Act conspiracy claims had no basis, Plaintiff tried to repackage them in its Complaint and bolster them with a price discrimination claim under the Robinson-Patman Act. The Complaint, however, is fatally deficient under either statute and must be dismissed.”

In its motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers also insist that there is no conspiracy with the publishers, no evidence of illegal collusion, and that its bargaining for lower print book prices is simply good business—and good for consumers.

“Bargaining between buyers and sellers is one of the most commonplace, precompetitive actions that can occur in any market,” the Amazon brief states. “As the Supreme Court has stressed repeatedly, it would do great damage to competition and consumers alike if the [Robinson-Patman Act] were misconstrued as having outlawed competitive bargaining.”

The suit was first filed in March, 2021, when Evanston, Ill.-based Indie bookseller Bookends & Beginnings teamed up with the law firm currently leading a sprawling class action price-fixing suit against Amazon and the Big Five publishers in the e-book market to file an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of a potential class of booksellers accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House) of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book market.

Similar to the claims made in the in ongoing e-book price-fixing case, the initial complaint turned on Amazon’s use of Most Favored Nation clauses in its contracts with the Big Five publishers, which, lawyers for Hagens Berman claim, have “the intent and effect of controlling wholesale prices of print trade books and preventing competition with Amazon in the retail sale of print trade books.”

But in their motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers note that the factual basis for much of the booksellers’ initial complaint—the use of MFN clauses—simply does not exist. And, Amazon lawyers insist, the price discrimination claims in the amended complaint are ill-conceived.

“The premise of Plaintiff’s Complaint was that [the use of MFN] clauses prevented other retailers from competing to ‘gain market share’ by negotiating better wholesale prices for themselves,” the Amazon motion notes. “Plaintiff withdrew its Complaint after Defendants demonstrated that there was no factual basis for Plaintiff’s core allegation: those agreements do not and never did contain any such MFN clauses. Rather than dismiss its claims, however, Plaintiff pivoted dramatically to allege effectively the opposite theory, that Amazon violated [The Robinson-Patman Act]…by negotiating for discounted wholesale prices and passing those savings along to consumers by charging ‘comparatively lower retail book prices’ to improve its market position…Plaintiffs new theory, in other words, attacks the very essence of robust and healthy competition that the antitrust laws overwhelmingly seek to promote. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is baseless and should be dismissed.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

NPD BookScan: Mystery Solved on US Thriller Sales’ Lag?

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a follow to Monday’s (August 30) update on the United States’ market, NPD BookScan’s research team has released a genre-specific look at the thriller and suspense category, finding that US sales have dropped six percent in the last year.

Thrillers and suspense are probably most popular in the United Kingdom’s market, where they reign at the top of the list, much as romance seems to do in the American market. But the category is a major one in the States, making its apparent trend toward a softening interesting.

NPD sees thrillers standing as one in eight adult fiction print and ebook buys in the American market.

To date this year, thrillers are the third largest-selling category, NPD Books reports, with unit sales for adult thrillers when combining print and ebook sales reaching 14.1 million units for the year-to-date through the end of May. But sales are down six percent in the past year.

Kristen McLean, NPD’s lead books analyst points to notable new thrillers released in 2021 and sees the category being “up slightly” over last year. However, she says it has fallen behind the pace set by the rest of the adult fiction market, which has risen by 15 percent, in combined print and ebook formats through the end of May.

“As with Christmas books,” McLean says, “there’s always room for another great thriller on the shelf. It’s a core evergreen category that’s always ripe for new energy,” which might indicate there’s some concern for those in the business working the thriller/suspense category.

“In 2021,” she says, “the category has not kept up with overall fiction growth trends, but  perhaps not for obvious reasons.”

. . . .

“Part of the declining growth in thrillers seems to be because of changes in consumer tastes,” McLean says–which could indeed be predictive of more weakening in the category.

“But it’s also true that books that have traditional elements of thriller and suspense books are now being categorized in in other hot areas of the fiction market,” she says, “like women’s contemporary fiction, general fiction, and young adult fiction, where they’re driving growth.” That trend of thriller and suspense content going into other traditional categorizations might be what’s behind the downward pressure on the category.

As an example, McLean points to Laura Dave’s recent bestseller, The Last Thing He Told Me (Simon & Schuster, May 4), which is categorized as general fiction. At this writing, the book stands at No. 2 on the Amazon Charts’ most-read fiction side, its 17th week on the list.

McLean also points out that two of the four new thriller writers topping NPD’s growth list in the category are women. Suspense and thrillers have, in the past, been dominated by male authors in the States.

“The rising profile of women authors,” McLean says, “indicates that there may be a market for more female voices in this genre,” in the American field—which, of course, could be a key for international markets looking to find a foothold with translations sold into the US trade marketplace.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Serialized Books Are a Burgeoning Business at Substack

From Publishers Weekly:

The subscription e-newsletter platform Substack has already made its mark on the media business, but will it do the same for book publishing? Authors including Elle Griffin, John McWhorter, Maggie Stiefvater, and Matt Taibbi use the service to serialize new books or publish short stories exclusive to their newsletter audiences, but to date, the platform is still only dipping its toes into the book business. Still, Substack provides authors—the latest of whom is Anand Giridharadas, an editor-at-large for Time, political analyst for MSNBC, and former New York Times correspondent—with some interesting options upon which to capitalize.

Giridharadas will serialize the first two chapters of his 2014 book, The True American: Murder and Mystery in Texas, in his newsletter, The.Ink, which goes out, he said, to an audience of “tens of thousands” of free subscribers and a smaller list of paid subscribers. The book, PW wrote in its starred review, “follows the encounter between Mark Stroman, a racist ex-con in Dallas who went on a killing spree targeting men he wrongly thought were Arabs after 9/11, and Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi-born convenience-store clerk who was shot by Stroman but survived.” It is, our reviewer said, “an affecting story of forgiveness and redemption” centered around “the author’s penetrating portraits of the two men.” The book has sold nearly 15,000 copies in all print formats at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

Over the course of eight days, Giridharadas will publish the first two chapters of the book—each one focusing on one of its two principal characters and broken into four newsletters each—in both text form and audiobook segments, which will also be offered free of charge via Audible. (The first installment was published today.) The excerpts will be sent via newsletter and live in blog form as web pages on The.Ink, hosted by Substack. Giridharadas will also open his paid subscriber Zoom sessions to all for virtual book club discussions beginning on August 31. The arrangement is particularly interesting considering that the book has already been published—and that its publisher, W.W. Norton, greenlit the project without any licensing fees.

. . . .

Giridharadas saw the possibility of a new audience now, but “books only land once, and in this case, I had this ongoing frustration or sense of a missed opportunity.” So he contacted Norton, telling them he wanted “to give this book another shot at the conversation, and to land in the conversation now that these very dark portents of the book have have kind of materialized and become not fringe-y things but central things.”

At first, Giridharadas said, he and his publisher talked about “very conventional things, like, do I write a new foreword? Or do we reissue the book with a new cover?” But Norton didn’t see a reissue as the way to go.

“In this case, we chose not to reissue,” Alexa Pugh, v-p and publishing manager at Norton Trade Paperbacks, wrote in an email to PW. “One of the first (though not only) things we look for in a reissue candidate is the need to refresh the package to appeal to a new readership, often a more modern one if the book was published many years ago. But we agreed that the cover has held up nicely since it original publication in 2014, which lent support to the idea of pursuing a different method to get the book back out there. We also saw other ways that Anand could make the connection to current events outside of adding new material to the book itself in a new edition, such as through the book club he’ll be conducting as part of the newsletter campaign.”

Ultimately, both parties landed on using Giridharadas’s newsletter, which he launched last August, positing that its intimate nature, and the personal connection he has developed with its readers through it, would be their best shot at bringing the book back into the conversation. It was a new arrangement for both parties, and not without its challenges. Giridharadas, for one did not like the idea of licensing the content. But Norton agreed to let him reuse the first two chapters without any financial arrangement. Pugh noted that Audible “was also happy to coordinate with us” to include audio excerpts matching the serialized chapters at no cost.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Advance copies of Sally Rooney’s unpublished book sold for hundreds of dollars

From The Guardian:

When advance reading copies (ARCs) of Sally Rooney’s new novel Beautiful World, Where Are You were sent out in May, there was a flurry of social media posts. A lucky selection of editors, writers and influencers flaunted their copies; others bemoaned not having been granted one. Soon listings for proof copies (which are clearly marked “not for resale”) started to appear on trading sites such as eBay and Depop. One copy, listed on eBay by a seller in North Carolina, sold in June for $209.16. Even the canvas tote bag that Rooney’s publicists had been sending out with the ARC copies was fetching prices in the region of $80.

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, advance copies of popular and classic novels have long been collector’s items: a rare proof copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stonefor example, or classics by authors such as Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck can sell for up to £30,000, while Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroadswhich will be published in October, sold earlier this month on eBay for £124.

But this high demand for ARCs of books that are yet to be published has only emerged recently, fuelled in part by the rise of book bloggers and influencers.

“Part of the purpose of proofs is to make people get to feel like they’re in an exclusive club,” said Adam Howard, who works for Scribe Publications. “But it happened with the Sally Rooney on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

Posting under hashtags such as #Galleybrag, Instagram influencers show off the advanced copies of novels to which they were granted access. Among these, Rooney’s forthcoming Beautiful World, Where Are You is by far the most prized. Given the social currency that a selfie with an advance copy of the novel can carry, Howard is not surprised that people are prepared to pay large sums to get their hands on it.

“When a book appears on social media months before official release, other bloggers and readers go mad for it,” said Dan Bassett, a Bristol bookseller and blogger who is regularly sent galley copies of forthcoming titles. “This has led to people selling them though market places, with others asking people like myself if I would sell it to them.”

However, the sale of ARCs is a legal grey area. Advance copies are clearly marked as not for sale, and publishers remain their legal owners. This means that technically, a publishing house could recall an ARC at any time – but this is largely unheard of. And since proofs of big releases have only recently become such a hot commodity, publishers have not traditionally had to police ARC sales stringently – and have generally been willing to turn a blind eye to a small number of proofs being sold in charity shops.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

It’s not exactly a conspiracy theory, but if PG was hired to do some on-the-cheap promotion for an upcoming traditionally-published book, he might use a few social media accounts to do exactly what’s described in the OP, then have someone contact the Guardian books editor with a hot tip and some screenshots.

The polarized publishing world

From The New York Times:

For a snapshot of how politically polarized the country has become, consider the best-seller list in this Sunday’s New York Times. Political books hold the top five spots on the hardcover nonfiction list, but they offer wildly divergent views.

No. 1 on the list is “American Marxism” by the Fox News host Mark Levin, which argues that liberals, including President Biden, are advancing a socialist agenda. Two titles that follow present sharply critical views of the Trump administration: “Here, Right Matters,” a memoir by Alexander Vindman, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who had a role in Trump’s first impeachment; and “I Alone Can Fix It,” an explosive account of Trump’s last year in office by the Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Next come books by the conservative media stars Ben Shapiro and Jesse Watters.

“The same kind of polarization that we’re seeing in the mainstream culture is happening in the book market,” Kristen McLean, an analyst at NPD BookScan, a market research firm, said. “The appetite is there on both sides of the political divide.”

