Willingham Sends Fables Into the Public Domain

From These Foolish Games:

Fables Press Release

Subject: Fables Enters the Public Domain

15 September 2023

By Bill Willingham

For Immediate Release

The Lede

As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain. What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time. It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.

Q: Why Did You Do This?

A number of reasons. I’ve thought this over for some time. In no particular order they are:

1) Practicality: When I first signed my creator-owned publishing contract with DC Comics, the company was run by honest men and women of integrity, who (for the most part) interpreted the details of that agreement fairly and above-board. When problems inevitably came up we worked it out, like reasonable men and women. Since then, over the span of twenty years or so, those people have left or been fired, to be replaced by a revolving door of strangers, of no measurable integrity, who now choose to interpret every facet of our contract in ways that only benefit DC Comics and its owner companies. At one time the Fables properties were in good hands, and now, by virtue of attrition and employee replacement, the Fables properties have fallen into bad hands.

            Since I can’t afford to sue DC, to force them to live up to the letter and the spirit of our long-time agreements; since even winning such a suit would take ridiculous amounts of money out of my pocket and years out of my life (I’m 67 years old, and don’t have the years to spare), I’ve decided to take a different approach, and fight them in a different arena, inspired by the principles of asymmetric warfare. The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can’t contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property. I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want.

            I chose to give it away to everyone. If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands. Since I truly believe there are still more good people in the world than bad ones, I count it as a form of victory.

2) Philosophy: In the past decade or so, my thoughts on how to reform the trademark and copyright laws in this country (and others, I suppose) have undergone something of a radical transformation. The current laws are a mishmash of unethical backroom deals to keep trademarks and copyrights in the hands of large corporations, who can largely afford to buy the outcomes they want.

In my template for radical reform of those laws I would like it if any IP is owned by its original creator for up to twenty years from the point of first publication, and then goes into the public domain for any and all to use. However, at any time before that twenty year span bleeds out, you the IP owner can sell it to another person or corporate entity, who can have exclusive use of it for up to a maximum of ten years. That’s it. Then it cannot be resold. It goes into the public domain. So then, at the most, any intellectual property can be kept for exclusive use for up to about thirty years, and no longer, without exception.

Of course, if I’m going to believe such radical ideas, what kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn’t practice them? Fables has been my baby for about twenty years now. It’s time to let it go. This is my first test of this process. If it works, and I see no legal reason why it won’t, look for other properties to follow in the future. Since DC, or any other corporate entity, doesn’t actually own the property, they don’t get a say in this decision.

Q: What Exactly Has DC Comics Done to Provoke This?

Too many things to list exhaustively, but here are some highlights: Throughout the years of my business relationship with DC, with Fables and with other intellectual properties, DC has always been in violation of their agreements with me. Usually it’s in smaller matters, like forgetting to seek my opinion on artists for new stories, or for covers, or formats of new collections and such. In those times, when called on it, they automatically said, “Sorry, we overlooked you again. It just fell through the cracks.” They use the “fell through the cracks” line so often, and so reflexively, that I eventually had to bar them from using it ever again. They are often late reporting royalties, and often under-report said royalties, forcing me to go after them to pay the rest of what’s owed.

            Lately though their practices have grown beyond these mere annoyances, prompting some sort of showdown. First they tried to strong arm the ownership of Fables from me. When Mark Doyle and Dan Didio first approached me with the idea of bringing Fables back for its 20th anniversary (both gentlemen since fired from DC), during the contract negotiations for the new issues, their legal negotiators tried to make it a condition of the deal that the work be done as work for hire, effectively throwing the property irrevocably into the hands of DC. When that didn’t work their excuse was, “Sorry, we didn’t read your contract going into these negotiations. We thought we owned it.”

            More recently, during talks to try to work out our many differences, DC officers admitted that their interpretation of our publishing agreement, and the following media rights agreement, is that they could do whatever they wanted with the property. They could change stories or characters in any way they wanted. They had no obligation whatsoever to protect the integrity and value of the IP, either from themselves, or from third parties (Telltale Games, for instance) who want to radically alter the characters, settings, history and premises of the story (I’ve seen the script they tried to hide from me for a couple of years). Nor did they owe me any money for licensing the Fables rights to third parties, since such a license wasn’t anticipated in our original publishing agreement.

            When they capitulated on some of the points in a later conference call, promising on the phone to pay me back monies owed for licensing Fables to Telltale Games, for example, in the execution of the new agreement, they reneged on their word and offered the promised amount instead as a “consulting fee,” which avoided the precedent of admitting this was money owed, and included a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from saying anything but nice things about Telltale or the license.

            And so on. There’s so much more, but these, as I said, are some of the highlights. At that point, since I disagreed on all of their new interpretations of our longstanding agreements, we were in conflict. They practically dared me to sue them to enforce my rights, knowing it would be a long and debilitating process. Instead I began to consider other ways to go.

Q: Are You Concerned at What DC Will Do Now?

No. I gave them years to do the right thing. I tried to reason with them, but you can’t reason with the unreasonable. They used these years to make soothing promises, tell lies about how dedicated they were towards working this out, and keep dragging things out as long as possible. I gave them an opportunity to renegotiate the contracts from the ground up, putting everything in unambiguous language, and they ignored that offer. I gave them the opportunity, twice, to simply tear up our contracts, and we each go our separate ways, and they ignored those offers. I tried to go over their heads, to deal directly with their new corporate masters, and maybe find someone willing to deal in good faith, and they blocked all attempts to do so. (Try getting any officer of DC Comics to identify who they report to up the company ladder. I dare you.) In any case, without giving them details, I warned them months in advance that this moment was coming. I told them what I was about to do would be “both legal and ethical.” Now it’s happened.

            Note that my contracts with DC Comics are still in force. I did nothing to break them, and cannot unilaterally end them. I still can’t publish Fables comics through anyone but them. I still can’t authorize a Fables movie through anyone but them. Nor can I license Fables toys nor lunchboxes, nor anything else. And they still have to pay me for the books they publish. And I’m not giving up on the other money they owe. One way or another, I intend to get my 50% of the money they’ve owed me for years for the Telltale Game and other things.

However, you, the new 100% owner of Fables never signed such agreements. For better or worse, DC and I are still locked together in this unhappy marriage, perhaps for all time.

But you aren’t.

If I understand the law correctly (and be advised that copyright law is a mess; purposely vague and murky, and no two lawyers – not even those specializing in copyright and trademark law – agree on anything), you have the rights to make your Fables movies, and cartoons, and publish your Fables books, and manufacture your Fables toys, and do anything you want with your property, because it’s your property.

Mark Buckingham is free to do his version of Fables (and I dearly hope he does). Steve Leialoha is free to do his version of Fables (which I’d love to see). And so on. You don’t have to get my permission (but you might get my blessing, depending on your plans). You don’t have to get DC’s permission, or the permission of anyone else. You never signed the same agreements I did with DC Comics.

Link to the rest at These Foolish Games and thanks to B. for the tip

PG notes that, absent a provision that specifically prohibits them from being sold, assigned or transferred, most publishing agreements can be assigned/sold to someone the author doesn’t know.

The promises made by employees of publishers regarding ambiguous language in publishing contracts that “we don’t believe that provision means what you think it might mean” or “we would never use this provision in the way you’re suggesting because that wouldn’t be fair to our authors and that’s something we won’t ever do,” while having been accepted by a huge number of traditionally-published authors, are no protection for the author.

As described in the OP, new management or new owners will look to the contract language and, often, give no effect to understandings between the publisher and the author that are not spelled out clearly in the written contracts.

There is an argument to be made that, by the publisher’s earlier voluntary actions, the previous bunch effectively modified the written words of the contract and the former publisher’s purchasers/assignees should be bound by the acts of the previous publisher. However, speaking generally, that’s a desperate legal tactic that may or may not fly, depending on how a judge is feeling on the day she/he hears the case.

That said, most judges on most days will default to looking to the language of the written contract to determine whether the author granted the publisher the right to do what the latest owners of the publisher want to do.

The actions taken by Mr. Willingham, the author of the OP and the creator of the intellectual property under new and unfriendly management, while emotionally understandable, end up trashing the value of Mr. Willingham’s creations.

PG has mentioned the following suggestions far more than once on TPV:

  1. Read every word of the contract. If you don’t understand any portion of the contract, you need to contact a competent attorney who has spent enough time with copyright licenses to know what she/he is doing. (PG used to fall into that category, but he has permanently taken down his shingle and doesn’t practice law any more.)
  2. If you or your attorney objects to any portion of the contract language and the counter-party says something like, “We would never do that” or “We don’t think that provision means what you think it means,” your unfailing response should be some variation of “I’m so pleased to know that. Let’s change the contract language to state the actual ways we’re going to do business with each other to avoid any possible future misunderstandings and keep our business relationship on an amicable basis.”

There are more than a few other things to consider/fix, but the two paragraphs above are the bones of making certain an author signs a fair contract and doesn’t have any nasty surprises with the publisher or whoever manages or buys the publisher in the future.

Two New Histories of Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

Memoirs by former publishing executives have become something of a cottage industry this year. On September 19, former Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s Turning Pages: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Publisher is due out from Skyhorse Publishing, and on November 7, Lyons Press will release Scribners: Five Generations in Publishing by Charles Scribner III. These titles follow Applause Books’ January publication of Stephen Rubin’s Words and Music: Confessions of an Optimist, which recounts his executive days at Random House and Macmillan.

Unlike Rubin’s book, which at times offers harsh critiques of his colleagues, the upcoming titles are by men who grew up with publishing in their veins. Sargent’s ancestors include Doubledays, while Scribner’s family name still adorns one of publishing’s most admired imprints.

And besides writing books due out within a few weeks of each other, they have some other shared history: Sargent writes in his prologue that his great grandfather, Frank Nelson Doubleday, got his start in publishing when he quit school “and went to work for Charles Scribner, a prominent publisher of the time.” In his book, Scribner notes that while 1897 was a good year for Scribners, the company did suffer a major loss when the business manager of Scribners magazine left, noting that “Frank Nelson Doubleday joined the company 20 years earlier as a fourteen-year-old lad.”

Sargent and Scribner also had a shared mentor. Jeremiah Kaplan hired Sargent to work at Macmillan, and Kaplan would later bring Sargent to S&S when he moved there. Kaplan was the president of Macmillan when the Scribner family sold the company to them. After the deal, Scribner worked for Kaplan as v-p of special projects.

Similar to Rubin in his book, Sargent and Scribner describe publishing as an exciting, rewarding, and at times very stressful life at the executive level. Scribner’s account is cleverly written and punchy, with a focus on how publishing’s movers and shakers (including authors) operated, while Sargent’s memoir maintains the CEO-of-the-people style that made him one of publishing’s most popular CEOs—an approach that got him fired.

To answer the question many in the industry still wonder about, does Sargent disclose why he was in let go in late 2020? The answer is not exactly, but he does drop several clues. When the Covid pandemic hit, Macmillan’s owners, in particular Stefan von Holtzbrinck, were worried about the company’s liquidity and had Sargent implement a number of cost cuts, which included cutting salaries. As Macmillan’s financial results remained better than expected, Sargent convinced von Holtzbrinck to undo the cuts, though Sargent admits he was “impolite” during those discussions.

In August, von Holtzbrinck called Sargent again with a plan to “protect the capital structure of his family’s holdings,” Sargent writes. Sargent reluctantly agreed to implement the plan, but as work on the project progressed, he said he became certain the plan was wrong and that “hundreds” of employees would lose their jobs. (He goes no further about what the plan was. His account doesn’t counter the widespread belief that von Holtzbrinck wanted to sell the trade division, but it also doesn’t discount the idea that von Holtzbrinck wanted to consolidate and streamline Macmillan’s various departments.)

