The State Of Being A Published Writer In 2023 Is Really Weird, And A Little Worrisome

From Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds:

So, a few things upfront: first, I am a privileged author who sells well and is able to support himself and his family on writing books. Second, none of this post is to be taken as fact, but rather, as opinion — it relies, quite frankly, on “artisanal data” (aka anecdotes) and also, y’know, vibes. As such, I am, like many, looking at a room through a keyhole and will certainly not be seeing everything.

All that being said —

Being an author — aka, the fancy word for “writer of books” — vibes real weird right now. There is worry on the wind. To be fair, it’s always a little weird. Being a creative person in any realm is, I assume, a chaos reigns situation on the best of days. Nothing is certain. The ground is ever weak beneath our feet. A career as a “writer-of-books” has for me always been in part the strategy of eyeballing the peaks and valleys, and making sure that you’re building the proper ramps and bridges over the gaps before you ramp the car and crash it into a fucking ravine. In this sense, worry is always part of the bargain. Shit could go sideways one of a hundred different ways we can foretell, and another hundred we can’t. Worse, we’re kind of low-hanging fruit in a lot of ways — books are (to my mind, incorrectly) viewed as a luxury, a frippery, a whiff of the ol’ fol-de-rol.

So, what’s bringing the extra worry?

. . . .

Book events are erratic in terms of attendance, and as a result, publishers don’t seem to be using them as much, which means booksellers are asking authors, “Hey, can you tell your publishers to please send authors to us?” If booksellers are hurting, we’re hurting. (I have deeper thoughts about book events and how to make them consistent and amazing, but that’s for a different post, I think.)

Hardcovers are problematic, now? Hardcovers are maybe too expensive, probably — whether that’s inflation or greedflation, I dunno, but your average wallet paid too much for eggs and rent, and that doesn’t leave money for the Fancy Big Book Purchase. Some bookstores carry fewer hardcovers now because of this (also, space issues), and some publishers are committing to fewer hardcover releases and jumping instead to paperback. But if we lose that first step entirely, it shortens the long tail of the book, putting everything on, say, the paperback. (Sidenote, I have said and will always say, I really miss the MMPB format, and wish that format was still a thing. I know I am an OLD MAN YELLING AT CLOUDS, but boy ****** howdy I’d love to see spinner racks of paperbacks again. Put them everywhere! Pharmacies! Tire shops! Pet stores!) To be clear, a lot of books have forgone the hardcover step in the past — but the number seems to be dwindling anew, which to my mind is less than ideal.

Mainstream media is closing doors, not opening them. Once upon a time, a lot of media outlets had (said with naive reverie) coverage devoted to books. Oooh! Ahh! Except, ennh, uh-oh. Some outlets have now shut down all book coverage or have narrowed the aperture so tightly that the only coverage allowed is for the Mega Big Bestsellers. BuzzFeed News, which once upon a time covered book stuff, shut down entirely. And now there’s a surge in news coverage simply being farmed out to “artificial intelligence,” which is to say, clumsy algorithmic plagiaristic aggregators (because there is nothing intelligent about it, and a whole lot that’s artificial, though more on AI later). So, where once we could count a little bit on maybe, maybe getting some breadcrumbs of media coverage… well, the Gulls of Capitalism have gobbled up those crumbs, leaving us naught but an empty plate.

Social media is more or less collapsing. The internet in general is getting less reliable overall, in part due to misinformation, disinformation, and the waves of garbage and glurge barfed forth by various bots and algorithms. Once upon a time, Googling something was a reliable way to learn about it, but now you’ll likely find yourself on a raft floating on a sea of bad information. Social media has become the staging ground for all this shit (and also how, in part, it leeches into the groundwater of the rest of the internet), and as such, social media has started to fall apart like everything else. Twitter is ****, run by a vain maniac who keeps holding up anti-Semitic and anti-trans and anti-vaxxer and other ******like he just opened a bigotry blind bag and wants to show you the “cool thing” he just found, lol, lmao, laughing-crying emoji. The wheels are coming off everything and now attention is fractured across social media. And publishers — long having us and themselves lean very hard on that very same social media — are left with shattered landscape on which to walk. Where do you go to talk about your books? There are places, but attention is now diffuse, and it’s hard to know who’s even going to see it given how engagement is throttled unless you’re paying $8 a month for Twitter Blue, which doesn’t seem to do shit anyway, and also marks you as a chump helping to enrich an *******.

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Here’s a link to Chuck’s Books

When Your Publisher Gets the Cover Wrong—Very Wrong

From Jane Friedman:

This story starts about eight years ago, with the arrival of a much anticipated email from the publishing house where the first edition of my book, Good Naked: How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier, was in production. Wrote the marketing coordinator:

Dear Joni,

Attached is the final version of the cover design for Good Naked, which the designer has asked me to pass along to you. Please note that the white gridlines are watermarks that won’t be present in the finished product…

Even now, years later, I get aftershocks thinking about the first time I opened the attachment and saw that cover design. There, filling my screen, was the image of a naked woman’s body, full-frontal, lingering in the shadows against a smoky backdrop. She was cut off from the neck up and knees down. Against the dark backdrop, two pink circles (representing the Os in the book’s title) drew the eye to the woman’s breasts. Her slender fingers formed a V, framing her pubis. And just below her private parts, spread across her silken thighs, was my book’s subtitle—How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier.

In summary, the proposed cover for my book—a cheerful and practical writing guide based on my decades of experience as an author and teacher—depicted a nude, headless woman, beckoning book browsers from the shadows like a back-alley sex worker.

Here, I feel compelled to state that I have nothing against back-alley sex workers. I also will concede that, yes, my writing guide has the word “naked” in its title, but so do a lot of other books, like Naked Statistics, which has a pie chart on its cover. So, when the designer saw the title of my manuscript, what made him think of soft porn? Why did he design a cover better suited to an entirely different type of book, say Fifty Shades of Writing?

I reread the email to make sure I had not misunderstood.

Final version of the cover…Please note that the white gridlines

Could the marketing coordinator who had written this email to me be any more misguided? How could she think that a few barely perceptible gridlines on the enclosed image would be my primary concern, when there was my name—Joni B. Cole—attached to a work suggesting much more for sale than writing advice?

This story comes to mind as I think about feedback during the publishing process. In this situation, I, the author, was the one tasked with providing feedback, despite being told the cover design was “final” and despite my fear of consequences. I worried that my book was already on a tight production schedule. Could the designer refuse to make changes? If I refused his refusal, could the publisher delay my book’s release, or even pull it from their list? Would I end up blacklisted from the industry, a note on my file listing me as unpleasant, uncooperative, and unwilling to do nudity?

All sorts of worries, real and irrational, cluttered my thinking. But, given the situation, I felt like I had no choice but to reject this cover wholesale. I imagined my new release displayed in the creative-writing section of my daughter’s college bookstore. (And she thought I had embarrassed her in the past!) For moral support, I showed the cover to a few friends, seeking their reactions:

“Is this a joke?”

“Whoa! I thought maybe you’d been exaggerating.”

“Is it me, or is that woman about to get busy with herself?”

The only positive comment about the cover came from my friend Dan. “It’s not that bad,” he shrugged. “Maybe it will sell some books.”

Yeah, right, I thought, and maybe people will assume those are my silken thighs. But that doesn’t make it right.

My friend Dan did make a valid point. Helping a book sell is indeed one of the main considerations when designing its cover. Depending on your publishing contract, you may not have much, or any, say in the final design, and that isn’t completely unreasonable.

. . . .

In case you are curious about what happened to that naked woman on the “final” cover of my writing guide, here is the rest of the story. As soon as I saw that image, I called my editor in a state of high dudgeon. As it turns out, he shared my low opinion of the cover choice, but the designer had voted him down. “Don’t sweat it for now,” my editor told me. “Marketing is on your side as well.” This begged the question: Who was this designer with such sway he could override both my editor and the folks in marketing?

Weeks passed. My print date drew near. Each time I checked in on my sex worker, I was told that the designer remained reluctant to remove her from my cover. As a seasoned author, I am not afraid to speak my mind, but I am also not big on ultimatums. “Replace that cover—or me and my book are walking!” For me, it still feels like a miracle when a publisher accepts my work. It was unfathomable to think I would do anything to jeopardize my “forthcoming release,” two words I love dropping into every conversation. But I just couldn’t accept that cover. This felt bigger than a battle over design. This had the stink of misogyny.

Finally, I got word. Fifty Shades of Writing was no more—I would see a new cover option for Good Naked by the end of the day. This news came in the form of an email from the same marketing coordinator who, weeks earlier, had sent along the original design

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

What recent publishing controversies say about the industry

From Nathan Bransford:

Controversy erupted in the publishing Twitterverse in a few different directions over the weekend.

. . . .

The incident that got most tongues wagging was that a prominent agency, New Leaf, parted ways with a significant number of clients very abruptly by email over the weekend without giving them help to land with new agents. I don’t have any inside information, but as best I could suss out it was due to an allegedly “amicable” departure of an agent, Jordan Hamessley, who only recently sent an email to her clients about summer plans.

The injustice of quite a few authors being suddenly left in the lurch (some mid-negotiation) tapped into the always-simmering frustration the writing community has with literary agents and the traditional publishing industry writ large.

(UPDATE 5/16: Publishers Lunch and Publishers Weekly have confirmed some of the essentials. Of Hamessley’s 45 clients, 18 were offered representation within New Leaf, 27 were left to find new representation, and NL president Joanna Volpe said they would handle contracts in progress. NL literary director Patrice Caldwell said, “There was no way to do this as quickly by calling people, nor did we want people to start sharing publicly about this before we told everyone.”

UPDATE #2 5/16: Agent Jordan Hamessley released a statement on Twitter disputing the characterization of the parting as “amicable”)

In my view, this case makes for a lens into the state of the broader industry. So buckle up for one writer’s perspective on where things stand in traditional publishing these days, why this incident reflects deeper issues, and what writers can do about it.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Why wouldn’t any aspiring author want a major literary agency represent them?

“There was no way to do this as quickly by calling people, nor did we want people to start sharing publicly about this before we told everyone.”

Do these agency people know how to send a heads-up email to all their authors at the same time?

How long have they been in the world of traditional publishing? A week’s worth of working experience would lead even a mediocre mind to conclude that the New York publishing business leaks like a sieve, especially when a breakup is happening.

PG will admit that there are not nearly as many heart-stopping thrills involved in self-publishing.

2 Supreme Court justices failed to recuse themselves from cases involving their publisher after receiving large amounts in book advances and royalties

From Business Insider:

Two Supreme Court justices did not recuse themselves from cases that arose before the court involving their book publisher, Penguin Random House, according to a recent CNN report.

There have been two cases that came before the Supreme Court involving publishing conglomerate Penguin Random House. In both situations, the Supreme Court declined to take on the copyright infringement cases, allowing the publisher to win at a lower court level.

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed in 2009, was on the high court during both cases, which occurred in 2013 and 2019-2020. Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed in 2017 and was also a member of the Supreme Court during the second case. 

Sotomayor and Gorsuch had both signed major book deals with the publisher before the cases occurred, and both justices declined to recuse themselves from the cases involving Penguin Random House. Former Justice Stephen Breyer, who had reported receiving royalties from the publisher, recused himself from each of the cases.

According to Sotomayor’s financial disclosures, as CNN reported, she’s made approximately $3.6 million in royalties and advances for the several books she’s published under Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, which is part of Penguin Random House.

As for Gorsuch, his financial disclosures note he’s made at least $655,000 from Penguin Random House over the past few years from his book, “A Republic, If You Can Keep It.”

. . . .

“The Supreme Court should have a code of ethics to govern the conduct of its members, and its refusal to adopt such standards has contributed to eroding public confidence in the highest court in the land,” Van Hollen said. “It is unacceptable that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from the accountability that applies to all other members of our federal courts, and I believe Congress should act to remedy this problem.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG suggests this is not a gray area. Justices who have received large payments for their books should absolutely recuse themselves in cases that might impact the finances of their publishers.

While PG may not agree with Senator Chris Van Hollen on some issues, but he firmly supports actions that will require recusal of justices who have received financial benefits of more than a trivial amount from a person or entity who has a matter before the Supreme Court.

For those unfamiliar with US appellate court practices, when a member of the Supreme Court recuses her/himself from a particular case, the Chief Justice or, if the Chief Justice has recused from a matter, the senior justice on the Court appoints another federal judge, typically a judge from one of the thirteen Circuit Courts of Appeal who have been appointed in the same manner as the members of the Supreme Court have been.

In PG’s opinion, some of the Circuit Court judges are more competent at their profession than some of the Supreme Court justices are.

Good Intentions and the Pathway to Hell, Part 2: Sensitivity Readers

From Writer Unboxed:

Last month’s post on book bans opened with a quote from historian Thomas Zimmer, which I’ll repeat here for reference:

There is indeed something going on in America, and it does make a lot of people…really uncomfortable. We are in the midst of a profound renegotiation of speech norms and of who gets to define them. And that can be a messy process at times. But it’s not “cancel culture.” From a democratic perspective, it is necessary, and it is progress.

I believe this is an accurate statement of where we are culturally, and that one of the most apparent arenas undergoing renegotiation is publishing. One specific example of that is the increasing role of sensitivity readers, especially in YA fiction, though the practice is extending to adult fiction, film, and TV.

The major impetus behind the implementation of sensitivity readers was publishing’s recognition of the obvious fact that it was overwhelmingly white—and that white writers, in the wake of the social justice movement that emerged in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, wanted to address that imbalance by writing across racial and ethnic lines.

The results were, shall we say, mixed. White authors were taken to task for patronizing, stereotypical, or harmful representations of minorities or for resorting to racial tropes in their work.

In September 2015, author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag #OwnVoices as a way to recommend books on Twitter that featured authors who shared the diverse identity of their main characters. At the same time, publishers and agents began subtly (or not so subtly) discouraging white writers from “straying from their lane” in writing about protagonists or even secondary characters outside their personal realm of “lived experience.”

The sensitivity reader emerged as a possible solution to the problem of authors needing input into the lives of members of diverse communities different from their own race, ethnicity, gender identity, faith, and so on. This was done to help prevent any more representations deemed “problematic,” a euphemism that rather quickly became a new term of art.

The Term “Sensitivity” Itself is “Problematic”

In a Writer’s Digest article titled, “The Problem with Sensitivity Readers Isn’t What You Think It Is”), author Anna Hecker remarked:

“Sensitivity” … is a loaded word if there ever was one. It suggests thin skins and easily bruised emotions—a potentially dangerous combination if one perceives these readers as the gatekeepers to publication (which, it should be pointed out, they are generally not).

No wonder the censorship watchdogs are wringing their hands. The term “sensitivity reader” may be triggering to the very people who loathe the term “triggering.”

Consequently, some have chosen to use the terms “authenticity readers” or “diversity readers” instead.

There. Solved it.

If only.

For a distinctly contrarian view, we can turn to author Larry Correia, self-described “Writer, Merchant of Death (retired), Firearms Instructor, Accountant.”

A Sensitivity Reader is usually some expert on Intersectional Feminism or Cismale Gendernormative Fascism or some other made up goofiness who a publisher brings in to look for anything “problematic” in a manuscript. And since basically everything is problematic to somebody they won’t be happy until they suck all the joy out of the universe. It is basically a new con-job racket some worthless scumbags have come up with to extort money from gullible writers, because there aren’t a lot of good ways to make a living with a Gender Studies degree.

It’s pretty obvious that the problem from this perspective isn’t so much what but who. That will become a theme as we press ahead.

BTW: It isn’t just opponents of sensitivity readers who get testy when this subject comes up. Anna Hecker in her WD article makes little effort to hide her disdain for those who voice doubts about sensitivity readers, referring to them as handwringing “censorship watchdogs” (see above) and “polemicists”—the latter term being used to describe Francine Prose, a stalwart progressive who nonetheless has doubts about the role sensitivity readers play.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG was triggered when he saw the word, “problematic,” in the OP, but after spending an hour in a zero gravity tank listening to nature sounds, he recovered somewhat. However, there will definitely be a permanent emotional scar on the inner PG, like when he saw a rodent as a child.

Oxford University Press Is Moving Its New York Offices

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In a major decision, Oxford University Press officials have confirmed to PW that the company is set to leave its offices at 198 Madison Avenue in the coming months. The news was delivered to staff at a meeting on Thursday morning. And while a search is underway for a new space to serve at least some portion of OUP’s workforce, OUP USA President Niko Pfund told PW that the press’s post-pandemic workplace will likely be a work in progress until a clearer picture emerges of the company’s needs.

“We are exploring alternative office space right now on an interim basis because we want to observe how people work in a new environment and learn along the way,” Pfund told PW. OUP’s New York office currently has no in-office mandate for employees, and no plans to implement one, he added, noting that productivity levels from remote work remain strong and that many employees have organized their lives around working from home in the wake of the pandemic. “We don’t want to spend money on empty real estate when that money can be better invested in our publishing and our workforce,” Pfund said.

The move marks the end of an era for OUP. The press moved to 198 Madison—the iconic, landmarked B. Altman Building—in the mid 1990s. Oxford University owns the top six floors of the vast building, which occupies an entire city block between Madison and Fifth Avenues in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The Fifth Avenue side of the building is occupied by the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

While the move is imminent, it is unclear how quickly—or how slowly—a move might happen, and press officials said it’s possible the press could go fully remote for a brief period before getting into a suitable new space.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY. Via Wikimedia subject to the  GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

PG notes that prime business locations in New York City are breathtakingly expensive.