When Biden took office, publishers braced for a slump. The Trump years had been an enormous boon to their industry, with a torrent of best sellers that included bombshell exposés by Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff, and tell-all memoirs from John Bolton and Mary Trump. Political book sales hit a 20-year high, according to NPD BookScan.

As predicted, sales of political books fell in the first seven months of this year. But publishers remain bullish about the genre. While sales have tapered off, the numbers are still well above what they were in 2016, and even 2019. Books by conservative authors are starting to pick up, as is often the case when there’s a Democrat in the White House.

“It’s easier to sell political books when your audience is in the opposition, when it’s feeling embattled and they’re more worked up and angry,” Thomas Spence, president and publisher of the conservative publishing house Regnery, told me. “The first two quarters of 2021 have been great for us.”

The conservative book market also carries risks for big corporate publishers, though. After the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, Simon & Schuster canceled plans to publish a book by Senator Josh Hawley, who tried to overturn the results of the presidential election. (Mr. Hawley, who accused the company of violating the First Amendment, released his book with Regnery.)

Simon & Schuster later announced that it had signed a two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence. The decision outraged liberals, including some of Simon & Schuster’s own authors and staff members, who signed a petition calling on the company to stop publishing books by former Trump officials. But the petition failed to sway executives, and news broke soon after that Simon & Schuster had bought a book from Kellyanne Conway.

Those acquisitions didn’t appease conservatives like Tucker Carlson, who attacked Simon & Schuster over its decision to drop Hawley, and accused the company of censorship in his new book, “The Long Slide.” (His claim of censorship is undercut by the fact that his book was published by, well, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times (link may expire. if so, PG says sorry.)

PG’s heart aches for the poor wittle New York publishers. They have such a tough job. Their little hearts must ache all day when people say bad things about them.

It’s no wonder they have to drink and do drugs when they get home.

Dolly Parton to publish her first novel in 2022

From The Guardian:

Dolly Parton and James Patterson Photograph: Courtesy of Dolly Parton

First globally successful entertainer . . . and now novelist … Dolly Parton seems determined to prove that there are few things she can’t do.

The singer, best known for country-pop hits including Jolene and 9 to 5, has written her first novel, to be published by Penguin Random House next year. Run, Rose, Run, which is about a young woman who moves to Nashville to pursue her music-making dreams, has been co-written by Parton and bestselling novelist James Patterson. Both UK and US editions will be published on 7 March 2022.

Parton will release an album of the same name alongside the book, consisting of 12 original tracks. She says the new songs “were written based on the characters and situations in the book” and their lyrics will also feature in the novel.

“It’s been an honour – and a hell of a lot of fun – to work with the inimitable Dolly Parton,” said Patterson, who has sold more than 300 million books and has collaborated with other writers on scores of novels including Bill Clinton on 2018’s The President Is Missing. “The mind-blowing thing about this project is that reading the novel is enhanced by listening to the album and vice versa. It’s a really unique experience.”

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

PG will remind one and all that Big Publishing is, first and foremost, the curator of culture for the universe. All other considerations are subordinate to the carrying out of this divinely-ordained mission.

In keeping with artistic soul of Randy Penguin, the photo is full of meaningful symbols.

PG admits that he’s only a lowly scrivener and unlikely to be able to interpret all the symbolism in the photo. However, he’ll do his best.

The purplelishy alien life form behind the two subjects’ heads is probably a symbol of the ever-expanding financial universe of Randy Penguin, eagerly gobbling up small planets harboring a variety of life-forms.

Dolly has long red fingernails and James doesn’t. Dolly has hair and James has a little something on his head that might be hair or not. Dolly’s the star and James isn’t.

The photo of Dolly on the right-hand side of the photo depicts Dolly wearing a cowgirl hat. James would look pretty silly in a cowgirl or cowboy hat, but it would have the virtue of hiding his hair-like bumps.

Dolly has a well-rehearsed celebrity smile. James looks like he might have been gritting his teeth when the photographer told him to smile. Or maybe he’s a little constipated.

Dolly has her hips slightly turned and her hand placed on her front hip, which PG immediately recognized as an oft-rehearsed western and Hollywood star-pose.

Patterson is standing in wrinkled jeans like he’s having his picture taken in front of the Dumbo ride at Disneyland.

He does have his right hand around Dolly’s shoulder, however, the meaning of which which is fairly straightforward. She’s his best pal right now and he doesn’t want her running off with any other ghost-writer.

What puzzles PG is what it means for Patterson to have his left hand in the left back pocket of his jeans. (Jeans and Dolly probably go together, but what’s with the pocket? Dolly would never carry anything in her back jeans pocket.)

The left rear pocket is the most common location where PG usually carries his billfold when he’s wearing jeans, but PG is not a famous author.

Perhaps, that pocket is where Patterson’s muse resides.

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

American Booksellers Association Apologizes for Accidentally Promoting Candace Owens Book

From Yahoo News:

In a statement published to the Shelf Awareness blog Monday, American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill apologized for an incident in which Candace Owens’s Blackout was accidentally featured in lieu of a social-justice-oriented book with the same title by Dhonielle Clayton and other authors.

An employee subbing for the employee who is normally responsible for curating the best-seller list, Hill said, unknowingly selected the wrong cover image for the book. A second employee new to copyediting also failed to cross-check the photo and recognize the error before mailing the list out to members.

Apologizing for the employees’ mishap, Hill wrote, “It was a terrible mistake with terrible racist implications. However, based on our investigation and the demonstrated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitment of these individuals, we have no reason to believe the action was malicious in intention.”

Hill’s statement followed an official inquiry into the episode and an audit of all ABA procedures and programs in collaboration with the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

“The employees are very apologetic and very committed to vigilance going forward. They have been held accountable and have agreed to training, both on procedures as well as on DEI, and we have added layers of checks and balances to this process,” she continued.

Coinciding with the time of the Blackout mistake was another event in which Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage was included in a box mailing to 750 eligible bookstores, eliciting outrage from ABA leaders and members. In her Monday apology, Hill also clarified the details around that book’s shipment, which an earlier ABA statement called a “serious, violent incident.”

The premise of Irreversible Damage is that there is a social contagion effect of young girls rushing into invasive transition surgeries and medical interventions for gender dysphoria that they are likely to regret later.

“Publishers pay ABA to include titles in the box, and ABA sends it to eligible bookstores. Until now, no one has ever reviewed or screened the titles submitted by publishers. It has been a pay-to-play program,” she said. “The policy to not review or screen titles submitted is in line with many members’ preference to not have ABA decide what books they have access to, preferring to review books themselves to determine what they read, buy, sell, and promote.”

Hill said that many members expressed to her that they still value having autonomy over book choices, “despite being horrified by this book.” She added that the ABA Board of Directors may implement a new permanent policy to prevent the kind of injurious oversight that let Owens’s book slip through the cracks.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News

State of the Author July 2021 edition, ending an era

From Michelle Sagara/Michelle West:

Some of you may remember a couple of months ago I said things were… stressful (possibly worst month ever) on Twitter.

If I had been thinking, I would have made certain to separate terrible month from pandemic, which has – for my family – remained a large and consistent weight in the background. We’ve been lucky; we’ve lost no one. We made sure that the less internet-savvy were signed up and vaccinated, and we got vaccinated ourselves; I have no under 12s in my household, and there are none in the household we bubble with when its safe to do so.

Mostly, however, what I was thinking was: How do I tell people? And what do I do going forward?

So let’s start with that first part: Telling people the bad news. TLDR: DAW will no longer be publishing the West novels going forward.

. . . .

My first four books were published by Del Rey. They were The Books of the Sundered, my first sale. And I watched those with anxiety. I’ve worked in bookstores since I was sixteen years old, so I knew that books that I loved with the passion only an adolescent can achieve disappeared without a trace, going out of print and becoming inaccessible.

It was shocking to me; it was inconceivable that something so brilliant could disappear without warning: when I was sixteen, I equated “good” with “successful”. If I loved it, how could it be unsuccessful?

The obvious answer is: not everyone loved it as I did, because we all have different tastes (the acceptance of this obvious answer would not occur until another decade had passed.)

So the first series did not, in the end, succeed at Del Rey.

. . . .

I wrote the Hunter books; Hunter’s Oath was my first DAW title. I wrote The Sun Sword series.

The House War series was, in the end, eight books long. It was supposed to be shorter; it was supposed to be fewer books. It would have been, had Hidden City not insisted on being the book it became, because my intent with that, when I started it six times, was to write a braided past/present narrative.

I always watched the sales numbers with a certain tension, and that escalated with time. I have always loved my West readers, and I have always, always loved these books — but truthfully, the sales numbers failed to climb in any way.

In publishing that’s … not good.

. . . .

DAW is, and has been, distributed by Penguin Random House (PRH going forward) for decades (I could go into their distribution granularly, because they started with NAL, which was absorbed by Penguin NA, and then by Random House, but I think the general statement covers that).

DAW has offices in the PRH building in NYC; their books are produced in the PRH production department; their books are sold to stores by the PRH sales reps; their books are warehoused in PRH warehouses and shipped by those warehouses. DAW is, however, independently owned. But all of the elements of the publication process are tied tightly into Penguin Random House. Someone with no knowledge of SFF publishers could easily be forgiven for assuming that DAW is a division – like Ace or Roc – of Penguin Random House, given office space, etc.

They aren’t.

Editorial is independent. Editorial decisions are made by DAW, not a PRH editorial board.

Distribution, however? All PRH. In order to be distributed by PRH, DAW has a distribution agreement, which gets renegotiated as it nears the end of its term. This agreement is what gets DAW all of the above: office space, production/PR departments, sales force, warehouse and shipping-to-bookstores. All of the above is necessary.

That negotiation period is this year. And the negotiations have impacted the West novels which are a) too long and b) not great sellers. My DAW editor has, in spite of this, continued to publish the West novels until now, because she’s always loved them.

But she can’t do that going forward.

This isn’t her fault. This isn’t, in the end, PRH’s fault either, although it is largely their decision. I’d like to think it’s not mine, because I wrote the books and as much as I can love anything I’ve personally written, I love them fiercely.

But the last leg of the West series will no longer be published by DAW. While writing is a creative art, publishing is a business. PRH has no personal connection to me or my writing; what they have is numbers, which is how business decisions are ultimately made.

. . . .

This has been a stressful couple of months as I’ve tried to envision some way forward. I did try to start again from page zero, to see if I could structure the books to be shorter, because shorter books would be acceptable to PRH. But as this would only be proven true or false when I reached the end, and no attempt I’ve ever made has worked, I gave up on that.

I then began to look at the publisher side costs. Editing. Copy-editing. Proof-reading. Covers. Those expenses would, except for the cover, be at least double what most self-publishers would have to pay, because the books will be longer, and most freelancers charge by either page or per 100k words.

Revenue neutral activity is, essentially, a hobby. It makes no money, but you do it for love. If the costs are higher than the income coming in it becomes an expensive hobby. We work to earn money and we pour it into our hobbies because we love our hobbies, right? But… for most of us, a hobby is distinctly separate from work.

. . . .

Self-publishing will make some money. But…

Self-publishing is most successful at shorter lengths (like, say, 75k words), and at shorter publishing intervals (three to four months).