Sargent told von Holtzbrinck in an email on August 21 that he would not carry out the plan, and von Holtzbrinck responded that the plan would be scrapped, since the board agreed it could not go ahead without his support. Sargent writes that he thought things were settled, but “the next day I got the gate.”

Sargent notes that he doesn’t burn with anger over his dismissal and was grateful for the time he had running the company and appreciated the “remarkable autonomy” the von Holtzbrinck family gave him. He also offered a salute to Macmillan employees, saying they will always have his respect and admiration for achieving all the goals that had been set for them.

Until that episode, Sargent had a stellar career and was involved in some of publishing’s most important developments around such hot-button issues as free speech, copyright protections, and publisher relations with Amazon. Regarding the latter, Sargent was running Macmillan when Amazon decided to turn off the buy buttons on Macmillan titles in a dispute over e-book terms. After a week of tense negotiations, a deal was reached, which led Amazon to post an infamous statement in the Kindle forum, explaining that it would have to eventually accept an agreement with Macmillan “because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles.”

Sargent joined Macmillan in 1996 as head of St. Martin’s and quickly rose up the ranks. In the book, he recounts interactions with publishing legends, including Roger Straus as he was heading toward retirement; the decision to publish Monica Lewinsky’s book, which drew criticism inside and outside of the company; and the decision to publish Fortunate Son, a book critical of then–Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush that Macmillan would later need to recall.

Sargent once again dealt with White House issues in 2018 when Macmillan’s Holt division published Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, one of the first books critical of then-president Trump. After word spread about the impending publication, Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Macmillan, but the company released the title anyway, and it went on to become one of its biggest bestsellers.

No book about Macmillan can be written without some comment on its former headquarters. The Flatiron Building was one of New York’s first skyscrapers, and though it was elegantly designed, the problem, as Sargent notes, “was everything else.” When the lease was up in 2018, despite much employee support for staying, Sargent decided Macmillan had no choice but to find a new home.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says the Amazon pricing for each of these books is calculated to generate very few ebook sales, which, of course, doesn’t guarantee that anyone who enjoys reading ebooks will be inclined to purchase print versions of either book.

Of course, ebook sales at reasonable prices generate much more money for publishers than sales of printed books at higher prices.

Amazon Derangement Syndrome still runs rampant in the dusty and spider-infested halls of Big Publishing.

Memo to Malaviya: Ditch the Dohle Doctrine and bring PRH into the 21st century

From The New Publishing Standard:

Revenues up, profits down, workers laid off. The PRH H1 memo to employees paints a fuzzy and incomplete picture, but let’s be generous to newly installed CEO Nihar Malaviya as he sups from the PRH chalice poisoned by previous CEO Markus Dohle’s abortive bid to acquire Simon & Shuster last year.

By the time Dohle finally fell on his sword, the damage had been done. Many senior executives at PRH had jumped ship following the debacle in court where PRH operational policy (read guesswork and gambling) and real market share was laid bare, and the then CEO’s paranoia about subscription was laughably exposed.

Malaviya was left to pick up the pieces and rebuild PRH’s tarnished reputation.

Parent company Bertelsmann is unsurprisingly impressed by the revenue rise PRH clocked in H1, which as Porter Anderson at Publishing Perspectives headlines, saw a YoY rise of 9% to €2.1 billion. But in a report noteworthy for not once telling us how affable Nihar Malaviya is, Anderson neglects to mention that PRH profits for the same period were up less than 1%. Hardly an auspicious start for the new CEO.

Malaviya’s first H1 report presented inherent challenges to the new chief. He’s hardly had time to make an impact on his inheritance – most of the ups and downs can be firmly attributed to the Dohle era, as can the $200 million penalty and untold legal fees that arose from the acquisition fail, that no doubt goes some way to necessitating the redundancies programme Malaviya has been forced to roll out.

On the Court case, Malaviya has been tactfully silent, but did manage a dig at Dohle’s splash-the-cash record with a reference in the H1 report, smugly noting “we acquired several small companies during this year, furthering our ambitions to grow in audio, children’s, and data-driven publishing, as well as in local content, among others.”

That’s something the employee base needed to hear. Reassurance that Malaviya was not on a power and glory grab like his predecessor. But questions remain about Malaviya’s ability to connect with his workforce. Parts of the memo read more like a pitch to senior management and investors than to the team that do the company’s day to day grunt work.

Explained Malaviya: “Industry inflationary cost pressures and increased costs across our businesses have continued to impact us. We have already taken several steps to offset these pressures in some of our markets around the world and will continue to carefully navigate these industry and structural dynamics.”

That’s industry-speak for, we’ve got rid of some of you and more will have to go. 

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

At times, the close followers of major US publishers remind PG of a cult. They’re fixated on every little change or word from inside the walls of Big-But-Getting-Smaller-Publishing.

PG always thought the Dohle play for Simon & Schuster was a stupid idea and bound to attract antitrust attention with a good possibility of litigation. It was an immense distraction for Dohle and, almost certainly, for the remainder of the executive ranks and a goodly number of the PRH peons as well.

Plus major antitrust litigation sucks up breathtaking amounts of money, money that would otherwise be available to fund large advances for any number of ghost-written celebrity books, perhaps even a couple more Barack and Michelle coffee table tomes.

The Mohn family, owns and controls (directly and indirectly) Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA, which, in turn, owns PRH plus a large collection of of other stuff, including stupendous bank accounts. PG doesn’t remember reading anything written about the adult Mohns of the twentieth and twenty-first century that doesn’t describe them as a collection of billionaires.

PG has never met an actual German billionaire, but he suspects they don’t like receiving bad financial news from their underlings. PG also suspects German billionaires loath the idea of truckloads of their money being paid to New York lawyers.

Costs Cut into Profits at Big Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

Simon & Schuster was the only one of the country’s four largest trade publishers to show an improved profit margin in the first half of 2023 compared to last year. While industry sales were generally flat in the first six months of the year, companies cited higher costs as the major reason profit margins shrank in the first six months of 2023.

In reporting Penguin Random House’s first-half results last week, where sales rose 9.5% but profits were up less than 1%, interim global CEO Nihar Malaviya told employees the small earnings increase “should come as no surprise, as industry inflationary cost pressures and increased costs across our businesses have continued to impact us.”

HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray noted earlier that in addition to higher manufacturing, freight, and distribution costs, the industry has faced macroeconomic headwinds that he hasn’t seen since the Great Recession of 2008. Those challenges, as well as the unique conditions tied to the pandemic—including overprinting by publishers and over-ordering by most accounts to meet the early surge in book buying—created a bubble that began to fizzle last year, and it took time for all industry players to recover, Murray said. That resulted in earnings falling 32.4% at HC in the first half of the year on a 6.5% decline in sales.

Profits fell 19.7% at Lagardère Publishing despite a 2.5% increase in six-month sales. In addition to inflationary pressures, Lagardère cited increased costs incurred on “transformation projects in France” as the reason for the earnings decline. Some of those costs were partly offset by higher selling prices and the impacts of operational efficiency plans, particularly in the United States, the company said.

Among the cost-cutting measures employed by all three companies were workforce reductions, with HarperCollins’s and PRH’s efforts garnering the most attention. HC was under a corporate mandate to reduce its North American workforce by 5%, while PRH cut staff through layoffs and an early retirement program for employees over 60 who were with the company for at least 15 years (voluntary separation offer). HBG also had its own early retirement initiative (voluntary resignation benefits program).

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Women Writers Face an Imbalance of Power

From Publishers Weekly:

Mary Abigail Dodge (1833–1896), known by the pen name Gail Hamilton, was hailed in a national newspaper after her death as “the most brilliant woman of her generation.” Author of numerous essays and more than 25 books on religion, politics, travel, rural life, and the rights of women, Hamilton also played a key role in the evolution of publishing when she sued her publisher, James T. Fields (of the house Ticknor & Fields), for underpaying her. With the issue of how writers are valued and paid still raging today, the legal battle waged by this writer is a reminder of how little things have changed.

At 23, Hamilton had an essay run in National Era, an abolitionist magazine edited by Gamaliel Bailey, best known as the editor of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She began to write regularly for him, and he invited her to move to Washington, D.C., to be governess for his children. While this arrangement would be considered inappropriate today, it afforded Hamilton opportunities to rub elbows with politicians and thought leaders that fed her writing. (Later in her career, however, she was a vocal critic of paternalist publishers.)

In her essays and books, Hamilton urged women not to conform to societal expectations and instead become what she called “androgynous,” by which she meant they should develop the side of themselves she felt most resembled men, giving up any tendency to remain ignorant of, or above, worldly, commercial dealings. She felt that women’s spiritual and artistic tendencies should be tamped down in favor of male decisiveness and firmer attitudes. She especially advised this for women writers, saying, “a certain prejudice against female writers ‘still lives.’ It is fine, subtle, impalpable, but real.”

Her assessment that women writers weren’t treated as equal to men was confirmed when she discovered that her publisher, whether by accident or design, had cheated her out of her royalties. Fields published Hamilton’s first book in 1862 and subsequently published seven more. Theirs was a friendly relationship until 1867, when Hamilton learned that most beginning authors received a 10% royalty, while she received only 6% and 7%. For her subsequent books, Fields had convinced her to accept 15¢ per copy. When they sold for $1.50 each, the arrangement was fair, but as the price of her books rose, her earnings didn’t.

Hamilton and Fields had no written contract, merely a congenial relationship that benefitted the publisher more than the author. When she approached him about the discrepancy, instead of acknowledging the error, he dismissed her complaint, calling her “aggressive” and “unwomanly.”

Hamilton pursued legal arbitration, gathering a sizable amount of data from other publishers and authors in an attempt to prove that the entire royalty system was arbitrary and capricious. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s widow shared that at the start of her husband’s career, he had received 15% from Fields but was later knocked down to 10%. Other authors received 20%, while Harriet Beecher Stowe received a full 50% of the profits from her highly successful books. It galled Hamilton that writers seemed grateful to accept whatever rates publishers chose for them.

Though she worked with a lawyer, Hamilton presented her own case in the hearing and petitioned for the 10% she had never received, plus an additional 7%, and legal expenses of $3,000. In their ruling, the arbitrators determined that neither party had intended to defraud the other—a decision that treated the two parties as equals, when clearly they were not.

Hamilton was awarded only $1,250, not even half of her legal costs. Though defeated in court, she continued to publish with other houses, and in 1870, she self-published a novel that contained a thinly veiled account of her legal fight titled A Battle of the Books. It received mixed reviews, including some scathing ones, and although it sold moderately well, she still lost money on it.

But the literary community took notice, and the veneer of gentlemen publishers was forever tarnished. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG isn’t familiar with the facts of this particular case, but it appears to be one more chapter in a very long book filled with stories of traditional publishers cheating authors due to an inherent imbalance of power.

PG would be interested in stories about publishers overpaying royalties to authors.

The title, “Women Writers Face an Imbalance of Power” also applies to male authors in traditional publishing.

Booksellers Want Justice Department to Investigate Amazon

From BookRiot:

As the Federal Trade Commission moves towards what looks like a lawsuit against Amazon, several authors, booksellers, and anti-trust activists want Amazon’s bookselling to also be investigated.

The Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and antitrust think tank Open Markets Institute sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission requesting that they disrupt the monopoly on the book market that Amazon has.

The retail giant’s influence on the book world can’t be overstated — 40% of physical books sold in the U.S. are sold by Amazon, as are 80% of e-books sold. Amazon’s 2008 purchase of Audible has also helped it dominate the realm of audiobooks. The reason this is an issue for the world of publishing is that, for one, it has resulted in fewer books sold by physical bookstores across the country. And Amazon has a tendency to highlight well-known authors, making it even harder for other, lesser-known authors to get attention on their books.