The Book Business Needs to Be a Better LGBTQ Ally

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As a publisher and a parent of a queer-identifying child, I was thrilled and honored when Drag Story Hour chose to read our book No One Owns the Colors, written by Gianna Davy and illustrated by Brenda Rodriguez, for Read Across America Day in March. I saw it as win-win: great recognition for a book and author I love, plus a wider platform for the book’s important message of joy, self-expression, and liberation.

But that was before the backlash. Once I started to express my enthusiasm for this opportunity, I was accused of promoting the “grooming” of children, and an onslaught of emails ensued, one of them even attacking my mothering. The experience popped my San Francisco bubble and made me realize how important it is to stand up and speak out for books, authors, and communities who need our support.

Recent headlines portray drag events as sexual and harmful to children, distorting and misrepresenting the art of drag and its rich history that can be traced back centuries. Drag has been described as the theatrical performance of gender and creative self-expression that plays with traditional notions of gender, among many other definitions. And while there have been countless stories and features on the harm of banning books with LGBTQ content, we’re not seeing the same outrage about the war on drag.

We need to work with organizations within our industry such as Drag Story Hour to elevate their platform, which exists to promote reading and diversity. The program strives to capture the imagination and play of gender fluidity that’s a cornerstone of childhood and gives kids glamorous and positive queer role models.

It is not enough to add LGBTQ titles to publishers’ lists or create imprints dedicated to LGBTQ titles. We are at a pivotal point in history where all of us must speak out and act against any insinuation that drag has an agenda to indoctrinate children—an accusation that blatantly misunderstands LGBTQ experiences and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia.

In March, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag performances in public spaces as well as anywhere in the presence of someone under 18 years old. I am a mother of a child whose gender expression and sexuality is being questioned by conservative activists and politicians. I am also an ally—to my child and to anyone whose gender expression doesn’t fit neatly into the confines of the socially imposed binary.

In January 2022, Tennessee also banned the Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, about the Holocaust, citing “inappropriate language” as its reason for doing so. I wrote a Soapbox column for PW that March titled “Correcting the Distortion of History,” about the importance of stepping into my own power as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors to create a safe space for Jewish voices. The efforts to extinguish popular drag story hours at which queens read to kids take from the same playbook. Both crackdowns seek to undermine the validity of marginalized people’s existence.

Being an ally means taking an active stance for the rights of a minority or marginalized group without being a member of it. The Nazis began with burning and banning books in 1933. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 gay men were arrested by Nazis—a dire warning about just how scary and real these Tennessee laws are. We need to examine our relationship to homophobia and transphobia as we see the rise in book challenges and bans at libraries across the U.S.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG has personal feelings and opinions about LGBTQ and the current sexual/political discussions/disagreements about that topic.

That said, he reminds any visitors who choose to leave comments to be courteous and respectful towards those with opinions that may diverge from their personal opinions/feelings/etc.

Beyond black

FromThe Bookseller:

This past week has seen the good and bad of the book trade writ large. The good was manifest in The London Book Fair, a return to a “proper” event packed full of agents meetings, seminars, parties and general all-round buzz. There was plenty of good humour too, and one or two decent rumours. We are an industry that wants to meet, and mischief make.

But we are also less than perfect. That is a polite reference to The Bookseller’s survey of author welfare that has rightly been the most read news piece across our website this week and sparked a robust online conversation.

The results were stark and, at times, depressing. More than half of authors (54%) responding to the survey on their experiences of publishing their début book have said the process negatively affected their mental health. Authors talked of a lack of attention from their publisher, and a lack of preparedness. In fact, just 22% of the 108 respondents to the survey described a positive experience overall with their first publication. As one author said: “It has taken me a long time to reconcile the train wreck of my début.”

Some hardened souls might shrug their shoulders at all this. The sample size is small, and no doubt skewed by those whose experiences prompt them to fill in such surveys. Besides, publishing is a tough business. A bad launch need not dictate a book’s fortunes in the same way that a great launch doesn’t guarantee success. I once went to a party at the Groucho Club for a book by a relatively well-known journalist and spent most of the evening talking to the author’s immediate family, the relations making up the bulk of the attendees. The book? Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve been to huge events for books long since forgotten, written by authors whose follow-ups were silently sidelined. Publication day—launch or not—tells us very little about future prospects.

At least that’s half-true. In reality trade book publishing works on a momentum model—titles build as word-of-mouth does its thing, with those books that bulk-up during the publication process likely to land with a greater thud at launch. This is as true for débuts such as Lessons in Chemistry as it was for Spare; quiet books can do well but their need for a slice of good fortune will be greater.

For authors, and particularly for début writers, this can be a chastening experience, and one that can feel increasingly futile as they see an arcane world united only by indifference. My concern reading the survey and the many other comments not reported is that as a sector we are doing too poor a job managing expectations; we focus too much attention on the race and not enough on the athlete.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says that traditional publishers regard authors as content providers, nothing more. And if an author gets uppity and forgets her/his place, there are always lots of other content providers banging on the door, begging to enter.

Religion Publishers Face Up to DEI Challenges

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, many religion and spirituality publishers publicly stepped-up commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce and in their book acquisitions and marketing. Since then, however, the impact of the Covid pandemic, plus economic upheavals that prompted layoffs, hiring freezes, and other cost controls have challenged these commitments—according to PW’s conversations with executives at half a dozen executives.

When asked for an update on their DEI efforts, no publishers shared statistics. However, executives contacted by PW at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, InterVarsity Press, Eerdmans, Loyola, New World Library, and Paulist Press each spoke of their determination to push ahead. Several acknowledged that hiring efforts have stalled in this economic climate, but efforts to broaden acquisitions from people of color are moving forward with workarounds such as new partnerships and strategies to reach more BIPOC editors, writers, and readers.

Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing and HarperCollins Focus, said, “We want to remain relevant in today’s conversations, which includes being more reflective of the world in which we live.” He added that despite the current economic downturn, HCCP, “continues to recruit, publish and promote diverse authors and subjects as a long-term strategy” across all their publishing teams. He highlighted 20 BIPOC authors recently published or signed for trade, fiction, and children’s titles and cited a new 10-year agreement between Harper Collins and the Martin Luther King, Jr. estate granting an exclusive license to publish new and previously published material from the estate’s archives. (HCCP parent company, HarperCollins, is cutting 5% of its North American workforce to reduce expenses in a move due to be completed by May 31).

. . . .

Eerdman’s president and publisher Anita Eerdmans told PW, “We continue to actively pursue authors that represent diversity of all kinds, and I’m pleased with some of our success there, though we acknowledge that we (all) have a long way to go in that regard.”

At New World Library, editorial director Georgia Hughes said they have broadened their author ranks. Their fall 2022 list of 14 titles included three books by BIPOC authors and, “in the last three years the numbers of proposals we have from people of color have risen dramatically.” She continues to work with Pub West and the Publishing Professionals Network, “to build diversity and understand the concerns of underrepresented groups.” Even so, NWL has not added any new hires and, she said, “I don’t see that we will in the foreseeable future, as we have not had any openings at the company for many years.”

Paulist Press is also focusing on broadening book acquisitions and marketing to Black Catholic organizations such as the Knights of St. Peter Claver, the largest African American lay association in the U.S., seeking advice and offering review copies of titles, according to president and publisher Rev. Mark-David Janus. The company does have openings—created during the Covid pandemic when many senior staffers chose to retire — but not the cash to fill them all yet, Janus said. The Catholic house is also challenged by its as location “35 miles from New York City in Northern Bergen County, which is as Caucasian as you can get,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Of course traditional publishing has to jump on every political bandwagon that passes by and, of course, nothing in traditional publishing ever changes. These folks are among the more skilled practitioners of tokenism.

Self-published authors earn more than traditionally published counterparts, according to ALLi report

From The Bookseller:

New research by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) claims authors who self-publish currently earn more than traditionally published authors.

ALLi circulated the survey to its members and subscribers, as well as “through other key self-publishing and author organisations” in February 2023. It was answered by more than 2,000 respondents – 60% of whom were in North America, with 21% from the UK and 8% respectively for Australia/New Zealand, and Europe. It found the the median revenue for independent authors in 2022 stands at $12,749 (£10,229).

This compares to the findings of a report into authors’ earnings commissioned by The Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) and published in December 2022, which showed that median earnings from writing alone for authors with third-party publishers stands at approximately $8,600 (£7,000).

The ALCS’ report showed “a sustained fall in professional writers’ real terms income from writing over the past 15 years of around 60%, pushing median earnings down to minimum wage levels,” a trend which ALLi suggests self-published authors are “bucking” in light of its survey’s findings, which suggest average incomes of self-published authors are rising, with a 53% increase in 2022 over the previous year.

By contrast, its report goes on, “previous author income surveys, which have focused on revenues received by authors with third-party publishers, have repeatedly reported falling incomes.”

. . . .

ALLi has commissioned the UK Copyright & Creative Economy Centre, CREATe – which conducted the ALCS’ survey – to expand analysis of the findings, particularly in relation to “key demographic groups and factors that contribute to higher incomes.” ALLi will publish the full report including demographic data in June 2023, together with a collection of insights from several peer self-publishing organisations, as the Big Indie Author Data Drop. This compilation and final 2023 report will be presented at the Self-Publishing Live conference in London in June 2023 and will repeat as an annual event, which the organisation says will fill “a notable gap in author income research”.

Orna Ross, ALLi director, said of the findings: “ALLi has always believed that authors are financially better off self-publishing. Now that the results of this survey confirm that belief, we want to make sure all authors know that they can make a living as an author, if they do the work and acquire good publishing skills, alongside good writing skills. And that they are not alone. There is full support for talented and dedicated authors at ALLi and throughout the self-publishing community.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG notes that Orna Ross, the founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors, has been doing good things for indie authors for a long time (ALLI was founded in 2012).

Those who recall 2012 (including PG, just barely), will remember that this year included a notable antitrust suit filed by the U.S. Justice Department against Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster for trying to fix prices for ebooks, and strangle Amazon’s ebook business in the crib.

Basically the five big publishers agreed to refuse to sell ebooks to Amazon unless Amazon sold their ebooks at the publisher’s list price. The agreement was made at the instigation of a top Apple exec and provided that Apple would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99.

Apple also adopted the agency model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. This let Publishers control the price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission. The joint agreement provided that the Publishers would establish ebook prices on Amazon so ebook prices on both platforms would be identical.

On the day Apple launched its ebook store, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”

As PG has opined on more than one previous occasion, doing this reflected the rank business and legal stupidity of the major publishers. What Jobs and the publishers agreed to do was a classic example of illegal price-fixing that was (and still is) clearly prohibited by US antitrust laws.

Jobs was a highly magnetic and innovative individual who built Apple from nothing into a major world-wide computer brand, a wonderful American business success story.

However, Jobs was dying of cancer at the time, kept this information secret and (PG suspects) decided to propose this agreement without any input from Apple’s lawyers at all. A law student who had taken a single antitrust class would have recognized this was prohibited conduct.

After being sued, the publishers quickly caved, took their financial licks from the Justice Department and some state attorneys general who joined in the suit, and went back to business as usual. Apple lost at the trial level, lost at the United States Court of Appeals. The US Supreme Court declined to take the case.

Amazon kept pushing ebooks, including more generous royalty terms than authors could get from traditional publishing, and never looked back. PG has suggested on numerous occasions that traditional publishers missed a wonderful opportunity to earn a lot of money from ebooks because they didn’t want to harm their printed book sales or relationship with traditional bookstores.

It was a classic example of one bad decision after another.

Orna Ross and ALLI have provided a lot of help for indie authors ever since the Apple antitrust case was still roaring along, so she’s seen the thick and thin of indie authors. You may want to check out the membership benefits the organization offers.

5,000 words, but the Amazon CEO letter to shareholders offers little promise for the publishing industry

From The New Publishing Standard:

One cannot help but feel no news is bad news for an industry which has for so long allowed itself to become unhealthily dependent on one company and has for so long eschewed opportunities to build up alternatives and fully support rival players.

To be fair, neither Jassy nor Bezos could ever hope to cover even a fraction of Amazon’s many sectors in a letter to shareholders like this.

But in the past, publishing and the Kindle store and devices have been strong features.

This year the only mention of the Kindle is in historic context, and the nearest we get to a vision of publishing is an acknowledgement Amazon has closed all its bricks & mortar bookstores, and that ads in audio are the new black.

Jassy has previously made clear the Books element of the Amazon machine is a sideshow, and most recently we have seen The Book Depository marked for closure.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suggests the author of the OP hasn’t really been paying much attention to Big Publishing for a long time. In short, there’s not enough money in traditional publishing to move any needles for Amazon. It’s small potatoes compared to any number of other things Amazon does to make money.

All the physical bookstores could simultaneously close and not have any meaningful influence on Amazon’s bottom line.

To be fair, indie authors are in a similar position as far as moving Zon’s needle, but Amazon has streamlined KDP and its underpinnings to the point that computers and automated presses pretty much handle the entire process of publishing, selling and shipping a physical book. Of course, taking an order for an ebook and delivering it is a 100% computer job.

With indies, Amazon doesn’t have to buy truckloads of printed books that have to be unloaded, taken to the right place in the warehouse and take up space gathering dust until Amazon sells them all or its computer decides to return the unsold physical books back to the publishers’ warehouses.

If the truth be told, Amazon would be much happier if traditional publishing used the same production process as indie authors do – print on demand.

Can AI Reduce Discrimination Against Non-native Writers?

From The Independent Publishing Magazine:

Have you encountered job ads that exclusively seek native speakers? Have you faced rejections due to not being a prolific writer?

As a non-native writer, you may have great thoughts, stories, or research to share, but your writing style and quality may not always measure up to those of native writers. This often results in discrimination and prejudice. And, this bias is not just limited to non-native speakers but also extends to native speakers from BIPOC communities, who face constant scrutiny.

Anecdotes from exophonic writers – the term for those who write in a language that isn’t their mother tongue – residing in countries like the US, Canada, and the UK suggest that non-native writers are at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or submitting their work, leaving little to no chance for those who have never been to Western countries.

While linguistic discrimination is a common problem, it is understandable that editors from reputed publications may not have the bandwidth to edit and publish articles that are not well-comprehended, as doing so may require additional editing time and resources.

This results in non-native writers constantly facing rejection across various genres, from artwork to scientific research, solely on the basis of linguistic proficiency. However, the emergence of AI tools like ChatGPT has revolutionized the writing industry and levelled the playing field for all writers. It’s time to step up!

Understanding Discrimination and the Barrier to Entry

Before discussing ways for non-native writers to improve their writing skills to meet “native standards,” it is important to address the issue of discrimination and prejudice that create a barrier to entry that doesn’t automatically get eradicated by a better quality of writing. This section will present anecdotes from real writers and research papers as evidence.

Nilofar Shidmehr, a well-known writer, a PhD holder, and a faculty member at Douglas College in Canada, has experienced discrimination based on her background as a non-native English speaker. “In Canada, I have sometimes felt that others consider me less capable of becoming an ‘English’ writer, and it saddens me to a great degree,” she says.

Rachel Werner, a BIPOC author and the founder of The Little Book Project WI, speaks about the bias against marginalized communities. “It’s no secret that the publishing industry has numerous issues in terms of excluding individuals from marginalized communities. This is true not only for who gets hired as writers and editors but also for the sort of content which repeatedly gets published,” she says. Rachel also talks about the snide remarks she would constantly get. “It was obvious I was less respected than several of my co-workers. Oftentimes, demeaning remarks would be attributed to my ‘lack of experience’ working in glossy editorial and my age.”

Paula Cheung, a self-published author with a Master’s degree from the UK who currently resides in Canada, shares her experience of feeling bias and wanting to give up.

I didn’t think that publications or editors would ever be biased toward BIPOC writers, but at the back of my head, I did. I felt it had something to do with my Asian surname, so I adopted a pen name. The discrimination made me question myself as a writer. A few times, I was on the verge of giving up until I realized that writing was, in fact, my true passion.

Aside from anecdotal examples, research has well-documented discrimination against non-native speakers in both speech and text.

  • People with accents are often perceived with skepticism and considered to be less reliable. And, this is the case for both non-native speakers and native BIPOC speakers who are given less credibility because of their accents.
  • Publishing may require more effort from non-native writers.
  • Research papers and academic journals are often rejected because of poor linguistic skills.
  • The requirement for ‘Native English’ in job ads, while unlawful, is still very much prevalent.

In conclusion, discrimination against non-native speakers and writers is a well-documented issue, and the steps to address it through legal means can be discussed another day. While discrimination stemming from prejudices cannot be helped, we can still take steps to mitigate discrimination against ‘inferior’ writing skills by identifying the main challenges and using language processing AI to improve quality.

Link to the rest at The Independent Publishing Magazine

The Emperor’s Old Clothes: Publishing’s Supply Chain Needs an Upgrade

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The supply chain we use for book publishing is a lot like an old house. Bringing it up to date is a labor of love that takes a lot of planning, investment, and time. Only when you visit a neighbor who has reimagined their house, do you realize how far behind your own house is.

Though the book industry has evolved with such innovations as online retailing, digital books, and new business models, our plumbing is largely the same as it was 15 years ago. That’s a problem. It limits the ability of publishers, retailers, and other partners in the supply chain to improve discovery, sell more books, and reduce costs. And it leaves too many questions that are difficult to impossible to answer.

For example, there’s no real-time data on how many books are printed each year, where they were printed, or the rate of returns by book type—such as data specifically covering children’s books—across the industry. Retailers who want to share sales data with publishers must use large Excel workbooks with hundreds of columns, which add costs for publishers to format and interpret. Publishers also have difficulty testing new marketing approaches because some distributors and retailers may not pick them up.