The Michelle West novels are exactly the wrong type of novels for self-publishing success. I don’t know how many of my current readers will follow ebook only new releases. (The cost for print on demand for Broken Crown, a book whose length I do know, would be 36.00 US for a trade paperback, assuming I make 1.00 a book, and the PoD service takes the rest. Page-count defines the price of a PoD book, sadly.)

Because the publishing gaps between books would be much longer than self-publishing ideal, and the books would be 3 – 4x too long, I… can’t gain traction, in a purely sales sense, publishing them myself. Also: These are related to the previous books; they’re not something new. They’re not the books that will draw in new readers because I can’t control the pricing/promotion of all of the books.

Link to the rest at Michelle Sagara/Michelle West and thanks to E. for the tip.

The original post is much longer than the excerpt.

Most of the OP wasn’t a surprise for PG. If you’re with a traditional publisher and your books don’t sell, regardless of whose fault it really is, it’s always the author’s fault and the author pays the price for not selling enough books.

The one item that interested PG was Ms. Sagara/West’s comment that her books won’t work for self-publishing because they’re too long. She then mentioned the cost for POD for one of her long books would be $36.00 for trade paperback and each sale would result in her earning $1.00.

Her only mention of ebooks is “I don’t know how many of my current readers will follow ebook only new releases.”

Perhaps an alien invasion occurred last night and the world is completely changed from yesterday, but yesterday, most indie authors typically earn the large majority of their income from ebook sales.

Ebooks are gold because you don’t have to pay $35 to publish a long ebook.

KDP ebook files can be up to 650MB. KDP will accept Word doc and docx files, MOBI, EPUB, HTML, and PDF.

In the interest of scientific inquiry, PG pulled up the MS Word manuscript for one of Mrs. PG’s early books, The Last Waltz, which Amazon says is a 480 page POD trade paperback (priced at $14.99 for hardcopy and $4.99 in ebook).

The original manuscript is 1.8 megabytes, virtually all text.

PG was going to copy and past a complete copy of the manuscript at the end of the original and continue repeating that process until he had a manuscript that was 650 MB in size.

However that process would be taking PG’s scientific research too far. Applying simple mathematics, 650 MB would hold more than 360 copies of Mrs. PG’s book.

If 360 copies of Mrs. PG’s book were combined to make a single large book, that book would be over 172,000 printed pages long, about the largest ebook file that KDP would permit you to upload and self-publish on Amazon.

Circling back to the OP and the author’s concerns about her books being too long to self-publish successfully, PG thinks she may wish to do a bit more research.

As far as the author of the OP being concerned that her current readers won’t “follow” her into self-publishing, PG suggests a couple of brief investigations:

  1. Are the author’s current traditionally published books available in ebook form? A quick check suggests that the answer is affirmative although the sales ranks aren’t very good, in part because the ones PG checked are overpriced.
  2. Of the titles PG checked, the sales rank for the ebooks was significantly higher than the sales rank of the printed books. (PG hopes sales through physical bookstores were better than via Amazon.)
  3. For PG, this means that the author won’t have as much problem getting her fans to follow her to ebooks as she might think she will, especially if she prices her ebooks right. It’s quite likely that the author’s current ebook readers are buying almost all of the ebooks she sells through Amazon, so the transition to the author’s indie ebooks should be pretty automatic.

For PG, the worst part of the story is that apparently, the author isn’t in a position to get the rights back to her current DAW books, or at least, she thinks she isn’t.

PG didn’t check to see what the costs of a book the size of the author’s prior work would be through KDP’s print on demand service, but someone else can do that and provide that information in the comments.

One final observation – If Ms. Sagara/West is still wedded to the idea of physical books in physical bookstores as her future career path, PG wishes her well.

However, he suggests that becoming a professional indie author with KDP (and agreeing to the exclusivity part to bump ebook royalties to the highest rate possible and pricing her ebooks in a sweet spot for Amazon ebook sales and max royalty rates) may be her best avenue to continue her writing career profitably.

But, as usual, PG could be completely wrong.

Find Your Topic, Not Your Voice

From Jane Friedman:

In setting out to become a writer, you must strive, above all, to discover your unique voice. At least, that’s become the conventional wisdom, taught in MFA programs as well as in more casual settings, from writers group meetings at Starbucks to free classes taught in the stuffy backroom of your local library. Yet there is so much wrong with this advice that, if you spend even one full minute giving it serious thought, your eyes will roll heaven-ward all on their own like Where even to begin?

Still, we must begin somewhere, so here goes.

How can you know what your tone will be when you don’t yet know what your topic is?

Where exactly do we think voice comes from if not from subject?

Which is the right cart and which is the right horse?

Sure, your unique sensibility may account for a large part of your hot takes, but would you write about muffins and genocide the same way, or Fords and fjords? And are we really so sure that voice trumps all other aspects of a piece of writing?

Finally, who is responsible for advancing this damnable, now-inescapable sick logic, and what is their address, because I’m thinking I might like to T.P. their house?

Maybe that seems a tad aggressive. But you have to consider the real damage this advice has wrought. All over the world, people’s drawers bulge with unpublishable novels, essays collections and memoirs in which there’s plenty of voice, yet no story, no real through-line, no sense of one’s audience beyond the assumption that they’re there. That’s the problem. This overemphasis on voice puts the focus on the writer and what they want to say and how they want to say it, ignoring more pertinent questions. Namely, considering how there’s Mare of Easttown to binge on HBO, why should anyone spend hours poring over your writing instead?

It also ignores the credentialism involved with the few novels and works of nonfiction that get acquired, more or less, because of voice alone. Publishers are a lot less apt to value your unique voice if that voice doesn’t come with degrees from Harvard or Iowa, or if you’re not reading this article while lounging on the terrace at Yaddo. It’s just a fact. There are exceptions, of course. The overall picture is, however, about as clear as any close-up of Kate Winslet, though not as pretty.

I rant like this from firsthand experience, from the wish I could time-travel back about 15 years and tell myself all this. My own writing breakthrough, the one that got me a book deal after a dozen years of trying, came from focusing on topic ahead of voice. Your writing struggles and goals may well be different. You are probably miles ahead of me, much less dense and much quicker to learn. But considering the prevalence of the conventional wisdom, let’s turn it on its head a minute.

What if you were to put the primary focus on your topic?

It might just help you land a book deal, climb some lofty bestseller list, scale those Everest-like Amazon ranks—and what’s more, the process is simple, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  1. Pick a topic that fascinates you, or learn about a topic until it fascinates you.
  2. Lead with research. Google your subject to see what’s out there. Begin to gain a sense of whether an audience already exists.
  3. Bring that topic to the world.

This strategy can lead to more interesting writing, and interesting is what you need to be, considering you and I and everyone else we know are all working inside a full-fledged, entertain-or-GTFO attention economy. Few of us occupy such exalted positions that we can take audience for granted. This is all the more true if your goal is to eventually sell a book—again, fiction or nonfiction—because first you must prove to agents and acquisition editors that there’s a crowd of people eager to pay for it.

Your topic could, for example, take any of the following forms:

  • Things that interested you as a child
  • Ideas you can’t get out of your head
  • Places that have become your personal obsessions
  • Or some such B.S.: weird jobs, strange headlines, cultural trends, etc.

And your audience may pop up in such places as:

  • Facebook fan groups dedicated to your subject
  • Publications and other outlets (from podcasts to YouTube channels) dedicated to your subject
  • Reddit boards about your topic
  • Other writers who’ve covered this same subject, plus their audiences.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG hasn’t decided if he needs to establish a quota for the number of articles he posts that include a discussion about the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing contract or not. He’s happy to receive suggestions on this topic in the comments.

As he was thinking about this quite common trope, the thought occurred to him that the consistent appearance of such stories might be evidence of some sort of common cognitive error or mental disorder that seems to plague more than a few would-be authors who wish to be traditionally published. He’s not certain if an MFA is a contributory factor to contracting this condition or merely a symptom of it.

PG needs some help in understanding what’s going on here.

Note that PG is not disparaging mental health professionals or the great benefits they can provide to those who are genuinely mentally ill or otherwise emotionally impaired. Nor is he ridiculing those, author or non-author, who have genuine mental, emotional and/or cognitive problems.

He’s simply providing the many intelligent laypersons who visit TPV and who may have observed the anguish and anger exhibited by many authors who are frustrated with the arbitrary and unfair treatment traditional publishing and it’s enablers visit on them, particularly when those authors have other avenues for getting their books in front of readers.

Per Positive Psychology, here is a list of common cognitive errors AKA cognitive distortions:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.

The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them.

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to.

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth.

One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things.

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another.

Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met.

When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame.

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others (Beck, 1976; Burns, 1980):

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Per WebMD, here is a list of the most common categories of mental disorders:

Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders:Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.

Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.

Reading Beyond Neurodivergent Sterotypes

From Publishers Weekly:

Ableism against neurodivergent authors is a widespread problem within the publishing industry. Neurodivergent people include those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other neurological differences.

Popular, award-winning books with neurodivergent characters written by authors who don’t have lived experiences of neurodivergence permeate the publishing landscape. Some of the common and harmful stereotypes that appear in these books show neurodivergent kids as burdens to their families, or depict neurodivergent protagonists who “overcome” their disabilities. When neurodivergent authors present different, more nuanced experiences in their books, they’re asked to change them to be more like these award-winning books, or they’re rejected outright because of narratives that don’t fit publishers’ expectations of how neurodivergence should be represented.

I thought I was one of the lucky ones. A publisher approached me to write a children’s picture book based on my lived experiences with autism, which became my debut, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism. But I was shocked when my agent, Naomi Davis at BookEnds, told me the same publisher sent a rejection letter with ableist comments about my new chapter book series highlighting neurodivergent experiences. It indicated that my proposed series was too focused on kids with issues and therefore wouldn’t reach a wide audience.

Kids with “issues.” The publisher referred to neurodivergent kids as kids with “issues”—as if neurodivergent children are defined by their weaknesses rather than their strengths. As if they shouldn’t be embraced for their different ways of experiencing the world. And as if they don’t have any interest or need to read a series like this.

At least one in five kids are neurodivergent, according to the CDC’s statistics. But in a 2019 study, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 3.4% of children’s books have disabled main characters, and only a fraction of that includes neurodivergent main characters—nowhere near the 20% that should represent neurodivergent kids.

The rejection letter went on to say that the series wouldn’t reach a wide audience because that’s not what I wanted. The publisher claimed that it didn’t want to push me into creating a series that it wanted.

Despite my desire to reach a broad audience, and the multiple rounds of revision I had already done on this proposal over eight months, I was blamed for the publisher’s view that my story would not matter to people beyond the neurodivergent community. The publisher spoke over me, rather than hearing my voice.

My agent wrote a long response, objecting to the language in the rejection and pointing out how it implied that neurodivergent stories appeal only to neurodivergent readers. The publisher’s rejection language was ableist. It’s not what we expected from a publisher already publishing my book specifically about autism. It’s insulting to imply that a book that appeals to neurodivergent readers more than to neurotypical readers won’t have a wide enough audience. We were shocked, and we were furious.