The letter cites the importance of free-flowing ideas within a democracy as the reason why Amazon’s role as a bookseller should be looked into by the government, “The open access to the free flow of ideas is essential to a well-functioning democracy. The government has the responsibility to ensure that actors with oversized power cannot control or interfere with the open exchange of ideas.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG suggests that it’s difficult to make a case that Amazon is harming consumers with its low prices and the huge variety of books on offer — far, far more than any physical bookstore can stock.

As far as ebooks are concerned, how many ebooks do the members of the American Booksellers Association sell each year and what is the price of those ebooks?

Does anyone know of any evidence that Amazon interferes with “access to the free flow of ideas” with its huge collection of print books, old and new, and ebooks, offered at lower prices than anyone else provides? As PG has mentioned before, being a large and successful business organization is not a violation of antitrust laws.

He further suggests that selling printed and ebooks from a stock far larger than any physical bookstore has for sale at significantly lower prices than the members of the American Booksellers Association routinely charge doesn’t hurt readers or other consumers in any measurable way.

US – print book sales continue to decline. So where is the #BookTok boom the industry loves to get so excited about?

From The New Publishing Standard:

“The summer is turning out to be a tough one for book sales.” So says Publishers Weekly‘s Jim Milliott.

Milliott explains: “Unit sales of print books once again fell last week, dropping 7.6% compared to the week ended August 13, 2022 at outlets that report to Circana BookScan. And once again, the once sturdy adult fiction segment had a down week compared to a year ago. And also once again, the reason for the decline in adult fiction is not hard to find—the lack of titles that can match the sales velocity that books by Colleen Hoover and other BookTok-fueled authors achieved last year.”

As always, Jim Milliott has details of the titles that are topping the charts, with sales numbers, but what’s not explored in Jim’s piece, once we set aside the three “once again” reminders that this is not some statistical anomaly, are the implications of his last line as quoted:

“The reason for the decline in adult fiction is not hard to find—the lack of titles that can match the sales velocity that books by Colleen Hoover and other BookTok-fueled authors achieved last year.”

Leaving the big question, what has happened to the BookTok magic wand? And are publishers – and the wider industry – prepared for BookTok’s self-evidently waning influence?

BookTok of course rode the Pandemic bonanza of unexpected extra reading time, and publishers reaped the rewards, but with the Pandemic (for now) in the rear-view mirror, not only is reading time reduced, but screen time to spend on BookTok is reduced, meaning those undeniably fantastical figures the industry experts love to throw about, that show how BookTok can save the industry amid the economic downturn, are little more than history. If it was ever for real.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PRH Rolls Out Banned Books Resources: ‘Let Kids Read’

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Monday (August 14), Andrew Paul at Popular Science wrote, “Iowa educators are turning to ChatGPT to help decide which titles should be removed from their school library shelves in order to legally comply with recent Republican-backed state legislation.”

Today (August 15), Penguin Random House has released its new “banned books resource site”—titled Let Kids Read.

The two events’ timing is coincidental. What’s intentional is a rising willingness among major book-business players to speak forthrightly to such politically inflamed issues.

PRH’s worldwide CEO, Nihar Malaviya, says on today’s release of its new campaign, “We believe in the power of books and their ability to make us better—as individuals and as a society.

“Books give us perspective; their stories allow us to feel seen and provide us with the opportunity to learn from each other’s lived experiences.

“The acceleration of book bannings, challenges, and related legislation sweeping across the country is a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights. Diverse stories deserve to be told, and readers deserve the autonomy to choose what books they read.”

To that end, the special site set is up as a consumer-facing presentation, ending in a selection of banned books grouped by category and intended to be rotated at regular intervals.

There’s a series of “What We’re Doing” sections first, and Publishing Perspectives readers will be familiar with many of the listed legal challenges in which PRH has been a party, often under the aegis of the Association of American Publishers. This is followed by a listing of relevant organizations the company works with; a section on the company’s support for its authors; and another section on teacher and librarian support.

Technically, that portion of the “banned book resource site” is a corporate-responsibility piece, albeit clearly one that displays some of the good works and associations made and maintained by the company in the service of resisting a censorious era’s darkest dynamics.

Where the piece shows its depth is in the next section, which offers Malaviya’s introductory commentary on the problem. Look for the section called “Resources for Everyone.”

Here you’ll find him linking to reputable (American Library Association) survey results indicating that 70 percent of American parents asked say that they’re opposed to book banning.

Even more enlightening is his use of Hannah Natanson’s May 23 report for the Washington Post in which investigative journalism found that LGBTQ content is the most frequent trigger in book-banning incidents and that the core challenges to the freedom to read in school-setting book challenges were filed, in the Post‘s analysis, by just 11 people in the 2021-2022 school year cycle. Each of these people created 10 or more challenges in their school districts—one lodging 92 challenges in a year.

Natanson’s article calls these the “serial filers” who launch those blizzards of complaints that send school boards reeling and books vanishing from shelves, with librarians and teachers caught in the crossfire.

In Malaviya’s article, he pledges, “We will always stand by those fighting for intellectual freedom.”

“Resources for Authors and Creators” will give you the Penguin Random House author Jacob Tobia, who makes an appeal to authors to avoid self-censorship, writing, “As authors, we must resist not only their efforts to ban our books, but also their efforts to make us afraid.

“Now is not the time to cower. Now is not the time to stop writing. It is the time to double down on our creative joy, on the power that comes with expressing the ideas and stories shimmering in our hearts.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says that Manhattan sensibilities differ substantially from those held by about 90% of the remainder of the US population. The idea of a group of business executives deciding what children can read is going to strike more than a few parents outside of the canyons of New York as both presumptious in the extreme.

Just because some corporate drone is familiar with what books sell doesn’t make them an expert on what children should be reading. It does, however, represent virtue signaling to other members of the NYC hive mind.

What the sale of a major American book publisher means for authors, the industry — and you

From The Los Angeles Times:

It seemed to many in book publishing like good news last October when the Department of Justice successfully sued to block Penguin Random House (PRH) from acquiring Simon & Schuster. PRH is the largest publisher in the United States and S & S is third. Together they might have controlled more than half the industry. Only three other publishers — HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan — control the bulk of the rest. Such consolidation has long worried literary types who fear it leads to the privileging of profit over culture. But the alternative in this case might prove worse. On Monday, Paramount sold Simon & Schuster to KKR, a private equity firm.

Simon & Schuster’s role in the book world

Simon & Schuster is a 99-year-old house. Founded by two Jewish bookmen, Richard Simon and Max Schuster, it was among a wave of new firms established in the first half of the 20th century by Jewish bookmen, including Knopf, Random House and Viking. But whereas these other houses were literary ventures, S & S was more commercial from the start. While Random House profited from the scandal of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” S & S grew on the back of crossword puzzle books.

Paramount acquired Simon & Schuster in 1975, leading to vast growth through acquisitions, with a focus on educational and professional publishing. By the 21st century, Simon & Schuster had become a behemoth, one of the Big Five, inevitably containing multitudes. Today its imprints include commercial lines such as Atria (Vince Flynn, Colleen Hoover, Jodi Picoult, Brad Thor) and the venerable Scribner (Stephen King, Kiese Laymon, Jesmyn Ward) whose backlist features F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

What is KKR?

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is an investment company founded in 1976. Henry Kravis and George R. Roberts continue to hold positions as executive co-chairmen. They pioneered leveraged buyouts in the 1980s, culminating in one of the largest in history when they bought out RJR Nabisco in 1989. As first documented in the investigative blockbuster “Barbarians at the Gate,” the firm established an early record of buying companies, loading them up with debt, then squeezing them for profit — maybe most famously with the slow death of Toys R Us. More recently, KKR acquired hundreds of facilities for people with disabilities, which, under the new ownership, led to conditions in which residents were “consigned to live in squalor, denied basic medical care, or all but abandoned,” according to Polk-winning reportage from Buzzfeed.

Its reputation has grown more complicated over time, even as it’s made some incursions into publishing. KKR is enormous, with more than $500 billion in assets. Simon & Schuster, purchased for $1.62 billion, will account for less than one half of 1%. Still, KKR co-CEO Scott Nuttall told the the Wall Street Journal that “the firm puts new growth opportunities through a screen. ‘Can we do it in a way that is special? Can we get to the top three in the world?’”

KKR has some publishing connections. Co-CEO Joseph Bae is married to the respected novelist Janice Y.K. Lee — though she publishes with PRH. More notably, Richard Sarnoff, chair of KKR’s media group, worked in publishing from the 1980s until 2011. He helped the German conglomerate Bertelsmann acquire Random House in 1998, after which he became an increasingly influential figure in the industry, an early advocate of audio and new media who also pushed publishing toward increasing financialization through further acquisitions and investments in venture capital.

One benefit touted by Simon & Schuster as well as KKR on Monday is its habit of offering equity to employees of its companies. Such a program will now be established at S & S. This worked out well for the company’s recent publishing asset, RBMedia, the world’s largest audiobook publisher. Acquired in 2018, RBMedia was sold last month in a deal that, according to KKR’s statements to the New York Times, earned employees payouts of up to two times their annual salaries.

What does the sale mean for the industry?

It is, in one sense, the continuation of an old story. The corporatization of publishing began in the 1960s. Times Mirror acquired the esteemed mass-market paperback house New American Library in 1960 and hired McKinsey consultants to rationalize its operations, leading to increasing control for the business office and an exodus of editorial talent that included luminaries such as E. L. Doctorow and André Schiffrin. Few acquisitions or mergers have been as dramatic since, though all nudged publishing toward prioritizing financial growth. The big difference this week is that for decades media companies have tended to acquire publishing houses: Bertelsmann, CBS, Hachette, Holtzbrinck, News Corp, Paramount. Not so much private equity.

The consequences for the industry have been complex: One could write an entire book just covering fiction. Writers and editors have developed creative strategies for meeting the needs of growth-oriented parent companies while doing good work. The question is whether a private equity firm runs things differently.

Initial commentary from top figures at KKR and Simon & Schuster have focused on growth. “I believe that they are committed to helping us grow and become even greater than we already are,” S & S CEO Jonathan Karp told the L.A. Times in an interview Monday, calling the purchase “very good news for readers and publishers everywhere.” He touted KKR’s track record of audiobook production — one avenue of planned growth — as well its proposal to offer employees equity that could result in “a life-impacting amount of wealth.” In the short term, both sides say business at Simon & Schuster will carry on as usual. Of course, they have motivations for saying so.

What does this mean for books and readers?

What happens next is unpredictable. Will Simon & Schuster end up like Toys R Us or RBMedia? We know that KKR will aggressively pursue growth. It is likely less concerned with accommodating the niceties and vagaries of publishing than the other parent companies of the Big Five. One the one hand, this might mean Simon & Schuster becomes flush with cash, enabling its staff to explore compelling new projects (so long as they facilitate growth). On the other, it could mean radical transitions at the publisher, including layoffs and changing terms for contracts with authors. Colleen Hoover, a mega-bestseller, is probably safer than Kiese Laymon, a beloved critical darling whose books have little impact on S & S’s bottom line.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

S&S acquired by private equity. What does it mean for the book business? 

From Nathan Bransford:

A big domino in book publishing fell this month as private equity behemoth KKR has acquired Simon & Schuster for $1.62 billion, rather less than the $2.175 billion Penguin Random House agreed to before that deal was quashed by a federal judge, though the blow to Paramount was softened by the $200 million PRH had to pay S&S when the deal failed to close.

This is… possibly good news for Simon & Schuster and the publishing industry writ large? It emerged during discovery for the Penguin Random House trial that S&S CEO Jonathan Karp had emailed a Paramount executive in 2020 that a financial buyer “would be better for the employees of S&S and arguably the larger book publishing ecosystem,” and sure enough, in an email to Publishers Lunch, Karp said “It was the outcome I’d hoped for.”