These everyday failures in supply-chain communications are like inadequate plumbing. They add work and cost time and understanding. In some cases, they limit what publishers can test or where they can innovate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our neighbors are showing us what can be done. BookNet Canada maintains a metadata repository and API that anyone in the supply chain can use. Together, they make it possible to proof metadata and create web catalogs, and even build something entirely new—like 49th Shelf, a collection of Canadian-authored content, dynamically delivered from the metadata that BookNet maintains.

In the U.K., Book Industry Communication maintains protocols called BIC Realtime that allow publishers and their partners to communicate back and forth about inventory and returns. A payments clearinghouse called BATCH also gives retailers the opportunity to pay invoices from multiple publishers with one check or wire, with the system doing the work of apportioning the payments.

The Dutch, French, German, and Norwegian markets offer a variety of solutions for improving the supply chain—some based on centralized repositories, others on implementation of existing standards for two-way communication across all industry players. The U.S. market could adapt many of these practices and solutions to improve discovery, sell more books, and streamline operations to focus on higher value-added activities.

The Book Industry Study Group is currently gathering information to build the business case for change. The priorities are likely to include creating metadata repositories of record, implementing tools to automate and broaden sales and inventory reporting, and launching a payments clearinghouse across the U.S. market. Other goals may emerge as we engage broadly and deepen our analysis.

Over the next three years, we expect to help the industry create better metadata with more effective feedback on problems and inconsistencies, ultimately delivering greater sales, as better metadata drives discovery. Other changes will increase understanding of industry trends and better establish the impact of publishers’ initiatives. Across the board, we’ll also provide a platform for greater efficiency, as labor is redeployed away from reporting and payments processing.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says real tech companies could finish the job described in the OP in a few months.

If the members of The Ancient and Disorderly Order of Publishing asked Amazon to do this, Zon could go from zero to up-and-running in three months. Amazon could even provide much-improved warehouses.

The Culture of Bloomsbury and Industry Progress

From Publishing Perspectives:

The four founders of Bloomsbury in 1986 included Liz Calder, the legendary editor who had also helped to found the Groucho Club and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Although Liz had left by the time I joined and the company had grown considerably, the culture she had established was very much still there, and this included the prominent roles taken by women–not least, Alexandra Pringle, who was a superb editor-in-chief for 20 years. Across the company as a whole, probably 70 percent of the staff were female during my time there. This was a reflection on Bloomsbury, but also how the overall culture of publishing had changed over the years – according to the Publishers Association’s most recent survey, women now occupy just over half of the industry’s senior management positions.

Despite this progress for women in the industry, it has not always been straightforward. Take the instance of The Society of Bookmen, which had been founded in the 1920s as a monthly dining club for professionals from across the book trade, bringing together publishers, booksellers, printers, librarians and the occasional author. The dinners, held at the Savile Club in Mayfair, had long been an important part of London’s publishing scene – a place to socialize and do business, and for younger publishers to learn and make contacts. Forty years into its existence, the Society had belatedly admitted women in 1972, and I joined in 1988 shortly after I started at Reed. But by the 21st century, with 40 percent of the members being female, many felt that the name “Bookmen” was increasingly problematic. There had been two attempts to get it changed, but it required at least two thirds of the members to vote for change in a ballot and had failed to pass. In desperation, the chair of the Society called an emergency motion at one of the monthly dinners and, in a show of hands held there and then, it was renamed The Book Society.

I had been at this dinner and obviously voted for the change of name, but was troubled by the use of an emergency motion as a way of avoiding a full democratic ballot and submitted my resignation to the Society’s management committee. Instead, as is the way of things, I accepted their suggestion that I should become president of The Book Society and work with the chair to help ensure that principles of good governance were upheld in the future. A couple of years after this, a member of the Society pointed out that membership of the Savile Club where we regularly dined was restricted to men, and so an unsuitable host venue. I spoke with the Club manager who confirmed that this was the case and was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future – their only female member being someone who had joined as a male and then subsequently undergone a sex change! And so we moved to the Conduit, a club in Covent Garden. It was a shame to end the long association that the Society had enjoyed with the Savile Club but also, I strongly believed, the right thing to do.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Another adjective to be applied to traditional publishing: misogynistic.

London Book Fair’s Sustainability Lounge

From Publishing Perspectives:

The timing of London Book Fair’s new Sustainability Lounge program is significant.

Rachel Martin, the global director of sustainability at Amsterdam’s Elsevier, says that the arrival of the United Nations’ latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has raised the alarm to its necessary pitch.

“We are not on track to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) or even 2.0 Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit),” the report tells us.

The message has become inescapable: The level of urgency has soared in these years since the 2018 advent of these UN reports. One conclusion is unmistakable in the panel’s new Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023: Time is running out faster than we thought it was.

‘We Need the Poetry and Fiction and Children’s Books’

If there’s anyone in book publishing who’s becoming the international go-to personality for the climate crisis for the book business, it’s Martin at the publishing giant Elsevier—like London Book Fair, a RELX company.

Martin and her Elsevier colleague Michiel Kolman have worked with London Book Fair director Gareth Rapley and his associates to develop the Sustainability Lounge. And in an interview with Publishing Perspectives, it becomes evident that Martin has two assignments for the international publishing business.

  • Obviously, publishing must adopt climate-crisis responses in carefully worked out plans to ensure the industry lowering emissions in its own operations, from acqusitions through distribution and sales.
  • But maybe not as obviously, publishing also needs to produce the content necessary to capture, inspire, and guide the world’s attention to the racing rise of an existential threat.

“We need the poetry and fiction and the children’s books and the stories and the different perspectives around this,” Martin says, “in order to get people to understand there is a better future out there—because there has to be a better future out there.

“And so we do need publishers to be catalysts of action, we need them to be publishing on topics like what does 2030 look like? We need them to be talking about self-help, and how do you become a change-agent in your own organization?”

. . . .

The IPA also has led the way in three critical publishing responses to the crisis:

  • The SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Book Club
  • The fast-growing SDG Publishers Compact, now with some 300 signatories
  • With the Federation of European Publishers, the Publishing 2030 Accelerator, a project to develop systemic industry response to the pressures of climate change

. . . .

But the Sustainability Lounge at London Book Fair has the distinction of being a stage devoted all week to the question of the climate emergency, with bespoke programming throughout the run of the trade show.

. . . .

Martin—a vivacious conversationalist, full of humor and enthusiasm for her specialization—is crystal clear on what’s needed from publishing: both those best practices in sustainability but also “a vision of what we’re working toward, so people feel like they’re headed for a better life. They need to be inspired.”

This executive at one of the very biggest academic houses in the world says with a smile, “Academic publishers are very good at putting out the science, right? But we need to use every lever at our control. Every inspirational, motivational idea of cultural power to push us over a little hump when we’re not quite sure if we want to go down a path” required to ease the warming crisis.

For that, she’s turning to the trade: The role for carbon-footprint reduction is urgent–and so is the call for climate-relative literature.

. . . .

Martin tells Publishing Perspectives that she’s calculated the carbon footprint on the Elsevier stand. “And what are some of the lessons learned,” she asks rhetorically, “in terms of carbon emissions at book fairs? We’re thinking about something a bit like the ‘carbon label,’” she says, “something that RX and London Book Fair might give their exhibitors to calculate their own stands’ carbon footprints” in the future.

Rachel Martin stops herself in mid-conversation, thinks about it. Then she decides to go ahead: “Okay, what we found out—spoiler alert—is that it’s more about who is on your stand than it is about some of the materials on your stand.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG will welcome the reactions of visitors to TPV, but for him, the scent of virtue-signalling is strong in the OP.

He wonders if a consistent push to reduce the number of physical books published by these enormous companies each year and a rapid transition to electronic-only publishing wouldn’t do more good than having a sustainability display at a physical conference that involves hundreds of book people flying from all over the world, more than a few on corporate jets.

PG suggests allowing a great many of the trees that are pulped for paper books each year to continue to live by absorbing lots and lots of carbon dioxide might be a more significant contribution to diminishing global warming. Think of the amount of pollution the trucks, ships and planes involved in moving physical books and their components around spew into the air each day?

PG is not an expert on global warming, climate science, etc. However, he has seen enough virtue-signaling over the years of his adulthood to recognize the difference between saying the right things and doing the right things.

But as always, PG could be wrong.

Writers Can Handle the Truth from Editors

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Writers are the lifeblood of the publishing industry. I would expect agents and publishers, who work with them every day—and whose livelihood depends on them—to understand and respect writers. Most agents and publishers would claim that they do. But an industry practice that began some time ago, and has increased dramatically in recent years, belies that. This practice is not bothering to respond to rejected queries and submissions.

Agents and publishers who don’t respond will point to the warning on their submission page that says something like, “If we have not responded to you within x number of weeks or months, assume we are not interested.” In what other situation in business or personal life would such a practice be acceptable? If you sent out a party invitation that asked for an RSVP, would a response reading, “Assume that if I don’t respond by the day of the party, I’m not coming,” be considered anything but rude?

A writer has much more at stake than someone hosting a party. By nature, a writer has an active imagination, so this “negative option” approach can play havoc on the writer’s mind. Once the stated number of weeks or months passes, the writer, knowing that agents and publishers are busy, will begin to speculate that the agent or publisher hasn’t had time to read what was submitted. Or the writer will imagine—and hope against hope—that it’s taking so long because whoever read the query or submission first then passed it on to someone else at the agency or publishing house, who is still considering it.

All it takes to relieve the writer of this illusion, to prevent the writer from hoping against hope, is to send a rejection letter—something that was long a standard practice in the industry. Receiving a rejection letter is painful, of course, but at least it provides closure for the writer. It means a lot to a writer just to know for sure that the agent or publisher is definitely saying no. Someone once wrote that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, and the indifference to a basic need of writers displayed by many agents and publishers today shows a disturbing lack of love for writers.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

But a rejection letter would cost 63 cents for the stamp! Add to that the cost of a publishing peon who pulls out a form rejection letter, puts the letter in an envelope, addresses the envelope and drops it into the outgoing mail box where another peon puts it in a sack with all the other outgoing mail and drops it off at the post office.

Even an SASE would only save the 63 cents and the peon’s time spent hunting and pecking out the return address. The peon would still have the burden of putting the rejection letter in the envelope and dropping it in an outbox.

The practice of not responding reeks of entitlement, scorn for authors and a paper-thin profit margin.

Plus a total lack of class or consideration. It’s a sleazy business up and down the line.

What Is Upmarket Fiction?

From Jane Friedman:

Ask five different industry members and you’ll get five different answers. But what really is “upmarket” fiction?

Upmarket fiction is a blend of commercial fiction and literary fiction, but how it gets blended is where writers and industry members can’t always agree.

The nuances of upmarket fiction are confusing because the lines are blurry to those who don’t see it every day, but I have a method to share with you to better understand the category. Here’s a definitive guide to upmarket fiction.

It has universal themes everyone can connect to, with a hyper-focused plot.

Universal does not mean meandering and expansive. Universal means ideas that travel. Love, loss, grief, trauma, family secrets, and identity show up in upmarket fiction because these are the books that start hyper-specific, like a dust bowl fiction called The Four Winds, and ends up traveling around the country and the world (selling translation rights as they go).

Like Mika in Real Life, we get into them for the plot and end up being swept away by how it makes us feel and then we want to go tell everyone else about it!

Like The People We Hate at the Wedding, we all love the drama of a messy wedding, especially one that includes international travel.

Foreign rights agents never truly know what will sell, but emotionally gripping, universal themes are the books they always want to share with their foreign contacts because they’re not geographically bound. Upmarket novels have potential to sell well in translation because we’re all human.

The aim is thoughtful discussion of real world application.

Ripped-from-the-headlines books often fall into this category. Books where the topic is already being discussed in pop culture or the news and captured in fiction like Girls with Bright Futures (social satire of the 1%), We Are Not Like Them and Such a Fun Age (both hold a mirror up to society’s social justice conversations) are great examples. Books that make readers think about “What would I do in that situation?” or “What if that happened to me/my sister/my family?” are ways that readers are pulled into the book in a nuanced way that inspire deep thought about how the reader feels about the subject matter or character conflict and their own personal relationship to it.

It’s a blend of literary and commercial: quality writing with a high-concept hook or unique structure

So here’s where the blend comes in. The literary part is that the quality of writing is high (doesn’t need to be capital L literary, though, and actually shouldn’t be), and the commercial part is the hook. You immediately get why you need to read it and read it now, but you’re going to keep reading because the writing is really strong.

What is a high-concept hook you might ask? The GuncleOne DayThe Midnight Library and This Time Tomorrow come to mind. A high-concept hook is a premise or hook that you can immediately wrap your head around and see how it can drive a novel: a “what if” hook, a hook that might be about an existential question but is captured in a brilliant single line.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG’s definition: Upmarket Fiction is a buzzword used by less than 1,000 people in the world and understood by none of them.

PG is now going to practice his high-concept hooks.

How Bad Publishers Hurt Authors

From Jane Friedman:

It began with that heart-fluttering feeling of acceptance after so many rejections. My second novel was going to be published!

It was the end of August 2020. The world as we knew it had been upended. We were getting deeper into the pandemic, with fear, illness, death, and uncertainty ravaging the world. When New York City–based Adelaide Books offered me a contract to publish Painting Through the Dark, it set my heart racing in a good way. It was a promise.

The contract looked good: 20% royalties, paperback and ebook, quarterly reports, approval over the design and cover art. The marketing plan also sounded excellent: pre-publishing editorial review, all pre- and post-print marketing tools and services, design and maintenance of author’s website, magazine promotion and interview with author, social and blog posts, book video trailer, book giveaways to bloggers, and consideration for various literary competitions. Plus two free books for the author, and further books could be purchased at a 30% discount.

Then came this sentence: “All we ask of you is to pre-purchase 45 copies of your book (at 30% discount) upon signing the contract as a token of your support for our publishing endeavor.”

That’s when the happy heart flutter turned anxious. Was this legit?

I knew that after publication I’d order at least that many books for private events, but still. I checked the company out. They had been in business for several years and had offices in New York and Lisbon. They listed a large number of titles on their website. They attended the Frankfurt Book Fair every year, in addition to the Lisbon and Brooklyn book festivals. I asked around—friends who were published authors, others with knowledge of independent publishing. In their opinion it wasn’t a red flag. Several said it wasn’t unusual to ask authors to buy a certain number of copies up front. I was thrilled. This was the answer I wanted. I didn’t relish the long, soul-killing process of querying all over again. I squelched any remaining doubts and signed.

After finalizing the contract, communication was sketchy. Weeks would go by between emails. I knew Adelaide was a small company, and I was concerned about the large number of books on their roster. I finally requested a Zoom meeting and was reassured by a pleasurable, hour-long, wide-ranging conversation with the publisher. He clearly loved and believed in books. We talked about what to expect when my book came out—I was definitely coming to New York for the Brooklyn Book Festival, and he told me he would book me at the Strand bookstore and other NYC locations. Distribution was through Ingram. This was all working out.

After that call, the publisher wasn’t responsive to emails, but I convinced myself all was well. The dates for publication were pushed back a few times due to COVID, but I was fine waiting until it might be safe to do in-person readings. I thrive on meeting readers, having conversations, signing books.

After a couple of rounds of editing, Adelaide fell off the radar again. Even when I put URGENT, CONCERNED, PLEASE RESPOND, in the subject line of my emails, I got no response. I tried not to sound desperate, but I was. The publisher never answered the phone or replied to voicemail messages. My book suddenly appeared on Amazon in July 2022. No advance reader copies, no reviews, none of the publicity promised in the contract.

I approached local bookstores in Portland, Oregon, where I live, so I could set up readings. They all told me they couldn’t find my book on Ingram. I was embarrassed. I told them there must be some hold up as my books were definitely on Ingram. I said I’d get back to them after I spoke with my publisher.

. . . .

When I reached out to Authors Guild, they informed me that their lawyers had been sending letters to Adelaide since June with no response. They said they would add my name to the next letter naming authors seeking reversion of rights. They set up a Zoom meeting for Adelaide orphans and suggested we all file with the New York Better Business Bureau and New York State Attorney General. They requested we send our stories, and they would pitch to Publishers Weekly. I filed complaints with NYBBB and the Attorney General. I received replies saying they had attempted to contact Adelaide but received no response. The NYBBB added, “A firm’s rating may be affected by its failure to answer even one complaint. Your experience may, therefore, alert other inquirers seeking information through the BBB.” Hopefully filing complaints would help someone.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

I Never Made a Living Wage When I Worked in Publishing

From Electric Lit:

Years ago, when my son was in preschool, I found myself in the human resources of big Harry Potter rich publishing house. I’d crossed the bridge from the New Jersey suburbs we’d found ourselves in. At the time, my husband and I were renting the top floor of a house in one of the toniest suburbs in the county. I didn’t have health insurance, but my husband and children did—through my husband’s home country. We’d just come from there, flown overseas, where things had been easier and cheaper. Childcare was subsidized and my son was happy and I was researching my first novel. But my husband’s green card had been denied and we were broke.

To save money a friend of ours lived in the dining room and we had one car. In this tony suburb full of backyard structures and moms who lived in their perfectly manicured fiefdoms, where the only people in the streets were lawn care workers, we stuck out. I didn’t have a Gucci bag. Our car was not German. The roommate in our dining room gave everyone pause. Even if staying at home had been my thing—and it wasn’t—we didn’t have the money to do the things other stay at home moms did. For my son there were no camps, no mommy and me, no enrichment activities like the ones the kids around us took advantage of. I didn’t have money for pilates or yoga or Botox. We didn’t even have money for a proper flat for just the three of us. It was time to I went back to work.