The publisher’s response to my agent’s letter was a performative one-line statement “apology” that provided no insight into how it intended to repair our relationship, support my currently published book, or do better going forward. In fact, it seemed to place the burden of this conflict on my agent and me for being upset, rather than on its actions.

If an agented and published author like me faces ableism from a publisher, how is the publishing industry treating unagented aspiring authors? 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG isn’t quite certain what he is supposed to say or not say regarding an article written by a neurodivergent author.

PG is certainly divergent in a number of ways, but doesn’t believe he is neurodivergent as he understands the term.

However, the author’s reported experience with a prospective publisher as described is not at all atypical of the way publishers treat all sorts of people – healthy, impaired, etc., etc.

Additionally, there is no great surprise if a manuscript from an agented and published author is rejected by a publisher for any reason or no reason. There are no versions of a season pass for a season of any length in the traditional publishing world.

Publishers as a group are also noted for their reluctance to work with an author who is “difficult” for any reason.

PG is not certain whether there are any degrees of “difficult” that apply in this behavior by publishers.

Whenever he’s read/heard about it, “difficult” seems to be a binary characteristic for an author. One is or one is not difficult. If one is a teeny bit difficult, perhaps such behavior is not enough to trigger the difficult trapdoor.

Additionally, an author may be in the good graces of a publisher one day and difficult the next. Overstep some invisible line, even if it wasn’t present yesterday, and you’re difficult.

Disagreeing with a decision made by a publisher as is depicted/implied in the OP is a behavior characteristic of more than one “difficult” author regardless of whether the author is absolutely correct and the publisher is absolutely wrong or not.

It’s not about right vs. wrong, it’s about not difficult vs. difficult.

Publishers may be difficult to any degree, but authors may not.

Trump Is a Godsend for Book Publishers. He’s Also a Nightmare.

From Intelligencer:

The past six months have been good to the book-publishing industry. Book sales, helped along by pandemic-induced lockdowns, are up. Adult-fiction sales have risen 30 percent year over year. And most of all, Trump hasn’t been in office. “Postelection, there’s been a breath of Thank God, we don’t have to do Trump books anymore,” one editor told me.

The lull has come to an end. After a brief reprieve from the dishy ticktocks that emerged from the turbulence of the Trump era, publishers are gearing up for a flurry of books detailing the final days and aftermath of his presidency. The Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender’s Frankly, We Did Win This Election and Michael Wolff’s third Trump book, Landslide, kicked things off on July 13. A week after that came Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker’s second Trump book, I Alone Can Fix It. In the coming months, we will see volumes by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser and the New York Times’ Peter Baker, the Times’ Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, the Times’ Jeremy W. Peters, the Times’ Maggie Haberman, and the Washington Examiner’s David M. Drucker.

Most of the publishing insiders I spoke to responded to the coming wave of Trump books with an audible sigh and an eye roll. “After the first few, all of these books seemed repetitive,” the editor said. “At a certain point, you had to wonder — do readers really care about some absurd thing some aide heard Trump say? I’m skeptical about this current crop of books, but my skepticism has been proven wrong again and again.”

Publishers were initially slow to capitalize on the chaos of the Trump era. When the journalist David Cay Johnston pitched a book about Trump in 2015, he was met with silence from big publishers. (He did end up selling the book, which was released in 2016.) At first, no one thought Trump would get the Republican nomination, then no one thought he would win the presidency. Books take months, if not years, to produce — by the time Trump volumes started rolling off the presses, the thinking went, he would be back hosting The Apprentice.

The Trump boom didn’t really begin until January 2018, when Wolff’s Fire and Fury set the template for future blockbusters: full of juicy detail, mired in the swamp. Above all, it made Trump mad. Thanks in part to a pathetic cease-and-desist letter sent by the president’s lawyers, the book was an instant megaseller and inaugurated the industry’s version of a gold rush.

Success followed a predictable pattern. Excerpts and scoops would be published in tip sheets, newspapers, and magazines. Trump would respond by calling the author a hack and a liar. Sales shot upward before falling just as quickly. Fire and Fury sold nearly 2 million copies in three weeks before it faded from the headlines. Its paperback edition sold fewer than 10,000.

For people with #resistance in their bio, hitting BUY NOW was irresistible.

. . . .

The Trump boom also had career repercussions. “These last few years, if you weren’t working on the big Trump book, you’re under the radar,” one senior Simon & Schuster publicist told me.

. . . .

 For editors of fiction and “serious” nonfiction, the past few years were a nightmare. “There was a sense that people had spent their entire careers knowing how to publish serious, important books by serious, important people, and they were getting blown out of the water by trashy, [*****] tell-alls,” said the former marketing director.

It doesn’t help morale that readers don’t particularly seem to care either. “People approached these books like merch,” said literary agent Kate McKean. “We all buy books we intend to read but don’t — it’s not that the content doesn’t matter, but people buy them the way they buy a shirt, a hat, a sticker.”

“Many of these political books are bought to express support and opposition to something,” said Matt Latimer, founder of the literary agency Javelin, “to make you feel like you’re doing something. And you are! Many of the books that were published did upset the president.”

. . . .

Now, we’re entering what one Penguin Random House publicist calls the “Downfall stage” of Trump’s presidency, referring to the film. “It’s the same people who read books about Hitler’s last days,” the publicist said. “It’s victory porn.”

Link to the rest at Intelligencer

Point 1 – PG thinks this may be the first post on TPVx that has mentioned the former president, but he’s still a little Covid-crazy, so he may be wrong.

Point 2 – TPVx has not, is not and will never be a political blog, so this is not a signal of any new direction.

Point 3 – Regardless of how they voted in any presidential election, PG suspects that great hordes of Americans would not mind the prospect of never seeing Mr. Trump’s name in the newspapers (are there any actual newspapers left?) or anywhere else unless he’s building another apartment tower, in which case, they could breeze on by the story if they weren’t real estate professionals.

Point 4 – PG doesn’t expect to see the scenario described in Point 3 happen very often. Trump sells newspapers (or used to) and he attracts online clicks like Wolfgang Puck or a Las Vegas stripper’s latest blog post. After all, PG clicked on the link to the OP.

The bottom line is that stories about Trump sell as the number of books about Trump listed in the OP and the quotes therein confirm.

Point 5 – The next time anyone associated with the New York Publishing scene mentions that they and/or their employer are curators of culture, mention Trump books. (PG just checked and two out of the top-ten non-fiction bestsellers are about Trump. Those two are published by Penguin and Henry Holt, owned by Macmillan, each a giant curator of culture.)

Self-publishing

PG will note upfront that this is an excerpt from a much longer and more detailed essay. He’ll have a couple of comments at the end, but doesn’t have the time to respond to every one of Mr. Doctorow’s points contained in this review of publishing history and traditional publishers.

From Cory Doctorow:

Publishing is doing great

Publishing is doing great. Despite panic at the start of the lockdown, book sales were actually up during lockdown, as people turned to books to pass the time, joining online bookclubs and finding ways to support their local indie booksellers.

But authorship? Not so great.

Every part of the publishing supply chain has undergone radical concentration over the past 40 years, starting with consolidation of mass-market distribution in the 1980s. “Mass market” books are produced for sale in non-bookseller channels —pharmacies, grocery stores, news-stands, etc (books produced for sale in bookstores are called “trade books” because they’re sold through the bookselling trade).

. . . .

Enter Sam Walton, twirling his mustache

But by 1990s, when I started selling stories and then books, that advice was long past its sell-by date. Nationally, groceries and drugstores had been transformed in a process that originated with Sam Walton, who took advantage of deregulation to expand Walmart nationwide. Walmart was followed by waves of copycats who used predatory pricing to drive local merchants out of business. Big-box stores became a fixture, and represented such an important part of the mass-market bookselling channel that they were able to restructure the entire market.

First among their demands was an end to regional distributing. A retailer with outlets in 50 states didn’t want to manage 50 distribution accounts (indeed, most distribution territories were citywide, or even neighborhood-by-neighborhood, so a national chain might need to open hundreds of distributor accounts to serve all its stores). Within the space of a few short years, the number of distributors nationwide fell from about 400 to fewer than ten, in an orgy of bankruptcies and mergers.

This had a profound effect on the mass-market. Decisions about which books would be sold where were no longer in the hands of thousands of drivers who knew their territories intimately through long experience — rather, they were centralized into the hands of a few buyers who used databases to track sales and make predictions about the most “efficient” titles to stock nationwide.

The number of titles for sale nationwide fell off a cliff, and woe betide an author whose book failed to meet sales targets. A single stumble could lead to the permanent exclusion of that author from a big box chain’s consideration. Without those big box stores, publishers could no longer profitably publish those authors. If you are a genre fan of a certain age, you’ll remember the wave of established writers who rebooted their careers by switching to pen-names in a bid to trick these all-powerful buyers into giving them another chance.

Monopolies beget monopolies

The effects of deregulation —the Reagan-initiated “consumer welfare” reconstruction of antitrust enforcement —weren’t confined to Walmart and other big box retailers. Bookstore chains devoured one another in a too-fast-to-follow blizzard that saw mall stores nationwide changing corporate ownership more often than they changed their window displays (Borders was bought by Kmart, merged with Waldenbooks, spun out again, renamed, merged with a toy retailer, expanded globally, merged with the UK chain Books etc, flipped to private equity, debt loaded and crushed; Barnes and Noble bought B. Dalton and Bookstop, went public, bought Gamestop — yes, that Gamestop — started haemorrhaging money, got flipped to private equity, and rebooted under new leadership with James Daunt at the helm).

These mergers weren’t just driven by deregulation, though: monopoly begets monopoly. With mass-market sales dominated by big-box retailers (who could use predatory pricing to discount books below their wholesale prices), booksellers’ share of mass-market revenues collapsed. Getting big enough to negotiate preferential terms from publishers — in the form of “co-op” payments to promote blockbuster titles, as well as sweetheart discounts, “incentives,” and favorable credit terms — was one way for bookselling to compete in the new market.

This was bad news for publishers, of course (it was even worse news for independent booksellers, who not only couldn’t get the favorable terms extorted by big box retailers and the Big Two national bookstore chains, but actually saw their terms get worse in this period, as publishers took their gains where they could get them).

Consolidation in both trade and mass-market retail and distributorship was met with consolidation in publishing. Publishing went from dozens of publishers to a handful that continues to dwindle to this day: the Big Six publishers of the 2010 are now the Big Four, thanks to Penguin-Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster (the full name of this monstrosity is properly “Viking-Putnam-Berkeley-Avery-Ace-Avon-Grosset & Dunlop-Playboy Press-New American Library-Dutton-Jove-Dial-Warne-Ladybird-Pelican-Hamish Hamilton-Tarcher-Bantam-Doubleday-Dell-Knopf-Harold Shaw-Multnomah-Pocket-Esquire-Allyn & Bacon-Quercus-Fearon-Janus-Penguin-Random House-Simon & Schuster”).

Health-care-ificatoin of publishing

Meanwhile, both trade and mass-market retail were collapsing even further, as Amazon claimed the lion’s share of both markets, giving the final say over what books were connected with which readers to a single firm, whose executives used a mix of algorithms, superstition, vindictiveness and raw, anticompetitive bullying to determine which books would succeed or fail.

. . . .