You can see why there’s some hope. Karp is keeping his job, S&S’s imprints remain free to compete with the other members of the Big 5 publishers (thus maintaining options for agents/authors as well as avoiding antitrust scrutiny), and S&S will likely avoid the waves of redundancy layoffs you’d expect with a merger with, say, HarperCollins. KKR is also supporting the creation of an equity program that would give employees a stake in the company.

However. S&S was already known as a lean operation and KKR is known for slashing and burning costs, so where exactly will additional efficiencies come from?

My personal worry has been that one or more of the major publishers would be acquired by a private equity company who would simply mine the backlist, which is the real cash cow in book publishing, and lay off (nearly) all the editors and support staff and essentially close up shop for new frontlist acquisitions, perhaps excepting a tiny handful of established bestsellers (like say Stephen King and Colleen Hoover). Karp, longtime readers may remember, made a name for himself with a lean imprint devoted to publishing one book a month on the grounds that publishers can only really focus on so many books at a time.

Please note that there are no indications that this is S&S’s plan, and I hope this remains mere nightmare fuel that does not come to pass.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says the “S&S’s plan” doesn’t make any difference now that the publisher is owned by an organization that is not run by English majors.

While PG is not privy to any of S&S’s numbers, cutting way back on S&S salary costs and office rent and mining the backlist likely makes more sense than continuing to try to make the traditional business of publishing reasonably profitable (by the standards of financially-savvy KKR execs) while spending lots of money on advances that are unlikely to earn out and paying New York City rents and low (by NYC standards) salaries for a very small return on equity.

Print Book Sales Fell 6% Again Last Week

From Publishers Weekly:

The spring sales trend of weekly declines of about 6% continued last week with unit sales of print books dropping 6.4% compared to the week ended May 22, 2021. The sales decline through May 21, 2022, also came in at 6.4%, compared to last year at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

Adult nonfiction continued to struggle, with sales falling 11% despite a host of new titles hitting high up on the category list. The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer was #1 in the category, selling more than 26,000 copies in its first week on sale. Last year at this time John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed was #1, selling over 57,000 copies. Other new nonfiction books that had solid debuts were Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Mulitverse, which sold nearly 24,000 copies, and Endure by Cameron Hanes, which sold almost 18,000 copies, putting the titles in second and fourth place on the category chart, respectively.

The adult fiction category was the only segment to post a sales increase over last year. Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us was #1, selling over 34,000 copies, and Hoover had three other titles on the category top 10 list. The highest-ranking new release was Jack Carr’s In the Blood, which sold over 22,000 copies.

Juvenile fiction sales dropped 8% from 2021. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss was #1 on the category list both last week and a year ago, selling about 60,000 copies in each week. Bloom of the Flower Dragon by Tracey West sold over 16,000 copies in its first week on sale, making it the top-selling new release in the category.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Big Deal about Big Publishers

From Publishing Perspectives:

Every July, I head down to the French countryside for a much-needed change from urban cool Hackney in East London. The upsides are the weather, the air and water quality, the wine, the produce, the markets, and being visited by hordes of friends and family. The downsides are rather slow Internet connections, no public transport, the occasional overheating canicule, and spasmodic infestations of hornets or mosquitoes.

In the photo above taken from my garden, you can just make out in the distance the hills of the Grésigne Forest where I frequently walk and test my fitness for coping with steep up-slopes and slippery down-slopes. These plusses and minuses got me thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of large and small publishers. So here goes.

Large publishers, by definition, have scale.

The greater their revenue, the more scale they have. But what does scale really mean? How is it measured? I guess the simplest measure is revenue. The greater the revenue, the more clout they theoretically have with retailers, with printers, with distributors. High revenue allows higher and more cost-effective investment in systems. But does it work?

One argument for the proposed and ultimately failed takeover of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House was that it gave them more power when negotiating with that very large Internet retailer with whom we all have a love-hate relationship.

Might it have worked? I doubt it. A publisher even of the size of a PRH/S&S size is a minnow compared with You Know Who in Seattle. It would inevitably be an unfair struggle. Indeed, any retailer is more concerned with the trading terms achieved with the big publishers than the smaller ones. I can’t prove this, and trying to find out would probably be in breach of competition laws in most jurisdictions, but I’d lay money that small publishers are getting a better deal with retailers than the big guns. They might not be able to buy as much exposure but sales they make will be at higher margins. The benefits of scale might just be a little illusory.

An ability to hire the best staff is clearly one of the perceived advantages of being big.

People are keen to join bigger companies, as there should be more opportunities for promotion. And human resources departments are better funded and supported. In particular, larger firms can focus attention on trying to improve the diversity—age, gender, sexuality, race, etc.—of their workforce.

On the other hand, the structures of these companies favor specialization—production, sales, marketing, editorial, publicity, finance, IT, etc.—which works against those individuals who need to learn the whole business rather than the parts.

In addition, the HR departments of larger publishers are involved in making difficult decisions and communicating changes internally and externally. One large publisher’s internal memo I’ve read was 30 lines long, and its sole purpose was to announce in linguistic jargon the departure of a long-serving executive without a word of thanks. There are plenty more examples of such unfeeling gobbledygook. Working in a small office may be a better apprenticeship option or even offer a more secure career.

Large publishers can offer higher advances and thus attract the best authors.

Certainly it’s the case that competition between the major publishers and their ability to invest in intellectual property has led to some very significant earnings for top authors, including large numbers of ghost-written celebrity memoirs. But overall it’s unclear whether authors are the real beneficiaries of the consolidation of the industry.

One clear downside is that the large publishers have increased the discounts they grant to retailers, in some cases massively. Authors’ royalties reflect this by percentage royalty rates based on retail price being reduced for sales over certain discount points. What might appear as a 10-percent RRP royalty [recommended retail price] is frequently only 6 percent as a result of publisher-retailer trading terms. By and large, smaller publishers escape these penal discount terms by flying below the radar or simply being more prudent in negotiation and being less important to the retailer in question. Either way, authors stand to benefit even if their initial advances are lower.

There’s little doubt that the large publishers have extremely professional and diligent leadership.

This has improved markedly over the years. The downside is that when someone reaches the top of such a complex and widespread organization, it’s extremely difficult for them to do much more than try to keep the organization out of trouble and financially stable. The result is that senior management has inevitably become distanced from the real action of the business—the acquisition of the best titles and the marketing of them.

Actually publishing books has been replaced for much senior management by the chairing of strategy meetings; the writing of uplifting newsletters for staff; the supervision of audits to portray the business as forward-looking, inclusive, representative, caring, and human; the nurturing of relations with the owners, whether a distant head office in another country or hedge funds or public shareholders; the management of distribution, logistics, HR, IT and finance—all really important but not publishing, as such.

Small company managers have no such issues. They simply have to manage to stay in business and undertake whatever is required; but most of all, they have to focus on the authors whose work they represent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Judge Finds Revived Amazon E-book Monopoly Suit Should Proceed

From Publishers Weekly:

For a second time in two years, a magistrate judge in New York has recommended that a consumer class action lawsuit accusing the Big Five publishers of colluding with Amazon to fix e-book prices should be dismissed. But while the judge recommended tossing the case against the publishers, the court found that monopolization and attempted monopolization claims against Amazon should proceed.

In a 59-page report, magistrate judge Valerie Figueredo found sufficient facts at the pleading stage to “plausibly allege that Amazon’s conduct has allowed it to charge supracompetitive commission fees, leading to reduced competition in the e-book platforms-transaction market and higher e-book prices for consumers.”

The case was first filed in the Southern District of New York on January 14, 2021, led by Hagens Berman (which was also the firm that sued Apple and five major publishers for colluding to fix e-book prices in 2011). It alleged that the Big Five publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—were co-conspirators in a hub-and-spoke scheme with Amazon to suppress retail price competition and keep e-book prices artificially high. In March 2021, a second, associated suit accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book markets was also filed.

But last year, after a marathon July 27, 2022 hearing, Figueredo recommended that the presiding judge in the case, Gregory Woods, toss both cases for lack of evidence. In two brief September 29, 2022 orders, Woods accepted Figeuredo’s “well-reasoned” and thorough reports, and dismissed the cases without prejudice, giving the plaintiffs a chance to file amended complaints.

Which they did. In a 125-page Second Consolidated Amended complaint filed last November, Hagens Berman revised and refiled their claims, including arguments that Amazon’s dominance in the e-book market enables it to “coerce” e-book publishers into “entering into contractual provisions that foreclose competition on price or product availability,” which ultimately harms consumers by keeping e-book prices artificially high. “In a but-for competitive market, Amazon could not earn such a supracompetitive profit without price or product availability,” which ultimately harms consumers by keeping e-book prices artificially high. “In a but-for competitive market, Amazon could not earn such a supracompetitive profit without losing sales to a competitor and experiencing reduced profits,” the amended complaint argues. “Yet Amazon has been able to both maintain its market share and extract its supracompetitive transaction fees by exercising its market power to block competition.”

In its defense, Amazon insists that its MFNs and other contract terms are standard and “not inherently anticompetitive,” and that there is no evidence the company’s conduct “had the effect of raising agency commissions to anticompetitive levels.” But that’s not a question to be resolved at the pleading stage, Figueredo noted, concluding that the plaintiffs “have adequately pled anticompetitive conduct to support their monopolization and attempted monopolization claims.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

HarperCollins to Shutter Inkyard Press, Lay Off Staff

From Publishers Weekly:

In a week that has seen Penguin Random House’s workforce winnowed by buyouts and layoffs and the Independent Publishers Group lay off nine staffers, HarperCollins has announced that Inkyard Press, the YA imprint under the publisher’s Harlequin Trade Publishing division, will be shuttered, and its staff laid off on August 1. The move comes less than a month after PRH folded its Razorbill imprint, and during a down year for sales of books for children and young adults.

Inkyard published approximately 2-4 books a month, and those titles, a representative of HarperCollins and Harlequin told PW, “will transition to [HarperCollins Chidlren’s Books] imprints.” When asked by PW how many employees were impacted, the representative provided no comment. Among those laid off were senior publishing director Bess Braswell; editors Meghan Maria McCullough, Claire Stetzer, and Olivia Valcarce; and senior marketing manager Britt Mitchell.

“Harlequin Trade Publishing has made the difficult, strategic decision to close the Inkyard Press imprint and transition the titles to HarperCollins Children’s Books,” the publisher’s statement read. “Current market conditions have posed a variety of challenges for the business, which [have] been acutely felt in the YA/middle grade space, with a shifting retail landscape, reduced distribution, and higher production costs in a price-sensitive segment. Inkyard titles will benefit from the synergies and streamlined processes as part of a larger Children’s division.”

At least one additional layoff at HarperCollins was made yesterday: Stephanie Guerdan, an associate editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books and a shop steward in the HarperCollins Union, which signed a new contract with the company in February after a months-long strike. When asked about the scope and specifics of any layoffs outside of Inkyard, a representative of HarperCollins declined to comment.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

HC Union Files Grievance After Unit Chair Terminated

From Publishers Weekly:

The HarperCollins union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the publisher after HC laid off Children’s Books associate editor and union head Stephanie Guerdan last week. In a statement released yesterday, the union alleged that Guerdan was “wrongfully terminated” in a retaliatory measure against her role as the union’s unit chair.

“The company is continuing to spend their resources on union-busting, going so far as to fire our Unit Chair,” said Local 2110 UAW president Olga Brudastova. “Stephanie has had an impeccable career at HarperCollins spanning over six years. They were outspoken about their support for the Union and have been very involved in every action the Union has taken, including serving as a shop steward, being part of the bargaining committee, and most recently acting as Unit Chair. Members of our Union are outraged and will not allow the company to succeed in these scare tactics.”