The HR person scrutinized my resume. She asked why I’d changed jobs so frequently, not staying more than a year in any one publishing job. Because I needed to make more money, I told her. I almost rolled my eyes. She knew as well as anyone how low the publishing salaries were. Her eyes narrowed: Are you only interested in the money? My face flushed. Of course I was interested in the money. It goes without saying—the need for money is why one works. I told her that I’d gotten into publishing because of my love of books and the industry. Publishing had been my first real job, my only real job, I told her. I’d taken a few years off to have my son and we’d moved overseas so we’d have family help. But now I was back and I wanted to work.

I didn’t get the job, which was for the best, financially speaking. I’d done the math. My pay would hardly cover the child care costs and travel into the city. In the end, I left publishing. I took a job close to home where I worked as a nurse recruiter. My hours were flexible and no one cared that I hadn’t worked in a couple of years. I made commission. I talked to nurses all day and I did this until my daughter was born. There I was never shamed for working because I needed money.

When I started out in New York City publishing I made 19k a year, twenty-five years ago. This was a standard salary for editorial assistants and here’s a fact that won’t shock you—it wasn’t a living wage, even then. During that period, I lost my apartment. I squatted in an abandoned building in an apartment that was open to all who wished to enter. I starved. My mother had offered to send me a plane ticket home but refused to help me stay—I decided on my own to do so.

I had one room with a door I could lock. I showered at the Y. There were weeks before my next paycheck where I lived off the dry oatmeal in the office kitchen, learned to order soup and ask for extra bread on dates. I never passed a payphone without checking the coin release for abandoned change. I pushed aside washing machines at the laundromat for stray quarters so I could afford a bagel, a phone call, a subway ride. When a man at a street fair asked me to be a call girl I had a big long think on it before I finally said no.

I wanted to live in New York, wanted to work in publishing. I wanted to be a writer. I lived close to the bone, and I had no social life. Getting cheated by a cashier meant the difference between eating a hot dog off the street or starving that night. After some time, I left that publishing house for another and made a few thousand more. But when I left that first job, I also left editorial acquisitions—the sort of job that decides what books get published. I worked for managing ed, copy editing those already acquired manuscripts. Managing editorial departments, production departments, publicity—these jobs generally pay more than acquisitions—which are generally more prestigious and which might explain the sorts of books that we’ve always seen published, continuing to get published. With the extra money, I got out of my squat. I had managed to save the prerequisite first and last month’s rent and some extra money for a bit of furniture, and moved to a room downtown. This was the late 90s when there were still cheap rooms to be had in Manhattan. Then I jumped off to a dotcom that was short lived, but where I finally was paid a living wage. My last boss in publishing asked me how much I would make at the dot com and when I told her, she laughed. “You wouldn’t make that in ten years here,” she said. She might have laughed, but to me it was serious.

The big five publishing houses are owned by huge conglomerate companies. Harper Collins, recently on strike, is owned by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s company. They pay these wages because they have always paid these wages—not because they can’t afford to pay better. Publishing is the sort of job that wealthy white people historically did, no one else need apply. Coming from greater Detroit (and not the parts that typically wound up in places like New York City), I had not understood any of this. If I had, I’m not sure I would have come at all. I was willing to pay the enormous price of moving to New York City because I’d been too ignorant to understand the price that would be exacted of me.

My father and mother had followed their calling. Both believed there was something noble in their professions. My father was a reporter who refused any editor or management position he was promoted to. His union job was safe and he was a union man until he retired. My mom was a Detroit public school teacher. When my mother had stage four cancer when I was 10, we were not financially ruined. Her union job protected her. Moving to New York City I hadn’t realized that my dream job was a job for people who had trust funds, or, at the very least, a parent or spouse who helped with rent or paid off credit cards. Not for people with parents who would not, or could not, help them.

Here is a fact: if a person cannot make a living wage in their job, even living as frugally and close to the bone as I was, then the wage is too low.  It’s unconscionable that publishing—especially those with big umbrella corporations like News Corp or the late Sumner Redstone’s company, Paramount Global, continues to pay their publishing employees so little. When I looked at starting salaries of publishing positions today, I was shocked to see they are exactly as low now as they were then, adjusted for inflation. Only now things are much harder. I lived without cable television or a cell phone back then. It would be impossible, especially during the past three years of remote pandemic working, for anyone to live without internet.

It’s especially unconscionable in light of what we know now—and let’s be real, we knew it then—that low wages keep out those with less means, and those from marginalized communities, in particular. This kind of gate-keeping is deeply problematic, and the exact opposite of what publishing should be doing.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG couldn’t have said this any better.

Paramount Will Pay $122.5M to Settle CBS-Viacom Merger Lawsuit

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Paramount Global has agreed to settle a shareholder lawsuit that claimed that the 2019 CBS-Viacom merger [that created Paramount Global] was unfair for shareholders.

According to a securities filing Friday, Paramount will pay the shareholders $122.5 million to settle the claims, subject to a long-form settlement agreement and approval by Delaware’s Chancery Court.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (“CalPERS”) was lead plaintiff in the litigation, which also named Shari Redstone and the Redstone family’s National Amusements as defendants. Paramount CEO Bob Bakish was also a defendant, but was removed from the suit in Dec. 2020.

Indeed, Redstone was at the center of the suit, which claimed that Viacom’s board accepted a lower price for the merger in order to secure Redstone’s governance priorities (namely that the company would be led by Bakish and much of his executive team).

“Plaintiffs allege that the willingness of the fiduciaries who served on Viacom’s transaction committee to allow Ms. Redstone to dominate their decision-making rendered them servile tools in Ms. Redstone’s relentless pursuit of a Viacom/CBS combination to advance her interests,” Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights wrote in a Dec. 2020 decision allowing the litigation to proceed.

Slights added in another decision a month later that the claims “allow a reasonable inference that CBS’s acquisition of Viacom was motivated not only by Ms. Redstone’s concerns about Viacom’s viability as a going concern, but also her desire to shop NAI following their consolidation.”

Redstone, of course, pushed for the merger of the companies that her father, the tycoon Sumner Redstone, had built over decades. Sumner Redstone died in Aug. 2020 at age 97.

. . . .

The CBS-Viacom merger, Shari Redstone’s relationship to her father, and her effort to reunite the companies, is a centerpiece of a new business book called Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy, by James B. Stewart and Rachel Abrams.

“All children feel the need to prove themselves. But she was really under a burden here,” Stewart told The Hollywood Reporter in February. “I think one of the most poignant scenes in the book is at the end. Shari loved her father and desperately wanted his recognition and approval. There’s a poignant scene at the end where, after his funeral, she goes to her father’s closest confidant, an old friend and business colleague, and asks him, essentially, “Do you think he loved me?” I mean, I’m telling you, it almost makes me cry. It’s so sad that she had to ask that.”

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to C. for the tip.

As C. mentioned, Paramount has continued to attempt to dump sell Simon & Schuster, for several months after the Paramount’s $2.2 billion deal to sell the book publisher to Penguin Random House was blocked by a New York federal court on antitrust grounds last November.

While Shari Redstone’s relationship problems with her deceased father may be part of Paramount’s problems, the company sure wants to get out of the traditional publishing business by dumping one of the largest publishers in the United States.

‘AI’ at Bologna: The Hair-Raising Topic of 2023

From Publishing Perspectives:

Probably predictable, the busiest chatter in pre-Bologna Children’s Book Fair (March 6 to 9) messaging about “artificial intelligence” has a slightly shrill edge to it at times, along with assertions that “AI” is going to “revolutionize publishing.”

Just as enhanced ebooks did, remember? And virtual reality. And augmented reality. And Kindle in Motion. And sales data. And everything “digital.” Right? Well, no. Many developments on which we all once kept a wary, skittish eye have proved no match for the sturdy agility of reading, although in some cases, such conceptional developments eventually have helped the business move forward in a world of digitally robust entertainment. It’s hard at times to distinguish a step in valuable development from a threat, isn’t it?

Indeed, while overreaction and warnings of “the end of human creativity” are over the top, there are areas in which “AI” developments are being taken very seriously. The 13,000-member Authors Guild in New York City–the United States’ leading writer-advocacy organization–has today (March 1) issued an update to its model trade book contract and literary translation model contract with a new clause that prohibits publishers from using or sublicensing books under contract to train “artificial intelligence” technologies.

That new clause reads:

. . . .

Nevertheless, as one sage London publishing manager once said to us, “Publishing is really taking digital rather hard, isn’t it?” And the industry does tend to assume the worst when new elements of technological advances capture the popular imagination.

Another way of saying that the book publishing business is an emotional one is to notice how much book people seem to enjoy such frightening dramas. Chicken Little is still a sort of recurring mascot, and nobody is better than storytellers at telling stories about how all our precious print books are going to vanish from the Earth and all of Manhattan will become Silicon Valley’s parking lot.

So now we find bookish folks calling “AI” a “new frontier,” although it and “machine learning” have been with us long before OpenAI and its ChatGPT attracted so much media attention. “AI” is not intelligence at all, artificial or otherwise—some people in publishing may not realize that every Google search they’ve done was an encounter with the “AI” nightmare. That’s why one of the first developments being worked on with OpenAI’s system has been Microsoft integrating it with Bing—a search engine. Because it searches. Fast. The answers Alexa or another voice-activated system may give you are this, too–algorithmically combined responses.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Also, PG isn’t certain whether it is possible to prove that a particular book was used for AI training absent someone at the AI software company saying it was. If PG were advising an AI company on this issue, he would advise purchasing a huge file of text from a third party, perhaps a renowned university, and using that to train an AI.

If anyone knows of any employee of a traditional publisher who is an expert on artificial intelligence on staff, please indicate this in the comments. Ditto for electrical engineers, computer engineers, etc.

With New Model Language, Library E-book Bills Are Back

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It was just over a year ago that a federal judge in Maryland struck down the state’s groundbreaking library e-book law. But with the 2023 legislative year underway, library advocates are back with new model legislation they say can help ensure “fair and equitable licensing terms in e-book contracts for libraries” while avoiding the thorny copyright issue that doomed Maryland’s law.

The revised language, developed with support from nascent library advocacy group Library Futures, takes a “regulate” rather than “mandate” approach. In other words, unlike Maryland’s law, which would have required publishers to offer license agreements to libraries “on reasonable terms” for digital books that were available to consumers, the new legislative language instead focuses regulating the terms of agreements. Key to the revised bill’s effectiveness is language that would render unenforceable any license term that “precludes, limits, or restricts” libraries from performing their traditional, core mission.

So far, the new model language has been introduced in bills in two states: Massachusetts and Hawaii, though library advocates say they are “working closely” with advocates in several more states and anticipate more bills in the coming weeks and months of 2023.

“By focusing on fair licensing terms and state law, [the proposed model language] can nullify the threat of copyright and federal preemption lawsuits against the library community and the public,” noted Library Futures policy fellow Juliya Ziskina, in recent blog post on the Library Futures site. The goal, Ziskina added, is to provide “a pathway for libraries to obtain licensing terms more suited to library needs.”

A quick scan of the headlines suggests that library e-book laws are once again appearing on legislators’ radar in several states. In all, five states have so far introduced library e-book bills in the opening weeks of 2023, with Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Virginia introducing bills in addition to Massachusetts and Hawaii, although it is unclear if or how quickly the bills will advance—the Connecticut bill is very brief; a senate committee in Virginia swiftly voted to table their bill for now.

Commenting on the vote to table the Virginia bill, Shelley Husband of the Association of American Publishers called the vote “a welcome recognition of how intellectual property rights fuel authorship and digital commerce, as well as a resounding rejection of state-level legislation that seeks to unconstitutionally infringe on well-established federal law protecting the rights of creators.”

The Rhode Island bill, meanwhile, is a hybrid: it features language from the Maryland bill as well as a clause that would render unenforceable license terms that “limit the rights of a library or school under the U.S. Copyright Act.” Importantly, that provision would be severable—meaning that should the Rhode Island bill become law and parts of it later declared invalid, that copyright protection provision could stand.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The Sensitive Question of Sensitivity Readers

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Under book publishing’s trending best practices, historical authenticity can be secondary to appeasing people’s sensitivities. I’m qualified to say this based on my recent experience as a literary agent on behalf of a client.

The events in question began happily: my client received a Big Five contract for a book about his time as a Marine sniper during the Vietnam War, when he was 17. The original manuscript (written with the assistance of a coauthor) told his story in the context of its time and place, including florid verbatim language and descriptions that wouldn’t be appropriate in other settings, then or now. Historical authenticity and truthfulness were the author’s priorities.

The manuscript passed the publisher’s editorial and legal protocols with relatively few revisions, and no additional hurdles were expected. In fairness, the editor’s good news email included a brief statement that the manuscript still needed to pass a so-called sensitivity read, but we weren’t told what that was or given any reason for concern. I had never heard of it and didn’t give it a second thought. Instead, I asked the editor to request the second advance payment due upon acceptance for publication. But my assumptions were wrong.

I’ve since learned that sensitivity reads are a recent and potentially powerful layer of scrutiny some books are subjected to. Evidently, they have been in use by some children’s publishers for several years. I don’t know which adult publishers may have adapted them, if they are uniformly structured and empowered, or if any written mission statements or guidelines exist. I can only write about my experience.

If properly conceived and used, sensitivity reads can be beneficial for all stakeholders, especially authors. Any manuscript can be potentially infected with inadvertently offensive content that serves no meaningful purpose. For instance, I represent many older backlist titles that possess unacceptable language by current standards but that, when written, seemed innocent. We make an effort to discover and rewrite those segments without distorting the (often deceased) author’s meaning. The key is trying to remain as true as possible to the author’s original intent.

Under the threat of having his book deal terminated, my client was forced to meaningfully modify his manuscript to accommodate a five-page document full of subjective complaints about how the Vietnam War was fought by the author and his co-combatants, the unfiltered descriptions of his horrific experiences, and the unsavory language used by the mostly very young men who were there on behalf of their country. The sensitivity review was written by one person. This person was hired by the publisher, and no information about their qualifications, or who might have reviewed their review, was provided. No appeals or rebuttals were allowed. My author reluctantly complied in full.

I actually agree with many of the sensitivity reader’s sentiments. Everything about that war was appalling. But why sanitize it? It should be depicted exactly as it happened. Following the publisher’s logic would be equal to transforming the M˜y Lai Massacre into a misunderstanding with unpleasant consequences that shouldn’t be discussed because it’s too upsetting for some people.

I felt the publisher endowed the sensitivity reader’s report with the unilateral power to censor my client’s book, which raises serious questions. How are sensitivity readers recruited and what qualifies them? Are their personal views and experiences taken into account? More problematically, how can a person’s feelings qualify as objective or open-minded? How is it possible to oppose a person’s feelings without at least partially invalidating them? Should the need for accuracy be enmeshed with feelings? What outcomes are publishers looking for?

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG wonders if anyone has been dinged by a sensitivity reader on KDP.

Being far out of any sensitivity loop, PG did some quick and dirty research. He discovered that a huge number of traditional news publications and television networks went crazy over the insensitivity of a 3-second GIF online advertisement for Dove:

And here’s that three-second insensitive video:

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro Says Publishers Are Failing Latino Stories

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Last November, hundreds of workers at HarperCollins went on strike to protest low wages and racial inequity at their employer, one of the nation’s largest publishers. As their strike reaches a tentative end, HarperCollins workers have forced the publishing industry to reckon with practices that have long made it one of the least diverse fields in media.

Since the early days of our republic, publishers have helped shape the national narrative. Today, publishers are gatekeepers, selecting the heroes who are lionized in history textbooks and the novels that are later pitched for film adaptations.

In 2020, as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I commissioned research from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Latino employment in media. I wanted to know whether our nation’s largest minority has a voice in America’s narrative-creating and image-defining industry. The answer was a resounding no.

Latinos make up 18% of the American workforce and nearly 20% of the overall population. But in its report, the GAO found that publishing is just 8% Latino—making it the worst field in media for Latino representation.

When the data is broken down to authors and contributors, the numbers are even more dismal. Last year, in data that likely reflects industry trends, Penguin Random House found that just 5% of its authors, illustrators, and translators identified as Hispanic or Latino.

The dearth of Latinos in publishing contributes to a blind spot in the industry. Too often, literary portrayals of Latinos are reduced to harmful stereotypes of menacing narcotraffickers, desperate migrants, or hypersexualized women—depictions that become fodder for racism and political exploitation, and obscure the real-life roles of Latinos as essential workers, immigrant entrepreneurs, and trailblazers across industries.

The lack of a basic understanding about Latinos is painfully clear at the highest levels of the publishing industry. In 2020, I convened a meeting between Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and publishers to talk about the industry’s diversity problem. Less than a year before, a madman in El Paso, Tex., killed 23 people in the worst anti-Latino hate crime in U.S. history, and I wanted publishers to understand their role in fomenting bigotry. To start, I asked one of the executives a simple question: as someone who publishes thousands of books a year, could he name three Latinos or Latinas who made significant contributions to U.S. history?

There are lots of good answers—from the Puerto Rican athletes who broke racial barriers to the Chicano activists who fought for civil rights. But after this bright, accomplished man took a moment to think, he admitted he couldn’t name any.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

One more reason to scorn Big Publishing.

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro Says Publishers Are Failing Latino Stories

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Last November, hundreds of workers at HarperCollins went on strike to protest low wages and racial inequity at their employer, one of the nation’s largest publishers. As their strike reaches a tentative end, HarperCollins workers have forced the publishing industry to reckon with practices that have long made it one of the least diverse fields in media.

Since the early days of our republic, publishers have helped shape the national narrative. Today, publishers are gatekeepers, selecting the heroes who are lionized in history textbooks and the novels that are later pitched for film adaptations.