As competition in publishing has faded, the deal for most writers has gotten worse. We’ve seen a rise in odious contracting terms, from binding arbitration waivers; to “joint accounting” that allows publishers to drain money owed for a successful book’s sales to cover the failure of another book; to non-negotiable inclusion of ebook, foreign, graphic novel and audio rights (with no increase in advances); to the abolishment of rights-reversion for out-of-print books. Advances and royalty rates have stalled.

Books are doing fine, authors (and publishing workers) are not — just as health insurers, hospitals and pharma companies are thriving, while patients and medical workers’ fortunes are growing steadily worse.

The decline in the author’s share of the pie is directly attributable to a decline in competition among publishers (which, in turn, is directly attributable to a decline in competition among retailers and distributors). In a world with four large publishers, if Publisher A passes on your book or makes a unacceptably low offer, you try your luck with Publishers B, C, and D, and, if four decision-makers all make no offer or a poor offer, you’re done.

This situation is bad for writers, readers and publishing workers (the same dynamic plays out for publishing workers — if you don’t get a job at Macmillan, Harpercollins, Hachette or Random Penguin, then you have been rejected by every major publisher). Many things have been tried to fix this system.

The myth of the benevolent giant

First came the search for an alternative to publishing itself (just as the mass-market was an alternative to trade publishing). Writers, readers and editorial workers sought out other sectors who’d get the books they wanted into the hands of readers. There were a lot of startups that tried to fill this niche, but apart from some religious publishers, the only one that attained liftoff was Amazon, which leveraged its dominance in every other area of publishing to create a successful alternative to the publishing industry itself.

But while Amazon produced some high-profile wins for indie writers, and a port of call for editorial workers shed by the major publishers in post-merger layoffs, the honeymoon was destined to be short and end bitterly.

After all, the reason companies in concentrated industries treat their customers, workers and suppliers badly is because they can. Google doesn’t shower its tech workers with stock options, free kombucha and massages because of its generous spirit —if the company was a champion of labor rights, then these same perks would extend to its low-waged workers, too. The fact that these workers are misclassified as independent contractors and paid through a staffing agency cutout reveals the true predictor of how Google will treat you: how hard you are to replace.

When the options for writers dwindled — as publishing concentrated into fewer hands — the treatment for the writers who defected to Amazon also declined. They became replaceable. Right on schedule, the company embarked on a program of wage theft that stole tens of millions of dollars from the indie authors who’d shackled themselves to Amazon’s platform.

The only way that the mass of disorganized readers, workers and suppliers of an industry can get a fair deal is for the industry itself to be disorganized — to consist of competing firms that have something to lose if we walk out of the door. Trading one monopolist for the other in the hopes that it would look more kindly upon us was doomed from the start.

The writer-friendly mid-tier

In parallel with this effort to pit one giant against another, many publishing workers embarked upon upon a very different project: to fill the gap between self-publishing and the Big Six^H^H^H Five^H^H^H^H Four publishers with “boutique” publishers staffed by publishing veterans and bright young publishing workers, scooping up the fantastic authors who had been turned away from the big publishers.

This project has been much more successful than the giant-seeking expedition that ended with Amazon devouring the writers who’d helped it build its indie platform.

Today’s publishing landscape boasts a very exciting mid-tier of publishers, some organized as nonprofits, others as commercial entities. Several of them — Canada’s Raincoast, the UK’s Bloomsbury — have been able to grow to regional juggernauts thanks to their willingness to publish JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel after it was rejected by major publishers.

These scrappy publishers are doing marvellous things, and the internet has allowed them to connect with audiences in unique ways, while a new tier of distributors have cropped up to serve as a bridge between the mid-tier and the nation’s struggling, tenacious, and utterly vital indie bookstores.

I’ve dealt with several of these mid-sized publishers and I can report that they are great to work with. To be fair, they can screw things up just as much as the big publishers (whom I also work with) do, and it’s true that from a writer’s perspective it doesn’t matter if something bad happens to your book because a giant publisher’s bureaucracy failed it or because a small publisher didn’t have the staff or ready cash to capitalize on an opportunity. But they can also score wins with books that the big publishers can’t or won’t figure out how to get into readers’ hands, and they represent a competitor and hedge against further intensification of the Big Four’s squeeze on writers.

The endangered mid-tier

But the existence of this thriving mid-tier doesn’t change the overall dynamics of publishing. The squeeze on workers and writers isn’t just the result of an industry dominated by four publishers — it’s also the consequence of an industry with one major distributor (Ingram), one major brick and mortar bookstore (B&N) and one major online bookseller (Amazon, whose audiobook dominance through Audible is even more extensive than its dominance of print and e-books).

The one advantage that the Big Four publishers have that the mid-tier of publishing does not is that they are big enough to push back (with limited effectiveness) against Amazon and Ingram’s worst practices. Lacking this might-checking-might, the mid-tier is in a precarious place indeed.

Amazon, recall, is the company that once created a “Gazelle Project,” to “approach the small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue sickly gazelle,” to get them to accept unfavorable terms for their books in the Kindle store. That was in 2004. Does anyone think the company has gotten less willing to play hardball since then?

Fewer people are attuned to the risk of all of distribution consolidating into one company, Ingram, but this should alarm anyone who cares about publishing. Distributors are incredibly powerful, and anyone who distributes on behalf of third parties has numerous opportunities to engage in funny accounting practices whereby they cream off a sneaky share of their own.

. . . .

Self publishing

With all this, you may be tempted to self-publish. After all, the mechanics of self-publishing have never been simpler or more extenisve. Lulu will print beautiful books onshore, quickly, and cheaply (I ran up some “author’s galleys” for a couple of my upcoming books to use in soliciting blurbs and feedback and discovered to my delight that I could print a 6 inch x 9 inch finished, perfect-bound book with a full-color cover for less than I pay to photocopy and side-staple a manuscript at my local copy shop!). Smashwords and Bookbaby offer extensive author services and ebook distribution.

And, of course, Amazon will take your book for the Kindle store, and Ingram will accept it as a print-on-demand title available to every bookstore in the country (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em).

I often hear from friends and strangers who want to know what I think of self-publishing. Here’s what I tell them:

Publishing a professional-quality volume has never been easier. Working with publishing platforms, you can contract with excellent proofers, copyeditors, cover artists, book designers, typographers — the whole stack of professional services that go into making a book into a finished product (many of them are publishing veterans, still using their skills after merger-based layoffs). You can hire as many or as few of these professionals as you need, based on the skills you bring to the table.

But that still leaves you with a serious problem — perhaps the most serious problem in publishing. All of that stuff is writing and printing, but until the book finds its readers, it is not publishing.

As my beloved novel editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden told me long, long ago, “Publishing is the process of identifying a work and its audience, and then taking whatever steps are necessary to connect the two.” That may include cover design or marketing copy or copy-editing, but it also includes the huge, ill-defined, and nebulous world of marketing, sales, and publicity.

Put simply, you need to figure out why anyone, anywhere should give a shit that you wrote a book. This is a very hard problem. Indeed, it’s the hard problem of religion, advertising and politics: getting someone else to care about something you want them to care about.

. . . .

Here’s where publishers have an advantage: they have a longitudinal view of how books and audiences find one another. They publish lots of books. They try variations on their marketing, sales and publicity with each book, see which tactics show the most promise, and refine them. They can iterate.

That’s the single largest disadvantage faced by self-publishers. You go into your marketing and publicity plan without any precedents to have learned hard lessons from. You are a data-set of one.

. . . .

Publishing is — by definition — very good at targeting readers, but when it comes to targeting the vastly larger world of non-readers, publishing’s expertise is far patchier. After all, understanding “non-readers” involves understanding the whole world, the motivations not just of people who do buy books, but people who don’t.

Mega-bestsellers are just books that a small proportion of non-readers read. “Airport novels,” books that Oprah pitches, books that get made into movies — these are all books that are exposed to groups of non-readers that are orders of magnitude larger than the people who consider themselves “readers.” And they’re funnels: the Harry Potter novels and 50 Shades of Grey both introduced vast numbers of non-readers to books, and induced a small proportion of those non-readers to become readers.

This is where self-publishing has a potential advantage relative to publishing. You may be in touch with a group of non-readers — a faith group, members of a subculture or fandom, a professional association or a political movement — that you have well-developed ideas for reaching and convincing to give a shit about your book. It’s entirely possible that you are the first person who’s ever considered the potential pathway to engaging that group of people, that is, you might be the world’s leading expert on the subject.

In that instance, a publisher brings a lot less to the table. 

Link to the rest at Cory Doctorow and thanks to C. for the tip.

As mentioned at the outset, PG doesn’t agree with all of Mr. Doctorow’s ideas and opinions although there are many good ones.

PG’s main disagreement is that publishers are good at what they do. In the US, traditional publishing is a shared monopoly that has a strong connection with book distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor) and, through them an excellent connection with traditional bookstores, including rapidly-collapsing Barnes & Noble.

With respect to the place where the most people buy their books, Amazon, traditional publishing doesn’t have a monopoly and all the old boy networks that run through traditional publishing channels don’t mean anything.

Here’s PG’s hypothetical question – if you had to choose one of the following (and only one), which would you rather be:

#1 bestselling author at Barnes & Noble?

or

#1 bestselling author at Amazon?

As a matter of fact, PG thinks most authors would prefer being the #1 bestselling author on Amazon to being the #1 bestselling author on all the other book sales platforms combined.

Traditional publishing simply has not been able to make the transition to an internet-dominated book sales channel. Yes, they spend money on author tours (both virtual and meatspace) and NYT reviews and persuade Oprah to talk about their books, but they also take the large majority of all of the revenues the book generates and give the author only a small piece of the pie.

Traditional publishers are simply not able to hire and retain very smart people. Does anybody at the top of their MBA class at Wharton go to work for a big New York publisher? Does anybody at the bottom of their MBA class at Wharton go to work for a big New York publisher?

Does anybody who is reasonably intelligent and talented who has other employment options (and no trust fund to fall back on) go to work for a New York publisher?

End of PG rant. You may enjoy Mr. Doctorow’s OP more.

A Message to Our Community: Our Continued Commitment to Advancing Equity and Justice

From BookBub:

Just over a year ago, the horrific killings of George Floyd and several other Black individuals led to a historic reckoning with systemic racism, prompting people and organizations — including our own — to reflect on how we’re perpetuating such social injustice.

Last June, we shared a message to our community with preliminary thoughts about our shortcomings and initial ideas for how we could effect positive change. Now that a year has passed, we want to hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we made in that message by providing the community with an update on our progress so far.

Reflecting on the commitments we made last year, we’ve made some progress, but not as much as we had hoped, and it’s clear there is much more work ahead. In this message, we share a summary of the work we pursued in the five areas of commitment we outlined in last year’s message as well as our plans to continue and broaden these efforts.

The first commitment we made last year was to audit the books we promote so we could understand our current representation of books by authors of color. This year we completed a preliminary analysis of the books that get submitted to us by our partners and those we select for promotions on BookBub or Chirp. While this audit was imperfect in a number of ways, it gave us a top-level estimate for our current representation rates.

Our audit showed that while our editors selected books by authors of color at the same rate as books by white authors, books by people of color made up less than 10% of our overall submissions, a figure that is well below reflecting the populations of the countries we primarily serve.