The HC Union also pointed out that Guerdan’s termination came on the eve of a one-day strike organized by the union last year on July 20, which was then followed by a longer strike that spanned three months.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Of course traditional publishing oppresses the powerless individual. It’s owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

‘There’s an industry-wide mental health crisis’: authors and publishers on why the books sector needs to change

From The Guardian:

Author and publisher welfare has been a hot topic in the books industry of late. Publishing houses, trade unions and industry bodies have scrambled for solutions following a survey by the Bookseller in which debut authors reported overwhelmingly negative publication experiences: more than half of respondents said the process adversely affected their mental health. Now, a series of measures are being rolled out across the industry in response to these concerns.

This month, Anna Frame, communications director at the independent publisher Canongate, has confirmed various initiatives are being discussed, including an authors’ handbook in partnership with the Society of Authors (SoA) and a resource pack for publishers, in conjunction with English Pen. Canongate has also announced that it will publish fewer books so that it can dedicate more time to authors.

These discussions follow news that the Orion publishing group will establish an academy for debut novelists with the aim of “demystifying the process and ensuring expectations are clear”. Meanwhile, the Publishers Publicity Circle (PPC) is launching free media training and crisis communications sessions for publishers.

A lot of authors I know feel quite powerless. We are the product, but we are not a member of the team

Imogen Hermes Gowar

Ed Gillett – whose debut book Party Lines will come out in August – said that working with his publisher Picador was a “really positive” experience. However, he added that writing a book can be isolating. “I signed my deal during lockdown, which was obviously a period of particularly acute disconnection for everybody, but that sense of operating in a bit of a bubble has persisted.”


Imogen Hermes Gowar published her first novel, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, in 2018. She described her publisher and agent as “faultlessly supportive”, but said that she could have been better prepared.

“It impacted my mental health gigantically. For me it was the total change in status. I was 28 when I sold my book and […] I was used to being the intern, or the temp, or the volunteer juggling day jobs in cafes and care work to pay my bills. Suddenly I was treated like the most important person in the room, and it really did a number on me. I doubt it would have occurred to anyone that this might be the case.

“For publishing professionals, for whom this is all literally just another day at the office, it’s easy to overlook the fact that for a debut author it’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.”

She added that clearer communication throughout the process would have eased her concerns. “A lot of authors I know feel quite powerless and shut out from decision-making. We are the product, but we are not a member of the team […] it’s extra alienating to feel that decisions directly concerning our work and careers are often not shared with us.”


Through their cross-sector initiatives, Frame, the SoA and the PPC are hoping to tackle these issues. Frame said: “The moment when a book reaches publication is hugely exciting for writers, but it can feel exposing and stressful, too.”

“Often the weight of providing emotional support for authors during this vulnerable time falls to publicists, editors and agents, who aren’t mental health professionals,” she pointed out. “That pastoral care is vital, but as an industry we have to acknowledge the need for professional resources, too, and provide access to that support. Publishing is a team game, and having the difficult conversations at an earlier stage in the process will help us protect our own mental health, and that of the writers we’re working with.”

Likk to the rest at The Guardian

AAP StatShot Shows the US Book Market Flat in May

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its May StatShot report released on July 19 during Publishing Perspectives’ summer publishing break, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) cites flat total revenues overall at US$846.8 million, in comparison to May 2022.

Year-to-date revenues, the AAP reports, were up 0.7 percent at $4.7 billion for the first five months of this year.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that StatShot only includes traditionally-published books without any data from Amazon on self-published books.

Penguin Random House job eliminations show just how redundant was former PRH CEO Markus Dohle’s Sharjah address in May

From The New Publishing Standard:

The headline from PW this past week – “Layoffs Begin at Penguin Random House as Buyout Departures Come into Focus” – says a lot about the reality of US and global publishing today, and stands in stark contrast to the Sharjah presentation by former PRH CEO Markus Dohle just a short while ago.

Per Jim Milliott, Dohle’s successor Nihar Malaviya confirmed long-rumoured are a reality. The PW post has detail on many of those who opted for the early retirement, and quotes Malaviya’s no doubt genuine sentiments of regret at the job losses.

But beyond the of course painful individual losses is the stark reality that the post-pandemic New Normal in publishing is nowhere near as rosy a picture as Dohle chose, on auto-pilot and quite detached from reality, to paint at Sharjah.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

The ripple effects following layoffs and shuttered imprints

From Nathan Bransford:

Yesterday I took the Surfliner down to Comic-Con in San Diego to moderate an excellent panel with film literary mangers and book literary agents on the state of publishing and book to film.

The vibes were noticeably grim. Hollywood is mired in strikes (which everyone supports) and book literary agents, already contending with things taking forever even when they work, are facing fewer people to send books to, with significant layoffs at Penguin Random House and an imprint closing at HarperCollins (more on this in a sec).

And AI is looming as a threat, both from the theft of tech companies using books as training materials without permission (the subject of several lawsuits), and publishers potentially outsourcing some functions all the way up to AI writing the books themselves. Publishers are indeed putting downward pressure on word counts due to the cost of paper, with one agent on the panel noting that publishers were balking at a 120,000 word count for a fantasy novel, which used to be totally standard. Some of these changes are absolutely pandemic holdovers, though agents suspect they represent the new normal.

But! The agents are still acquiring and selling. It’s tough out there, things are taking a long time, but readers are still reading and no one thinks AI can replace a good human any time soon. And it’s always been tough out there. There are no golden eras.

About those layoffs… Like several other publishers, Penguin Random House instituted a buyout program for employees over 60 years old with 15 years of experience, but they’ve now extended that to significant layoffs, including some incredibly successful longtime editors such as Daniel Halpern, leaving authors like Amy Tan in the lurch. The New York Times headline frames it as a “changing of the guard,” but that implies there will be some kind of a shift to younger editors who will step into these longtime editors’ shoes, and I am pretty skeptical that’s the case.

. . . .

This all is contributing to what I wrote about a few months ago about the vast game of musical chairs that’s going on in the publishing industry. Whenever editors are laid off and imprints are shuttered, not only do agents have fewer places to submit to and it’s harder drum up multiple bids that increase advances, but the remaining editors and support staff at publishers now have a huge amount of extra work to manage books in the pipeline they didn’t personally acquire, so they then have less time to acquire and oversee their own projects, let alone manage their incoming submissions, so things slow down even more. Authors who have lost their champion face an uncertain future with their new editor.

So while it may not seem at first blush like a huge deal for one imprint to close and some veteran editors to be laid off, the ripple effects can be extremely significant.

. . . .

Meanwhile, book merch is very much a thing that’s growing in influence, and publishers are putting a huge amount of care into packages they send to book influencers, which also raises some thorny questions that risk undermining trust in influencer recommendations.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG says the entire literary establishment continues to grow more cockeyed every year.

Does it ever occur to publishers to develop their own “book influencers” on social media? Is it actually that hard? Why can’t an editor be a social media influencer?

An agent should certainly be a social media influencer. For one thing, such an editor would be in a much stronger negotiating position with publishers if dealing with the agent’s authors carried with it the implicit benefit of top-level social media support.

PG says social media requires work and some native talent, but is it that difficult to follow book influencers for a while to learn what works and what doesn’t?

The Right Publisher for the Right Book

From Publishers Weekly:

When my publishing career began in the late 1990s, a period that I refer to as the golden age of New York publishing, it was an enchanting time.

From an outline, my first book, What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should), went into a four-day auction between several editors. (This was during the era when imprints within a parent company could bid against each other.) It might have lasted longer, but my brilliant agent, Richard Curtis, called for “best offers on the table before sundown,” when Yom Kippur began. Each publisher placed significant six-figure bids.

Putnam won the hardcover, paper, and audio rights. Then they went to work, intent on delivering a bestseller, which they did to such effect that 22 years later, the book continues as a successful backlist title.

I have published six books between Penguin/Putnam and HarperCollins. All were either auctioned or preempted with large advances. Every person attached to the projects was marvelous and committed. For each release, I traveled on multiple-city tours with generous expense accounts. Publicists delivered remarkable national media spots, including ones with CNN, Fox, the New York Times, People magazine, and The View. The coverage didn’t stop there; in every city, I received substantial local media attention as well, including reviews and television and radio appearances. Speaking at independent booksellers’ conferences, I met store owners who, kindly, hand-sold my book.

With the guidance of tremendous publishers and editors like Phyllis Grann, Sheila Curry, and Michael Morrison, my career was launched. Successful books led me to form a syndication company to distribute a weekly newspaper column—entertaining stories about the South, its characters, and its unique language. Frequent speaking engagements and occasional television work came, including documentaries with Fox Sports (I wrote a critically acclaimed book about my NASCAR days) and a recent HBO documentary on my stepmother-in-law, Mary Tyler Moore, in which I referred to her as a “feminine feminist,” a phrase I coined in my first book.

I self-published two books of columns because I didn’t want to sign away rights to 1,200 columns. With almost a million readers, I have a devoted fan base.

Now comes a new journey. My book, St. Simons Island—A Stella Bankwell Mystery, releases in August from Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga. It is the first in a series of Stella Bankwell mysteries. In every way, publishing this book has been a different experience from working with major publishers. Quite frankly, without a nudge from Mercer’s Allen Wallace and Marc Jolley, I might not have published again. The industry has changed so dramatically, with big publishers today focused much more on books by celebrities, reality stars, and well-established authors.

After an aggressive deadline to finish the book, I slept for three days, then opened an email from Mercer’s marketing department asking when I would deliver copy for the book jacket and online booksellers. I was stunned. I’d never had that responsibility. Fortunately, I am a journalist turned publicist turned author, so it’s in my wheelhouse.

The real game changer—which makes it easier to go to a small press—is social media. I and my husband, a prominent television producer, have celebrity friends and influencers who will join us in posting. But any tour stops, such as the Southern Festival of Books, will be at my expense.

With Mercer’s limited resources, why did I choose to go there? For important reasons. I believe that Mercer is one of today’s best publishers. The catalog is diverse and bold. Mercer takes chances on authors who the big publishers now overlook. They are also my people—Georgians—so it feels like family. Though advances are small, the team there is incredibly passionate. It’s hard not to be drawn in by such devotion and enthusiasm.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The industry has changed so dramatically, with big publishers today focused much more on books by celebrities, reality stars, and well-established authors.

PG was not familiar with the author of the OP, so he doesn’t know her books or history other than what she includes in the OP.

However, the phrase, “kicked to the curb” floated into his mind as he read her story. The phrase, “smiling bravely” also came to mind as she described how “passionate” the folks at Mercer University Press are about her book.

Since PG was unfamiliar with Mercer University, he did a bit of online research and found the institution was founded in 1831 in Penfield, Georgia, by a group of Baptists. From humble beginnings, it has grown to 9,000 students with campuses in Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus.

PG’s conclusion is that Mercer is a perfectly respectable institution and he has no doubt the university’s press is filled with committed and hard-working people.

However, the mystery book buyer at Barnes & Noble doesn’t have Mercer on speed dial.

PG can’t help wondering why the author of the OP didn’t go straight to KDP, saving time and keeping a much larger percentage of the sales price for each book for herself and controlling her own writing career. That said, if she’d chosen KDP, Publishers Weekly wouldn’t have been interested in her column.

The Right Publisher for the Right Book

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When my publishing career began in the late 1990s, a period that I refer to as the golden age of New York publishing, it was an enchanting time.

From an outline, my first book, What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should), went into a four-day auction between several editors. (This was during the era when imprints within a parent company could bid against each other.) It might have lasted longer, but my brilliant agent, Richard Curtis, called for “best offers on the table before sundown,” when Yom Kippur began. Each publisher placed significant six-figure bids.

Putnam won the hardcover, paper, and audio rights. Then they went to work, intent on delivering a bestseller, which they did to such effect that 22 years later, the book continues as a successful backlist title.