In 2020, as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, I commissioned research from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Latino employment in media. I wanted to know whether our nation’s largest minority has a voice in America’s narrative-creating and image-defining industry. The answer was a resounding no.

Latinos make up 18% of the American workforce and nearly 20% of the overall population. But in its report, the GAO found that publishing is just 8% Latino—making it the worst field in media for Latino representation.

When the data is broken down to authors and contributors, the numbers are even more dismal. Last year, in data that likely reflects industry trends, Penguin Random House found that just 5% of its authors, illustrators, and translators identified as Hispanic or Latino.

The dearth of Latinos in publishing contributes to a blind spot in the industry. Too often, literary portrayals of Latinos are reduced to harmful stereotypes of menacing narcotraffickers, desperate migrants, or hypersexualized women—depictions that become fodder for racism and political exploitation, and obscure the real-life roles of Latinos as essential workers, immigrant entrepreneurs, and trailblazers across industries.

The lack of a basic understanding about Latinos is painfully clear at the highest levels of the publishing industry. In 2020, I convened a meeting between Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and publishers to talk about the industry’s diversity problem. Less than a year before, a madman in El Paso, Tex., killed 23 people in the worst anti-Latino hate crime in U.S. history, and I wanted publishers to understand their role in fomenting bigotry. To start, I asked one of the executives a simple question: as someone who publishes thousands of books a year, could he name three Latinos or Latinas who made significant contributions to U.S. history?

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Print Book Sales Fell 6.5% in 2022

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After two years of surprisingly strong sales during the pandemic, unit sales of print books fell 6.5% in 2022 compared to 2021 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Units sales totaled 788.7 million last year, down from 843.1 million in 2021. The decline was not a surprise: many in the industry had predicted that as Covid lockdowns were lifted and more entertainment and travel options opened up, interest in reading would fall. Still, print unit sales in 2022 were 11.8% above those from 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

Two pandemic-related trends contributed to the sales decline. Discovery of new books, which was made more difficult in 2020 when physical bookstores were shut down, continued to be a problem last year as publishers struggle to find ways to bring new titles to the attention of readers. As a result, frontlist sales declined 10.5% in 2022, while backlist sales fell a more moderate 3.7%, according to BookScan. Sales of hardcovers, likely hurt by rising prices (prompted in part by supply chain problems), fell 10.4%, while trade paperback sales fell only 2.4%. Trade paperbacks accounted for 60% of unit sales in 2022, up from 57% in 2021, while hardcovers’ share of the market declined from 33% in 2021 to 30% last year.

Adult fiction was the only one of the major categories to have a sales increase last year over 2021, with print unit sales up 8.5%. There is no mystery as to why adult fiction outperformed the rest of trade publishing: BookTok continues to drive sales for numerous fiction authors, and especially for Colleen Hoover. The prolific novelist had the three top-selling books of 2022 and five of the top 10 bestsellers.

Trade publishing’s largest category, adult nonfiction, had a 10.3% drop in sales last year to 289.6 million copies sold, compared to 322.8 million copies sold in 2021. James Clear’s Atomic Habits was the #1 nonfiction title again in 2022, selling 1.3 million copies, after topping the category in 2021 with 883,000 copies sold. The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama was second on the category list, selling nearly 734,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

6 Misconceptions that Keep Beginning Writers from Publishing Success

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

This week, editor and former agent Nathan Bransford published a blogpost that I wanted to send to all the beginning writers I know. The title is: If You Think Writing is Easy you’re Probably Not Very Good At It.

It’s a little harsher than what we usually hear from good-natured Nathan. (I’ve met him IRL and he’s a sweetheart.) But I understand why he wrote it. He’s been reading unpublished manuscripts for over 20 years and he keeps seeing the same mistakes. He says he can always tell a manuscript is going to be awful if he sees one of two things in the query —

  • The writer brags about his own abilities.
  • The writer claims all the books being published today are awful.

I have an editor friend who’s dealing with two beginning writers who vastly overestimate their own writing skills. Because they’re both volatile and self-absorbed, she has had to tread lightly with them. She sometimes calls me to vent, and she loved Nathan’s piece, too.

After talking to her, I realized there are some misconceptions an awful lot of beginning writers have stuck in their heads. Those misconceptions keep them from understanding what it takes to learn professional-level writing skills.

I believed a lot of this stuff myself when I was starting out, and I hate to think of all the cringey things I said and did before I finally got it.

Writing a Book Makes You a Writing Expert

This is a biggie. Not every writer suffers from imposter syndrome. Some have the opposite problem. They think writing one whole book means they’ve learned all there is to know about writing. After all, it took them 5 years to finish the thing. And it’s 500K words! They don’t need no stinkin’ writing classes. Why doesn’t anybody recognize their genius? The whole system is rigged!!

But, as Nathan says, “No one sits down and simply paints the Mona Lisa. Whether you realize it or not, you’re going to start off writing the equivalent of crude stick figures.”

It takes a long, long time to learn the skills it takes to be a professional novelist. You can’t just say “I have a computer and I can write an English sentence, so I’m Stephen King.” But an amazing number of people do.

Current Bestsellers are a Trashy Waste of Time.

Reading what is currently selling — especially in your genre — is the only way to know what your audience is looking for. It also tells you what’s been done to death.

I was such an ignoramus when I started out, I didn’t even know my first novel was in a hot new genre they were calling “chick lit.” And I wasn’t reading it. I was reading classic mysteries, literary women’s fiction, and authors like Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen. Great writers, yes, but mostly not current and not my genre.

Reading classics is fine, but when we’re trying to enter a business, we need to know what products people are buying now — not what sold 100 or even 10 years ago.

When I finally got an agent, she sent me to the bookstore with a list of titles. I was embarrassed I didn’t even know most of them.

Confidence Sells: Fake it Till You Make it.

Unfortunately, too much confidence in beginning writers is simply evidence of the Dunning Kruger effect. I talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect in last week’s post on beta readers, and Nathan brings it up too. It’s the scientific study that shows people who are most ignorant about a subject are the most confident.

These are the people who are so good at faking it, they’re never going to make it.

Dunning-Kruger people are the ones who are sure their snoozerific memoir is going to sell better than the Bible and say so in their queries. They love to pontificate, and generally use 20 big words when 2 small ones will do.

They also give out tons of terrible advice to their fellow authors.

A couple of weeks ago, bestselling crime writer Sue Coletta made a comment on Ruth’s post that resonated with a lot of us. She talked about the unpublished writer who gave other writers cruel and clueless advice. Those types abound in critique groups, so beware.

Sue said: “Early on, I took the advice of an unpublished writer who thought he knew everything. This guy got off on tearing apart other writers. The deeper he cut, the better he felt about himself…Interestingly enough, twelve years later, he’s still unpublished.”

Yup. Sue’s former tormenter is a Dunning Kruger poster child. Unless he has a major epiphany, he’s never going to be published. That’s because these people are incapable of learning anything — because they’re sure they know it already.

These people generally can’t hear a word that’s said to them, because when they’re not talking, they’re thinking of what they’re going to say next. They’re stuck in a narcissistic bubble that no information can penetrate.

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

PG doesn’t ever recall scorning anyone who lacks an understanding of the law. Those sorts of people used to comprise most of his client base. Did some of them make silly mistakes? Yes, they did, but they were still clients, no less welcome than those who hadn’t made silly mistakes. They were all God’s children, after all, who were asking for some help with a problem they couldn’t solve.

Absent human nature and human failings, most lawyers would have very little to do.

There is something about more than a few people in traditional publishing or published by traditional publishers that seems to compel them to trash anyone who may be interested in publishing or self-publishing as being irremediably ignorant and stupid.

PG’s psychiatric assessment is that the less real talent the trashmasters possess, the more they try to shore up their self-esteem by showering contempt on those who do not “know” as much as the trashmasters think they know.

End of rant.

Deal Reached in HarperCollins Strike as Publisher Has Another Bad Quarter

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After three months of negotiations and two weeks after announcing plans to resume labor negotiations, HarperCollins has reached a tentative agreement with its employee union, Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers.

In a February 9 announcement, the union said that the agreement calls for unspecified increases to minimum salaries, which currently start at $45,000. The new deal also includes a one-time, $1,500 lump sum bonus to be paid to employees from the union’s bargaining unit once the contract is ratified. The contract will extend through December 31, 2025.

The deal, facilitated by commissioner Todd Austin of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, was met with celebratory well wishes from New York City comptroller Brad Lander and several authors and literary agents.

. . . .

Sales, Earnings Down in Q2

News of the tentative agreement came shortly after HC parent company News Corp. released financial results for the quarter ended December 31, 2022. The company reported that earnings tumbled 52% at HC, falling to $51 million, from $107 million in the comparable quarter a year ago. Sales dropped 14%, to $531 million.

News Corp. attributed the revenue decline to slowing consumer demand for books, difficult comparisons to a strong frontlist performance a year ago, and “some logistical constraints at Amazon.” In the first quarter of the 2023 fiscal year, HC attributed the decline in sales and earnings largely to a steep drop in orders from Amazon, and in a conference call, News Corp. executives said the negative impact of Amazon on second quarter sales was less than in the first quarter. Sales were down in both print and digital formats.

In addition to lower sales, News attributed the plunge in profits primarily to “ongoing supply chain, inventory, and inflationary pressures on manufacturing, freight, and distribution costs.” A change in the product mix also depressed earnings, with the share of e-book sales falling in the second quarter as that of the the less-profitable print books rose.

With financial results also down in the first quarter, in the first six months of fiscal 2023, profits declined 53%, to $90 million, and sales fell 12%, to $1.02 billion.

Last month, HC began implementing a program to cut its North American workforce by 5% by the end of the fiscal year ending June 30. In a conference call announcing results, News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson said News is making a 5% workforce cut in all its businesses, which will result in the elimination of about 1,250 positions. In remarks about HC’s declining results, Thomson said that, “under the prevailing circumstances, it is absolutely necessary to confront the cost base as we seek to bolster long-term profitability in the post-pandemic marketplace.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Running a big publishing house is not as much fun as it used to be

From Mike Shatzkin:

The idea that general trade publishing and general trade publishing houses were going to have to change or die was first floated here in a post in 2007 and then expanded upon in a post called “The End of the General Trade Publishing Concept” in 2019. The announcement this week that Madeline McIntosh, a very good person and a very competent publishing leader, is stepping down from Penguin Random House, undoubtedly the world’s biggest trade publishing house, makes it relevant to update the analysis and predictions from those two prior posts.

The book publishing business in which I have spent my working life since the early 1960s is disappearing. Of the Big Five (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette), three have lost their CEOs within the past few years. With the government having decided that PRH acquiring S&S constitutes too much concentration, it is now an open question whether any merger among them will stand regulatory scrutiny.

Since the Big Five now account for the lion’s share of the commercial publishing business (they having acquired many of the larger companies below their size over the past few decades), this means that their growth from now on has to come organically, rather than by acquisition.

That’s a problem. From here it looks like general trade book publishers of scale can’t grow organically anymore. (Small niche publishers sometimes can, but they don’t add up to enough to become elements of a strategy.) The business has transformed around them and it is really no longer possible to do that. Two massive changes over the past 25 years in the way the industry is and works assure that.

One change is “where the books come from.” It used to be that all the books came from publishers who were “in the business” of delivering books to consumers. These days, publishing by entities that are not primarily commercially-driven — from self-publishing authors to entities that live in some other world but which can use books to the benefit of their main enterprise — is responsible for the vast majority of what is perhaps a million new titles a year hitting the marketplace. (Only near the end of “the good old days” did that number reach six figures.) So the commercial publishers — and every title they issue — have a lot more competition from other new titles hitting at the same time than they ever did before.

And on top of that, the old books don’t die anymore, thanks to print-on-demand. So a new book issued in 1990 would have competed with 500,000 other possible titles for a sale. Today the number of competing titles is about twenty million. And some smart people put it substantially higher than that.

The second big change is how the customers for books find and acquire them. In 1990, sales of consumer books were overwhelmingly in bookstores and mass merchant retail locations. That meant that only a serious publisher who committed to “covering” the stores (a sales force) and “providing service” to them (a reasonably efficient warehousing and shipping operation) could compete for those sales. Today, it is likely that fewer than 30 percent of physical books are purchased in retail locations. They are transacted for online, as are all ebook sales. So the moat that kept the path to readers in the control of real publishers is gone. Online sales venues are available to anybody, including a 1-book author. And when the potential purchaser sees the “page” for a book on her computer or phone, it is pretty hard to tell which ones belong to a big publisher and which ones don’t. (If the potential reader even cares…)

The shift in the marketplace and its economics has good news and bad news for big, established publishing houses.

The good news is that they have gold in their extensive backlists. Their revenue is no longer limited to the titles they have placed in stores, as it was in the past. Short publicity breaks triggered by an author dying, a new book coming out that recalls an older one, or a set of circumstances in the world that make an old backlist book newly relevant (however briefly) can and will result in sales.

The bad news is that it is harder and harder to publish new titles profitably and establish them in the marketplace. Organic growth is an artifact of a prior time. It doesn’t happen anymore for a general trade house.

The financial impact, so far, has been that sales remain pretty flat or slowly declining but profits are, so far, holding up well. New titles require risk. The margins on older titles can be reduced if the copies sold today are printed on demand, but they remain strong if old inventory is being sold off (particularly if no further royalties are due) or if ebooks are what is sold today.

But if big houses can’t grow organically, there are very few smaller houses to acquire, and anti-trust prevents them from combining with each other, they are doomed to a long, slow, decline. That’s where we are, and it is not a happy place.

. . . .

In the new world (forest) of book publishing, the big publishers are becoming extinct. They can’t grow. Their backlists will inevitably decay. They will be managing an asset base that will produce profits for a long time but will support less and less of a company. That’s no fun to manage at the top, and it means that the job at the top isn’t nearly as attractive as it was when all those execs entered the business. So the big publishing house just isn’t the environment it used to be.

The fact that new title lists are being cut will be increasingly obvious.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

Macmillan Raises Starting Salaries to $47,500

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Macmillan Publishers will increase its entry-level base salary to $47,500, effective April 1. Additional adjustments will be made to current salary bands to reflect this change. The previous starting salary was $42,000.

The change comes on the heels of Hachette Book Group’s announcement last week that it will increase its entry-level starting salary in New York City and other “high-cost office locations” to $47,500.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

From BankRate:

2023 cost of living in New York City

New York City is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. It’s a place that attracts people of all walks of life who are drawn by the employment opportunities, culture, educational offerings — and the sheer excitement of it all.

All of these benefits come at a steep price, though: New York is certainly one of the most expensive places to live in the country. It is 31 percent more expensive than Los Angeles, according to data from Numbeo, and 23 percent more than Boston.

The cost of food in New York City is also considerably steeper than most other places in the country. The average monthly NYC grocery bill was about $486 in March, compared with about $348 in the U.S. as a whole.

. . . .

For all its glitz and glamour, there are definitely both pros and cons to life in New York City. While it’s a city of endless opportunity, it is also an extremely competitive and costly place to live. Here are some of the city’s key statistics:

Median household income: $67,046
Per capita income: $41,625
Unemployment rate: 6.2%
Poverty rate: 17.3%
Average utility cost: $162.82 per month
Median age: 36.9 years old
Population: 8.37 million
Tourism: 22.3 million visitors in 2020
Average temperature: 53.4 degrees

. . . .

As of May 2022, the median asking rent for a one-bedroom apartment ranges from $3,950 in Manhattan to $1,500 on Staten Island, according to real estate site StreetEasy. For a two-bedroom, median asking rents range from a high of $4,750 to a low of $2,000.

A full 90 percent of apartments in NYC rent for above $3,000 per month, per rental site ApartmentList. According to its data, the majority of rentals in the city, 44 percent, are one-bedroom apartments, while studios and two-bedroom units each make up about 22 percent. Three-bedroom apartments make up the smallest inventory in the city at just 12 percent.

. . . .

The median asking price for a home in NYC hit $995,000 in April 2022, according to StreetEasy — the highest it has been since 2019.

. . . .

In May 2022, the median asking price to purchase a home in Manhattan was $1.5 million

Link to the rest at BankRate

Elsevier Announces a Transformative Agreement with Tulane

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Amsterdam-based Elsevier and Tulane University in New Orleans on Tuesday (February 7) announced a new transformative agreement for reading and publishing.

As our trade-based Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, a “transformative agreement” is a tool used in large-scale contracts to evolve operating and economic models toward open-access frameworks. There now are transformative agreements being announced by major academic publishers such as Elsevier on an almost weekly basis as the transition to open access snowballs.

Transformative agreements are made between publishers and institutions such as libraries and universities to “transform” how content is paid for, specifically transitioning from subscription-based business models to open access. Scholarly Kitchen has a thorough explanation of transformative agreements here.

Elsevier’s transformative agreement with Tulane “will continue to provide access to the same extensive portfolio of ScienceDirect journals,” the publisher says, “that enhance the learning and research experience for the Tulane community while now also supporting all researchers in publishing their research Open Access at no extra cost to the author.”

Tulane students and faculty members will have access to Elsevier’s library of journals and ebooks on its ScienceDirect branded platform.

The agreement also includes support for open-access publishing for Tulane’s research writers.

In a prepared statement, Andy Corrigan, Tulane’s interim dean of libraries, is quoted, saying that the arrangement “expands the scope of our agreement to now include open-access publishing options for our scientific and medical communities.

“This new arrangement accomplishes three important goals.

“It supports public access to grant-funded research, addresses cost sustainability within our library budget, and it increases the university’s overall return on investment in supporting the acquisition of high-quality library resources such as important ScienceDirect journals that are relied upon by our students, faculty and researchers.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Color PG extremely skeptical on this topic.