While this shortcoming may in some part be due to underrepresentation of published authors of color in the industry as a whole, we know we have a responsibility to address this issue ourselves. As a result, we’ve actively begun exploring ways to both encourage our partners to increase the number of books by authors of color submitted to us and help underrepresented voices be published and read, and we plan to increasingly invest here. We also realized we need a more automated method of auditing the books that we feature so we can track our aggregate progress on an ongoing basis, so we’re investing in ways to do this as well.

Our second commitment was to help break the echo chamber in publishing, the cycle in which the industry publishes and promotes books that are “comparable” to those that have sold well in the past, and tends to favor the same (generally white) authors and types of books that have historically been published and promoted.

This past year we’ve worked on several initiatives to try to push back on this trend, including creating more recurring opportunities to prominently merchandise authors of color on our sites, featuring more authors of color in our blog content, speaking with our publisher partners about their efforts around representation, and discussing ways to evolve our selection process to be based not only on historical performance trends but also on featuring a range of content.

In addition, we’ve started adjusting the way our algorithms surface authors and books to our members to show a more diverse selection of content. One specific change we made over the past year was to adjust our author suggestion system to recommend a larger and more diverse pool of authors that our readers might want to follow. This change has led to a significant increase in the percentage of members following authors of color and will increase the visibility of those authors’ deals, new releases, and other activity. Although improvements like this are small in the grand scheme of breaking the industry’s echo chamber, we’re hopeful that continuing to invest in even minor changes will help us play a part in driving equity and representation in the industry at large.

Link to the rest at BookBub and thanks to D (who wonders how BookBub identifies authors of color) for the tip.

PG also wonders whether BookBub has any processes for determining whether someone who claims to be an “author of color” in order to obtain additional promotion and other benefits from BookBub is, in fact, an author of color.

In the OP at the link, PG could find no definition of “author of color”.

The date of the OP was June 28, 2021. BookBub published an earlier post on the same general topic on June 18, 2020, about a year earlier. The earlier post included the following paragraphs:

Like so many people around the world, our team reacted with horror and despair to the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many other Black people killed by police or denied swift justice by the state after being killed. These dehumanizing tragedies reinforce much broader statistical data that the U.S. persists in not valuing the lives of Black people as highly as other individuals. Such racial inequity is antithetical to our company values, and our organization fully supports the movement to make sure Black Lives Matter.

This latest string of deaths has led to demands for law enforcement reform, but has also brought about a much needed surge of awareness and discussion around systemic racism, leading so many of us to examine how we as individuals, businesses, and society are empowering the status quo.

Our team is no exception. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reading, listening, learning, and scrutinizing everything we do as a company, looking for places where we and the publishing industry are perpetuating problems, or where we see opportunities to effect positive change.

. . . .

Are aspects of our book selection process or categorizations stifling Black and other underrepresented voices from gaining a wider audience? Could we be doing more to elevate such voices on our platform, or influence change within the industry to get more voices published and promoted? 

. . . .

 We believe we will do our best by listening to input from our members, authors, and publishers (especially those in our community who are Black or from other underrepresented backgrounds) about how we can make impactful and lasting changes to address systemic racism.

. . . .

Our industry invests most heavily in authors who have historically sold well, or books that the industry feels are “comparable” to those that were popular in the past. This practice reinforces the same (generally white) authors and types of books hitting bestseller charts while Black and other underrepresented voices struggle to get published or earn promotion budgets. We’ve realized our practices can perpetuate this echo chamber since we too decide which books to feature based on historical performance with our audience. We’ve started exploring ways to revamp how we select, categorize, and merchandise our books to break this cycle and start widening exposure for Black and other underrepresented authors. 

. . . .

When we asked ourselves how much we were highlighting books by Black authors or from other underrepresented voices in general, we realized we didn’t fully know because we don’t track metrics on this subject. For an organization that strives to be both inclusive and data driven, not tracking this information is a significant failure. We’ve started working on metrics to quantify author diversity in our book sales and selection process, both to see where we are now as a baseline and to measure the success of our initiatives.

Link to the rest at BookBub

NOTE: PG drafted this post a few weeks ago, but did not put it up, then forgot about it for awhile.

PG is a bit cranky from spending too much time traveling to and from airports and on airplanes during the past several days. He remembers when airlines tried to create a veneer of glamour that accompanied the flying experience and seemed pleased when he showed up at the airport to board a plane.

That is definitely no longer the case. The decline was present before September, 2011, but it has greatly increased since the installation of a great many ill-paid and surly government employees at every airport who change the security protocols every few weeks to keep the terrorists and tourists off-balance.

PG is not 75 years of age, but, after failing one or more security processes at various airports, he was asked if he was 75 years of age (not necessarily the best ego-booster around) on several occasions, Perhaps the airport security theater process may have aged him prematurely.

Evidently, if PG survives to the age of 75, government employees will have a whole new security process for him. Perhaps the new one will be designed to get PG off the Social Security rolls as quickly as possible in addition to catching ancient terrorists.

PG suspects questions like, “How many fingers am I holding up?” and, “What was the make, year and model of the car you were driving during your first drivers license test?” may be added to airport security protocols to make certain that foreign evil-doers disguising themselves as senile men of a certain age don’t blow up airplanes while sitting in coach.

But back to the OP.

If an “author of color” is not expressly defined, PG will argue that he qualifies. Due to a bit of time spent out in the sun, he is a bit brown with darker speckles which appear from otherwise unobtrusive. If he holds his arm up to a sheet on a hotel bed, PG is definitely not white. The sheet is white and PG is a color other than white.

As a person of color, PG strenuously objects to being wrongly classified with persons who have no color. He is simply different from them on a fundamental basis. From the earliest days of his youth, PG’s skin has never resembled a white bedsheet. He loudly contends that spotted tannish lives matter.

Where My Money Comes From

From Jane Friedman:

While I’ve often revealed at conferences and workshops where my money comes from—complete with pie charts—I’ve never laid out in writing, at this site, what my earnings looks like. It is perhaps an overdue look, since I reach more people through this blog than I do through speaking engagements.

My 3 key categories of earnings

Most of my income arises from three types of work:

  • Consulting one-on-one with writers
  • Teaching in-person and online
  • Paid writing (newsletters, articles, books) and indirect income from free writing (advertising and affiliate income through my website and newsletter)

Since I started full-time freelancing in 2015, these categories have always remained central, although the mix and character of the work shifts.

What my top-line income looked like in 2016

Here’s what was happening in each of these categories.

  • Online teaching (26%): This includes (1) multi-week workshops I was offering directly, (2) multi-week workshops I was offering by guest instructors (I kept a cut of registration fees), and (3) webinars I taught for other companies, such as Writer’s Digest. While it looks like a healthy percentage of my income, my profit margin was low on courses taught by others.
  • Query-synopsis editing (24%): In 2016, I started attracting a steady stream of clients who were seeking help with their queries and synopses for submission to agents and editors.
  • Consulting (17%): I do two types of consulting: book proposal consulting and one-on-one consulting. It’s all done on an hourly, flat-fee basis, trading money for time.
  • Paid newsletter (12%): In late 2015, I launched a paid email newsletter (The Hot Sheet) with Porter Anderson. This was the first year we had a full year of subscription income, which we split down the middle after expenses. (The profit margin is excellent, about 90 percent.)
  • Freelance writing (7%): This included varied opportunities, including features for Writer’s Digest magazine. I also initially counted The Great Courses income under this, because it literally required me to write 100,000 words in three months. (I had to write the script for the course, then deliver on camera.)
  • Affiliate income (6%): I’m an Amazon affiliate and also started affiliate arrangements around 2016 with Teachable and Bluehost. I don’t work for this money; it’s passive income.
  • Book sales (5%): This is all income from Publishing 101, which I self-published in late 2015.
  • Conference speaking (3%): Some people think I get paid the big bucks for speaking. I do not. It represents the smallest of my revenue streams in 2016. But speaking (especially in person) is important for visibility and trust. It’s also critical for me to remain in touch with real writers’ everyday concerns, plus I get to hear and learn from other experts in the community.

If I combine these into my three main areas of income:

  • 41% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
  • 30% writing (affiliate income goes in here since it’s powered by my writing and blogging)
  • 29% teaching and speaking

What my top-line income looked like in 2020

You’ll notice one big change here!

Here’s what was happening in each of these categories. And note that 2020 was the first full year that my husband joined the business as a full-time employee.

  • Online teaching (48%): In fall 2019, I began hosting my own webinars because I now had someone who could help with post-production and customer service. Some webinars I teach myself and others feature guest instructors. This move proved fortunate when the pandemic rolled around. I keep 50 percent of the net for webinars taught by guest instructors. I still continue to teach for a range of organizations and companies, so that’s still included here as well.
  • Query-synopsis editing (12%): I stopped taking on this work in the middle of 2020 to open up more room in my schedule for writing work. I still offer a query letter master class, though—that income now falls under online teaching.
  • Consulting (16%): In 2020, I was still accepting one-on-one consulting clients and book proposal clients. In 2021, I now accept only book proposal clients in an ongoing effort to pull back some of my time for writing (or at least make consulting time more profitable).
  • Paid newsletter (16%): I am now the full owner of The Hot Sheet. While this percentage doesn’t look much increased despite me now taking 100% of the net, it’s not because the subscriber base didn’t grow. Rather, it’s a reflection of how much the other areas of my business have grown—namely online teaching. Also, if this were a profits chart, not a top-line revenue chart, the paid newsletter would represent a bigger proportion of the pie.
  • Book sales (3%): This is income from Publishing 101, my Great Course, and The Business of Being a Writer.
  • Conference speaking (3%): This includes some virtual conferences and would’ve been more had it not been for the pandemic. (I’m not complaining, though! I needed to get off the travel wagon for a while.)
  • Advertising (2%): I recently started accepting advertisers in Electric Speed, my free newsletter.
  • Affiliate income (1%): Amazon has reduced its affiliate marketing payouts over time, and I’m more often linking to Bookshop—which simply doesn’t bring in as much income. (But one feels better linking to it.) I’ve also stopped actively engaging in or seeking affiliate marketing, not because I’m against it, but frankly I have a lot of other things I’d rather do.

If I combine these into my three main areas of income:

  • 51% teaching and speaking
  • 28% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
  • 22% writing (advertising/affiliate goes here since it’s powered by my writing)

Yes, I realize this adds up to 101%. What can I say? My spreadsheet rounded things up.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG really likes Jane’s flexibility. She isn’t afraid to modify her work emphasis as market conditions and her personal desires change.

A handful of people stumble on a magic formula that works over and over again so long as they just keep repeating the same effort over and over again.

However, very few businesses are that predictable and unchanging over a long period of time.

Technology changes, what people want and are willing to pay for changes, etc., etc., etc.

For PG, this is one of the great weaknesses of the wash, rinse, repeat mindset of traditional publishing. They really, really want to keep doing things the way they did them before. Paying someone a few thousand dollars to run a social media promotion for a book is regarded as a big creative move (in an age where teens can become social media stars with a new angle and a new attitude and use their fame and followers to build a commercial business from scratch.

If you really don’t want to change, putting a new coat of paint on the old machine won’t fool anybody outside of your closed little world.