I have published six books between Penguin/Putnam and HarperCollins. All were either auctioned or preempted with large advances. Every person attached to the projects was marvelous and committed. For each release, I traveled on multiple-city tours with generous expense accounts. Publicists delivered remarkable national media spots, including ones with CNN, Fox, the New York Times, People magazine, and The View. The coverage didn’t stop there; in every city, I received substantial local media attention as well, including reviews and television and radio appearances. Speaking at independent booksellers’ conferences, I met store owners who, kindly, hand-sold my book.

With the guidance of tremendous publishers and editors like Phyllis Grann, Sheila Curry, and Michael Morrison, my career was launched. Successful books led me to form a syndication company to distribute a weekly newspaper column—entertaining stories about the South, its characters, and its unique language. Frequent speaking engagements and occasional television work came, including documentaries with Fox Sports (I wrote a critically acclaimed book about my NASCAR days) and a recent HBO documentary on my stepmother-in-law, Mary Tyler Moore, in which I referred to her as a “feminine feminist,” a phrase I coined in my first book.

. . . .

I self-published two books of columns because I didn’t want to sign away rights to 1,200 columns. With almost a million readers, I have a devoted fan base.

Now comes a new journey. My book, St. Simons Island—A Stella Bankwell Mystery, releases in August from Mercer University Press in Macon, Ga. It is the first in a series of Stella Bankwell mysteries. In every way, publishing this book has been a different experience from working with major publishers. Quite frankly, without a nudge from Mercer’s Allen Wallace and Marc Jolley, I might not have published again. The industry has changed so dramatically, with big publishers today focused much more on books by celebrities, reality stars, and well-established authors.

After an aggressive deadline to finish the book, I slept for three days, then opened an email from Mercer’s marketing department asking when I would deliver copy for the book jacket and online booksellers. I was stunned. I’d never had that responsibility. Fortunately, I am a journalist turned publicist turned author, so it’s in my wheelhouse.

The real game changer—which makes it easier to go to a small press—is social media. I and my husband, a prominent television producer, have celebrity friends and influencers who will join us in posting. But any tour stops, such as the Southern Festival of Books, will be at my expense.

With Mercer’s limited resources, why did I choose to go there? For important reasons. I believe that Mercer is one of today’s best publishers. The catalog is diverse and bold. Mercer takes chances on authors who the big publishers now overlook. They are also my people—Georgians—so it feels like family. Though advances are small, the team there is incredibly passionate. It’s hard not to be drawn in by such devotion and enthusiasm.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG suspects he’s not the only person reading the OP who wonders why the author is so upbeat about being published by a small educational publishing house after having what she paints as a good run with Penguin/Putnam and HarperCollins amidst bidding contests with at least six-figure advances during her earlier career.

Does the statement, “Mercer takes chances on authors who the big publishers now overlook” imply that big publishers are now overlooking the author?

PG didn’t have time for more than a passing look at Mercer’s books, but doubts that “The [their] catalog is diverse and bold” is a very good strategy for selling lots of books for an author who would like to receive large royalty checks. Most of the Mercer titles PG quickly glanced at had 7-figure bestseller ranks on Zon.

Perhaps visitors to TPV can help PG understand the story behind the story in the OP.

Book Sales Continue to Slow Down in First Half of 2023

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After unit sales of print books were basically flat in the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022, they finished the first half of the year down 2.7%. Sales fell from 363.4 million in the first six months of 2022 to 353.5 million this year at outlets that report to Circana BookScan.

First-quarter sales were given a big boost by Spare by Prince Harry, which sold about 1.1 million copies during the period and was also the bestselling book for the first half of the year. But no title came close to matching its sales level in the second quarter. (More bestselling books of the year so far will be featured in next week’s issue.)

The 2.7% decline in the first half of 2023 followed a 6.6% drop in the first six months of 2022 compared to 2021; unit sales were 387.5 million in the first half of 2021, 8.5% higher than in the same period this year. In taking the longer view back to prepandemic times, units were up 12% in the first half of this year compared to 2019.

The trends for the first six months of 2023 are no surprise: sales of adult fiction are up, with declines in the other major categories. And, as has been the case for a while, backlist is doing better than frontlist, with backlist sales down 2.1% compared to frontlist’s 4.2% drop.

Only a handful of books published in 2023 (including Spare) managed to land on BookScan’s top 25 list. Dav Pilkey’s newest Dog Man entry, Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea, sold more than 771,000 copies, making it the #4 title in 2023 thus far. Other new releases that did well were two Colleen Hoover books, Heart Bones and Never Never, which sold approximately 430,000 and 374,000 copies, respectively, and Emily Henry’s Happy Place, which sold about 415,000 copies.

New releases helped make romance the fastest-growing adult fiction genre in the first six months of the year, with sales up 34.6%. The horror/occult/psychology and fantasy genres also had strong gains, with sales up 32.5% and 26.5%, respectively. The high-flying graphic novels category cooled off in the period, with units down 22.7%; even with the decline, graphic novels, with unit sales of 13.8 million, was the third-largest genre in adult fiction.

The boost provided by Spare made biography/autobiography/memoir one of only three adult nonfiction subcategories to have a sales increase in the first six months, with sales up 4.6%. Travel had the largest increase, up 6.6%, and sales of religion books inched ahead 1.9%. The two categories most closely associated with stay-at-home activities during the pandemic had the largest declines, as sales of home/gardening books dropped 17.5% and sales of cooking/entertaining titles fell 15.4%.

Only one category in juvenile fiction had an increase, with sales of animals books up 14%. The largest decline came in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic area, where sales fell 11.3%. With the exception of holidays/festivals/religion, sales in all juvenile nonfiction subcategories fell in the period, with both history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language posting declines of more than 11%.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Falling German book sales amid a triple-figure rise in digital subscription hammers another nail in the (Markus) Dohle Doctrine

From The New Publishing Standard:

It seems like only nine weeks since former PRH CEO Markus Dohle was in Sharjah explaining how well book sales were doing, and how no-one gave a flying fig about digital, stuck at 20% forever and ever.

Dohle’s blinkered view of the publishing world through the cocoon of being CEO of the world’s largest trade publisher, dictating consumer trends by the simple expedient of pricing ebooks higher than their hardcover versions and removing all PRH titles from unlimited subscription services while claiming no-one cares about subscription, still lives on thanks to uncritical reporting by journalists infatuated by Dohle’s personal charm over his publishing chops.

But ne’er a day goes by now without new reportage knocking more nails in the coffin of the Dohle fantasy world.

Take the latest report from Germany, Dohle’s homeland, where the German publishing body Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels tells us book sales are falling – down 1.9% – and digital subscription is up 154.9%.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them”

Harold J. Smith

What the ‘New York Times’ Missed About Cormac McCarthy

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In his essay “Cormac McCarthy Had a Remarkable Literary Career. It Could Never Happen Now,” which ran in the June 19 New York Times, professor Dan Sinykin recognized the role that editor Albert Erskine played in McCarthy’s life, and raised valid issues about publishing past and present. However, McCarthy’s publishing story was more complicated and nuanced than Sinykin indicated; simply contrasting the days of personal ownership by entrepreneur-publishers with the conglomerates controlling the largest houses today leaves out significant points and people.

In March 2008, I interviewed McCarthy for a biography I was researching about Bennett Cerf, cofounder of Random House, which published his first five novels. (Cerf and McCarthy had met, introduced by Erskine, who by then was Cerf’s favorite editor.) Cerf and his business partner, Donald Klopfer, had hired Erskine in 1947; at RH he’d already edited Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, James A. Michener, and Robert Penn Warren, before adding McCarthy in 1963. They worked together even after Erskine retired, and stayed close until Erskine’s death in 1993.

During my hour-long phone conversation with McCarthy, he said not once, but twice: “Other than my brother, Albert was the best human being I’ve ever known.” He was “a person of honesty and rectitude… warmth and decency,” who “saw humor in the absurdity of things.” McCarthy wanted Erskine to get the credit he deserved, credit that the equally private Erskine, like many fine editors, never sought. But deserving as Erskine was, others deserved recognition for their contributions, too.

McCarthy’s publishing story began with a young woman, not a seasoned editor. Maxine Groffsky’s job was at the bottom of the heap: reading “slush.” It was mostly a thankless task, but that day in May 1962 when she opened the package addressed to “Fiction Editor, Random House,” containing the manuscript of what would become The Orchard Keeper, she began to read, later scrawling a note to a colleague further up the totem pole to let them know it was worth a look. That colleague, Larry Bensky, was about the same age, but in the boys’ club of those days, already a junior editor. Bensky agreed about the writing and began to send encouragement, praise, and comments to McCarthy. On Aug. 22, 1963, he offered McCarthy a contract. By then, Erskine and either Cerf or Klopfer (Bensky didn’t say which) had read, and liked, the manuscript. But both Groffsky and Bensky soon left RH for Europe (she’d later work with the Paris Review, then become an agent; he’d go into radio). Bensky was one of Erskine’s fledglings, and the file passed to him.

“Albert’s style was to go through word by word,” McCarthy recalled. “He’d look up everything. If there were typos or questionable facts, or if he thought something was improbable, he’d comment. His editing was trying to fix mistakes, not fix what you’d written.”

Erskine’s first letter to McCarthy was delicate, cordial, and understanding, discussing how the novel began and its use of punctuation (or lack thereof, since it was clear McCarthy had modeled his on Faulkner’s). Letters gave way to phone calls, and eventually “a week at a time at Albert’s home, working together page by page.” Erskine’s wife, Marisa, an Italian contessa, would cook gourmet meals and charm the resident author. McCarthy also lauded a copy editor named Bert Krantz, whom Erskine “revered.” She read manuscripts “three times, and you couldn’t get anything past her.” Through five novels that did not make money, the three worked together. Erskine helped McCarthy get fellowships and foundation money. Cerf, who had absolute faith in Erskine, died after the second book; legend has it that by the fifth, Erskine had made clear to the powers above that he’d resign if told he could no longer publish this writer.

Erskine was retired and ill when the sixth novel was ready; McCarthy got an agent, Amanda Urban, who moved him to Knopf. He’d sent his first book to RH because he’d thought “they were the foremost literary publisher in America.” But at that point, McCarthy said, Urban told him that “Knopf was going to be the Random of the next foreseeable future.” It was “a very different time,” but it wasn’t simply the conglomeratized world of 1992 that made the difference in what happened next.

McCarthy, having been lucky with an editor, proved lucky again, with a publisher. Sonny Mehta, who’d come to Knopf in 1987, was that most unusual figure: a consummate reader, whose editorial and commercial instincts were both extremely acute.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG notes that the personal interaction between an author and an editor who worked for a publisher to develop a book over period of however long it required to make a masterpiece is long gone in Big Publishing.

Today, a major New York publisher is owned by a large conglomerate, often headquartered in another country. The masters of the conglomerate are interested in this year’s profit and not really much else, certainly nothing beyond next year. Any nurturing that goes on between an editor and author is fine, provided that the editor is delivering profits for this quarter and next quarter. If the editor misses a quarter due to nurturing an author, the editor is likely to be out on the street, perhaps thinking about the good old days when Bennett Cerf was running Random House.

Chat GPT on Self-Publishing Via KDP Earn More Money

PG gave ChatGPT the following prompt:

write a 500 word article about why authors who are publishing using Amazon KDP earn more money than authors who publish through established publishers

Here’s what showed up on his screen:

Title: The Amazon KDP Advantage: Why Self-Published Authors Earn More Money


In the rapidly evolving world of publishing, authors now have more opportunities than ever to share their work with the world. Traditional publishing houses have long been seen as gatekeepers, controlling access to the literary market. However, with the advent of self-publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), authors now have the chance to take control of their careers and potentially earn more money. This article will explore the reasons why authors who publish using Amazon KDP often enjoy higher earnings compared to those who choose established publishers.

  1. Greater Royalties

One of the primary reasons why authors utilizing Amazon KDP have the potential to earn more money is the royalty structure. Traditional publishing contracts typically offer authors royalty rates ranging from 8% to 15% of the book’s cover price. Conversely, Amazon KDP allows authors to earn up to 70% in royalties for eBooks priced within a specific range. This substantial difference in royalty rates significantly impacts an author’s earnings, particularly in the digital age where eBook sales are flourishing.

  1. Direct Control and Flexibility

Self-published authors using Amazon KDP have complete control over their work, including pricing, cover design, and marketing strategies. This control enables authors to experiment with pricing strategies, run promotional campaigns, and make changes to their books at any time. Traditional publishing often involves relinquishing these decisions to publishing houses, limiting an author’s ability to adapt to market demands swiftly. The freedom and flexibility offered by KDP allows authors to be more responsive to readers’ preferences and optimize their earning potential.

  1. Global Reach and Market Accessibility

Amazon, being a global online marketplace, provides unparalleled reach to authors publishing through KDP. It has a massive customer base that extends across multiple countries, making it easier for authors to tap into international markets. Traditional publishers often focus on specific regions or territories, limiting an author’s potential readership and earning opportunities. With Amazon KDP, authors can target a global audience and potentially gain exposure to millions of readers worldwide, thereby increasing their earning potential.

  1. High Digital Demand and Accessibility

In recent years, the demand for eBooks has surged, fueled by the rise in e-readers, tablets, and smartphones. Amazon dominates the eBook market with its Kindle devices and app, providing a seamless reading experience to millions of users. As a result, self-published authors on KDP can capitalize on this growing digital demand. Additionally, eBooks have advantages like lower production costs and the ability to reach readers instantly, enhancing an author’s potential earnings.

  1. Enhanced Marketing and Discoverability

Amazon KDP offers various tools and promotional opportunities to help authors market their books effectively. These include Kindle Countdown Deals, Kindle Free Promotions, and the ability to participate in Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service for readers. These features can significantly boost an author’s visibility and attract new readers, leading to higher sales and earnings. In contrast, established publishers may not dedicate the same level of marketing support to every author in their catalog.


While traditional publishing still holds its value and allure, the rise of Amazon KDP has revolutionized the publishing landscape. Through KDP, authors have gained the ability to publish independently, retaining greater control over their work and potentially earning higher incomes. The platform’s favorable royalty structure, global reach, marketing tools, and the growing demand for digital books all contribute to the financial advantage enjoyed by authors who publish using Amazon KDP. As the publishing industry continues to evolve, it is becoming increasingly clear that self-publishing platforms like KDP can provide authors with lucrative opportunities and a path to success.

PG invites opinions, disagreements, alternate (polite) contentions, discussions of errors in reasoning, items that should have been discussed (within the 500 word article limit), etc., etc. PG does admit that Chat GPT went 99 words over the 500 word article request, but PG didn’t see a lot of wasted wordage.

If Not Big Names, Then What?

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I opened a can of worms in my own head when I wrote last week’s blog which I titled “Stars.” The post deals with the fact that there are no big names in entertainment any longer, except for legacy names, like Harrison Ford in movies and Stephen King in fiction. A source I quoted from The Hollywood Reporter believed that there were no new stars created in the movies since about 2008, which he blamed on the collapse of the DVD market.

Although he had his finger on part of the problem, I don’t think he saw all of it.

. . . .

What happened in movies in 2008? The same thing that happened to books at the turn of the century. Part of their distribution system collapsed.

The music industry started dealing with this in the 1990s as well, as the record stores vanished and iTunes took over. I don’t know if any of you have looked at iTunes recently, but trying to find the latest hit single by anyone let alone someone you like requires using the search function, rather than seeing what’s happening on the home page.

The collapse of the distribution system—or rather, the changes in distribution—have had an impact on us all. One of the things the change has done is level the playing field. Now anyone with the proper equipment can enter an artistic arena with more than a snowball’s chance in hell of not only having a success but having multiple successes.

The problem is as it always was—discoverability.

I’m going to move off of the entire entertainment industry now, and look at books. As I wrote last time, books were part of a curated system, in which tastemakers (editors, publishers, publishing houses) determined what choices readers had in the books that hit the shelves.

Those shelves were limited, both in time and space. As a local bookstore owner learned back when I lived in Oregon, if you keep books on the shelves until those books sold, your store went from a store that featured “new” books to a store that featured books from years gone by. The product (books) had to be refreshed constantly or readers had no reason to browse.

Twenty years ago, the publishing industry was a B2B industry. It sold books to bookstores—business to business—and hadn’t learned any other way to do so. Traditional publishing is still a B2B operation, even though most bookstores have gone online or gone away entirely.

Indie publishers are a B2C business—Business to Consumer. It’s a much better system. We need to market to readers, not to some bookstore chain or nameless distributor somewhere.

The problem is that the book promotion shorthand is based on B2B, not B2C.

What’s the difference (besides the obvious final letter)? The owners of other businesses do not have the time to read all of the product in their stores. Back in the day of the megabookstores like Barnes & Noble once strived to be, there were literally thousands of books on the shelves, with hundreds more clamoring to get in each month.

No one can read all of that.

The local bookstore I mentioned above, the one that got stuck in amber, probably had five hundred titles in the store, and even when those titles remained on the shelf for 18 months, the employees still did not have time to read everything.

The consumer, on the other hand—who shall, from henceforth, be called the reader because it is more accurate—has one of two attitudes toward a book that floats past their eyeballs.

The first attitude is hey! I haven’t read that yet! What is it?

The second attitude is oh, yeah! I like that series and/or the previous book by that author. I’ll take a look at this one.

Then there’s the third attitude, one that doesn’t happen with a book in front of the eyes. The third attitude happens when there is no book. That attitude is Hey! Does Suzette T. Writer have a new book out? I should check.

Or that third attitude might be framed this way: Hey! Is there a new book in the AngelCat Extraordinaire Series? I should check.

Nothing in B2B marketing does more than answer the second two questions, maybe. And probably the only question it might answer is the one about Suzette T. Writer…provided Suzette T. Writer is what traditional publishing called a big name.

Readers buy stories. They want stories that will appeal to them. In addition, they want more of the same but with a surprise or two packed inside.

Traditional publishing did do one thing right in its quest for shorthand. It created genre categories. Genre categories and the subgenres within made it possible in a B2B world for readers to find the type of stories that they liked without relying on big names.

Ironically, genres weren’t created with marketing in mind. Or maybe that’s not ironic, considering how averse traditional publishing was to actual marketing. I was about to launch, yet again, into the history of traditional publishing marketing which I’ve written maybe a dozen times. I plucked history out of a past post and put it up on my Patreon page for everyone to read. I suggest you go there, so you understand how the marketing for traditional publishing evolved.

Anyway, genre and subgenre categories were the only thing that made life easier for the reader. The rest of what traditional publishing did made life easier for the distributors and the bookstores, by freeing up shelf space. This is why book series would often stop in the middle with no hope of finishing the saga or why an author would completely vanish from the shelves.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Black Women Are Being Erased in Book Publishing

From Electric Lit:

Obsessively scratching her scalp, while simultaneously chiding herself not to, Kendra Rae Phillips sits on a MetroNorth train anxious and jittery. She’s worried about being found, after being found out. Every lingering eye incites more sweat, and more scratching. Relief only comes when her train departs Grand Central Station. This is how Zakiya Dalila-Harris’ debut novel The Other Black Girl begins: in 1983 with a Black woman on the run.

It may be a coincidence that 1983 was also when Toni Morrison, the first Black woman editor at Random House, resigned after 16 years to focus on writing and teaching full-time. But unlike Morrison, Kendra Rae’s departure from her role as the Black woman editor at the fictional Wagner Books was not of her own volition.

Kendra Rae’s flight from New York City is a harried moment, symbolic of an ongoing pattern in book publishing, then and now. The numbers are scarce when it comes to Black people, and Black women, in publishing, and the systems in place have yet to change significantly enough for Kendra Rae, and the other Black women, in The Other Black Girl to feel safe in the professional space they occupy. The novel’s main storyline takes place in 2018 and follows two Black editorial assistants at Wagner Books: Nella who attempts to rise through the ranks as one of the only Black employees, and the newly arrived Hazel. Nella and Hazel’s conflict unravels the sinister motives behind the infiltration of OBGs (Other Black Girls) in the workplace, but Kendra Rae’s story serves as the catalyst for what unfolds.

For much of The Other Black Girl, the narrative surrounding Kendra’s swift retreat is that she chose to leave. The headline summarizing her feelings on the “frigid racial climate” at her workplace, “If You White, You Ain’t Right with Me,” is polarizing, inaccurate, and ultimately positions Kendra as “problematic” for her unwavering desire to work exclusively with Black authors. Kendra Rae’s intention to do her job, and do it well, makes her a threat the moment she vocalizes the issues she faces in the workplace. Even after being assigned a book that becomes a breakout hit by her best friend Diana Gordon, Kendra Rae is expected to retract her statements as if her experience isn’t important or necessary compared to Wagner Books’ image.

As a former acquisitions editor, I found Kendra Rae’s plotline relatable. Sadly, so was her departure.

Last year, PEN America published a lengthy report on Race, Equity, and Book Publishing. Earlier in 2022, publishing veteran and VP/executive editor at Little, Brown, Tracy Sherrod wrote “Black Publishing in High Cotton” about the history of Black editors in book publishing for Publishers Weekly. Sherrod’s piece noted numbers as slim as seven total for Black editors in trade publishing. (Today, several dozen Black editors [including editorial assistants] exist at Big 5, mid-sized, and small publishers in the United States, totaling about 60 or so.) Prior to Covid, I reported on the inherent biases in book publishing, interviewing several Black women professionals. Almost 30 years ago, in 1995, The Village Voice reported on the “Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing” in two parts. And in 2021, Shelly Romero and Adriana M. Martinez revisited The Voice’s premise for Publishers Weekly. These reports, among others, reflect the same issue again and again and again: BIPOC writers and publishing professionals continue to face exclusion in the publishing industry. 

Exclusion begins with erasure. Because if you don’t exist, how can you even attempt to tell your own story? 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG says this is one more reason to stay away from professional publishing unless you want to directly support a racist commercial enterprise. There’s no difference with the major European publishers as well.

Pundits Weigh in on Gilbert’s Decision to Pull Russian-Set Novel Over Ukrainian Backlash

From Publisher’s Weekly:

On June 12, Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert announced that her forthcoming novel The Snow Forest, slated to be published by Riverhead in February 2024, will not be released as scheduled due to backlash from Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian internet users over the novel’s Russian setting. The book, which was added to the the Penguin Random House website on June 6, has since been deleted.

“Over the course of this weekend, I have received an enormous, massive outpouring of reactions and responses from my Ukrainian readers expressing anger, sorrow, disappointment, and pain about the fact that I would choose to release a book into the world right now—any book, no matter what the subject is—that is set in Russia,” Gilbert said in a video message posted to Twitter. “As a result, I’m making a course correction, and I am removing the book from its publication schedule. It is not the time for this book to be published.” All pre-orders, she said, would be refunded.

The weekend prior to her announcement, more than 500 people rated the book with one-star on the book review platform Goodreads, with nearly a third of them also leaving critical reviews. Large swaths of the reviews included concerns that the novel would “romanticize” Russia. “While Russia is shelling and destroying Ukraine in 2023, writers continue to romanticize Russia? Shame!” wrote one user. Many comments were not specific to the book, with one-star rater simply declaring, “I hated, hate and will always hate russians [sic].” Many commenters’ usernames were written in Cyrillic.

The outpouring of criticism is an example of what has become known as “review bombing,” in which Goodreads users mount a coordinated effort to inundate a book’s Goodreads page with negative reviews. However, the outcry over The Snow Forest is somewhat unique as it took place pre-publication, and was therefore based not on the book’s content but its premise.

According to the publisher’s descriptive copy on Goodreads, the novel takes place in the 1930s and 1980s, and is set “in a remote, high-altitude corner of Siberia.” It follows a family of religious fundamentalists who, per Gilbert’s video message, “made a decision to remove themselves from society to resist the Soviet government and to try and defend nature against industrialization.”

“I do not want to add any harm to a group of people who have already experienced and are continuing to experience grievance and extreme harm,” Gilbert said, “so that is the choice that I have made.”

Criticism of Gilbert’s decision swiftly followed, with many authors, writers, and literary critics extremely concerned by the precedent that it set. On Twitter, authors such as Isaac Butler, Sarah Rose Etter, Gretchen Felker-Martin, Olga Grushin, Lincoln Michel, and Matt Taibbi expressed their outrage and frustration; the Atlantic repudiated Gilbert’s “wrongheaded attempt to help the Ukrainian cause.”

In a statement, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel acknowledged that the decision was “well-intentioned” but “regrettable.” Nossel went on to urge Gilbert to reconsider:

“The idea that, in wartime, creativity and artistic expression should be preemptively shut down to avoid somehow compounding harms caused by military aggression is wrongheaded. The timing of the uproar, right after Gilbert announced the forthcoming publication, makes clear that those objecting have not yet had a chance to read or judge the work itself. The publication of a novel set in Russia should not be cast as an act exacerbating oppression…. We hope Gilbert might reconsider and we urge others to rally around the on-time publication of her book, and the principle that literature and creativity must not become a casualty of war.”​

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Your Manuscript Has Been Edited By Top Professionals—But You Still Get Rejected. What Gives?

From Jane Friedman:


My manuscript has been edited by two top editors on the east and west coasts. Yet, it has been declined by more than 250 fiction agents who merely decline by form letter. I have no idea what could be wrong. I have a great story, but maybe for the wrong time. I am not a BIPOC author and my characters are not BIPOC, which seems to be a lot of what agents are looking for.

—Rejected and Dejected in Miami

[Editor’s note: We asked this writer for their query and first pages so we could best assess the situation rather than guessing. The following answer is based on a review of those materials.]

Dear Dejected,

There are three reasons your book is getting rejected:

  1. The query isn’t selling the book or your professionalism.
  2. The book feels dated (despite the argument in the query that it’s in tune with current events).
  3. In the first 25 pages, as the story flickers to life, it’s drowned in an ocean of backstory.

Let’s talk about the query first. An author’s query must establish three things: this story is compelling, this author understands the conventions of publishing, and the book has a market.

The query’s description of the plot and themes make the book sound like a downer, and it’s unclear where any hope, triumph or change appears. What’s the lead character’s choice? Where does she take an action that transforms her world?

Most queries are 250–350 words, with some narrative nonfiction stretching to 450–500 words. This query is 750 words. No matter how well-written it is, sending a 750-word query announces, “I don’t know much about how publishing works.” Plus the query is missing some key elements—the book’s word count and genre (women’s fiction).

Half of the 750 words are themes, comps, social issues and cultural movements more suited to self-help or narrative nonfiction than women’s fiction. It’s great to offer quality comps, though. Comparative/competitive titles show agents that readers are buying books like yours—but their purpose is to show current buying patterns. Of the seven books, three documentaries, two news organizations and three celebrities mentioned in the query, only three of those media qualify as “current” (within the last few years) and only one of those is a book. For a novel, list two or three comps, books or TV/movies, that are fiction.

Authors should also watch out for reviewing their own book. Assertions like “readers will sympathize” and “an emotionally gripping tale” ring false in queries. Let the agent discover those characteristics when they read the manuscript pages.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Court to Hear Bids by Amazon, Publishers to Dismiss Revived Price Fixing Case

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s deja vu all over again: in a brief order this week, Magistrate judge Valerie Figueredo has set oral arguments for June 22 to hear motions from Amazon and the Big Five publishers to dismiss an amended civil lawsuit accusing them of an illegal conspiracy to fix e-book prices. The hearing comes some 10 months after Figueredo found insufficient evidence for the initial case to proceed, prompting a do-over.

The case was first filed in the Southern District of New York on January 14, 2021, led by firm Hagens Berman, the first firm to sue Apple and five major publishers for colluding to fix e-book prices in 2011. It alleges that the Big Five publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—are co-conspirators in a hub-and-spoke scheme, with Amazon to suppress retail price competition and keep e-book prices artificially high. In March 2021, a second, associated suit accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book markets was also filed. That case was also dismissed, amended, and refiled last year, though it is not clear whether the June 22 hearing will include the motions to dismiss that case as well.

From the outset, Amazon and the publishers have insisted the conspiracy claims are “implausible” and unsupported by any evidence. And after a marathon July 27, 2022 hearing, Figueredo agreed, recommending that presiding judge Gregory Woods dismiss both cases. Woods accepted Figeuredo’s “well-reasoned” and “thorough” reports, and dismissed both cases last September—but in a twist, the cases were dismissed without prejudice, giving the plaintiffs a chance to file amended complaints.

Amazon and the publishers insist there is still no case. “While the [second amended complaint] has swelled plaintiffs’ allegations by more than 30 pages and 100 paragraphs, those additions overwhelmingly consist of repetitions of the same alleged facts from the [complaint] that the court has already determined do not state a claim,” reads a December, 2022 letter from Amazon lawyers.

The plaintiffs argue that the case should be allowed to proceed. “The question at this stage is not whether Defendants have in fact violated the antitrust laws but, rather, whether Plaintiffs have met pleading requirements so that their claim—accepting all allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor—should get past a motion to dismiss,” the plaintiffs argue, insisting they have cleared that bar.

While the revived complaint adds details about the “supracompetitive” profit margins on e-book sales Amazon is able to reap and invokes Judge Florence Pan’s October 31 decision to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster on antitrust grounds, it appears to still suffer from the key deficiency of its predecessor: the lack of any direct evidence suggesting coordination among Amazon and the publishers.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Carbon Emission Labels on Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Speaking at the Global Sustainable Development Congress in Thuwal, Elsevier‘s global director of sustainability, Rachel Martin, has told an international audience that within five years, it’s likely that all mainstream printed books will display labels on their front and/or back covers, specifying their “environmental credentials.”

“This will not only give consumers more information,” Martin told her audience, according to the event’s organizers. “But it will help publishers, authors, and booksellers too.”

Martin, as Publishing Perspectives readers know (here is our pre-London Book Fair interview with her), has become a leading figure in the international book business’ bid to bring its operations and output into environmentally responsible ranges. Working closely with the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the programs it’s leading, some of them in cooperation with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals framework, Martin was a player in the development of London Book Fair‘s Sustainability Lounge earlier this year.

. . . .

In her comments made Thursday (June 1) at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, organizers say Martin pointed out that a single paperback book emits “on average the equivalent of between one and four kilograms (2.3 to 8.1 pounds) of carbon dioxide.” Indeed in international estimates, the average international carbon footprint for a human being each year is believed to be the equivalent of some 4.5 to 5 metric tonnes (4.9 to 5.5 tons) of carbon dioxide.

In the United Kingdom, Martin said, that range of emission may rise to as much as 9 or 10 metric tonnes—and to more than 15 metric tonnes in the United States—but might be as low as 2 or fewer tonnes in India.

Martin, the congress says, told the audience that she sees the value of product-labeling for books to be the logical consumer-demand response as world citizens become better versed in the details of the climate crisis and responses being made by many industries and businesses, including book publishing.

. . . .

“In the near future,” she said in the conference’s report to us, “consumers will think much more about the environmental cost of what they buy. How much carbon is stored in a book will be something they consider and something that influences what they choose to read.

“Books teach, entertain, inspire, and enrich our lives, but they also have an impact on the planet. By calculating the carbon footprint of our books, we can make more informed choices.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says, “Read Ebooks and Save the Planet!”

AI Is About to Turn Book Publishing Upside-Down

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The latest generation of AI is a game changer. Not incremental change—something gentle, something gradual: this AI changes everything, fast. Scary fast.

I believe that every function in trade book publishing today can be automated with the help of generative AI. And, if this is true, then the trade book publishing industry as we know it will soon be obsolete. We will need to move on.

There are two quick provisos, however. The first is straightforward: this is not just about ChatGPT—or other GPTs (generative pretrained transformers) and LLMs (large language models). A range of associated technologies and processes can and will be brought into play that augment the functionality of generative AI. But generative AI is the key ingredient. Without it, what I’m describing is impossible.

The second proviso is of a different flavor. When you make absolutist claims about a technology, people will invariably try to defeat you with another absolute. If you claim that one day all cars will be self-driving, someone will point out that this won’t apply to Formula One race cars. Point taken.

This isn’t about Formula One publishing. I’m going to be talking about “good enough”—about what people will accept, what they’ll buy, and what they’ll actually read. I’m not going to claim that Formula One publishers won’t be able to do a better job than AI on many of the processes described below. But I’ll challenge you to consider exactly where the human touch brings sufficient added value to justify the overhead in time and costs.

Does any of this mean that there will be no future for great novels and fine nonfiction studies? Of course it doesn’t. That’s not my point.

Do I doubt that there will still be fantastic cover designs from talented designers? Of course there will be. We’ll still stumble on new books on bookstore shelves and, humbled by the grandeur of their cover designs, declare that there’s no way they could have been designed with AI. And sometimes we’ll be right.

. . . .

Professional copyediting is the kerning of 2023. The tech is not quite here today. I don’t think that GPT-4 can yet handle copyediting to the standard that book publishers require. But that ability is going to be here sooner, not later. While professionally copyedited books may still be “better” to a refined editor’s eye, you won’t be able to sell more books with the professional human touch. They will already be good enough.

What about developmental editing? You might not let a GPT make the final editorial decisions, but you’d be foolish not to ask it for suggestions.

And ChatGPT will become the patron saint of the slush pile. Its abilities to evaluate grammar and logical expression allow it to make a once-over assessment of whether a book is (reasonably) well written. It might not spot the gems, but it will know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ah, you will say, recalling one of those manuscripts that were rejected by 100 publishers but went on to become an unexpected bestseller—surely a GPT might miss those, too. Yet so did 100 purportedly well-trained publishing professionals.

. . . .

For the publishing industry, online distribution and advertising have separated writers from readers. Self-published authors have proven that the closer one gets to their audience, the more fans they will get and the more books they will sell. While online resellers aggregate audiences into big broad buckets, AI disambiguates them, enabling writers and readers to forge direct connections.

Amazon has become an overpriced rentier that publishers can ill afford. It can still be a door opener for new authors, but for established publishers it charges too much for what it delivers.

Amazon’s dominant position in bookselling is not going to change overnight, nor even in the morning. But part of the publishing transformation that AI will engender will be a series of energetic attempts to disrupt Amazon’s position in the distribution ecosystem. As media continues to morph, AI seeds new delivery channels. Amazon will try to dominate each new channel via acquisitions, as it did so brilliantly when it bought Audible in 2008 for $300 million. But Amazon is a lesser player in the video and gaming spaces, and, as yet, in the new entertainment channels that AI is germinating. This is shaping up as a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.

But I see a bright future for bookstores. It can be chilly in AI’s uncanny valley, and bookstores will remain singular sources for camaraderie and the human touch.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The last paragraph in PG’s excerpt raised the question in PG’s mind: “Are people who go to bookstores unable to find “camaraderie and the human touch” anywhere else?

PG imagined a book, “The Lonely Lives of Bookstore Customers.”

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