Elsevier has been the paradigm for making money publishing the work of academics and others who inhabit a publish-or-perish work environment. Under the paradigm, Elsevier has exclusive publishing rights forever and the author of the work gets an academic/scientific publication to put on her/his resume’.

HarperCollins Is Cutting 5% of Its North American Workforce

From Publisher’s Weekly:

HarperCollins, which laid off a “small number” of workers last fall, is taking more drastic steps to reduce its workforce, and plans to cut 5% of its employees in North America by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Some jobs were eliminated today.

In a memo to employees, HC CEO Brian Murray wrote that the sales surge the industry and HarperCollins experienced during the pandemic has “slowed significantly as of late.” He pointed to problems at Amazon as the primary factor behind declines in sales and earnings in the quarter ended September 30, but noted that a hoped-for rebound has not occurred in the current quarter: “we must pause to recognize the depth of the core issues we currently face,” he wrote, at what he described as “what he called “a critical juncture for the organization.”

In addition to lagging demand, Murray pointed to “unprecedented supply chain and inflationary pressures caused by the pandemic, including increasing paper, manufacturing, labor, and distribution costs.” While HC has “adjusted prices and curtailed non-essential expenses,” Murray said, “more needs to be done.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Penguin Random House Prepares to Rebuild

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Penguin Random House’s bid to buy Simon & Schuster was always going to change the future of the world’s largest trade book publisher, but the remake is not happening along the lines former PRH CEO (and current CEO emeritus) Markus Dohle had originally planned. The ruling by Judge Florence Pan that stopped the acquisition set off a string of events that included Dohle’s resignation, the promotion of PRH US COO Nihar Malaviya to interim global CEO, and PRH US CEO Madeline McIntosh’s decision, announced last week, to step down once she has helped Malaviya complete the creation of a new organizational structure for PRH.

Though the restructuring is still a work in progress, its goal is to reinvigorate internal competition for new titles among PRH’s many imprints while also providing multiple touch points for agents to pitch their books to different PRH editors. The question about how aggressively different PRH imprints actually bid against one another came up during the trial of the Department of Justice’s suit to block PRH’s S&S purchase.

The reorganization will also put in place a new corporate leadership structure that is unlikely to include a new PRH US CEO. Instead, the leadership group will comprise executives from different parts of PRH (at present, there are no plans to hire someone from outside the company) who will bring different ways of thinking about the business. The new structure will also reflect PRH’s commitment to its DEI initiatives and continue to feature women in positions of power. The current U.S. board, including McIntosh, is composed of 12 women and two men.

In his memo to staff about McIntosh’s departure and the reorg, Malaviya, who is widely expected to become the permanent global CEO, wrote that he’s working closely with her “to minimize any disruption to the company and all of you. I understand that changes like this naturally create unease. Please rest assured that we will move as quickly as possible.”

According to sources, if all goes well, the new structure could be in place by the end of February. It isn’t clear if the restructuring will address the question of finding a replacement for Gina Centrello, who retired in January as president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group.

McIntosh said that with all the company has gone through over the past three years—coping with the global pandemic, the agreement to buy S&S, and the subsequent trial—she felt the time was right to step away. “I am very proud about what we have accomplished together,” McIntosh told PW.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

As PG has opined in previous posts, this merger was never going to happen. Period.

PRH and S&S are both guilty of self-inflicted wounds. If some poor soul actually wants to get into traditional publishing as an employee or an author, PG opines that PRH and S&S are both going to be highly-impaired organizations for a significant period of time to come. They’ve already lost some significant players and more than a few resumes’ are floating around Manhattan, London and, perhaps, Prudhoe Bay, looking for a new home.

Both companies need to hire different antitrust lawyers and actually listen to them if they ever decide to walk down the merger/acquisition path again in the next 5-10 years because the folks at the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department who handled this case will be happy to hit the replay button on a career-making win.

PG thinks no organization in big publishing should be anything but super-cautious about any sort of joint business activity for some time to come.

That said, PG wouldn’t be surprised if the real owners of the major US publishers start looking for a bigger fool outside the publishing biz to take title to these boat anchors.

But, of course, as always, PG could be totally wrong.

The State of Diversity in the Publishing Industry

From Book Riot:

“I often look up lists made by users on Goodreads, [and] has a resource page with links to various sites or LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia Adler. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to naturally find such books, as they are often published by smaller publishers with not enough advertising resources. That’s why it’s important to take some time each year to look for books by authors you wouldn’t normally see on a shelf in your favorite bookstore,” says Denis Ristić, a reader and a business owner.

The book publishing industry has been historically white, and it continues to be so.

In a 2019 blog post, Lee and Low Books published their Diversity Baseline Survey in which it was revealed that 76% of publishing is still white. This includes publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents. The blog initially conducted this survey in 2015, and in the 2019 edition, it concluded that “the field is just as white today as it was four years ago.”

The survey also showed that 74% of people in publishing are cis woman but that about 38% of executives and board members are cis men, which indicates that men continue to rise to positions of power more quickly than women. Further findings showed 81% are straight and 89% are non-disabled. One of the most concerning results of the 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey is the conclusion that “editorial is even more white than before” despite the efforts of publishers to provoke change.

In that same year, Publishers Weekly released its Publishing Industry Salary Survey, which only corroborated this statement. According to the survey, 84% of the workforce is white and publishing is still primarily a “white business.” This didn’t change much in the most recent edition of said survey, wherein the results show only a 1% difference.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG remembered a visit of long ago to the headquarters of the publisher of Ebony and a number of other publications focused on those of African-American heritage. At the time, PG worked at the world’s largest advertising agency.

The president’s office was the largest PG had ever seen and very strikingly furnished and decorated.

This gentleman was not asking for any charity or donations and was not seeking special treatment for himself or his publications. He just presented the the spending power of his African-American readers in a very persuasive manner and pointed out that if the clients of the ad agency weren’t including those consumers in their advertising plans, they were missing out on a large number of additional sales.

Thereafter, the ad agency pitched its clients on including African-American publications in their media plans and the clients PG was working with all signed up.

The Sensitive Question of Sensitivity Readers

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Under book publishing’s trending best practices, historical authenticity can be secondary to appeasing people’s sensitivities. I’m qualified to say this based on my recent experience as a literary agent on behalf of a client.

The events in question began happily: my client received a Big Five contract for a book about his time as a Marine sniper during the Vietnam War, when he was 17. The original manuscript (written with the assistance of a coauthor) told his story in the context of its time and place, including florid verbatim language and descriptions that wouldn’t be appropriate in other settings, then or now. Historical authenticity and truthfulness were the author’s priorities.

The manuscript passed the publisher’s editorial and legal protocols with relatively few revisions, and no additional hurdles were expected. In fairness, the editor’s good news email included a brief statement that the manuscript still needed to pass a so-called sensitivity read, but we weren’t told what that was or given any reason for concern. I had never heard of it and didn’t give it a second thought. Instead, I asked the editor to request the second advance payment due upon acceptance for publication. But my assumptions were wrong.

I’ve since learned that sensitivity reads are a recent and potentially powerful layer of scrutiny some books are subjected to. Evidently, they have been in use by some children’s publishers for several years. I don’t know which adult publishers may have adapted them, if they are uniformly structured and empowered, or if any written mission statements or guidelines exist. I can only write about my experience.

If properly conceived and used, sensitivity reads can be beneficial for all stakeholders, especially authors. Any manuscript can be potentially infected with inadvertently offensive content that serves no meaningful purpose. For instance, I represent many older backlist titles that possess unacceptable language by current standards but that, when written, seemed innocent. We make an effort to discover and rewrite those segments without distorting the (often deceased) author’s meaning. The key is trying to remain as true as possible to the author’s original intent.

Under the threat of having his book deal terminated, my client was forced to meaningfully modify his manuscript to accommodate a five-page document full of subjective complaints about how the Vietnam War was fought by the author and his co-combatants, the unfiltered descriptions of his horrific experiences, and the unsavory language used by the mostly very young men who were there on behalf of their country. The sensitivity review was written by one person. This person was hired by the publisher, and no information about their qualifications, or who might have reviewed their review, was provided. No appeals or rebuttals were allowed. My author reluctantly complied in full.

I actually agree with many of the sensitivity reader’s sentiments. Everything about that war was appalling. But why sanitize it? It should be depicted exactly as it happened. Following the publisher’s logic would be equal to transforming the M˜y Lai Massacre into a misunderstanding with unpleasant consequences that shouldn’t be discussed because it’s too upsetting for some people.

I felt the publisher endowed the sensitivity reader’s report with the unilateral power to censor my client’s book, which raises serious questions. How are sensitivity readers recruited and what qualifies them? Are their personal views and experiences taken into account? More problematically, how can a person’s feelings qualify as objective or open-minded? How is it possible to oppose a person’s feelings without at least partially invalidating them? Should the need for accuracy be enmeshed with feelings? What outcomes are publishers looking for?

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Reason # 7,523,091 to self-publish.

If any of the regular visitors to TPV need a Sensitivity Reader or a Counter-Sensitivity-Reader, PG is available. Traditional publishers are not welcome.

More seriously, if any of those visiting TPV have a report from an actual sensitivity reader, PG would love to see such a document.

CEO of Penguin Random House U.S., Country’s Largest Book Publisher, Steps Down

From The Wall Street Journal:

Madeline McIntosh said she is stepping down as chief executive of Penguin Random House U.S., the third senior executive to leave the country’s largest consumer book publisher in the past two months.

Ms. McIntosh will remain in place until Nihar Malaviya, interim CEO of Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House, establishes a new corporate leadership structure, she said in an interview.

Ms. McIntosh, a popular figure in publishing circles who steered Penguin Random House U.S. through the recent Covid-19 pandemic and championed a more inclusive company, is leaving as the publisher has seen its U.S. market share decline.

Penguin Random House commanded 20.7% of the U.S. book market in 2022, far ahead of No. 2 HarperCollins Publishers, which had 10.8%, according to book tracker NPD BookScan. Five years ago, Penguin Random House’s market share was 22.2%. HarperCollins Publishers, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

When asked about market share, Ms. McIntosh said barriers to entry have gone down as online bookselling has increased, leading to more competitors. “That’s healthy,” she said.

A veteran publishing figure, Ms. McIntosh joined the company that became Penguin Random House in 1994. She later left in 2008 to work for Inc. in Luxembourg, returning after 18 months as president of sales, operations and digital at what was then Random House Inc. She was named to her current post in April 2018.

“I’ve been in this job longer than any single job since college,” said Ms. McIntosh, 53 years old. “I’ve packed in a lot, and it’s the right time for me and for the company to have a change. I’m eager to learn new things and challenge myself in different ways.”

In a memo she plans to send to staffers on Tuesday morning, Ms. McIntosh said she had decided that the time was right for a break. “I don’t think CEOs should stay in their seats forever,” she wrote.

. . . .

Penguin Random House . . . lost a highly publicized trial last fall when a federal judge blocked it from acquiring rival Simon & Schuster on competitive grounds.

. . . .

Markus Dohle resigned as chief executive of Penguin Random House, stating in a memo to staffers that he had decided to step down following the antitrust decision after 15 years in the role.

“I’ve been frustrated with our market share development,” Mr. Dohle testified during the trial. “We lost market share almost of the size of Simon & Schuster since the merger,” referring to Random House’s merger with Penguin in 2013. Mr. Dohle couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Dohle was succeeded by Mr. Malaviya, then president and chief operating officer of Penguin Random House U.S., as interim chief executive. Until his promotion, Mr. Malaviya had reported to Ms. McIntosh.

Following Mr. Dohle’s departure, Gina Centrello, president and publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, announced her retirement. The 63-year-old Ms. Centrello, whose group publishes such authors as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Glennon Doyle and Ina Garten, was named head of the group in 2003. Ms. Centrello will serve as strategic adviser to a board consisting of senior Penguin Random House U.S. executives, the company said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes the point that Ms. McIntosh is third top executive to leave company in past two months. He opines that this is not a sign of a healthy company of any size.

Defamation of a Public Figure vs. Private Figure Explained

From Minc Law:

The difficulty of proving your defamation case, and if you even have a valid claim at all, may depend on if the court considers you a public figure or a private figure.

In the context of defamation, a public figure is generally defined as an individual who has assumed a role of prominence in society or voluntarily or involuntarily thrust themselves into the public spotlight, like a government official, a celebrity, or even a person at the heart of a controversy. Public figures have a higher burden of proof when bringing a defamation claim; they must show that the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth when publishing a false statement.

A private figure, on the other hand, is generally defined as anyone who does not qualify as a public figure and is not in the public spotlight. Private figures must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence when publishing a false statement.

. . . .

Who Are Public Figures in the Defamation Arena?

The distinction between public figures and private individuals matters in defamation law because it changes the burden of proof in bringing a lawsuit.

To succeed in a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that the statement was untrue and harmful to their reputation. On top of these factors, a public figure must also demonstrate that the defamer made the statement with malice (or malicious intent to harm them).

Definition of Public Figures in Defamation Law

In legal terms, a public figure is an individual who is at the forefront of public issues or performs a prominent role in society. Those with a certain amount of fame or renown can also be considered public figures. For example, the following people would be considered public figures in a defamation law case:

  • Government officials and politicians,
  • Prominent business leaders,
  • Celebrities, and
  • Famous sports figures and athletes.

. . . .

Most U.S. states take the idea of public figures one step further by expanding the public figure classifications into three types: public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials

Public officials are not just elected officials or politicians. They include any individual whose role has a major influence over government and societal events, as well as those who work for elected representatives. 

However, not every government official would be considered a public figure in a defamation case. The difference is generally in how prominent and influential the individual is in their role. For example, while an elected prosecutor may be considered a public official, an administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office may not be.

What is the Difference Between All-Purpose Public Figures & Limited-Purpose Public Figures?

Aside from public officials, other public figures are split into two categories: all-purpose and limited-purpose. An all-purpose public figure has achieved “pervasive fame or notoriety,” like a traditional celebrity.

On the other hand, a limited-purpose public figure is injected into “a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues.

A limited-purpose public figure can be voluntarily or involuntarily drawn into the public eye. Examples of voluntary limited-purpose public figures include minor athletes or actors, social activists, or those who enter into the public debate about a controversial topic. An involuntary limited-purpose public figure did not choose to become involved in a controversy or important event.

In the significant court case of Dameron vs. Washington Magazine, the plaintiff Merle Dameron was the sole air traffic controller on duty the day of a plane crash near Dulles airport in 1974. While he was never found at fault for the crash, local magazine The Washingtonian issued claims that he was partly to blame for the passengers’ deaths.

The court found that while Dameron did not “inject” himself into the public debate, he did become involved in this public affair without his consent. He was, therefore, considered a limited-purpose public figure. 

This case established a three-part framework for determining whether an individual is a limited-purpose public figure:

  • There is a public controversy,
  • The plaintiff played a central role in the controversy, and
  • The defamation was pertinent to the plaintiff’s involvement in the controversy.

What Are Some Examples of Public Figures?

The following list gives real-world examples of public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures:

  • President Joe Biden (public official);
  • First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (all-purpose public figure);
  • Chris Evans, a well-known actor (all-purpose public figure);
  • Jeff Bezos, billionaire and CEO of Amazon (all-purpose public figure);
  • LeBron James, NBA all-star (all-purpose public figure);
  • Minor-league baseball player with limited name recognition (limited-purpose public figure);
  • A previously unknown activist who generates news at a Black Lives Matter protest (limited-purpose public figure).

Why Are Public Figures Considered to Have Significant Ability to Counteract Defamation?

It is not necessarily true that public figures are considered to have a significant ability to counteract defamation—at least in the legal sense. The legal standard is tougher for public figures to counteract defamation because our society values free speech, uninhibited debate, and public information about those of pervasive influence.

For example, if John Smith publishes a blog post falsely claiming his neighbor was convicted of armed robbery 10 years ago, the neighbor will likely win a defamation case against him. But if John makes the same claims about his senator, it would be much more difficult for the senator to win a case. John simply needs to show that he had a “good faith belief” in the negative claim (meaning he acted with negligence, not actual malice).

Courts usually hold that public figures do not need as much reputational protection because they have placed themselves in the spotlight and must expect some level of negative attention. Public figures tend to have a greater ability to use the media or an online platform to counteract a narrative about them.

Because public figures usually have a larger social media following and better access to the media than private citizens, they have other means of making the truth known without involving the courts. For example, a celebrity who is the subject of false rumors can give an interview with a magazine, discuss the truth on a talk show or podcast, or post their side of the story on social media.

What Are the Requirements For Proving Defamation of a Public Figure?

In all defamation cases for both public and private persons, the plaintiff must prove that a statement was:

  • A false statement of fact (i.e., not an opinion) about the plaintiff,
  • Communicated to a third party,
  • Made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • Harmful to the plaintiff’s reputation.

For public figures, there is an additional requirement to bring a defamation claim. They must prove that the defamer acted with actual malice. In other words, the defamer knew that the statement was false—or they acted with reckless disregard for whether the statement was true or false. 

This requirement can be broken down even further for public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures.

Public Officials’ Burden of Proof

Public officials must demonstrate that the defamer acted with actual malice for both public and private matters. Regardless of if the defamatory statement referred to the official’s private life or public record, they must have acted with actual malice or reckless disregard.

All-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

Similarly, the actual malice standard for all-purpose public figures applies to nearly all facets of their lives.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures’ Burden of Proof

For limited-purpose public figures, however, the standard of actual malice only applies to the area(s) that make the individual a public figure.

For example, a minor-league athlete falsely accused of doping would need to prove actual malice—but not if the defamatory statement pertains to his private life instead.