Act Like A Professional

From Writers Helping Writers:

Now that in-person conferences are back, it’s a good time to review proper etiquette for these gatherings. I’ve been teaching at writers conferences for over twenty years, and I’ve seen a ton of aspiring writers in various stages of disequilibrium. Everyone wants to get a book contract and everyone’s a little scared they never will. They hear stories about the odds and it sends shivers to the tips of their typing fingers. 

In the course of these conference years I’ve seen a number of writers who have gotten that contract and gone on to be published by major houses. I’ve even helped a few get there, which is nice. And while it’s nearly impossible to judge why one manuscript makes it and another—which is comparable or even better—does not, I have made note of one item: The overwhelming majority of writers I’ve seen make it are those who look and act like a professional.

When you meet unpublished writers who act like pros, you form the immediate impression that it’s only a matter of time before they make it. This impression is not lost on agents and editors. 

So what are the marks of a professional? 

Grooming

Successful writers-in-waiting look professional. They do not come off as slobs or slackers. They dress sharply though unpretentiously. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but we do it all the time with people. Don’t shoot down your first impression by looking unkempt or having stink-breath that can kill low flying birds.

Industry Knowledge

Professionals know something about their profession. They spend time reading blogs and books and the trades, though not to the exclusion of their writing.

To the Point

A pro has the ability to focus on what the other person (e.g., an agent) will find valuable and, most important, can deliver that in a concise and persuasive manner. You should be able to tell someone, in 30 seconds or less, what your book is about, in such a way that the person can immediately see its potential. 

Courtesy

Common courtesy goes a long way, especially these days. If you have an appointment with an agent, be there two minutes early. When you’re done, thank them. Follow up with a short and appropriate e-mail.  Don’t call them unless you’ve been invited to. Don’t get angry or petulant, even if there’s a reason for it. Burning bridges is never a good career move.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

PG is certain the author of the OP is knowledgeable and meant well with his suggestions, but, for PG’s PG-ish tendencies, especially in the morning, the OP represented a great many things he dislikes about the traditional book business.

We only deal with the right kind of people.

Fit in or else.

Remember who has the power and who doesn’t.

A little groveling goes a long way.

We don’t need you but you need us.

A great many people PG has dealt with in the traditional publishing establishment think they’re smarter than they are.

He’ll rant on lawyers who work for publishers because, for PG, they represent tendencies he sees in many different areas of the publishing biz.

  1. They’re not very good lawyers. Nobody who graduates from a decent law school with decent grades wants to go to work for a publisher. For one thing, they can make a lot more money working elsewhere and for another, the work they do on a daily basis isn’t very challenging or interesting.
  2. They aren’t very good negotiators (one of the most important talents of a good business/contracts attorney) because they don’t think they have to be. After all, every author needs a publisher more than the publisher needs them.
  3. They spend most of their time dealing with literary agents, not other lawyers. Some agents are intelligent and competent, but anybody can call themselves a literary agent. There are no entry requirements, no classes they have to take, nada. And every agent needs a publisher way, way more than the publisher needs an agent. (There may be a small group of elite agents representing gonzo best-selling authors who are more important, but the gonzo combination is pretty rare.)
  4. Like everyone else in publishing, they secretly know that Amazon has changed the world, but they don’t like to think about that because they’re not sure where else they could find a job.

PG will stop being uncharitable for awhile, but he has always been annoyed by paper-thin establishments that act stupidly.

“Enterprise self-publishing” is coming

From Mike Shatzkin at The Idea Logical Company:

The book business is in the early stages of its third great disruption in the past quarter century. The first two both changed the shape of the industry and created winners and losers across the entire value chain: touching every step from how authors got money to how readers got books. Significant institutional players were lost in both prior disruptions, and all the ones who remained had to change their models and practices significantly.

The cause of the disruption on both prior occasions and now was the introduction of asymmetric competition. Before 1995, publishing and retailing were the province of entities that did it in a businesslike way, usually for profit but always within an organizational structure dedicated to their publishing or retailing activity.

Amazon changed that in the 1990s when they were able to sustain virtually profit-free retailing, employing two points of leverage which they uniquely discovered. One is that they used book retailing as a customer acquisition tool: they always had the intention to make profits in other ways on the customers they sold books to. The other is that they persuaded Wall Street that their profit-less growth was valuable and that it was worth increasing their share price based on sales growth that didn’t (yet) produce profits. (Wall Street might also have been seduced by another unique feature of their model: positive cash flow on sales. Amazon would sell you a book today and take your money and they didn’t have to pay Ingram for the book they’d get and ship you tomorrow or the next day for another month or more!)

The second great disruption was spawned by Amazon’s Kindle, which was the big driver needed to galvanize what is a robust capability for authors to publish themselves. In this case, the asymmetry didn’t come from Amazon, but from the massive horde of independent self-publishing authors they have spawned. They have collectively crowd-sourced millions of titles into a market which was previously supplied pretty much exclusively by publishers. And authors often, if not usually, deliver their competitive titles with pricing strategies that a publisher paying royalties and rents and salaries couldn’t begin to match.

And now we are at the dawn of a third reordering of publishing’s structural and commercial landscape. The infrastructure capabilities spawned by the past dozen years of author self-publishing are now industrial strength. Ingram is the heart of this. It is literally the case today that all you need to be a publisher is a manuscript and a checkbook to pay freelancers; all you need to be a book retailer (print and digital) is customers. Ingram can provide all the rest, mostly with transaction-based pricing, so there are no large up-front investments required. Service organizations that handle details from copy-editing to cover design to press release copy for books, one of which I am helping to build now, are ubiquitous.

What I believe we are on the verge of seeing is that waves of entities will discover that they can clearly benefit from publishing books. Think of this as enterprise self-publishing. Every law firm, accounting firm, consulting firm, retailer, political campaign, cause organization, charity, and church, synagogue, or mosque is only a bit of imagination and effort away from books that can promote any variety of missions. These will be books delivered by a vast unaffiliated network of entities doing publishing as a “function”, not publishing as a “business”.

Across what will be many times the number of titles as are now being published, making money will sometimes happen. But in most cases the payoff from the publishing “investment” will be expected to be realized in other ways. The new players who are doing “publishing as a function” will also band together in countless opportunistic ways. But, once again, that asymmetry of economic purpose will be poison to people trying to publish books as a rational, stand-alone economic enterprise.

. . . .

The first big disruption — Amazon as a retailer — completely remade the retail network in less than two decades. The second — easily-enabled self-publishing — unleashed a tsunami of titles in competition with the ones delivered by the commercially-minded players. The combination has spawned two trends, neither of which has any end in sight.

The first trend is that the sale of books is increasingly online. If you add ebooks and books sold via customer-generated web ordering of print, it is well over half the business. Bookstores are less and less important to the overall sales profile, only three decades after they were the only player in many sales profiles. Mass merchants are paying somewhat more attention to books, but the biggest remaining chain dedicated to selling books, Barnes & Noble, is still shrinking.

The second trend is that the share of all book sales that is delivered by “real” publishers is also shrinking. That has been true for the many years since authors were empowered by Amazon, and then by IngramSpark, to put their books into the marketplace effectively without working through a publisher. But if I’m right that every business with a marketing or business development or client relations budget will explore how books can help their business, what the authors have spawned will be dwarfed by what enterprise self-publishing will do in the coming decade.

Link to the rest at The Idea Logical Company

Saluting HMH, a Storied Trade Publisher

From Publishers Weekly:

I came to the trade division at Houghton Mifflin in fall 2003 as senior v-p of trade sales, at the tail end of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The French conglomerate Vivendi had purchased Houghton a few years earlier, taken it private, and had sold it to a consortium of bankers and investors at a huge loss. Vivendi was the first, but it wouldn’t be the last disastrous foreign investor in what had historically been the highly profitable U.S. education business. Meanwhile, the trade division was coming off an outstanding three-year run thanks to Tolkien—perhaps the best in its long and storied history.

The longevity of HM (founded in 1832) isn’t unique among publishing houses, but it was certainly a source of pride inside the division and within the larger corporation. There was a deep respect for the history, close attention to the present, and a vision for the future. In other words, it was a company that knew what it was about: educating and entertaining children and adults. But dark clouds were forming on the horizon.

The education marketplace had been a cash-rich business for decades, with much higher margins than those in the consumer business. Educational spending was slowly but steadily rising in these years, which attracted investor attention. In short, the industry was ripe for takeover and consolidation. Investors began leveraging these cash-rich businesses, taking on what they thought was manageable debt and looking for synergies across their acquisitions.

In December 2006, Riverdeep Holdings purchased Houghton Mifflin. One year later, Riverdeep purchased the educational and consumer publisher Harcourt Education and created Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Both purchases were highly leveraged. In need of cash to service its enormous debt, Riverdeep sold the trade imprint Kingfisher to Macmillan, and shortly after, sold the college division to Thompson Learning (now Cengage).

It was in this environment that I was asked to take over as president of the trade division in fall 2007. A year later, the Great Recession roiled the economy and educational spending plummeted. After a tumultuous and difficult year of painful cost cutting, the trade division was put up for sale in 2009. Offers were made, but a deal was never struck. Through several debt restructurings, and a few turnovers in the corner office, the company went public in 2013.

In 2015 HMH made a cash purchase of Scholastic’s EdTech business, but the financial pressures in the education business continued. In 2018, the standardized testing division, Riverside, was sold. In fall 2020, more than 500 employees were laid off. Once HMH made the decision to transition into a primarily digital company, it was only a matter of time before what was called HMH Books and Media (Trade) was sold to continue paying down the debt.

. . . .

And now, it’s gone. Yes, the HMH logo will appear on the spines and copyright pages of books and audios for a short while, but the proud and feisty trade publisher we all loved and adored is no more, with the brand to be used by the digital technology company. HMH is now part of history, another merger story, among so many in publishing.

During my 40-plus years in the book business, I’ve experienced my share of mergers and acquisitions, but this one especially hurts.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Greater Fool Theory

From Investopedia:

What Is the Greater Fool Theory?

The greater fool theory argues that prices go up because people are able to sell overpriced securities to a “greater fool,” whether or not they are overvalued. That is, of course, until there are no greater fools left.

Investing, according to the greater fool theory, means ignoring valuations, earnings reports, and all the other data. Ignoring the fundamentals is, of course, risky; and so people subscribing to the greater fool theory could be left holding the bag after a correction.

Understanding the Greater Fool Theory

If acting in accordance with the greater fool theory, an investor will purchase questionably priced securities without any regard to their quality. If the theory holds, the investor will still be able to quickly sell them off to another “greater fool,” who could also be hoping to flip them quickly.

Unfortunately, speculative bubbles burst eventually, leading to a rapid depreciation in share prices. The greater fool theory breaks down in other circumstances, as well, including during economic recessions and depressions. In 2008, when investors purchased faulty mortgage-backed securities (MBS), it was difficult to find buyers when the market collapsed.

. . . .

Greater Fool Theory and Intrinsic Valuation

One of the reasons that it was difficult to find buyers for MBS during the 2008 financial crisis was that these securities were built on debt that was of very poor quality. It is important in any situation to conduct thorough due diligence on an investment, including a valuation model in some circumstances, to determine its fundamental worth.