. . . .

What is a Private Figure in the Context of Defamation?

Public figures are those in the public spotlight, whether due to their occupation, celebrity, or participation in a controversy or public conversation. But the existence of public figures necessitates private figuresIn this section, we define a private figure and how they should prove their case in a defamation lawsuit.

Definition of a Private Figure in Terms of Defamation Law

A private figure is not in the public eye. Unlike public figures, they have not been drawn into a public controversy—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—and they are not a public official or a celebrity.

What Are Some Examples Of Private Figures?

Listed below are a few general examples of individuals that would be considered private figures in a defamation case:

  • A high school principal. 
  • A private guardian accused of sleeping with a client’s father. 
  • A local news reporter who left their job at a local television station. 
  • A company that does not advertise extensively. 

How Must Private Individuals Prove Defamation?

Since private figures have not entered the public spotlight through their career or role in a public controversy, the law aims to protect their privacy. Private individuals, therefore, have a less strict burden of proof in a defamation matter.

A private figure plaintiff must only prove that the defendant acted with ordinary negligence—not actual malice or reckless disregard. “Ordinary negligence” means the defendant did not act with the caution an ordinary person would take in a similar situation.

However, some states still require private figures to show actual malice if they expect to recover punitive damages in a defamation claim.

How Should a Claim Show Fault on the Part of the Defamer?

Though the specific standard can vary from state to state, the plaintiff must prove the core elements of defamation to succeed in a claim:

  • An unprivileged, false statement of fact was made about the plaintiff,
  • It was communicated to a third party,
  • It was made with at least a negligent level of intent, and
  • It damaged the plaintiff’s reputation.

What is Negligence in Terms of Defamation Law?

A defendant may be found negligent if a reasonable person would take the time to research the truth of the statement before publishing it. If they did not act with the reasonable prudence an ordinary person would take in a similar situation, they acted with at least a negligent level of intent.

Link to the rest at Minc Law

PG notes that there are lots of links to additional materials, definitions, cases, etc., in the OP that PG, as is his usual practice, omitted.

With respect to the adjacent post regarding former President Trump filing a defamation suit against Simon & Schuster and a former prosecutor who is the author of the book Trump claims is defamatory, PG notes that Mr. Trump is on the highest perch of public figurehood.

That said, PG has no knowledge of the suit other than the OP and is in no position to comment on the merits of the suit.

He does hope the author of the offending book was intelligent to change the standard New York publishing contract to provide that the publisher would pay all of the author’s legal fees and court costs if Trump sued the author (with or without suing the publisher).

In the standard New York publishing boilerplate, in the event of a defamation suit against the publisher (the author is almost always named as a defendant as well) the author will not only be responsible for her/his own legal fees, but is also obligated to pay the publisher’s legal fees and damages assessed against the publisher as well.

PG expects that in the Trump suit, Simon & Schuster will employ excellent and expensive litigation counsel. PG is not as familiar with New York City litigation costs as he used to be, but he would be very surprised if S&S’s legal fees for handling this matter would total less than seven figures. High seven figures is a possibility that crossed PG’s mind.

As far as insurance to cover legal expenses of a publisher, PG is doubtful that any sane insurance company would agree to cover this sort of risk. But he could be wrong.

AAP’s November StatShot: US Revenues Down 6 Percent Year to Date

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its November 2022 StatShot report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites total revenues across all categories down 14.4 percent over November 2021, at US$1.0 billion. As happened throughout 2022, of course, observers look at these comparisons carefully, mindful that 2021 was the second year of the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic‘s effects on the marketplace, both in the States and abroad.

Year-to-date revenues, the AAP reports, were down 6 percent at US$11.6 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

. . . .

Year-Over-Year Numbers

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 22.4 percent, coming in at $355.2 million
  • Paperbacks were down 5.4 percent, with $274.2 million in revenue
  • Mass market was 14.9 percent to $19.5 million
  • Special bindings were down 15.9 percent, with $20.0 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 10.4 percent for the month as compared to November 2021 for a total of $83.1 million
  • The closely watched downloaded audio format was up 5.6 percent for November 2022, coming in at $73.9 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 33.7 percent, coming in at $1.7 million. . . .


  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were down 6.1 percent, at $8.4 billion for the first 11 months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were 14.1 percent, coming in at $3.0 billion
  • Paperbacks were up 1.3 percent, with $3.0 billion in revenue
  • Mass market was down 23.8 percent to $170.9 million
  • Special bindings were down 4.3 percent, with $185.7 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 6.3 percent as compared to the first 11 months of 2022, for a total $928.0 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 7.2 percent, at $767,0 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 30.5 percent, coming in at $14.5 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

The Future of AI Writing and Audio

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on publishing innovation, offered insight into how technologists, and some publishers, are planning to implement AI into their workflow. Asked about AI and the use of ChatGPT, which automates writing, Mary McAveeney, CEO of Abrams, was skeptical of its ability to write books. She conceded, “It might be good for catalog copy.”

Earlier in the conference, organizer Bradley Metrock asked publishers Laini Brown, director of Publicity for the Nashville office of Hachette Book Group, and Lisa Lucas, senior vice president and publisher of Pantheon and Schocken Books, what they thought of the news that the next iteration of Chat GPT will be able to produce a 60,000 word book in 20 seconds. Neither publisher chose to respond.

Others warned against relying too heavily on AI without human intervention. For example, Madeleine Rothberg, senior subject matter expert for WGBH National Center for Accessible Media in Boston, warned against posting AI-generated subtitles for YouTube videos without first reviewing them. “It’s not a good idea, because we have found the AI doesn’t always get the words right and makes mistakes,” she said, citing instances of unintended vulgarity. Or, as Ashok Giri, CEO of Page Magik put it, “primary research human beings are [still] needed.” Giri’s company offers automation tools and data to help streamline editorial and production workflow.

Others are more skeptical. One attendee, who wished to remain anonymous so as not to offend others in the room, noted that Chat GPT and AI is limited by what is put into it and, for this, it needs to absorb vast swaths of existing information. Much of that comes from print books, e-books, and internet writing protected by copyright. “It sounds exactly like that Google hoped to accomplish with the Google Books program,” they said.“ What happened there? Lawsuits.”

Bradley Metrock, conference organizer, acknowledged that the owners of copyrighted material incorporated will likely challenge the use of their content by AI. “There are going to be a lot of lawsuits before this is sorted out,” said Metrock, who owns several companies that invest in various AI and voice related projects. “The point here is that good technology challenges,” citing the lack of innovation in the ebook space over the past 15 years, he said. “Everything stays the same,” he added, ‘“until it doesn’t.”

. . . .

Audiobooks are now a $5 billion market worldwide, and they continue to experience double digit growth. According to the Association of Audiobook Publishers, the U.S. market is growing at a rate of 25% per year ,and reached $1.6 billion in sales for 2021. “The increasing availability of titles is the biggest driver of audiobook growth,” said Videl Bar-Kar, global head of audio for Frankfurt-based Bookwire. “The best way to grow the catalog of available titles is through backlist.”

Here, the use of AI generated voices to narrate audiobooks offers publishers who cannot afford human narrators the opportunity to turn backlist into audiobooks for low cost. “And if the book sells and becomes a success,” Bar-Kar added, “they can always go back and re-record the book with a human narrator.”

Bar-Kar called the audiobook market a “once in a generation opportunity,” noting: “There are new people discovering audio for the first time year-on-year, not because of the heavy consumers, but because there are new people coming into the market.” He described it as a business opportunity, and one that needs to be demystified: “Have the courage and confidence to stop selling your audiobook rights and develop your own audio program,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Digital Book World Focuses on Data and Accessibility

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Digital Book World, a conference focusing on innovation in publishing, returned to New York City for the first time since 2016 and runs through Wednesday. The event drew several hundred attendees to the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square for an opening talk by Karine Pansa, Brazilian children’s book publisher and new president of the International Publishers Association. In her remarks, Pansa said that the main areas of focus for her two-year term, which started January 1, will be on collecting data to get an objective baseline of the what is happening in the industry. “We will have a new beginning, driven by data,” said Pansa.

As Pansa noted, the adoption of digital publishing practices, both in production and retailing, vary wildly. In Japan, for example, digital audiobooks account for 35.8% of the total revenue of the book market, while they represent less than 1% of sales in other countries with large book markets, such as Mexico and Colombia. In Spain, digital publishing is growing in popularity, but fully 50% of the material being consumed by readers are being downloaded for free, suggesting piracy is rampant. Piracy also continues to vex Middle Eastern and Africa publishers, which has stalled digitization in the region.

Digitization also impacted retailing, said Pansa, with online bookselling now dominating in Italy, Korea and the U.K. Meanwhile, some regions of the world, such as Africa and the Arabic-speaking countries, remain reticent to engage with digital publishing due to the prevalence of digital piracy in the region.

Part of the IPA’s mission is to educate publishers globally and sometimes this comes down to a simple reminder: not everyone is wealthy enough to afford an e-reader, high-speed internet or even consistent access to books. In the U.K. for example, “75% of people are using e-readers or tablets to access digital material,” said Pansa, “while for many people, like those in my part of the world–Latin America– purchasing a dedicated e-reader is not possible with their salaries.”

Part of Pansa’s message was about making books more accessible to a broader demographic of people. She noted that with its population growth, Africa “offers a big opportunity for publishers to reach a growing audience” while to reach the disabled community, publishers need to make their books “born accessible.” Pansa noted that with the passage of the European Accessibility Act, publishers will be required as of June 2023 to make all of their digital books accessible should they want to sell them in Europe.

. . . .

Accessibility was also the subject of a panel on the first day. On the subject of making print and books accessible, Benetech’s Michael Johnson, v-p of content, said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” He noted, “There are more people in the world who are blind than have red hair. There are more people who are dyslexic than are left handed. So this is a huge group of of people who cannot read your books unless they are accessible.” He said that it may be as much as 20% of the population. “When we talk about DEI [diversity, equity, inclusion] efforts, you cannot leave out the letter, A, for accessible.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

US HarperCollins Union to host second rally outside News Corp marking 50 days of strike action 

FromThe Bookseller:

The HarperCollins Union in the US has announced plans to host another rally outside parent company News Corp’s Manhattan office to mark the 50th business day of the strike.

Taking place at 12:30 p.m. on 18th January, it follows an initial rally held on 16th December. Negotiations between management and the union began in December 2021 and in October 2022 union members overwhelmingly voted for another strike, following a one-day walk-out in July, to take place from 10th November.

In November, more than 150 literary agents signed an open letter pledging not to submit new projects to HarperCollins US in support of workers at the company who are on strike.

In December, HarperCollins president and c.e.o. Brian Murray issued an open letter to the agents and authors who had contacted the company calling for better pay and working conditions, noting that the company was, “with the entire industry”, having to “contend with ongoing challenges to publishing and its underlying economics”. He said the financial requests made by the union “which are many and far reaching, fail to account for the market dynamics of the publishing industry and our responsibility to meet the financial demands of all our business stakeholders – including all employees, authors, and booksellers”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball: Publishing Predictions for 2023

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

Well, to say a lot happened in publishing last year is a severe understatement.

Simon and Schuster Merger that Wasn’t

Among the legal news, the biggest merger in publishing history — Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster, aka the antitrust trial — got nixed by the courts. And PRH ended any speculation that a merger would happen after that, basically taking it off the table.

S&S’s parent company reinforced that they are still looking for a buyer. HarperCollins and Hachette are being thrown around as potential suitors. But S&S may also end up with a private equity firm who sells off parts of the business to turn a profit (man, I hope this doesn’t happen!).

Digital Content Law

Publishers successfully challenged Maryland’s Digital Content Law that sought to force publishers to license ebooks and audiobooks on “reasonable terms” for library lending. And two longshot lawsuits against Amazon and the Big Five for price fixing were thrown out (mostly) by a judge.

Book Banning

And book banning went into overdrive, no pun intended, in 2022. I don’t understand it. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what I can or cannot read. If you don’t like what your kid’s teacher is assigning, talk to the teacher.

But to statewide ban a book because its ideas scare you or it has a picture of a naked comic animal (yes, Maus was banned because of that), the problem might be you instead of the book. Ahem.

Good News

But there was good news as well. Sales for print books, digital books and audiobooks continued on pace with the great sales of the prior two years. With an especially long week before Christmas, sales skyrocketed to end the year on an up note. In the final sales week of the year, NPD BookScan recorded print sales of approximately 16.3 million units, which was well ahead of previous years.

However hardcover sales declined more than 10% to just below 2020 figures, and print books in total were down 6.5% from the prior year, so that might affect the total revenue for publishers. (Note that these figures only go up until October 2022, so we might still end the year even or down a bit from the previous year’s sales. I’m not worried, however.)

. . . .

Now on to my Publishing Predictions for 2023:

Book sales will stay even or just a bit less than prior years. I don’t see a lot of changes happening in 2023 as compared to 2024.


Audiobooks will continue to sell well. People like them. They both read and listen to books. I see tremendous upside still in this market.

Supply chain issues will level out as new solutions are found, so that will cease to be as much of a problem for publishing as it has been since 2020. If this happens, publishing will not be so nervous about slipping publication dates and the inability to resupply if a title sells surprisingly well.

Paper Prices Advance Digital Sales

Paper prices are still rising, so publishers might finally start looking at digital books (ebooks) as a profit center rather than another format. I mean, c’mon. Why can’t we have several versions of a book in digital form: an author’s cut with extra material at a premium price, a quick-read simple version for less money, a kid’s version of the adult book. It’s all possible for very little effort or money if the parties are willing. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Self-Publishing Thrives

Self-publishing authors, take heart! Readers are finding your books. And since you own all the rights and subrights, you can experiment by changing covers, fixing copyediting mistakes, adding a sequel or prequel to your series, etc., etc. Build your fan base through meaningful conversations with your readers and they will reward you by buying everything you write.

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

PG notes that the self-published authors he hears from continued to do just fine in 2022 and intend to have another successful year during 2023.

Markus Dohle’s Big Flop: What Penguin Random House’s Failed Bid to Eat S&S Means for Publishing

From New York Magazine:

he National Book Awards are the Oscars of the publishing industry, although nobody who attended the ceremony on November 16 at Cipriani Wall Street would likely confuse the two. Still, it wasn’t without its glamour and drama. That night, Padma Lakshmi, best-selling author and former wife of Salman Rushdie — who only a few months before had been nearly murdered for his writing — was the host. Her yellow strapless dress was conspicuously adorned with a union button in solidarity with the striking HarperCollins staffers picketing out on the sidewalk. But all eyes were on Markus Dohle, the tuxedo-clad CEO of Penguin Random House who had for 14 years been the most powerful and successful publishing warlord in the room.

PRH had become the biggest publisher in the game after a 2013 merger, led by Dohle, that saw Random House gobble up Penguin. The combined company had cast a long shadow over its four smaller rivals — Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — but Dohle wanted more and had spent much of the past two years fighting to buy S&S in order to create a world-spanning leviathan.

Few in the room had wanted the $2.175 billion S&S merger to happen. Already most felt that PRH had become too bureaucratic, too unwieldy, and they worried that competition among book buyers would be hobbled further if it went through. Many had cheered on the antitrust hawks of President Biden’s Department of Justice who sued to block the deal’s consummation. After a bruising, and in some ways humiliating, trial, Dohle had been denied his ambitions by the court. But more importantly, in the process, his imperial publishing house’s weaknesses had been laid bare for all to see.

“People were trying to decide if they still needed to kiss the ring,” recalls one top executive who was at the dinner that night, “or if there was even a ring left to kiss.”

Though Dohle had declared his intention to appeal the court’s decision, it was looking like a long shot, and Cipriani was humming with Schadenfreude. And then, sure enough, come Monday, the deal was officially pronounced dead after S&S was yanked off the table by its parent company, Paramount. Three weeks later, on December 9, Dohle resigned.

Whether the demolition of the S&S deal was going to be good or bad for the actual making of books remains another question entirely. And whoever does end up getting S&S — it’s back on the market — won’t be as well known or as well liked as Dohle.

“He brought an optimism and energy to the business during fragile moments,” said book agent and Dohle pal Elyse Cheney, “but, you know, the last year and a half has been very tough.” Paul Bogaards, the well-known book publicist who worked for 32 years at Knopf (which is part of PRH) before striking out on his own, told me that “many of the suits in publishing are tone-deaf to the needs and wants of the people who help make the business run. Markus has had a great, historic career in publishing. But he failed to read the room when it came to the merger.”

. . . .

Random House, the most storied of American publishing houses, had been acquired by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann in 1998 and merged with Bantam Doubleday Dell. It was the era of corporate consolidation in books, accompanied by much grumbling at the time about the perceived lack of competition and a fear of a creeping cultural blandness. Still, publishing adapted.

In 2008, Bertelsmann put Dohle in charge of Random House. Nobody was quite sure what to make of him. Markets were tanking and people were declaring the end of print. (Remember that brave new world of Kindles and Nooks?) Dohle, then 39, was not a book editor. He had trained as an engineer and had been running Bertelsmann’s highly profitable printing division, which was so far from any sort of glamour that it was nicknamed “Siberia” within Bertelsmann.

But he soon proved to have an intuitive understanding of the business, and his mechanical background allowed him to grow out a muscular distribution infrastructure that became the envy of other publishers. He counterintuitively championed the physical book. And once he achieved the 2013 deal that combined Random House with Penguin, he found himself ruling over a global juggernaut with 11 branch CEOs reporting to him from midtown to Madrid. He became the figurehead of the industry, and he turned out to be a larger-than-life character in a contracting industry that had been wanting for them. Even the most jaded New York editor found it hard not to be at least a little charmed. “He’s like our Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said one.

Dohle, now 54, grew into the job. His house is up in Scarsdale, but he would make it a point to drop in on book parties around the city. He sat on the board of PEN America alongside Masha Gessen and Jennifer Egan, became tight with Dan Brown and Andrew Solomon, and personally negotiated Barack Obama’s book deal.

The guy had banked a lot of goodwill. But before long, there were whispers that Dohle had made PRH so big that it was inefficient. It was losing market share to more nimble competitors. When Paramount put S&S on the market — a book publisher doesn’t exactly fit into a corporate vision predicated on streaming services — Dohle seemed to see a potential merger as a way to make up for market-share loss through brute-force consolidation.

After announcing his intent to buy S&S, things started to go wrong for him straightaway. Organizations such as the American Booksellers Association that ordinarily have good relationships with PRH generally and Dohle personally began publicly trashing the merger. On the eve of the trial, the president of the Authors Guild, Douglas Preston, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times slamming the merger.

. . . .

The DOJ sued to block the deal, arguing that the big five being reduced to a big four would leave too much buying power in the hands of too few, screwing over authors. (PRH, ready to defend the deal, hired the same legal team that had successfully shepherded the AT&T and TimeWarner merger to completion.) The case was handled by Judge Florence Y. Pan, a Biden appointee; this would be the first case in her new role.

The trial finally began in August 2022. It lasted only three weeks, but for Dohle it was about as long and unhappy as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The DOJ hinged its case around a tiny sliver of top book deals — the kind that pretty much only the big five can compete on — to show how concentrated power in publishing already is. “Freelance writer” Stephen King took the stand to support the government’s point.

Dohle and his executives were made to explain a lot about how PRH had been operating since the 2013 merger.

Like the other publishing houses, PRH consists of many imprints, each with its own flavor and identity. The imprints are grouped into divisions. (PRH is so dense it consists of 94 imprints — 37 being children’s imprints — spread across seven divisions.) The different divisions operate like separate companies, even though they’re all plugged in to the same corporate infrastructure, jockeying for resources. The main three divisions within PRH are Penguin Publishing Group (imprints include Riverhead, Penguin Classic, Viking, etc.); Random House (its got Ballantine Books, Bantam, Crown Trade, etc.), and the vaunted Knopf Doubleday Group (Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, and Pantheon, among others).

The imprints compete for book deals against one another, even if they’re part of the same division. That keeps things hot and competitive and individualistic and creative. Supposedly.

But then the trial revealed that all the different tentacles within PRH were being tangled up to create some kind of publishing kraken. Madeline McIntosh, the CEO whom Dohle had appointed to run the U.S. operation, started to encourage the separate divisions inside PRH to get on the same page while competing against one another for the same book at auction. There was a 2018 document, written by McIntosh, that talked about “increased background coordination in auctions to leverage internal demand information better and avoid internal upbidding.” Such a practice might sound simply like how a corporation would work to you, but book publishing thinks of itself as being on a sort of genteel old-school honor-system version of capitalism. This division coordination that McIntosh was torquing up inside PRH posed a couple of problems.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine

US Bestsellers and Book Sales in 2022: Second-Highest at NPD

From Publishing Perspectives:

In her final report from 2022, NPD Books executive director and industry analyst Kristen McLean writes, “This holiday season was another reminder that we remain in uncharted territory in the United States’ consumer market, and that it’s important to take each week as it comes.”

In fact, she reports, the US market had print sales for 2022 at 3 percent of 2020, and 12-percent ahead of 2019 on a unit basis. That qualifies last year as the second-highest in print performance since NPD BookScan began tracking the market.

The irony, she points out, is that by comparison to 2021’s holiday season, the closing 13 weeks in 2022 dropped by 8 percent. This, despite the fact that December’s performance was better, she says, “because of deferred buying and a relatively strong last two weeks.

“This held the overall year-to-date performance to 5.8-percent lower on a unit basis, and 5-percent lower on an $MSRP basis, with volumes of 780 million units and $14 billion, respectively.”

McLean—whose point-of-sale data service focuses on print, remember, rather than on other formats—says, “A good deal of the buying and reading behavior that started in the pandemic is still with us, although not every area of the business is benefiting equally.”

And in terms of that comment she makes about “uncharted territory,” she writes, “Big questions remain about book consumers’ appetites as we look ahead.”

Illustrating the 8-percent drop in the 2022 holiday season as compared to the 2021 season in volume, McLean writes, “The kids’ market made up half of the year-over-year declines. Holiday shopping shifted later—the last two weeks of the year were the only in the 2022 holiday season to post gains over the same time in 2021.”

In her description of the course of the 2022 market in the States, McLean notes that during the holidays, “Sales plateaued at 29 million units for two weeks in a row. Weeks 51 and 52 were the only two that overperformed 2021 in last year’s holidays. “As a result,” she says, “the market regained 1 percent of year-to-date performance, ending 6-percent under 2021, and 12-percent ahead of 2019.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Man pleads guilty to stealing more than 1,000 manuscripts

From The Guardian:

An Italian man has admitted to stealing more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts, including from distinguished authors, solving a mystery that had puzzled the literary world for years.

Filippo Bernardini, 30, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, federal prosecutors in New York announced in a statement.

Bernardini, who worked in London for the publisher Simon & Schuster, impersonated agents and publishers over email to obtain novels and other works from writers and their representatives.

The scam had been known in literary circles for several years, with Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney among the novelists reportedly targeted. It became public knowledge in January last year when Bernardini was arrested by FBI agents at New York’s JFK airport.

Beginning in August 2016, and continuing up to his arrest, the Italian impersonated hundreds of people in the world of publishing by sending emails from fake accounts. The addresses resembled the domain names of legitimate publishers but with some letters changed. Prosecutors say he registered more than 160 fraudulent domains.

“Filippo Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the publishing industry to create a scheme that stole precious works from authors and menaced the publishing industry,” said Damian Williams, the US attorney for the southern district of New York (SDNY).

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

Richard Charkin: A Selective Year-End Assessment

From Publishing Perspectives:

Each year, The Economist publishes a special edition in which it encapsulates the state of the world as expressed by numbers. These articles are authoritative, accurate, well-researched, and comprehensive. I couldn’t hope to emulate them in a review of the world in publishing. But a few numbers, randomly chosen and sometimes more approximate than precise, may serve to illustrate some elements of our industry in 2022.

After having only one woman—Argentina’s Ana Maria Cabanellas—among the 35 presidents of the International Publishers Association (IPA), we’re enjoying a run of three female presidents in a row. The United Arab Emirates‘ Bodour Al Qasimi‘s two-year term ends with 2022; Brazil’s Karine Pansa opens her term with the new year; and the Republic of Georgia’s Gvantsa Jobava is starting her term as vice-president, traditionally a role that leads to the presidency. It’s taken a long time for women to play significant roles in our industry, and we should celebrate them.

Thinking of diversity, there are any number of audits being issued by major publishers, either to prove their commitment to a good cause or at least to answer potentially difficult questions.

Here are some positive and practical numbers from the IPA, our international trade association. In the last decade, the number of countries represented by the association has risen from 51 to 76, thus increasing the markets represented—per the IPA’s estimates—from 52 to 83 percent of the world’s population. The remaining 17 percent may be hard to land while Russia pursues its war against Ukraine.

. . . .

Here’s a number from the Publishers Association in London for the United Kingdom’s publishers to think about. The British market’s export sales are some £3.8 billion (US$4.6 billion) out of a total £6.7 billion (US$8.8 billion). That’s to say that roughly 57 percent of all sales are not made in the UK.

In addition, a material portion of the sales in the United Kingdom are then exported by UK booksellers, and export discounts are typically higher, in order to take account of freight and double warehousing, likely putting the total level of sales outside the home market in excess of 70 percent of British publishers’ output of books, journals, and databases. To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, 25 makes a girl think–70 percent should make us think even harder.

. . . .

Inflation and Pricing

And now turning to inflation, one of the scourges of 2022 in many countries, the UK’s inflation stands at above 10 percent, according to some estimates, for example those reflected in Richard Partington’s reporting at The Guardian. That 10 percent is a shock in recent times, but inflation levels even higher than this have plagued my publishing life.

. . . .

What has changed is the pricing. The book, on release, cost £3.25 for a 300-page hardback (US$3.92). The average discount granted was 40 percent—more for WH Smith, less for independent bookshops, of which there were many. To maintain the same income in 2022 for the publisher, and thus the author, the book would have to be priced above £50. Not a chance.

. . . .

Numbers and Numeracy

My next set of numbers also encompasses a perennial and personal grump. When I started in publishing I was astonished by the lofty contempt shown to the concept of numeracy. It was as if literacy and numeracy were mutually incompatible. An accountant could never have a valid opinion about a book and an editor could not be expected to perform simple arithmetic calculations. Statistical analysis is not always simple but it’s extraordinary, to me, at least, how happily some publishers and journalists almost willfully misinterpret numbers.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“I’m a bigshot publisher and you expect me to analyze numbers? I have people who do that sort of thing for me, but not one of them has ever been able to identify a future best-seller by looking at a manuscript. Publishing is an intuition business – you either have it or you don’t – not a numbers business.”

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It is something of an understatement to say that Colleen Hoover dominated the 2022 overall bestsellers list. Hoover had the top three books of the year, and her novels sold 14.3 million print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Of the 25 books on the list, eight were Hoover titles, and two, It Ends with Us and Verity, sold more than two million copies each.

Last year was a very good year for adult fiction overall, as evidenced by the 8.5% annual sales increase posted by the category . . . and by its prevalence at the top of the overall bestsellers list. Fifteen of the 25 top-selling books were adult fiction, and another five titles were either juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. The top-selling nonfiction book was James Clear’s Atomic Habits,at #6.

The only other author besides Hoover to place more than one title on the top 25 list was Emily Henry, who scored with Book Lovers and People We Meet on Vacation,at #21 and #25, respectively. The strong showing by Hoover also crowded out some perennial chart toppers, including James Patterson, whose Run, Rose, Run (written with Dolly Parton) was at #26 (with about 515,000 copies sold), and John Grisham, whose The Boys from Biloxi sold about 495,000 copies, landing it at #29 on the overall list.

The list clearly shows that readers were ready for some escapism in 2022, after nearly three years of pandemic concerns and an ever more divisive political environment. The bestselling title related to politics last year was Red Handed: How American Elites Get Rich by Helping China Win by Peter Schweizer, which sold about 245,000 copies. The top-performing book critical of former president Trump was Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, which sold about 127,000 copies; former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir sold approximately 112,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

How Shall I Reject Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

From Electric Lit:

Oh, rejection, rejection, wherefore art thou rejection? Deny my genius and refuse my praise?

Or if thou wilt, take all myself and I’ll no longer be a writer.

At the end of the day, all writers must ask themselves: to query or not to query?

You know what they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Dear Mr. Shakespeare,

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider Romeo and Juliet, I appreciate it, and apologies for taking so long to get back to you!

While at the beginning I was pulled into the story, which you did a nice job setting up, I had trouble staying connected with the main characters of Romeo and Juliet. I also got a bit lost during the infighting between the Montagues and Capulets. I was hoping for more of a focus on the love story, rather than the family drama.


Romance Lover

Dear Will,

Thanks again for following up and giving me the chance to read your work. The dialogue is working really well in your writing, but even so, I only got through the first two acts before skipping to the end.

In your work, too much happens, too quickly. Also, Tybalt, Mercutio, and the main characters ALL die? It was too much for me, so I’m going to pass.

—Not a Fan

Hi Billy,

First, thank you for being patient with me while I took eighteen months to read your submission. Sorry for leaving you hanging!

I love the premise of this story and its unconventional take on marriage. There is also a lot to admire about your facility with language, especially the rhyme scheme, it’s impressive 

Romeo is such a fun character, but he’s a little too conflicted for my taste, I mean he’s a lover and a murderer? I know he had his reasons, but still. However, I’m sure the right agent will connect with him on some level, keep the faith!

Kind regards,

In Your Corner

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Bob Gottlieb Is the Last of the Publishing Giants – The 91-year-old editor waits for his 87-year-old star writer, Robert Caro, to turn in his book.

From Vulture:

The life of the editor Bob Gottlieb, at a spry 91 years old, is nowadays largely limited to a single room on the second floor of his East 48th Street townhouse — by choice, not necessity. He can bound up Second Avenue just fine to the diner that he considers an extension of his home, where the waitress knows he takes his chocolate milkshakes extra thick. But everything he needs, his library and his pencils, is right here, so why go farther? To receive guests like this one, he didn’t even have to put on shoes or tame the gull’s-wing sweep of his silver hair. Burbling away in a leather club chair in his book-lined office (they are arranged according to a system, he says with a point to his head, that’s “up here”), with piles of more books on the floor and in the corners, beneath giant MGM publicity posters of Marion Davies, Clark Gable, and Norma Shearer from the early 1930s, he is a man in his element. “I don’t want to go anywhere because there’s nowhere I want to go,” he says in his fluty register. “My life is very calm, just the way I like.”

It is here that he waits for one of his most famous writers — and he has edited many of the past century’s most famous ones, including Cheever, Rushdie, Lessing, and Naipaul — to turn in a long-awaited manuscript. Assuming, that is, the pair beat what Gottlieb notes dryly are the “actuarial odds.” Robert Caro, 87, whom Gottlieb has edited since his first book, The Power Broker, published in 1974, is at work on the fifth and final volume of his Lyndon B. Johnson biography. Their long relationship is the subject of a documentary, Turn Every Page, directed by Gottlieb’s daughter, Lizzie, which arrives (well before the Johnson book) on December 30.

Gottlieb is perhaps the longest-serving man in publishing, a living link to those days when a successful book editor and his stage-actress wife could buy themselves an entire Manhattan townhouse like this one and stuff it full of books. Their house, and his office, looks out onto the private, semi-communal Turtle Bay Gardens, shared with their neighbors on the block. “Bob never goes into the garden, you have to understand,” says Gottlieb’s wife, Maria Tucci, who has come home with lunch. “He says real Jews don’t like nature.”

Among their fellow Turtle Bay Gardeners over the years were Janet Malcolm and Gardner Botsford, the late New Yorker writer-editor couple, whose teenage daughter, Anne, became their babysitter. Katharine Hepburn lived along there, too (next door to Stephen Sondheim), and when Gottlieb was editing her book, he’d nip across to her house for meetings, entering through her back door.

Gottlieb joined Simon & Schuster in 1955 and eventually became editor-in-chief, then ran Alfred A. Knopf. In 1987, S. I. Newhouse hired him to take over The New Yorker from William Shawn and then fired him a few years later in favor of Tina Brown (Newhouse must’ve felt guilty because he promised him his New Yorker salary for life). Then it was back to Knopf. Even at 91, he continues to work on occasional projects as an editor-at-large. (His next, Flora Macdonald: “Pretty Young Rebel,” out in January, is by Flora Fraser, whose mother and grandmother he has also edited.) What Gottlieb does, what he has always done, is read — widely and voraciously, if not, he says, as quickly as he once did. At the moment, he is making his way through a recent biography of George III, the essays of V. S. Pritchett, and the work of the Soviet novelist and journalist Vasily Grossman, though I also spot copies of Janet Evanovich and Colleen Hoover, the currently best-selling romance writer. An editor, he notes modestly, is really just a reader — although he also likened the editing process to psychoanalysis, including the occasional transference.

Editors, as any editor can tell you, live in the shadow of their writers, reacting quietly behind the scenes, unheralded and little known. This is, evidently, how Gottlieb prefers it. “This glorification of editors, of which I have been an extreme example, is not a wholesome thing,” he once told The Paris Review. “The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one,” he said then and believes today. “The last thing anyone reading Jane Eyre would want to know, for example, is that I had convinced Charlotte Brontë that the first Mrs. Rochester should go up in flames.” He insists editing is neither an art nor a craft. It’s just “what I do,” he says. “I’m not an abstract thinker. I don’t think, really — I just react, which is what editors are supposed to do.” When I tried to press him further, he waved me away. “Don’t you feel like an idiot having to ask questions like that?”

Turn Every Page attempts to answer some of them. The film is a tender portrait of the two men that is saved from schmaltz by their occasional testiness, Caro’s in particular. According to Gottlieb, it has always been thus. “He was very wary about revealing himself,” he says of Caro. “I used to joke when we first met each other — I felt that if I said to him, ‘How are you?’ that was too invasive a question.” Fifty years later, and thanks in part to the film, he adds, “he’s finally acknowledged that we are friends.” Until making it, Lizzie Gottlieb had barely met Caro, and it took some persistence to wear down his resolve. Her father was easier to crack. “Anything she wants is hers by definition,” he says.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG says file this item under Publishing, Death of.

Vulture is the perfect deliverer for the OP.

Proof of Life

PG is still around, taking the occasional breath and unable to stop being a smarty-pants when he makes blog posts about traditional publishing in all of its multi-faceted shortcomings.

Over the past several days, Casa PG has been invaded by a fast-moving flock of small offspring who are unable to prevent themselves from being irresistibly cute and displaying the exceptional intelligence they inherited from Mrs. PG.

PG hopes one and all had an enjoyable Christmas or other holiday of their choice. Extended exposure to cute offspring may stun PG’s sarcasm gene for a bit, but it will soon be pricked to attention by something stupid a publisher says or does.

And agents! How could PG forget about the schoolmarmish Miss Mannersessesses of the publishing world – dot this i just so and cross that t you missed crossing, keep your hands on your lap and your knees together and don’t forget to say pretty please whenever you disturb my professional slumbers with a phone call or letter. (Remember, no emails! Letters are required and must be in block printed form with absolutely no cursive allowed!!)