Due diligence is a broad term that encompasses a range of qualitative and quantitative analyses. Some aspects of due diligence can include calculating a company’s capitalization or total value; identifying revenue, profit, and margin trends; researching competitors and industry trends; as well as putting the investment in a broader market context—crunching certain multiples such as price-to-earnings (PE), price-to-sales (P/S), and price/earnings-to-growth (PEG).

Link to the rest at Investopedia

Victoria’s Secret Swaps Angels for ‘What Women Want.’ Will They Buy It?

From The New York Times:

The Victoria’s Secret Angels, those avatars of Barbie bodies and playboy reverie, are gone. Their wings, fluttery confections of rhinestones and feathers that could weigh almost 30 pounds, are gathering dust in storage. The “Fantasy Bra,” dangling real diamonds and other gems, is no more.

In their place are seven women famous for their achievements and not their proportions. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.

They will be spearheading what may be the most extreme and unabashed attempt at a brand turnaround in recent memory: an effort to redefine the version of “sexy” that Victoria’s Secret represents (and sells) to the masses. For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Jessica Rabbit curves epitomized a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of step with the broader culture and Victoria’s Secret facing increased competition and internal turmoil, the company wants to become, its chief executive said, a leading global “advocate” for female empowerment.

Will women buy it? An upcoming spinoff, more than $5 billion in annual sales, and 32,000 jobs in a global retail network that includes roughly 1,400 stores are riding on the answer.

. . . .

“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”

. . . .

Founded in 1977 as a store where men could feel comfortable shopping for lingerie, even the name referred to male fantasies of prim Victorian ladies who became naughty in the boudoir. The retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner bought Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a phenomenon that helped shape society’s view of female sexuality and beauty ideals. Central to its ethos were the “Angels” — supermodels like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks who posed exclusively for the brand, often in G-strings, stilettos and wings. In 1995, it introduced the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, a sort of cross between a runway show and a pole dance that aired on network television for nearly two decades.

It has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was dated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, complete with more typical women’s bodies and a focus on inclusivity and diversity.

. . . .

“In the old days, the Victoria brand had a single lens, which was called ‘sexy,’” Mr. Waters said. While that sold for decades, it also prevented the brand from offering products like maternity or post-mastectomy bras (not considered sexy) and prompted it to sell push-up sports bras (sexy, but not so popular). It also meant, he said, “that the brand never celebrated Mother’s Day.” (Not sexy.)

There are plenty of people who do, in fact, find motherhood seductive, but the myopia of the Victoria’s Secret lens was such that they were never acknowledged, let alone listened to.

. . . .

Victoria’s Secret is betting a chunk of its marketing budget that persuading such unexpected personalities to join its cause will in turn convince consumers, and potential investors, to similarly believe in its shift, giving a new meaning to halo effect.

As Ms. Rapinoe said, “I don’t know if Victoria has a secret anymore.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

For PG, the NYT’s key quote (and one of relevance for the book business and everybody else) is, “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond.”

For PG, traditional publishing is the epitome of not changing when the world has changed.

He won’t go on a rant to prove his point, but there’s a good rant hanging in the back of closet of his mind if he ever needs one.

Amplified Publishing

From Publishing Perspectives:

While one of the main tenets of Amplified Publishing at this point is that we don’t yet know exactly what we mean when we say the phrase, Kate Pullinger does know what her key interest is in this, her latest project in exploring creativity and technology.

“Creative work, yes,” she says, “but also the bottom line. I’m interested in helping creators in the broad publishing sector figure out how to earn a living.”

. . . .

What Amplified Publishing is trying to discern is how creative forms could be developed to reach audiences through technologically enriched means. What has the emergence of Zoom and Teams and other platforms during the pandemic meant in terms of a potential for creativity and its search for audience? Has that “digital acceleration” ended? Or is there more to be found once the world of conference calls and panel discussions stops owning the Zoom world?

Is there more—better yet, isn’t there more—that we could do with these communications technologies?

Where she starts to look at the issue is by turning around, if you will, not to face the creator but to face the people the creator is looking for: “How to find an audience” is, as her writing on the project points out, the common denominator.

“We live in a world where everyone with access to technology can publish,” the opening backgrounder says. “From YouTubers to Instagram-influencers, from gamers watching each other play online to writers self-publishing, content is everywhere. And yet, the biggest company with its most promising title and the podcaster putting their first episode online share the same problem: how to find an audience?”

. . . .

The Amplified Publishing program’s background materials tell us:

“Digital technologies have fostered the proliferation of new platforms for publishing as well as new platforms for broadcasting, and the rise of video streaming has further dissolved the boundaries between these two modes.

“The music and games sectors include publishing as part of their workflows, though what publishing means in practice varies widely across these sectors. New models of content creation in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality environments further adds to the possibilities for blue sky research. The rise of audio along with voice activation via smart speakers in the home also provide multiple opportunities for R&D.

“While the COVID-19 crisis has delivered rapid change, increasing our use of video conferencing tools, pushing teaching and learning online, boosting sales for some sectors, while decimating delivery models for others, we are asking big questions: What does ‘publishing’ mean in the 21st century? How will the increased availability of seamless and synchronous visual and audio media enhance and expand traditional media, like books and magazines? What does personalization offer to both content creators, their publishers, and their audiences? With the rise of visual storytelling, what is the future of reading?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG’s initial reaction to the story and, especially to the quotes from Ms. Pullinger is that she is seeking gigs as a paid consultant or a paid speaker in the publishing world.

But he could be wrong.

You Won’t Find the Hardcover of Dave Eggers’s Next Novel on Amazon

From The New York Times:

Dave Eggers has a new novel coming out in the fall called “The Every.” But you won’t be able to buy it in all the usual places — at least not right away.

The hardcover of “The Every” will be published by McSweeney’s, which Eggers founded in 1998, and will be released on Oct. 5, but only in independent bookstores. The novel will have at least 32 different covers randomly distributed.

Six weeks later, Vintage will publish the e-book and paperback, which will have only one cover. They will be available everywhere, as will the audiobook edition, which comes out the same day.

But you still won’t be able to buy the hardcover on Amazon; that version will only be available at independent stores, and on the McSweeney’s website.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Eggers said that even distributing the book in a way that excluded Amazon was a challenge, because McSweeney’s usual agreement with its distributor, Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, prevented it from circumventing the retail giant. Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, would not be in a position to skip around them either.

“We’re retail-agnostic,” said Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher and executive director of communications at Knopf and Pantheon. But this arrangement, he said, is good for all parties involved. “They go out and they’re supporting indies,” Bogaards said of the hardcover plan, “and then six weeks later we get the trade paperback, which is great for us.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Awwww. How precious.

This will impress about 1% of the literate population of New York City and .000000001% of the rest of the world’s population.

PG says that, to support Dave, you should only purchase anything he writes from an indie bookstore that also sells strictly vegan food and snacks, recycles the entire store every week and donates 90% of its gross revenues to saving endangered furry lobsters wherever they may be.

Any store employee who takes a selfie after egging Jeff Bezos’ car qualifies for a free winter living in a commune outside of Yellowknife while providing volunteer snow-shoveling services for members of indigenous tribes and providing support services and counseling to needy musk oxen.

Urban Publishing Myths: Bookstore closures hurt frontlist sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.


Mixed headlines this past week as Publishers Weekly acknowledged backlist sales could be sustained even after high street bookstores re-opened, while The Bookseller focused on how lockdown supposedly hurt frontlist sales due to less discoverability of debut authors.

Of course there are elements of truth on both sides, but the key point that publishers chose to offer fewer new titles during the pandemic and therefore fewer books were available to be sold is barely acknowledged.

It’s the same kind of self-defeating argument we see about ebook and audiobook subscription, where frontlist titles and big name authors are kept off these sites and publishers then point to low engagement as a self-fulfilling prophecy that subscription cannot deliver.

But let’s stick with the issue of backlist, by which we mean books first published at least a year previously. Books that therefore no longer receive any publisher love and promo-cash and are left to wither on the vine.

At PW’s US Book Show in May representatives from four major houses discussed,

strategies on how to continue to build a publisher’s backlist revenue.

PW explained:

Panelists agreed that the pandemic was the major reason backlist sales have soared as more buying shifted online, an environment that tends to favor backlist titles over new releases.

Well, yes and no.

Here’s the problem with this argument. Bookstores are great for discovery, no question. I can (if I were in a country that had such an option) walk into a well-stocked bookstore and with a sweeping glance see literally thousands upon thousands of books, and I can move down an aisle and have books to the right of me, books to the left of me, all full size, tangible and within a hand’s reach.

Online I’m faced with at best a page of thumbnail images. I go to another page and the previous page is out of sight. I narrow down to a particular book and I have to search again to find my next promising title.

Recommendations will be flung at me that are either paid ads or algorithm driven.

But what does a bookstore offer in terms of discovering a new debut author, which seems to be the concern of The Bookseller?

The reality is, very little, unless the publisher is paying the bookstore to showcase the title. And if that’s the case, what exactly is stopping the publisher putting the same energy and money into showcasing the title online?

The answer is that the publisher generally is print focused and will not give equal promotional efforts to the bookstore and to the online retailer, perpetuating the myth that frontlist titles perform better in high street stores than online.

Publishers might, then, want to ask themselves how so many indie authors manage to sell books when they are almost totally digitally-focussed.

Per past TNPS posts, the volume of ebooks being sold that are not tracked by Nielsen or the AAP runs to tens of millions of dollars worth each month. Said books being by digital-first/POD online publisher and seller APub, and by digital-first indie authors.

Since Jan 2018 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service has paid out over $1 billion in royalties to indie authors

Somehow said indie authors managed to bring in over one billion dollars in royalties over the past three years – just from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service, where absolutely no bricks and mortar stores are involved.

. . . .

The Bookseller, meanwhile offered some revealing statistics. For example, that,

As a proportion of the (UK) market as a whole, backlist accounted for 57% in volume (in spring 2020), compared to spring 2019’s 50%.

The Bookseller goes on to say, using Enders Analysis data, that sales initially crashed as lockdown first arrived,

With publication dates moving and events cancelled, before they more than recovered, with annual growth rates “much higher than would be expected in a good but ‘normal year’”.

One more unhelpful admission that bricks and mortar bookstores are not as indispensable as previously believed, and that in fact book sales rose, as more booklovers went online, which almost begs the heretical question, might bricks and mortar stores actually stifle sales to some extent?

The reality is both bricks and mortar and online sales are invaluable sales channels for publishers, but of course online tends to mean Amazon, and that presents a whole range of issues for publishers who have traditionally demonised the Everything Store while simultaneously milking it for all it’s worth to sell ebooks, audiobooks and of course print.

. . . .

Jeremy Trevathan at Pan Macmillan, talking about rising backlist sales, said:

It was more of a blip than a massive change in what we do. It did focus our minds on the increased possibility of backlist sales. There’s no diminution in the appetite of launching new authors or doing new things. What has changed is the possibility of online marketing and things like events, which I suspect will go hybrid as much as hybrid working [will].

Seriously? It’s taken a pandemic to make publishers realise that marketing can be done online? No wonder indie authors have been raking in a billion bucks in royalties from KU while mainstream publishers have been looking the other way.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard