Sunshine and Glistening Seas on the Cover of Your Beach Read Might Mask Something Darker

PG seldom posts two items from the same source during a single day, but he couldn’t pass on Big Publishing at its finest.

Plus, this is the first time PG recalls the head of Amazon Publishing being quoted in a story that’s all about New York Publishing and its idea of smart marketing, e.g. selling to people exactly like themselves or how they imagine themselves if they’re not the CEO.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The siren call of the “beach read” finally reached Jennifer Weiner, who long considered the term dismissive of writing associated with women.

“After years and years of, ‘This is sexist,’ I was like, ‘You know what? If I can’t beat them, join them,’ ” said Ms. Weiner, whose new book out this spring, “The Summer Place,” is set on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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

“I wanted to be at the beach,” said the author, who wrote the novel during the pandemic, the last in her three-book Cape Cod series. “I wanted to be anywhere but stuck in my house with my family.”

Beach reads, loosely defined as any engrossing tale released for summer, are under pressure to perform. June has been the second-biggest month for adult fiction sales for the past decade, according to NPD BookScan, and book sales overall soared during the pandemic. Now, as vacations start in earnest with the Fourth of July holiday, publishers are trying to hang on to those numbers.

Novels with beachy covers are so popular, book industry executives say, publishers put bare feet and glistening seas on all manner of titles.

“Authors perhaps have a darker element only to find that our covers are enormously beachy and sunshiny,” said beach-read novelist Jane Green. “Publishers think that a beachy cover will pull in readers even when it has little to do with the story.”

Ms. Green had a working title of “The Hemlock Sisters” for her 2017 novel about a dying mother who calls her estranged daughters back home to assist in her suicide. It ended up with the title “The Sunshine Sisters” and features an aquamarine sea on its cover.

Last summer’s hit “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid has a cover of surfers shot from above on a seductive blue ocean, but its tale of sibling bonds after a mother’s drowning death is far from a Barbie beach party. This year, “Vacationland” by Meg Mitchell Moore uses a similar image—an overhead view of an ocean just begging the reader to jump in—while the book explores the impact of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease on its characters.

Ms. Reid and her publisher declined to comment and attempts to reach Ms. Moore and her publisher were unsuccessful.

“There’s a reason publishers lean this way,” said Sarah Gelman, editorial director of Amazon Books. “Beach books sell well when people who don’t have time to read say, ‘This is the one book I’m going to pack when I go to the Jersey Shore.’ ”

Successful beach-read authors know what readers are looking for. “They want to hear the scrape of a palmetto frond against a screen door,” said Mary Kay Andrews, author of the new book “The Homewreckers,” about a widow who stars in a beach house renovation reality show. “They want to see those curtains blowing in the summer breeze, and they want to hear the waves lapping at the shore.”

Ms. Andrews mostly writes in her Atlanta home with a scented candle she said “smells like waves” to get into a nautical mood.

Others ponder how to put “summer” in their book titles or find new ways to describe sand. Ms. Weiner pictures the “splayed fingers of a clutching hand” on a shrub-covered sand dune, Nancy Thayer describes an “elbow of sand” while Elin Hilderbrand writes about a “long arm of golden sand.”

“I’ll just be like, ‘I hope I haven’t said this before,’ ” said Ms. Hilderbrand, a novelist who is so associated with Nantucket, Mass., she wrote sightings of herself into her latest book, “The Hotel Nantucket,” which came out in June. (The “local author” is spotted by the ferry and at a bar.)

Sunny Hostin, the legal journalist-TV host who wrote the 2021 bestseller “Summer on the Bluffs,” entered the beach-read genre because she saw it lacking diversity. She set her novel in Oak Bluffs, Mass., a town on Martha’s Vineyard with a history as a summer escape for wealthy Black families.

“I think a lot of people underestimated this book,” Ms. Hostin said of the first novel in her beach-set trilogy. “I knew there was an audience.”

Beach-read writers make efforts to not tread on other authors’ turf. A swath of North Carolina’s Outer Banks often appears in Kristy Woodson Harvey’s books. Isle of Palms, S.C., is author Mary Alice Monroe’s territory. Spots on the Georgia coast belong to Ms. Andrews.

Ms. Green set her 2008 drama “The Beach House” and her 2015 novel “Summer Secrets” on Nantucket. She has since switched to Westport, Conn., where she has a home by the water.

“Today, I would never dare write about Nantucket,” Ms. Green said. “Nantucket is owned by Elin and should be owned by Elin.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Publisher Gives Away Books It Thinks May Help People Bridge Political Divisions

From The Wall Street Journal:

Simon & Schuster is giving away two books meant to help readers engage with people holding opposing views as the country is divided on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights.

The book publisher, a unit of Paramount Global, is making the digital audiobook and ebook editions of Amanda Ripley’s “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” and Anna Sale’s “Let’s Talk About Hard Things: The Life-Changing Conversations That Connect Us” available for free until the end of July.

Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive, said it is the first time to his knowledge that Simon & Schuster has given away books outside of charitable efforts—a decision that he said was prompted by a flurry of recent events that further worsened divisions.

“The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade was on my mind, along with the debates Americans are having about guns, the 2020 election, Jan. 6, climate change and immigration, to name just a few of the issues that divide us,” he said.

Both Ms. Ripley and Ms. Sale are on board with the plan and agreed not to receive royalties for the copies that are downloaded, Mr. Karp said.

“High Conflict” and “Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” which both came out in 2021, have sold more than 19,000 print copies and more than 11,000 print copies respectively so far, according to book tracker NPD BookScan.

Both books are “trying to help us understand how we got to a place where we have turned on each other,” said Ms. Ripley, a journalist and host of the weekly Slate podcast “How To!” She said, “What is a better way to handle conflict?”

She said giving away the books was akin to paywalled news sites making health-related content available to all during the pandemic.

Ms. Ripley said “High Conflict” argues that “there is a kind of malignant conflict that becomes conflict for its own sake, in which everyone ends up worse off, as opposed to ‘good conflict,’ which is healthy and generative.”

“Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” Ms. Sale’s debut book, focuses on how to have thoughtful conversations about such subjects as money, death and identity, while being able to listen to other opinions.

. . . .

“Publishers see that the books addressing the ideological extremes often sell the best, even though polling indicates that a majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Karp said. “What’s needed are more books that show us how to find common ground.”

Paramount Global agreed to sell Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House publishing unit for about $2.18 billion in November 2020. The planned sale was later challenged by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds, and a trial is expected to start Aug. 1.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG would have been more impressed if S&S had paid the authors of the two free books a reasonable sum to replace the royalties they might be losing under the free book promotion.

When PG checked, “High Conflict” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,765,731 in Kindle Store and “Hard Things” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,413 in the Free category of the Kindle Store (PG couldn’t find any non-free ranking info for either title). The authors may have concluded they were not likely to earn out their advances, so going free had no financial downside.

A Wall Street Journal article by itself, is a big boost for the authors’ brands and maybe the authors get S&S brownie points until the Bertelsmann acquisition goes through, at which point, “free” goes out the window forever.

A Publisher on the Translators’ Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Multiple Individuals Shared Their Opinions on this Topic]

I was fascinated by the call from the chair of the International Booker Jury, Frank Wynne, for translators to be recognized as equals in terms of cover placement and royalty share.

More or less the first book I published was a translation. I was relieved to discover that the translator was identified on the title page, but not on the jacket.

But before that, I was addicted to translated works, usually in the black Penguin livery reserved for “foreign classics”—Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, even Machiavelli, although I don’t think I learned  from him as much as I should have. And then to the racier Alberto Moravia and the ever-entertaining Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. Not to mention the fantastic Asterix and Tintin series.

I think translated books play an enormously important role in furthering our understanding of other countries, other systems, other geniuses.

It’s, therefore unsurprising that the role of the translator is crucial. A bad translation can ruin a book. A great one can allow an author’s words to reach out to a new and bigger readership.

Rewarding translators is a given, as is giving them credit. But this particular announcement got me thinking.

[A Different Person’s Opinion]

It’s not my job to work out what would be best for literary translators, but it would be my strong recommendation that they should avoid sharing any profits from the sales of the books they’ve translated. There may be a few titles for which this would make sense but, at least in the world of translations into English, the translators would find that this would result in having to pay out quite substantial sums to publishers for their share of the losses.

Most translations into English are lucky to cover their real costs, at least in the short term. In fact, most books find it difficult to cover their costs, and translations even more so.

However, it could be that the translators were really asking for a share of the revenue rather than the profit generated. This would make more sense, but I fear that the income from this would in most cases be lower than a typical flat fee and, of course, a lot less certain. It would also lead to translators having to make decisions about which book to translate based on likely sales rather than importance.

In addition, and from the publisher’s point of view, where would this additional royalty come from given the low profitability of translated books in general?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

James Patterson shares his formula for success. It’s pretty simple.

From The Washington Post:

Halfway into his memoir, “James Patterson by James Patterson,” James Patterson takes a moment to discuss his writing process. It’s nothing fancy, he explains, and it starts with a folder stuffed with unused story ideas. “When the time comes for me to consider a new novel,” he writes, “I’ll take down the trusty-dusty Idea folder.”

Given Patterson’s fecundity, you have to ask: Is it ever not the time? Does the Idea folder ever go back to whence it came?

Patterson is among the world’s best-selling and most wildly prolific living authors. His books have sold more than 300 million copies. His new memoir is the 10th book he’s published so far this year, and one of four books he has slated for release this month. A checklist of books on his website includes nearly 400 titles, comprising thrillers, true-crime books, contributions to various children’s and YA series and collaborations with a variety of celebrities including a former president and a former Fox News host. Patterson, 75, insists he’s responsible for at least outlining every last one of these literary creations.

Patterson’s approach to writing is unapologetically pragmatic: Give ’em something irresistibly compelling, then give ’em more of it, quickly. It’s also the MO of his memoir, filled with snappy, short chapters and a lot of name-dropping, from Dolly Parton (the unlikely co-author of “Run, Rose, Run”) to Tom Cruise (potential movie collaborator) to James Taylor (patient at a mental hospital he once worked at). His writing process is pragmatic, too. His a-ha moment in terms of efficiency, he explains, came while writing 1993’s “Along Came a Spider”: Rather than fill out the story he’d outlined, he decided the outline was the novel. He likens this approach to Bruce Springsteen’s bare-bones “Nebraska” album, as if a minimalist aesthetic were the same thing as being satisfied with your first draft. Or perhaps Patterson is just pitching himself to a potential new celeb collaborator. (Don’t do it, Bruce!)

Patterson is a man of the people, as his sales figures decisively prove. But in his memoir, he also positions himself as a man of taste. A lengthy list of his favorite books is an exercise in careful balance of brows low and high: For every Lee Child, a Gabriel García Márquez; for every John Grisham, a Bernard Malamud.

That balancing act extends to his description of his own life. He’s college-educated and spent time as an advertising executive before becoming a novelist, but refers often to his humble roots in blue-collar Newburgh, N.Y. (“I’m kind of a working-class storyteller. I just keep chopping wood.”) He’s proud that his first novel, 1976’s “The Thomas Berryman Number,” won a prestigious Edgar Award, but self-effacingly says he wrote it while “still a literary twit.” He thrills at meeting John Updike but is more deeply heartened by a reader who tells him that the first book she ever read was a Patterson novel.

After a time, Patterson’s play-it-down-the-middle approach feels less like the remembrances of a Renaissance man and more like evasive, unassertive hedging. He mushily criticizes Jeff Bezos when asked to attend one of his private A-list get-togethers: “I didn’t feel Amazon always wielded its tremendous power for the good of readers, writers, or publishers. Just my opinion.” He goes anyway. (Bezos owns The Washington Post). He recalls golfing with former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. When he spots them playing together, his prose goes squishy: “It’s the way things used to be in politics. Better, saner times.” You can feel a terrible novel about golf-based brinkmanship arrive in the Idea file.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG notes that Patterson spent a number years at a large New York advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, prior to becoming an author.

While PG hasn’t seen this work experience highlighted very much in the stories about Patterson, he believes that what Patterson learned at JWT played a significant role in his success as a writer.

Side Note: PG also worked at J. Walter Thompson, although for a much shorter time and in a different location. Patterson was in the New York office and PG was in the Chicago office.

Their paths never crossed during PG’s employment, but, many years later, PG was on a panel with Patterson in New York City – he doesn’t remember who sponsored it.

The topic was Amazon. PG only spoke with Patterson briefly on that occasion. PG was on the panel because he was an outspoken proponent of self-publishing as a way for authors to control their own business and artistic futures while making more money and was not particularly oriented towards traditional publishers.

Needless to say, Patterson and PG did not find much to agree about.

One of PG’s observations about Patterson over the years is that he does a very good job of promoting himself in part because knows more about effective advertising and publicity than all of the marketing executives in all the publishers in New York City combined.

Is Hybrid Publishing Ethical?

PG Note: He published this post prior to the one just following it chronologically. The UK study was talking about what are known in the US as vanity presses.

Vanity presses are shady operators who say they will “publish” an author’s book if he/she/they pay the vanity press a fixed upfront fee, which may sometimes be increased by additional “services” that cost more money.

In return, the typical vanity publisher will print up a few hundred books, list them for sale online, wholesale and retail, send out a canned press release, and provide the author with a number of copies of the book.

Typically, the vanity publisher only orders a short run of books because they know very few copies will sell. When the book doesn’t sell, the vanity press typically contacts the author to ask if the author wants to have the unsold books destroyed or shipped to the author.

It’s not unusual for people connected with traditional publishing to conflate vanity publishing and self-publishing, but, if the self-publishing author wants to make money, she/he/they need to spend some time learning how to do it reasonably well. All the information necessary to understand and execute the process is available online.

Although PG thinks some serious competitors to Amazon would help indie authors as well as encouraging Amazon to up its game a bit, at the moment, Amazon is, effectively, the place the indie author must be successful and the company provides financial incentives for an author to sell exclusively through them.

From Jane Friedman:

The publishing industry has been arguing for a long time about traditional vs. hybrid vs. self-publishing and which of these avenues are legitimate, and which are not, but a recent UK study that decries hybrid publishing as unethical has ruffled a lot of feathers.

Here’s the basic problem, in my view: these arguments ultimately conflate “ethical publishing” with positive ROI on a per-book basis. I’d like to take a closer look at that foundational premise, its inherent cracks, and offer a different paradigm.

Regardless of who pays for it, this is the cost to produce a book

My operating assumption is that you want to create a quality book—a book that will be on par with the quality of every other book on the shelf next to it. Regardless of who is fronting the investment (the publisher, in the case of a traditional publishing, or an author, in the case of hybrid or self-publishing), it can easily cost upward of $20,000 to create the thing.

Yes, there is variance based on the book’s contents (if you need a fact-check or an index or photo permissions clearance, for example), word count, or printing specifications. There is also a great deal of variance in terms of the pricing you can find these services for—but generally speaking, you’re going to get what you pay for. Good designers and editors have fairly standard rates, so I’m using those here to illustrate what I call the actual cost of producing a high-quality book. If you cross-check these numbers with a traditional publisher, you’ll find they expect to outlay about the same amount when such responsibilities are handled by freelancers.

Three-pass editing (Developmental, Copyediting, Proofreading): $7,500
Cover and custom interior design: $3,000

Finding great editors and designers is an important task—one that many self-publishers have no interest, ability, or time to do. Partnering with a reputable hybrid publisher or a publishing services firm who continually vet their creative partners removes the onus of team curation from the author.

Project management and back cover copywriting: $5,000

Self-publishers can and often do take on their own project management. It takes around 120 hours of professional project management to produce a book, more for the inexperienced. A lot of authors decide this is not how they would like to spend their time and hire out project management accordingly.

Offset print run (let’s assume a relatively small run of 3,500 copies, for example): $8,750

Total creative investment: ~$24,250

These costs do not include marketing and publicity. A full-scale publicity campaign, for example, starts around $10,000. The vast majority of traditionally published authors receive limited marketing and publicity support from their publisher, so regardless of publishing route, the bulk of a book’s marketing and promotion responsibility falls squarely on the author.

The earning potential from a single book

Publishers, as well as many individuals deciding on a hybrid publisher or on self-publishing, are concerned with turning a profit on the project. So, let’s look at how many copies a book needs to sell to earn out the creative investment alone on a paperback with a list price of $18.95.

  • From $18.95, we subtract the wholesale discount. If the book is being sold into bookstores, 40-55% is standard.
  • Then we subtract the distributor’s cut (18-20%).
  • The hybrid publisher and author split the net revenue (let’s call that $9.23 in this case) along the lines of their specific deal, and these vary widely. Sometimes hybrids take 15%, others take 50% of net revenues. We’ll use 30% for this example, making author earnings ~$6.46/book.

What this means is that, if all your books are sold through the brick-and-mortar channel, you would need to sell around 3,700 copies to break even on your up-front creative and printing investment. (Direct, non-retail-distribution-dependent sales channels earn more per copy.)

This sketch should shed some light on why traditional publishers are increasingly looking to acquire books that will sell more than 5,000 copies. It also suggests why publishers stress the importance of author platform: the author’s direct relationship with readers reduces the need to pile on marketing spend to reach sales goals.

Traditional publishers face ever-increasing printing costs and relatively stagnant retail prices (the market simply will not bear a $30 paperback novel, or even a $20 one). So they have little choice but to recover their margin with bulk rates for larger print runs. In other words, the sales projection threshold for a traditional publishing deal continues to move up, yoking publication to commercialization.

Is producing a book worth doing if it in and of itself is not a profitable project?

There is not a single right answer to this. For some people it is, and for some people it isn’t. A book does not always need to be an ROI-positive event to be worthwhile. Many thought leaders and entrepreneurs write book-production costs off as a marketing expense, since they recognize the legitimizing value of a byline to their authority. A book can function as a lead-gen tool to drive conversion to contract sales; a book can act as a compelling business card that helps net new clients or speaking engagements; a book can drive an individual’s community engagement and retention. Many authors prefer to work in a hybrid or fully assisted self-publishing model because those avenues offer them more control over their work and rights, greater speed to market, and increased potential for return on their intellectual property.

I echo Jane Friedman in saying that “Most writers, regardless of how they publish, are motivated not by money, but some other reason. Prestige, Infamy. Status. Visibility. A million other things.”

This insight applies not only to nonfiction writers, but to novelists, children’s book authors, and memoirists as well, for many of whom producing a high-quality book is a lifelong dream. The value writers get from publishing their book often has little to do with the royalties it generates. As Jane describes in great detail in the aforementioned article, “The writer who makes a living from book sales alone is the exception and not the rule in traditional publishing . . . what most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG was very interested in the costs estimates in the OP. He assumes that these are the costs that major traditional publishers accrue when they publish a book.

He also suspects that many of these costs are associated with getting printed books into physical bookstores – persuading the bookstore buyers to purchase a bunch of printed books (with the ability to return unsold books to the publisher for full credit) by touting all the money spent on publicity, taking book review editors to expensive Manhattan restaurants, etc., etc.

PG thinks that serious self-publishing authors are happy to get status, visibility, etc., but their primary objective is to make money from their writing via book sales through online bookstores, Amazon being the big dog.

Because indie authors sell their books online, they focus most of their efforts at gaining visibility for their books online via social media, websites, email lists, etc.

For PG, the last quote from Jane Friedman in the OP is the killer:

What most frustrates me, year after year, is why we believe or assume that authors have ever earned a reasonable full-time living from publisher advances or book sales.

So, are we to assume that everybody else in the traditional book business — publishers, employees of publishers, editors, agents, publicists, book distributors and wholesalers, traditional bookstores, Amazon — has a reasonable expectation of being able to earn “a reasonable full-time living,” while authors must have side jobs, wealthy spouses, inherited wealth, etc., in order to survive?

The author belongs at the bottom of the publishing heap?

The author is a peon and agents, editors, publisher gofers, book stores, etc., are the aristos?

Taking a Stand Against Discrimination at Book Fairs

From Publishers Weekly:

Authors Eliot Schrefer and Brandy Colbert withdrew from separate book appearances within the past year over censorship concerns—Schrefer from the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and Colbert from a Black History Month presentation. Below, they discuss why they took a stand.

Colbert: Eliot, we experienced surprisingly similar situations with book censorship over the past year. First, you were set to attend the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and then withdrew after seeing that your LGBTQ YA book The Darkness Outside Us was missing from the order form—along with another celebrated LGBTQ YA book—and discovering that the host college had a policy to discipline students for “active involvement in a homosexual lifestyle.”

Schrefer: Yes, that captures it! Then, a few months later, you were invited to present to a school district in Texas, except they said a few days beforehand that they didn’t want you discussing your newest book, Black Birds in the SkyThe Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, as it was “too controversial.” When your publisher pushed back, the organizers decided not to censor your presentation, but said they would not purchase Black Birds as part of the book buy-in for students, choosing one of your backlist titles instead. You withdrew.

Colbert: All this at an event that was expressly designed to honor Black authors during Black History Month! Both of our cases seem like soft censorship to me, in that the organizers didn’t object to our presence and overall work, but refused to provide students with access to specific books. I think it’s even more important to push back against this type of censorship, as it’s still quite harmful and can lead to more blatant bans.

Schrefer: Soft censorship is usually invisible, which is why it’s so effective. We both happened to be in situations where it was revealed. Me because I clicked on an order form; you because the school district became scared of the “CRT” bogeyman.

Colbert: It’s difficult to turn down appearances where we’ll get to meet and interact with our readers, but it’s vital that we stand up for ourselves and our work. Allyship is also important; authors whose work hasn’t or won’t be censored should stand by the authors whose books are under attack. In your case, I was pleased to see so many other authors withdraw.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

AAP StatShot: US Market up Slightly Year-to-Date, March Down 4.2 Percent

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its StatShot report released this morning (May 27), the Association of American Publishers (AAP) for March 2022, released for publication today (May 27), trade revenues are seen falling 6.4 percent, but are up 2.0 percent, year-to-date.

March trade revenues across all other categories came to US$804.4 million, which is down 4.2 percent from the figure for March 2021. Year-to-date revenues up that slight 2.2 percent, came in at $3.0 billion for Q1. As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the AAP’s numbers reflect reported revenue for tracked categories including trade (consumer books); K-12 instructional materials; higher education course materials; professional publishing; and university presses.

That step back of 6.4 percent translates to $702.5 million. And what to watch for is just below: Look at this big drop in hardback sales from last year’s March figures.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 19 percent, coming in at $238.1 million
  • Paperbacks were up 8.6 percent, at $266.0 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 30.7 percent to $14.3 million
  • Special bindings were down 17.6 percent, with $12.7 million in revenue

Paper formats, according to a note from the association’s team, “still account for 75.6 percent of all trade sales. And–as was discussed in an audiobook and podcast panel Publishing Perspectives moderated this month at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, a part of what’s reflected in that paper-formats observation may have to do with the fact that downloadable audio—so loudly praised for its gains on the market—in March came in at 9.0 percent of the overall trade, trailing ebooks at 10.9 percent. (See the graphic to the right.)

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 12.2 percent for the month as compared to March 2021 for a total of $76.9 million
  • Downloaded audio was up 8.4 percent for March, at $63.5 in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 20.1 percent, at $1.3 million

Year-to-Date Numbers

  • Year-to-date, the industry’s trade revenues were up 2.0 percent, at $2.1 billion for the first three months of the year.

In print formats:

  • Hardback revenues were down 3.0 percent, coming in at $740.6 million
  • Paperbacks were up 14.6 percent, with $763.5 million in revenue
  • Mass market was down 20.1 percent to $49.4 million
  • Special bindings were down 3.1 percent, with $43.6 million in revenue

In digital formats:

  • Ebook revenues were down 9.8 percent as compared to the first three months of 2021 for a total of $249.3 million
  • The downloaded audio format was up 2.7 percent, coming in at $194.5 million in revenue
  • Physical audio was down 23.4 percent coming in at $3.7 million

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that the report only covers revenues generated by traditional publishers and likely does not include more than a few small and mid-sized traditional publishers. Plus, to the best of PG’s knowledge, publishers report on the honor system and the AAP doesn’t perform any sort of checks or audits on the financial information they receive.

He will also note that, due to the right that many traditional bookstores have to return unsold hard copy books to the publisher for full credit/refunds, big purchases of books by bookstores of all sizes in December may generate large returns in January or February, adversely impacting publisher financial performance for the first calendar quarter of the year.

Additionally, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t disclose its sales of KDP ebooks and POD to any third parties, nor is he aware that Amazon Publishing shares its sales outside the company.

PG suspects that traditional publishers that are either publicly owned or are subsidiaries of larger companies which are publicly owned provide accurate numbers due to potential claims for fraudulent disclosures under the laws and rules governing what publicly owned companies must disclose and the penalties for knowingly disclosing incorrect information about the company’s sales, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from the AAP’s description of how it gathers information underlying its reports:

“We’ll excerpt here from the proverbial fine print provided on methodology for this report. We’ve edited only slightly, to minimize promotional language and to do away with a few gratuitous institutional capitalizations.

“AAP StatShot reports the monthly and yearly net revenue of publishing houses from US sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, and other channels.

“The pool of StatShot participants may fluctuate from report to report [this month’s report coming from some 1,366 publishers]

“Like any business, it’s common accounting practice for publishing houses to update and restate their previously reported revenue data.

“If, for example, a business learns that its revenues were greater in a given year than its reports first indicated, it will restate the revenues in subsequent reports to AAP, permitting AAP in turn to report information that’s more accurate than before.”

Supply Squeeze, Changing Consumer Behavior Challenges Publishers

From Publishers Weekly:

A May 4 webinar hosted by Ingram Content Group addressed supply chain challenges, logistic delays, inflation, the role environmental impacts play on consumer shopping preferences, as well as how accessibility is increasing the reach for e-books and audiobooks. Participants included Rob Grindstaff, director of sales operations and product development for Ingram’s Lightning Source; Ruth Jones, director of global sales and digital services at Ingram Content Group UK; and Gina Walpole, the senior services manager for Ingram Content Group UK.

Panelists noted that troubles with the supply chain persist. Problems include a shortage of materials, increased freight prices, and port congestion. All of this is putting a strain on publishers as it becomes more difficult for them to accurately predict demand and, consequently, supply for a given title. It was pointed out that paper mills are operating at full capacity while some are shifting production from producing paper to packaging. Labor shortages persist across the logistics supply chain—and are predicted to carry into 2023. All this is resulting in rising costs.

Customer buying habits are also changing, panelists said, not only as a result of inflation, but because of a growing awareness of the need to support companies whose values align with the customer’s own—be they about ethics, equity, or environment.

One solution the panelists offered to several of these issues was Ingram’s own “print in market” (i.e. print-on-demand) solutions, which had various advantages over offset printing from speed to market to having a lower carbon footprint. The panelists noted that Ingram could serve markets in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, and are planning to expand operations to South Africa.

Another trend to note is the year-on-year increases in digital sales. This has been aided by several advancements in the industry, from increased discoverability due to better metadata management to the growing awareness that e-books have a far lower environmental impact than print books. Text-to-speech is improving and A.I. narration—Google now offers 35 voices for narration—is expanding the audience for audiobooks by making them more accessible.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

Trade facing industry-wide burnout, Bookseller survey finds

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is facing “industry-wide burnout” according to a survey conducted by The Bookseller, which revealed 89% of staffers responding to the survey had experienced stress during the course of their work over the last year, while 69% reported burnout.  

The survey also found a significant number of employees are working more than their contracted hours each week, with many unhappy at the state of their work-life balance.  

With more than 230 responses, heavily dominated by publishing staffers (87%), the survey found 64% of people working in the industry felt their work had impacted their mental health in the last year. Many attributed this to unsustainable workloads and an “always on” culture, worsened by the pandemic. 

One editor, who has worked in the industry for seven years, said they are required to do “entire strands” of their job outside of contracted hours, to the extent they feel unable to start a family and are “seriously considering” leaving the industry. 

In total 63% of respondents said they worked more than their contracted hours each week, with some saying they worked up to 20 or 30 hours extra. Nearly three quarters (73%) agreed that their workload had increased in the last year, while 37% said they were not satisfied with their work-life balance. 

One senior desk editor who has been in the industry for nine years said working from home during the pandemic had “definitely” promoted a culture of working extra hours. “Work-life balance is a joke! I’ve heard editorial assistants not taking their lunch break and even cancelling training sessions as they felt they had to continue with their work,” they said. “Morale has severely decreased since the pandemic, lots of colleagues have left (either to other publishers or out of the industry) as they did not enjoy their jobs and were not valued as staff or compensated well enough.” 

The survey showed 38% of respondents wanted to leave their job. An assistant editor, who has worked in the industry for four years, said they “love” their job but were working more than two extra hours a day “not to even catch up, but to fall behind less”. They said: “I have had to work weekends. I am constantly stressed about the deadlines I am missing, as they impact my colleagues. This should not be the workload of a junior staff member. And, quite frankly, the workload and the pay do not add up. This is not worth it, and I am making plans to get out of the industry.” 

. . . .

 “Junior members of staff are often doing enough work for two people but are only in rare instances offered external help such as being able to freelance certain tasks out. There is an expectation from senior leadership that the company will continue to buy more and more books, but no corresponding communication re hiring more staff to help with this. People have been stretched beyond their limits over the last two years particularly and that’s why we’re seeing a mass exodus from the industry.” 

A marketing executive, who has worked in publishing for seven years, agreed. “There’s been a huge change in focus over the past two years, driven by the pandemic, to look at backlist titles and perennial sellers as well as more focus on e-books and audio, but the expectation that teams can do that on top of their pre-existing workload is going to lead to workforce-wide burnout.” They added: “My line manager recognises the issue and is understanding but there seems to be limited appetite higher up in the company to take steps to address the issues.” 

Another assistant editor, working in the industry for five years, said they had “not known burnout like it was in November” due to supply chain issues. They said: “We’re all exhausted and we know everyone else is exhausted, as an editor you don’t want to give marketing and publicity more because you know they are overworked too so it’s just this cycle of piling more on your own plate and drowning in it.”

They said their manager also felt the same. “It’s industry-wide burnout and change needs to come from the top, I can’t expect my mid-level manager to be able to solve this.”

A former publishing staffer, who recently switched to agenting, said they experienced “horrific” working conditions as an editor. “My last year as an editor I took only five days of holiday because I didn’t have an assistant and there was no one to cover even the basics of my day-to-day when I was away, so going on holiday meant a month of working through the weekends to make up for it.” 

They said they “love” being an agent now, because it has made them enjoy books again. “I see my friends who still work as editors continuing to struggle while their line managers refuse to give them anything approaching help or support. The bright, hardworking young people who work in publishing because they love books leave to go to better industries—as I nearly did—and nothing changes. M.d.s and c.e.o.s need to have a hard look at the workloads they place on their junior staff and start making real and consequential changes.” 

However burnout is not limited to publishing staffers. A number of booksellers also reported issues with stress due to working conditions. An archives assistant, who has worked in the industry for 10 years, said: “Rotas would be provided with only a week or two notice at times, trying to secure holidays was always a protracted affair, trying to speak to management about any HR/pay issues was always impossible, trying to view payslips was a convoluted affair, working hours would regularly be unsociable—you were supposed to be on a pattern of lates and earlies but management would just put you in for what suited them, so you would regularly be working weeks of mostly late shifts, you’d be lucky if you got weekends off, and you’d be expected to just accept very last minute changes to your rota.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

International Book Fairs Still Thrive in the Digital Age

From Publishers Weekly:

The international circuit begins each year with two spring fairs: the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the London Book Fair, typically held in March and April, respectively. The several book fairs of the summer and fall follow: Beijing International Book Fair and Frankfurt Book Fair held, respectively, in August or September and October. The fairs rounding out the year include those in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Sharjah, UAE. A slew of other fairs are also of some international, but primarily regional, importance, including those in Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Cairo, Gothenburg, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Kyiv, Leipzig, Montreal, Moscow, New Delhi, Paris, Prague, São Paulo, Seoul, Taipei, and Thessaloniki. One could spend the entire calendar year just traveling to book fairs.

Sometimes world affairs intervene to create challenges for the fairs, such as in the fall of 2008, which saw, first, the Russo-Georgian war in August and the global economic collapse in September. The impact of both events was apparent at the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair, where the stands of Greece, Iceland, and Ireland stood nearly empty as a result of the economic crisis, and the Georgian stand, in close proximity to Russia’s stand, staged a days-long protest in which Georgians bombarded the Russian stand with paper airplanes made from pages torn out of Russian books.

Fast forward to 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to cause ripples on the international book fair scene as well, though the full impact is uncertain at press time. For starters, nearly all the major international book fairs announced they have banned Russia’s state-sponsored publishers and booksellers from exhibiting at their fairs, though independent publishers will be allowed. The primary concern is that the war will spill over into other countries in Europe and create hesitation among fairgoers about traveling to the fairs or exhibiting; this would have significant consequences for both Bologna and London. Both fairs have been idle for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and each had offered virtual alternatives in both 2020 and 2021. Most people found these virtual events less than satisfying, however, and it is urgent that the fairs return to in-person events as soon as possible, lest fairgoers lose their sense of loyalty.

Frankfurt, Beijing, and Guadalajara also went digital in 2020, and then each returned with scaled-down in-person events in 2021. Having benefited from its late date in the year, Sharjah was able to hold a modest book fair at the end of 2020, then returned in 2021 with its full show. Thus, Sharjah could take bragging rights to being the biggest book fair in the world last year, attracting 1.3 million people, compared with just 75,000 in 2021 for Frankfurt, which would typically bring in some 300,000, and Guadalajara, which allowed in just 200,000 people, when it would usually host more than 700,000. The Beijing fair was said to be half its usual size in 2021, which generally brings in 300,000 people. All these fairs are not exclusive to publishing professionals and cater to some extent to consumers and members of the public, who account for most of the attendees. In contrast, both Bologna and London only allow professionals to attend and typically draw 30,000 and 25,000 attendees, respectively.

These large numbers of people spend a lot of money and, accordingly, represent a huge, predictable influx of cash into the community hosting a book fair. Some people take advantage of this, such as the hoteliers in Frankfurt who triple their rates during the fair. When Covid-19 shut down the fairs, national governments were compelled to step in and shore up the finances of the organizers to ensure the fair would keep going. Still, Covid did have some consequences: Jacks Thomas, director of the London Book Fair for seven years, retired, then started working with Bologna, while Frankfurt closed several overseas offices and significantly reduced its overall staff numbers.

Despite returning to live events this year, the fear remains among the fair organizers that as publishers become accustomed to doing business digitally, they will feel less and less compelled to travel to meet with colleagues in real life. Going into 2022, for the first time in many people’s careers, the relevance and importance of attending in-person events is being questioned.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The 9 Biggest Myths About Nonfiction Trade Publishing, Debunked

From A Writer’s Notebook:

At least once a month, there’s a big discussion online about something or other that has happened in publishing. It might be about where novelists find inspiration, or how authors use sources in nonfiction, or the research practices of journalists versus academics, or the intent of a memoirist, or how much power and influence your average author has. Regardless of the topic, one thing I’ve noticed, which tends to run through all these discussions, is a series of common misunderstandings and misconceptions about how modern trade publishing actually works.

It makes sense, in a way. Why should your average non-author know what an author actually does in the process of writing, publishing, and promoting a book? Most representations of authors and the publishing industry in popular culture, from television and film to characters in books themselves, do not reflect reality. It’s a fantasy, and people project onto that fantasy. They see Carrie Bradshaw enjoying a book party that costs more than most people’s weddings, and assume that a toned-down version of this must await most authors at the end of the publishing rainbow.

Yes, every now and then a first-time author who is not already famous will get a big seven-figure advance. But these are usually hot young novelists, and are quite literally one in a million. They were the exact right person in the exact right place at the exact right time. For the rest of us—the remaining nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine—the reality is very different.

So what is it really like to “get a book deal,” publish your first book, go on tour, and do press to promote it?

I’m a traditionally-published nonfiction author, so I’m talking about trade nonfiction here. That means nonfiction books that are published by the Big Five international publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon&Schuster, HarperCollins, and Macmillan) and the independents, as opposed to academic presses, texbooks, self-publishing, and other options.

So without further ado, here are nine basic trade publishing myths.

Myth #1:

Getting a “book deal” means getting a bunch of money that the author then “lives on” for years.

No. Not even in the slightest. Especially not for a first book. Almost never.

A realistic first advance for a trade nonfiction book is between $1,000 and $10,000. After your agent takes 15%, you get 25%-50% of what’s left. The first check usually arrives a few months after signing, and then nothing else until the book is done.

A common first advance for a trade nonfiction book is $5,000. You sign your contract, and in a few months you get a check for $2,125 to write between 70K and 100K words.

Sometimes you might get lucky and sell your book to a bigger publisher who is willing to pay more—maybe your first advance is more like $30K! In that case, you’ll get $12,750 to “live on” for the year or years it takes you to write those 70K to 100K words.

Of course, you can’t really “live on” even a first book advance like this. If you have a well-paying full-time job, and you’re somehow writing in your spare time, then this money is more meaningful. However, if you’re a freelancer, you’ve just signed up to write an enormous amount for far, far, far less than you would be receiving for the same hours and word count at a newspaper or magazine.

I’m not meaning to complain here. Most books are passion projects, and authors are generally thrilled to publish at all. But getting “a book deal” in trade publishing does not mean $$$$$. In most instances, the promotion that an academic might receive due to publishing a book without an advance will result in greater earnings in both the short and long term.

Myth #2:

Once you’ve written a trade book, the money keeps rolling in.

No. Most books do not “earn out” their advance, meaning that the author never sees another penny from the publisher for that book again.

This is true even for books that you have heard of. Even books that you read a review of in The New York Times, or hear the author speak on NPR. Of course some books earn out—mine did, thanks to small advances—but most do not. Once your book earns out the advance, then you will start getting a check from your agent once or twice a year with your royalties. Most sales happen in the first year, so these are usually small.

(I’m pretty sure that a single California bookstore is responsible for me still getting enough royalties to take myself out to dinner twice a year because they keep my first book on their shelves. Or did. It stopped during Covid lockdown.)

In our current era, books tend to have “a moment” when they come out, and then there are very few opportunities for readers to find them after that.

. . . .

Myth #4:

Authors are paid for readings at bookstores.

No. I doubt even Stephen King would take a speaker fee from a bookstore, and 99.9999% of the time no fee is offered. The bookstore is doing the author a favor to host them.

If a bookstore is willing to host an author for a reading, it’s great for the author because it means the store will stock their book. It may be on the front table! They’ll have signed copies! This is how books get sold.

Myth #5:

Your publisher will pay to send you on a book tour!

No. Most of the time, there will not be a budget that pays for you to fly places and stay in hotels. All of these costs will fall to you.

When my first book came out, my publisher did schedule me to read at bookstores in different parts of the country, and then informed me of those dates. It was then up to me to see if I could afford the airfare and hotel to actually go and do it.

If a publisher has invested more money in your book, then this equation starts to change and you may be sent on a book tour. But most authors will not be given any financial support in this capacity and are expected to pay for all expenses. The cost of a “tour” alone can easily be more than the entire advance.

Funding your own book tour or series of readings is simply a fact of the business for the majority of trade published nonfiction authors. Again, whenever you can, it is always worth it, and a privilege, to be invited to read at a bookstore, so most do so whenever possible.

Also, if your publisher does not help you secure readings in bookstores—good luck getting them! Even if you have published before and drawn large crowds to your readings, if it’s just you cold calling a bookstore to try to get a reading, you may not be able to get a slot!

Myth #6:

Surely authors must be in control of the cover, title, and subtitle of their books! They get to choose. It’s all them.

No. These choices are made collaboratively, and authors must pick their battles if they don’t agree with a publisher’s choices.

I’ve talked to a lot of authors who go through this, and it can end up being an agonizing experience. For the cover, you’re usually given a few choices, and have to pick one. It can behoove you to go with the one your editor likes best. If you hate them all, it’s a whole thing.

Publishers have professionals whose whole job is to know what will sell the most books. These are obviously different skills from writing the books. Most of the time, authors are encouraged to trust these pros, and often the publisher is right.

Nonfiction books are usually sold to a publisher on proposal with a title attached, and agents can have a lot of say in this too, because they are also extremely good at knowing what sells most of the time. But sometimes the title can change even after signing. Subtitles are trickier and can be actual hell to work out!

A subtitle has two major tasks in a trade nonfiction book:

1. It can explain what the book is actually about.


2. It can tell you what kind of book this is and how it will feel reading it; the genre, tone, popular accessibility, etc.

Link to the rest at A Writer’s Notebook

The 10 Awful Truths about Book Publishing

From Berrett-Koehler Publishers:

  1. The number of books being published every year has exploded.
    According to the latest ProQuest Bowker Report (October 15, 2019), nearly 1.7 million books were self-published in the U.S. in 2018, which is an incredible 264% increase in just five years.  By 2019, the total number of books published in the U.S. exceeded 4 million in that year alone—including both self-published books and commercially published books of all types—according to data provided to me by ProQuest. This is 10 times more titles being published annually in the U.S. than Bowker figures show were published in 2007, when book sales peaked. At the same time, more than 20 million previously published books are still available through many sources. Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely oversaturated.
  2. Book sales are stagnant, despite the explosion of books published.
    U.S. publishing industry sales peaked in 2007 and have either fallen or been flat in subsequent years, according to reports of the Book Industry Study Group and Association of American Publishers (AAP). Similarly, U.S. bookstore sales have declined 42% from their peak in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (, April 15, 2020).
  3. Despite the addition of e-book sales and downloadable audio sales, overall book sales have shrunk.
    After skyrocketing from 2008 to 2012, e-book sales leveled off in 2013 and have fallen since then. E-book sales fell from 28% of trade sales in 2013 to 17% of trade sales in 2019 (U.S. Books Performance Review of the NPD Group, January 22, 2020.) Downloadable audio sales have been the fastest-growing area of publishing over the past four years but still represent only 10% of publishing revenues (Publishers Weekly, March 16, 2020). Even adding in e-book sales and audio sales, the total book publishing pie has shrunk since its peak in 2007—yet every year it is divided among millions more titles because of the explosion of new titles and because most titles ever published are still available for sale.
  4. Average book sales are shockingly small—and falling fast.
    Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail print sales of books (including—only 690 million print books were sold in 2019 in the U.S. in all publishing categories combined, both fiction and nonfiction (Publishers Weekly, January 13, 2020). The average U.S. book is now selling less than 200 copies per year and less than 1,000 copies over its lifetime.
  5. A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
    For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.
  6. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell new titles.
    Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each title is competing with millions of other titles available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. In a crowded marketplace, brand name authors and books stand out, and an increasing portion of the limited sales are going to mega-bestsellers (Publishers Weekly, November 4, 2019). At the same time backlist titles are accounting for an ever-greater share of publishing revenues (U.S. Books Performance Review of the NPD Group, January 22, 2020.) Result: investing the same amount today to market a new book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.
  7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.
    Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

Link to the rest at Berrett-Koehler Publishers (June, 2020)

US Book Market: NPD BookScan’s Viewpoint on Q1 Book Sales

Publishing Perspectives:

The NPD report issued Monday (April 11) shows that United States’ market turning in a less high-flying performance in the week ending April 2 than some may have been lulled into expecting.

With her usual care to try to avoid scary headlines, NPD BookScan‘s Kristen McLean writes “While US print book sales in March lagged the previous five weeks by 1.8 million units, overall the US book market is turning in a very strong performance by historic norms.

“However, 2021 was far above historic norms, so that’s creating negative comps in all areas of the business, which is why it’s very important to benchmark against historic views.

“The book market is doing okay overall, but the sales softness is likely to continue past Easter in the wider American retail landscape, as domestic and global uncertainty, supply chain issues, and price inflation on non-discretionary categories cause consumers to tighten their belts. We’ll know for sure next month.”

As artfully as McLean is saying “what goes up must come down,” there are those who have been alarmed at the news this week, apparently having expected that COVID-19 would be a kind of permanent booster of the market into a new orbit.

. . . .

On today’s (April 15) “Velocity of Content” podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, as a matter of fact, weekly regular Andrew Albanese of Publishers Weekly says the obvious: “We shouldn’t be so alarmed and it’s really not surprising, and it’s not as bad as the headline makes it sound. But it isn’t great news either. Right? So what is the news?

“Well, this is the NPD BookScan quarterly numbers are in and they show the unit sales of print books fell 8.9 percent in the first quarter, which ended on April 2, over the same period in 2021.

“Now 8.9 percent is a pretty big number,” Albanese points out, “and especially after the steady growth we’ve seen over the last two years. But again, none of this is unexpected.

“Remember, first-quarter sales in 2021 were crazy. They soared 29.2 percent over the first period of 2020.

“So while sales are down from a year ago, they’re still up about 16 percent over the first quarter of 2020 and the 183 million or so unit sales in the first quarter of 2022 is still well above 156 million units sold in the first quarter of 2019.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Perhaps PG is missing some nuances, but it seems to him that the headline might be something like, “COVID Caused the Book Markets and a Bunch of Other Markets to do Strange Things and Experts Don’t Know Why”


“Comparing Sales Without COVID to Sales With COVID is not Terribly Helpful Because COVID was a Black Swan of the First Order That Will Never Happen Again. Even If It Does Happen Again, It Won’t be the Same as It Was the First Time”


“Nothing is Going to Save the Traditional Book Business”

Texas leads among 26 states with book bans, free speech group says

From CNN:

More than a 1,000 books have been banned in 86 school districts in 26 states across the United States, a new PEN America analysis shows.PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, released a detailed analysis on Thursday of challenges to and bans on school library books and class curriculums. The group said it documented media reports, consulted school district websites, and spoke with librarians, authors and teachers from July 31, 2021, to March 31, 2022.According to PEN America, in that period, there were 1,586 books banned. Texas led the country with the most book bans — 713 — affecting 16 school districts, followed by Pennsylvania and Florida with 456 and 204 bans, respectively. PEN America describes a book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content” that leads to the removal or restriction of a previously accessible book. The analysis includes book removals or restrictions that lasted at least a day, the group says.

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and lead author of the report, said challenges to books in American schools are nothing new, but the rate at which they have recently taken place is “unparalleled.”

“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-White male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity, and success.”

. . . .

The group says the book bans were directed at 1,145 different titles, many of which tell stories related to LGBTQ people and people of color.

PEN America said the analysis of book titles was based on “standard publishing information provided through marketing and sales materials by publishers for books, as well as relevant reading and review of the books in question.”

. . . .

Politicians and school board members have played a significant role in book banning, PEN America says. At least 41% of book bans were linked to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pressured school boards to remove what he calls “pornography” from school libraries. Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill late last month that requires school libraries to post more information about their collections and seek community input on materials they acquire.

The trend, PEN America says, is a departure from past book removal practices, which were usually initiated by community members.

The book bans “have become a favorite tool for state-wide and national political mobilization” with groups such as Moms for Liberty, a conservative group whose “mission is to organize, educate and empower parents,” curating lists of books to be challenged and urging parents to mobilize, the analysis says.

The group also found that at least 96% of the bans were initiated by school administrators or board members and that for the most part, school officials did not follow existing guidelines, raising “serious concerns,” it said.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG wonders who else other than elected school board members and the parents of students attending a public school should determine what sort of books their children should read.

PG also doesn’t have a problem with people residing in some geographic locations making different choices about what is appropriate for their children to read.

PEN America presently has 7,500 members. Its principal office is in New York City with another office in Santa Monica, California and a third in Washington, DC.

The current president of PEN America, Ayad Akhtar, lives in New York City. The overwhelming majority of PEN America’s staff lives in New York City with much smaller number based in Santa Monica and Washington, DC. (For visitors from overseas, Santa Monica is solidly ensconced in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.)

If PG were asked to list three large metropolitan areas that are the least representative of the majority of the population of the United States, he would, without hesitation, name New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, in that order. PG has spent substantial periods of time in each of those cities/metro areas and can say with confidence that he has a pretty good idea of the sorts of people likely to staff PEN America’s offices in each of those places.

While he won’t categorically reject the opinions of the PEN staff regarding choices made by Texas school boards and parents about what their the children for whom they are responsible should read, PG will with confidence say that the opinions of those in the New York PEN office are exceptionally unrepresentative of almost everybody in Texas. PG would guess that few members of PEN management have close friends or acquaintances in Texas.

The current PEN America senior management appear to come from an exceptionally homogeneous backgrounds. The bios PG was able to access showed that virtually everyone attended college in New York or Boston (there was one outlier from the University of Chicago, an elite institution that isn’t located within 50 miles of an ocean). Everybody listed in Los Angeles appeared to have attended colleges located in the same places that staff in the New York office attended.

PG says that Texans and Floridians can be pretty certain that nobody at PEN America is much like them or holds views about almost anything that parents of public schools in Texas or Florida believe are relevant to their parenting decisions, including decisions about what sort of books their children should be reading.

PG will note that both Texas and Florida have a much higher percentage of Latinos (AKA persons of color) in their populations than the state of New York does.

PEN America is simply too provincial to be credible outside of the narrow social, educational and cultural sphere its employees inhabit.

“Unlivable and Untenable.” Molly McGhee on the Punishing Life of Junior Publishing Employees

From The Literary Hub:

Fiction writer and former Tor assistant editor Molly McGhee joins co-hosts V.V. Ganeshananthan and Whitney Terrell to discuss details of her recent resignation from a position she’d fought for in the industry she loves. She also talks about what’s behind #PublishingBurnout for junior employees and what that means for the future of publishing.

. . . .

V.V. Ganeshananthan: As I was telling you just before we started recording, I was kind of off Twitter, uncharacteristically, working on my own book. And one of my former students texted me and said, “Did you see this?” And I was like, “Oh, my God.” And she said, “Search hashtag publishing burnout. It is not cheerful.” And there was this huge, important public conversation. I’m curious as to whether you got any responses from higher-ups?

Molly McGhee: I had a lot of people reach out privately to me, and publicly, and express that this is something they felt as well, but that they were really nervous to burn any bridges. The thing about publishing is that no matter how high you are, especially if you’re in editorial, you had to start from the bottom. And so you have been experiencing this struggle for years and years, and then find yourself in a position of frustration where you cannot alleviate that struggle for other people below you.

And so this is something we’ve done a lot of thinking about, but because we’re in such a small industry, where so many people know one another, they don’t feel comfortable speaking out publicly about it. And they feel quite disempowered and alone in their struggle towards burnout.

Whitney Terrell: The other thing that’s interesting about what you’re talking about, is you’re talking about a specific kind of position that’s unique to the publishing industry, this editorial assistant position. I wonder if you could talk about that position, and what it is and how it’s developed over time, for listeners of ours who aren’t familiar with that.

MM: Thank you, Whitney, for asking. You know, I think that something really interesting and unique about editorial publishing is that it’s run in an apprenticeship model. So when you come in, especially to editorial, you start from the bottom, no matter your experience, with very few exceptions. Sometimes a celebrity editor can come in at a higher stage, or sometimes people make a switch from marketing and publicity to editorial, but for the most part, you start as an assistant and then go through a period of what I like to think of as hazing; that can take two to five years. I explain it to people like you’re entering into a profession that is highly competitive, with a lot of people in the junior position who want to get into it. So there’s a high pool of people you can hire from.

Before I became an editorial assistant mentor, I had taught undergraduate writing at Columbia, I had worked in associate positions at McSweeney’s and The Believer, but on the digital side of things, I had been a proofreader, a copy editor. I had done narrative consulting for clients like Google and SoulCycle, and I still had to start at an editorial assistant position. That’s because I needed to learn the ropes, as I was told. And this is not abnormal. Everyone that I was working with at Tor had either been in publishing for four or five years before they started an editorial system, or they had master’s degrees, graduate degrees. It is a highly competitive hiring environment.

Once you’re in it, you do a lot of support work, and what this looks like for you can really depend on who you’re supporting. For me, I was supporting three to four editors and their digital workload and their production cycles. What that meant was I was tracking submissions, corresponding with offers, handling the production timeline, working really closely interdepartmentally so that everybody was on the same page, maintaining what was fed out to retailers and sales teams—basically all the invisible labor that goes into getting a book to the consumer. A lot of logistics work.

Most people I talk to think about editorial assistant roles as production manager roles: you’re in charge of a lot of deadlines, a lot of tracking, a lot of high level communication. While your editor focuses on their job: editing, acquiring, making connections, positioning, pitching, those types of things.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Print Sales Likely to Fall in 2022

From Publishers Weekly (28 Jan 2022):

After increasing 8% in 2020 and 9% in 2021, it is unlikely that unit sales of print books will grow again in 2022, said Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst for NPD/BookScan Books Group in a January 26 webinar.

McLean explained that the back-to-back large sales gains in 2020 and 2021 were unprecedented in BookScan’s 18-year history and were fueled by unique circumstances related to the pandemic and the growth in interest in social justice titles after the murder of George Floyd. She doesn’t think print sales “will fall off a cliff” in 2022, but she noted that the industry should be prepared for negative sales figures in the first and second quarters of 2022 compared to the same periods in 2021. In early 2021, the industry benefitted from ongoing lockdowns, which kept people indoors and reading, as well as the arrival of child tax credit checks that spurred spending.

McLean thinks print unit sales in 2022 will fall below 2021 levels but above those of 2019, and possibly even above those of 2020. Among the challenges she sees ahead this year is the likelihood of price increases for books due to higher manufacturing and shipping costs. She noted that the industry will need to monitor consumers’ reaction to any increases carefully. Publishers and other industry members will also continue to contend with supply chain problems, as shortages of paper, packaging materials, and printing capacity are likely to persist throughout the year.

Those factors, as well as the possible easing of pandemic restrictions, may lead to more changes in consumer behavior in 2022, McLean said. For one thing, she believes customer traffic will increase in bricks-and-mortar stores, and that retailers, through changes in store layouts and marketing, are well positioned to take advantage of the higher traffic. In addition, growing concern about climate change and sustainability could lead consumers to limit their online buying, since direct sales involve lots of packaging. And while online book sales have jumped since the pandemic began, McLean believes the online channel’s market share of book sales could decline in 2022 as people return to stores.

McLean also thinks that if some books become hard to find this year due to supply chain problems, the industry could see increased e-book and used book sales, as well as increased library borrowing.

There were a number of positive trends in 2021 that should continue into 2022, according to McLean, including the impact of BookTok in driving sales. She noted that a group of 80 authors that BookScan identified as having large BookTok followings saw sales more than double last year, from a total of nine million copies sold in 2020 to 20 million in 2021. She said BookTok has been embraced by the industry and that its recommendations are being amplified by retailers such as

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As print sales plummet 20%, industry says print fatigue is to blame

From The New Publishing Standard:

This week Publishers Weekly (PW) reports that US print sales dropped almost 20% this past week.

Imagine for one second that it was ebook sales that had precipitously dropped 20% in the past week and was down almost 8% so far this year.

The industry pundits would be reeling out the “experts” and “spokesmen” patiently waiting for their next opportunity to explain how screen fatigue, the desperate desire to visit a bookstore, the sheer pleasure of holding a book in one’s hand, and how readers hanker for the feel and smell of the printed book were driving digital publishing into oblivion.

But this is print, and the panic days of the early 2010s when much of the industry really did fear for the future of the print format, are behind us.

But make no mistake, print sales are falling.

Last week PW reported print sales down -12.8%.

The previous week? Try -8.3%.

The week before that? How does -16.2% grab you?

We have to head back to mid February to see PW run anything about print sales rising, and that only by +4.3%.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Requesting Rights Reversion From Your Publisher

From Writer Beware:

This is an update of a post I wrote some years ago. Since I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from writers wondering how to request contract termination and rights reversion, I thought it would be useful to take another look.

There’s no “right” or “official” procedure for a rights reversion request. If you do a websearch on “rights reversion request” you can find various pieces of advice from authors and others. That said, here are some common-sense suggestions for how to go about this (Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so what follows is not legal advice.)

First of all, if you have a competent agent, discuss the situation with your agent and ask them to approach the publisher on your behalf. Especially if you’re with a larger publisher, your agent is more likely to know whom to contact, and in a better position to push for a response.

The advice below is primarily aimed at authors who don’t have agents, and/or who are with smaller publishers.

1. Look through your contract to find the clause or clauses dealing with termination and rights reversion. Typically this will be a separate clause, but some contracts bury termination/reversion language in other and even unrelated clauses.

Hopefully there will be stipulations for when and how you can request your rights back–for example, a book may become eligible for rights reversion once sales numbers or royalty income fall below a stated minimum.

The ideal reversion language is precise (“Fewer than 100 copies sold in the previous 12 consecutive months” or “Fewer than 50 copies sold in each of two consecutive royalty periods”) and makes reversion automatic on the author’s request, as long as those benchmarks are met. (For more on why reversion language needs to be precise–including examples–see my post on The Importance of Reversion Clauses in Book Contracts.)

Unfortunately, reversion language is often far from ideal. Your contract may impose a blackout period (you can’t request reversion until X amount of time after your pub date), a waiting period after the reversion request (the publisher has X number of months to comply, during which time your book remains on sale), or provide the publisher with an escape mechanism (it may only allow you to request reversion, leaving the publisher the latitude to refuse, or may make your request moot if the publisher issues or licenses a new edition within 6 months of your request).

Worse, your contract may not include objective standards for termination, leaving the decision entirely to the publisher’s discretion; or it may include antiquated standards, such as this: “The book shall not be considered out of print as long as it is available for sale through the regular channels of the book trade”. Such language was meaningful in the days when books existed only in print, and print runs could be exhausted, but it’s useless for today’s digital reality.

It’s also possible that your contract may not include any reversion language at all. This is often the case with limited-term contracts, so if your contract is one of those, you may just have to wait things out. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen life-of-copyright contracts with no reversion clause. This is a big red flag: a life-of copyright contract should always be balanced with precise reversion language.

. . . .

6. DO: be polite, businesslike, and succinct.

7. DON’T: mention the problems the publisher may be having, the problems you’ve had with the publisher, problems other authors have had, online chatter, news coverage, lawsuits, or anything else that could be construed as negative.

As much as you may be tempted to vent your anger, resentment, or righteous indignation, rubbing the publisher’s nose in its own mistakes and failures will alienate it, and could cause it to decide to penalize you by refusing your request, or just refusing to respond. This is a real risk: I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard over the years about vindictive publishers who decided to punish authors they deemed troublemakers by holding a death-grip on the authors’ rights.

Again: keep it professional, businesslike, and unemotional.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG notes that it is not uncommon for publishers large and small to do all sorts of things with an author’s books that aren’t mentioned in the contract. Look for those as well.

While PG doesn’t do that sort of work any more, on more than one occasion he found errors and omissions in publishing contracts, including from the largest of publishers, which would get a first-year lawyer fired from any reputable law firm if she/he had made a similar error.

The type of people who do well in law school don’t have the slightest desire to go to work for a big publisher because the pay is terrible and management doesn’t like lawyers very much anyway. A publisher won’t hire a law firm with serious attorneys until the publisher gets itself into serious trouble because they didn’t hire a good lawyer in the first place.

Creation from imagination is the basis of intellectual property

From The Creative Penn:

How can you future-proof your author career by being careful with the publishing clauses you sign? Why are NFTs so interesting for intellectual property? How might DAOs help authors with estate planning? Copyright and trademark attorney Kathryn Goldman talks about these things and more.

. . . .


Joanna: Kathryn Goldman is a copyright and trademark attorney, and has worked in intellectual property for over 30 years. She runs, which offers resources, workshops, and advice for creative professionals, including authors, artists, designers, and more.

. . . .

Joanna: I’m so excited to talk to you about this. Let’s start with more of an attitude question.

Let’s say metaverse/web3/whatever we’re going to call it in the future. What do you mean around that? What do you mean by given up their rights?

Kathryn: Publishing contracts are license agreements between an author and a publisher, and in that license agreement, the author grants to the publisher a group, a bundle of, or part of their copyrights in their creative work. And publishing contracts are dense with language.

In those grants of rights, there are these broad provisions that encompass future technologies. And so, if there is a publishing contract that was drafted and signed 10 years ago, that includes language that encompasses future technologies unknown at the time, then the author may have already agreed, with that language, to allow a publisher to mint an NFT of her work without even knowing what an NFT was at the time.

So it’s possible that there’s language embedded in the contract already, covering future technologies, that would give the publisher control over the creative’s NFTs.

. . . .

Joanna: Why are you so interested in this intersection between web3 and intellectual property?
Because I’ve seen so many people shying away from it and saying it’s just not happening. But you embrace the change. So, why is that?

Kathryn: I embrace watching the change. It is happening. You cannot turn your back on it right now, but mostly what’s intriguing me is that people’s imaginations have caught fire in a way we really haven’t seen for a couple of decades, or maybe a decade.

People are taking this technology and doing things with it that are just limited only by their imaginations, and that is what is fun to watch. It’s the creation, from imagination, that is the basis of intellectual property. That’s why I am just loving what’s going on these days.

[Joanna: You have written:]

“Authors who have signed publishing contracts may have already given up their right to control their work in the metaverse.”

Let’s say metaverse/web3/whatever we’re going to call it in the future. What do you mean around that? What do you mean by given up their rights?

Kathryn: Publishing contracts are license agreements between an author and a publisher, and in that license agreement, the author grants to the publisher a group, a bundle of, or part of their copyrights in their creative work. And publishing contracts are dense with language.

In those grants of rights, there are these broad provisions that encompass future technologies. And so, if there is a publishing contract that was drafted and signed 10 years ago, that includes language that encompasses future technologies unknown at the time, then the author may have already agreed, with that language, to allow a publisher to mint an NFT of her work without even knowing what an NFT was at the time.

So it’s possible that there’s language embedded in the contract already, covering future technologies, that would give the publisher control over the creative’s NFTs.

This analysis, this concept, is not without precedent. The same thing happened with e-books. Before e-books were commonplace, there was language in publishing contracts that gave publishers the right to control the creative work in unknown or yet-to-be-known technology. So, about 10, 20 years ago, the battle over can a publisher publish the e-book of a work was fought.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG will comment that, some time ago, he was involved in many more than one argument regarding whether a publishing agreement covered ebooks or not. Without compromising any client confidences or violating any client obligations to keep these sorts of matters confidential, PG can say that on frequent occasion, the publisher had done such a bad job on its standard publishing contract that PG was able to convince publisher’s counsel that the publisher didn’t actually have the right to license ebooks because the contract only talked about selling ebooks and ebooks are always licensed by those whose business is to find people to acquire ebooks.

For the record, PG isn’t doing anything in this sphere any more.

Perfume as a Sensuous Act of Resistance

From Electric Lit:

In Sensorium by Tanaïs is, at once, a sensuous and gut-wrenching experience in expansive memoir that bleeds across genre and time. Using perfume as a framework, Tanaïs builds the work slowly, moving from the base to the heart to the head notes, recounting alienation and life on the margins as a Brown Muslim growing up in pre- and post- 9/11 America, tracing similar erasure of their ancestors at the hands of colonizers and fascists borne out of the caste system, the genocidal birth of their homeland Bangladesh, the blood-stained lineage of its people—Bengali Muslims, women and femmes—alongside the racism and capitalist greed behind the art and commodification of perfumery.

An exposé of the orientalist gaze, a battle against the eons of patriarchal notions that have oppressed women and femmes and created molds for sexual and gender identities, In Sensorium emerges as “an act of sensuous resistance”—much like a perfume—confronting what Tanaïs terms patramyths, “foundational lies and mythologies recorded in history to protect the powerful.” Trauma, pain, shame—there’s space held for it all, carved meticulously for the ones who have been denied visibility throughout history, encapsulated in exquisite writing, driven toward generational healing. 

Tanaïs is a Brooklyn-based Bangladeshi American Muslim femme, a writer, an artist, a perfumer, founder of TANAÏS, the beauty and fragrance company. Above all, they are proof of the magnificence of manifesting your authentic self, beyond the noise and corruption of the dominant culture.

. . . .

Bareerah Ghani: You speak of perfume as a sensuous act of resistance. Given that you’ve used perfume as a structure, the memoir too is a force of opposition against what you term patramyths. While the memoir and the perfume seem inextricable from one another, there is a liminal space. You’ve spoken about this before, this idea of erasure happening even as you speak of erasure. But perfume, the way you envision it as a language in itself, transcends patramyths. Did the use of perfume as a lens allow you to bridge that liminal space to a certain extent?

Tanaïs: For me, perfume is a way of understanding how the patramyths of purity, male and white supremacy and Brahmanical patriarchy have been established, and I wanted to use this kind of shape of a book to explore how the patramyths around scent have allowed the powerful to wield their domination over others. This shape kind of emerged and there’s an act of transcendence laced into that process, but I also think that, like the book, it’s emerging out of the patramyths too. It’s hard not to be the very thing that we’re trying to throw away. 

Becoming a part of a record is part of why I seek writing as my medium. A book is impermanent in many ways, but we write to create a body that lasts beyond our time. There’s comfort in knowing that a perfume is ephemeral. It’s an experience that’s in the moment, on the body, then it disappears. There’s something to that that felt like the perfect metaphor for borderlessness, for becoming someone who makes an impression, and then is not recorded. A perfume can never fully be expressed through language too, so that’s another aspect of being chosen by perfume and choosing perfume that tries to tell the narrative, the history, eschewing the patramyths because it’s not bound by language in the same way.

BG: You’ve spoken about the intersection of your creative practices of perfumery and writing in the context of rejecting Western rules and respecting your instincts. Can you speak to some of the media, institutions or individuals you’ve relied on in your journey to decolonize yourself, exact your agency and identity in white-centered spaces?

T: I really try to avoid white centered spaces as much as possible. Even among Muslim diaspora, we’re reckoning with casteism, colorism, and history, so I really tried to be aware of the work that’s happening. The people whose work influenced this book like Poulomi Saha (Empire of Touch), Julietta Singh (No Archive Will Restore You)—they’re working to complicate the notion of an archive and what representation is because it really fails to hold the nuance of our lives. The act of us finding each other as Muslim diaspora, writing narratives that have that nuanceI really seek to experience that. Laila Lalami, Randa Jarrar, these writers who are giving us this breath of Muslimah writing that’s flexing the powers of actually writing, not just about our identity. I find great inspiration in that. 

Responding to white-centered spaces is exhausting because they don’t necessarily listen to us, they don’t see us, they don’t accept our work as saying something universal. But I think our faith, our cultural milieu gives us a very deep insight into what’s universal because there’s so many people who are brought together under it. That’s something I’ve come to find as a gift. That’s not easy in America. They try to make us feel ashamed about that. And it’s not just the bigoted white person. It’s liberals, upper caste and Indian people. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have a certain role in their mind, so you have to really assert your feminist femme power of your mind. You have to reject what whiteness imagines you as, keep clear and tell our story in a way that feels rife with the complexity of human experience.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

“a sensuous and gut-wrenching experience in expansive memoir that bleeds across genre and time”, “an act of sensuous resistance”, “there’s comfort in knowing that a perfume is ephemeral. It’s an experience that’s in the moment, on the body, then it disappears”, “working to complicate the notion of an archive” and “proof of the magnificence of manifesting your authentic self, beyond the noise and corruption of the dominant culture” seem a bit overwritten and overwrought to PG, but he will, of course, allow others their own opinions.

The publisher, Harper, appears to have made a corporate decision to not offer a “look inside” option for the book on Amazon. Or that lack could be just another screw-up by a Harper corporate drone. A third possibility is that it may be another “act of sensuous resistance” calculated to “complicate the notion of an archive.”

Publishing Giants Are Fighting Libraries on E-Books

From Sludge:

Last year, Maryland lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that aimed to help public libraries offer e-books and audiobooks to patrons. Publishers were charging libraries three to five times as much as consumers pay for an e-book, and for only a two-year license, state legislators showed. The law, signed in May, would require publishers to license electronic literary products to Maryland public libraries “on reasonable terms.”

A similar measure in New York was also passed, virtually unanimously, over the summer, with 210 state legislators in favor and one voting nay—only to be vetoed in the last days of the year by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Hochul’s veto came after the industry group Association of American Publishers (AAP) initiated a lawsuit in December against the Maryland law, arguing that it violated federal copyright law. Hochul echoed the AAP’s position in her statement explaining why she vetoed the bill, which had strong grassroots support from library advocates.

Lawmakers in six other states have introduced bills that seek to support schools and libraries in accessing e-books, as institutions are being hit with high prices and restrictive licensing terms for digital works—and with publishers refusing to make some e-book titles available to libraries. According to a recent survey by the library group ReadersFirst, e-book prices for libraries have tripled over the past nine years, with publishers charging between $20 and $65 for an e-book copy that libraries cannot own permanently. For popular e-books, libraries pay $55 for a copy that expires after two years, or $550 for a copy for 20 years, compared with the about $15 that a consumer would pay, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

. . . .

Libraries and schools worldwide have been increasingly lending out e-books and audiobooks, even before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Over 500 million copies of digital books were circulated last year, according to digital reading platform OverDrive, an increase from 430 million the year before and 326 million in 2019. Back in 2016, the total had reached 200 million, which was up from just 15 million in 2010.

Library patrons and students went digital to crack the covers of everything from Barack Obama’s memoir to young adult fiction to the latest issues of The Economist magazine—or its rival US Weekly, based on OverDrive’s lists of the most popular e-books. The Toronto Public Library alone circulated nearly 10 million titles last year, a new record, and the Los Angeles Public Library surpassed 8 million lends.

Librarians have been warning that large publishers are squeezing licensing terms on digital works, pushing for libraries to merely rent digital works, rather than allowing them to own copies as they do physical books.

The Maryland law passed 130 to 0 in the General Assembly and 47-0 in the Maryland Senate, and took effect on the first day of this year. Last month, however, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, siding with AAP’s argument in their lawsuit that the law interferes with federal copyright law. The Maryland attorney general will defend the state’s law, a stance applauded by the ALA.

“Libraries simply can no longer be forced to rent their e-book collections with restrictions and pricing that are designed to minimize the libraries’ ability to provide access to the public, while maximizing publisher profits over that library mission,” said Jennie Rose Halperin, executive director of Library Futures, a nonprofit group that launched in January 2021 to champion the right to equitable access to knowledge.

In 2019, when the House Judiciary Subcommittee of Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law held an investigation into digital marketplaces, the nonprofit ALA slammed the publishing industry’s practices—including those of Amazon, which sells 90% of e-books, according to industry figures.

Link to the rest at Sludge

Editorial Resignations At Big Houses Spark Reckoning

From Publishers Lunch:

Multiple resignations from the editorial departments at two big houses caused an online reckoning on Friday. Four editors, Angeline Rodriguez and Hillary Sames at Orbit, Erin Siu at Macmillan Children’s, and Molly McGhee at Tor all announced their resignations, leading to a discussion about the workload of junior and mid-level employees and the difficulty of advancement across the industry. The online exchange brought into the open the frustrations of increased workload, burnout and turnover that have been brewing as the pandemic continues. Those feelings are intensified as big publishers report record sales and earnings, even as multiple people report on Twitter they believe their employers are not sufficiently reinvesting those proceeds in additional staff, systems and raises.

At the heart of the discussion was McGhee’s resignation letter which she posted on Twitter. McGhee, who was an assistant editor at Tor/Nightfire, writes that after ten years in assisting roles, she requested a promotion when her first acquisition debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. She says in her letter that she was told she needed “more training” before being promoted and she could not expect to be relieved of administration duties “any time within the next five years.”

McGhee pointed to “the invisibility of junior employees’ workload” as a major issue, asserting that “many executives in the publishing industry are technology illiterate” and rely on their assistants to manage databases, pull manuscripts, and navigate new technology, on top of the duties outlined in their job descriptions.

McGhee’s letter opened the floodgates to other people who have left editorial positions recently speaking openly about labor issues. As part of a thread, one former Penguin editor flagged “the fact that editorial productivity ONLY survives because of the exploitation of assistants.” Many others pointed out that the same pressures and frustration are being felt across all departments at publishing companies, though there may be less public awareness, and smart managers and veterans offered empathy and tips, and opened themselves up to consultation. A number of agents also underscored their own difficulties in establishing sustainable careers and keeping up with the workload and representing clients without overburdening editors, while emphasizing the broad financial hardship of converting “advances” into extended “guarantees” that are not paid in advance.

Former editor at Avon Books Elle Keck posted, “As one of the editors who left publishing this year, every editor you know, you’ve seen on Twitter, you’ve heard of: they are miserable and struggling. They’re tired of working all day, working at night, and feeling guilty if they take a weekend off.” Julie Rosenberg, formerly of Razorbill, also noted the “crushing guilt and anxiety” caused by the workload.

Speaking to PL, McGhee described this workload: “I worked with five editors during my time at [Tor parent division Tom Doherty Associates]. I always supported at least two editors, in addition to the publisher, all while building my own list. What this means is that I did all administrative work on my editors frontlist and backlist…. At one point in time I was tracking 150 frontlist titles across four seasons in one calendar year…. On top of doing this I was managing company calendars, scheduling my publisher’s meetings (publishers take a lot of meetings), reading my editors’ and publisher’s submissions, drafting contracts, executing deal memos, writing copy, positioning novels, networking to get to know agents as I chased my own submissions, training other junior employees, creating work flow systems to manage cross department care,” and much more.

McGhee emphasized that she loved working at Tor, but the amount of work was unmanageable, especially in light of the compensation. She said, “I think a lot of folks will view this as a disgruntled employee situation. It is not. I never thought I would leave TDA. I loved my editors, I loved my authors, and I loved my coworkers. But unfortunately the workload expectations and the pay were untenable. There was no way to communicate this to my managers in a way that was not seen as ‘poor time management,’ as they had never assisted/started in the technological environment junior and mid-level employees now face.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Lunch

The Great Resignation hits publishing

From Nathan Bransford:

Editors are creaking under chronically low pay, ever-expanding publisher expectations, publisher under-investment in support infrastructure like contracts departments… and oh yes, all of this is happening amid bonanza years for publishers’ bottom lines. This makes it accordingly more difficult for young agents to get their books read by editors and compete in an increasingly “winner takes all” ecosystem where bestsellers are bigger than ever and everyone else is fighting for scraps. You can throw in an often-toxic environment for employees of color to boot.

When you combine all this with an economy where it’s easier to find advancement elsewhere, it’s probably not terribly surprising that you’re seeing editors and agents throw in the towel for more hospitable climes. Those who are staying raising red (and white) flags. 

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

How Are You Going to Spend the Money?

From Brandon Sanderson’s Blog:

How Are You Going to Spend the Money?

I got this question from the journalist from the Associated Press who interviewed me.  He gave an excellent interview, and we had a really great conversation.  But this question stopped me for a moment.  It’s a valid question, but it took me by surprise, as I haven’t been looking at this the way that some people seem to be.  I didn’t hit the lottery, any more than any other business hits the lottery when they have a product that connects with their market.

I will spend the money as I spend the rest of my money.  Part into savings, part into paying salaries (along with nice extra bonuses because the Kickstarter did well), part reinvested into the company.  (We’re still planning on building a physical bookstore, and this will help accelerate those plans.  Also, it’s not outside of reason that as I move into doing more film and TV, I will want to partially fund some of the projects.)

While this Kickstarter is an incredible event, and (don’t get me wrong) is going to earn me a good chunk of money, it’s going to be comparable to other projects I’ve done.  Also, don’t underestimate how much money it costs to maintain the infrastructure (like a warehouse–or in this case, probably more than one) it takes to be able to ship several hundred thousand books.  It will likely be years before we can be certain how much this actually earned us after all expenses.  More than we’d get from New York on the same books, but potentially not that much more.

That said, I will almost certainly buy myself some nice Magic cards.  Still have a few unlimited duals in my cube that could use an upgrade to black border.

Did You Anticipate This Level of Success for the Kickstarter?

I did not.  I knew the potential was there, but I didn’t think it (getting to this astronomical number of backers) would happen.

My guess was that we’d land somewhere in the 2–4 million range, though I really had no idea.  My team can attest to the fact that in the lead-up, I was very conservative in my estimates and expectations.  This was an experiment from us that I’d been wanting to try for a while.  (I’ll talk more about that below.)  I didn’t have any idea how well it would go.

To pull back the curtain for you a little, Rhythm of War’s first week sales were somewhere around 350,000 across all formats.  (That week was 50% audio, 25% ebook, 25% print.)  Starsight’s numbers were around 80,000 copies across all formats for the first week.  (This one was 54% audio, 29% ebook, and 17% print.)  Those are US numbers only.  Note, these are both what I’d consider very successful projects.  Both of these books sold enough to claim the #1 spot on their respective New York Times bestseller list, for example.  And though Stormlight sold 4 times as much–it also took 4 times as much work.  (In the long run, because of its larger price point, Stromlight does earn more though.  Which is why it amuses me that people sometimes accuse me of writing the YA books to “cash in.”  Um, no, my friends.  I earn less on those.  Not significantly less, but still.  I write them because they are stories I want to tell.)

The first year for Rhythm of War was about 800,000 copies total.  Starsight ended up somewhere around 250,000 copies after one year.  (Rough estimates.)  It’s too early to tell for Cytonic on this second metric, which is why I used the previous book.

Now let’s look at a less successful Sanderson book.  Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds is my worst-selling recent book.  First week was under 10,000 copies–and it’s only sold about 80k copies so far in the three years it’s been out, with the first year being roughly in the 50k range.  These numbers weren’t surprising to me–it was not only a short fiction collection (which is a tough sell to a lot of readers), it was also in a genre I’m not known for and the first two novellas had been out in ebook for years, with quite good sales.  So while this isn’t the best comparison ever, another good thing to look at was the Way of Kings leatherbound, which had roughly 30,000 backers.

Together, this knowledge gives a rough idea of my readership.  It’s hard to judge apples to apples with this Kickstarter, as I am giving the ebook with the other editions–and it’s hard to know how many of those readers above are buying two copies instead.  But I could guess that the upper end of the number of people willing to show up to buy a Sanderson book in the first year of release is somewhere around 800k, while the lower end of people who will show up for one is around 50k.  That’s why I say I knew the potential was there.  If the 30,000 people from the original Kickstarter showed up and bought the lowest tier, we’d be right around a million for the Kickstarter.  We knew it would likely be bigger, but how much bigger?

Modern media consumption is, for better or worse, very platform-specific.  People don’t like to be moved from one platform to another–and I get it.  The convenience of having your media collection all in one place, of already having your credit card info stored, of not having to do much besides click a button (or grab something at the bookstore where you’re already visiting) is huge.  The question wasn’t if people would want to read these books.  It was this: Would they be willing to move from their comfortable platform to Kickstarter?  Would we be able to even make them aware of these books?

How many of those potential 250k–800k people who normally buy a Sanderson book in the first year could be convinced instead to move and preorder it through Kickstarter?  Our guesses, it turned out, were way low.  But at the same time, it is interesting that (not disregarding our huge success, which I’m not at all complaining about) even this huge Kickstarter breaking all records is only grabbing a fraction of my normal audience.  So maybe you can see why we knew we had potential, but were conservative in our estimates.  We didn’t know what to expect, but assuming that we’d do a fraction of what a Stormlight book did in the same space (even if it was a reprint) was at least a reasonable baseline.

Note that if you want to consider a really daunting fact, realize that if all 800k first-year Stormlight readers showed up (these are the ones willing to buy the hardcover or the more expensive ebook, since the prices don’t drop to mass-market levels until after the first year) to buy these books on Kickstarter…  Well, our current average spend per backer is over $200.  So we’d be talking about a Kickstarter of $150 million plus, in that pie-in-the-sky case.

No, we’re not going to try to do that by releasing a mainline Stormlight novel in first run on Kickstarter.  The reason why has to do with the next questions.

Is This the End of Traditional Publishing For You?  Is That Why You Kickstarted These Books?

I know some of you know the answer to this, having read the sound bites I’ve put into various news media interviews I’ve done recently.  But if you’ll humor me, I want to go into more depth.  To do that, first let me tell you a story.  (Totally unexpected, I know.)

In 2010, Macmillan (the parent company of Tor Books) got into some finicky contract negotiations with Amazon.  The publishers felt that Amazon was selling ebooks at rock-bottom prices to move Kindles–something they wanted to do to dominate the market and control the reading platform.  During negotiations, Amazon–to put pressure on Macmillan and try to starve them out–stopped selling any Macmillan books.  (Except for used copies through the extended marketplace.)

This was within Amazon’s power; as a retailer, they can decide what they want to sell and what they don’t.  They used a common, if cutthroat, strategy here.  They had a flood of money during that time they actively didn’t want to turn a profit at the end of the year.  They knew that if they sold ebooks at a loss, Nook and Kobo would have to do likewise–and they weren’t flush with cash they literally needed to burn.

I don’t like that mindset, using our pieces of art as the thing sold rock-bottom.  But it’s not like the publishers have been angels in their treatment of Amazon.  The two have had a rocky relationship for basically forever.  Plus, the publishers have historically been backward-thinking about electronic mediums (see my next point).

The point here is that this event twelve years ago taught me something.  Amazon turning off the ability to buy books didn’t really hurt me in the long run. (Amazon, notably, picked the month of the year with the lowest book sales to do this.) But it did really hurt the careers of some newer authors who were releasing that month.  And it told me just how fragile my career was.  And it’s only gotten more fragile in the years since.

Judging how much market share Amazon has is famously difficult, as people keep sales figures close to their chest.  But many estimates put Amazon at around 80% of the ebook market, 90% of the audiobook market (they own Audible), and 65% of the print book market.  (You’ll sometimes see much lower guesses for ebooks, but I can tell you that at least for me, 80% is low.  It’s probably closer to 85%.)

So how many of those 800k copies of Rhythm of War did Amazon sell?  Probably around 650,000 copies–maybe more.  Somewhere around 80%, by my more conservative of estimations.  And in my most popular format, audio, they completely dominate the market.

This is deeply unsettling.

Now, it’s hard to blame Amazon for this, at least not entirely.  I absolutely blame them for their terrible treatment of workers.  And yes, they’ve engaged in some predatory practices, as I talked about above.  But I honestly think that the bigger factor is that they’re just really good at selling things.  Kindle has the best user experience, and was the innovation that finally broke open the ebook market.  Audible championed the credit model and finally brought audiobooks to a reasonable price point.  (Old people like me will remember the days of $70–$80 Wheel of Time audiobooks.)   Amazon’s delivery speed is incredible.  Their stock, near-infinite.

Beyond that, I have friends at Amazon.  I like the people at Amazon.  I’ve worked with them on many things, and the people there have universally been excellent.  Book lovers, passionate about their jobs, and really easy to get along with.

Still, their market share should terrify authors.  Innovation is strangled by market dominance.  And the problem with loss leading (like Amazon did over the years) is that eventually you have to start making profit.  And then the squeeze comes.  Indie authors are feeling this right now.  Amazon created the indie book market, quite literally.  Before it, indie publishing was an enormously expensive and risky affair.  One of my neighbors when I was growing up was a journalist who decided to try to indie-publish a book, and he ended up with the proverbial garage full of tens of thousands of copies he was unable to sell.

The ebook revolution, spearheaded by Amazon paying a whopping 70% royalty to indie authors who published on their platform, was huge.  (For reference, traditional publishing currently pays 17.5% on those same ebooks.)  This, mixed with authors having far more power to choose what they want to do with said books–including walking away whenever they want–created an extremely author-friendly boom that has legitimately done great things.  Smaller voices have a much better chance, the New York gatekeepers have lost some of their control, and there’s a feeling of democratization to publishing that has never existed before.

At least there used to be.

You see, since Amazon controls a huge chunk of the market, this gives them a lot of control.  For example, to get the good royalty, indie authors are forced to sell their ebooks under a maximum price chosen by Amazon.  (And that maximum price hasn’t changed in the last twelve years, despite inflation.)  The bigger problem, however, is how Amazon changed its advertising game–targeting indie authors with a kind of “advertise to sell” model.

You see, Amazon wasn’t making as much as it needed/wanted to from those books–in part because it insisted on keeping the prices low to maintain market share.  In part because it had promised kindle buyers this was their perk: cheap ebooks.  But it didn’t want to change its famous 70% royalty.  Otherwise it would look bad to indie authors.

So instead, it changed its recommendation algorithm and its page layout.  It moved organically recommended books down, and added advertisement slots across most book pages (particularly popular ones).  These slots were available for indie authors to buy.

If you go to the Way of Kings page on Amazon, you will find twelve advertisements between the top of the page and the reviews section.  Nine of these are for indie authors trying to sell their books to fans of the Stormlight Archive.  The other three are ads for non-book Amazon products.  This is better than it once was when Amazon first implemented this “feature” five or six years ago.  I once counted even more advertisements, and you had to go all the way to the bottom to find the traditional “books related to this one” list.  (This is the organically generated recommended books list, where other titles rated highly by readers of the book’s author could be found.)

These days, according to some of my indie author friends, you have to spend a great deal to sell on Amazon.  Not everyone’s experience is the same, but I hear this time and time again.  To make it as an indie author, you need to shell out for expensive advertising on the very website selling your books.  I have indie author friends who are spending a good portion of their income on these advertisements–and if they don’t, their sales vanish.  Amazon has effectively created a tax where indie authors pay back a chunk of that glorious 70% royalty to Amazon.  (And this is for the authors lucky enough to be allowed to buy those advertising spots, and therefore have the chance at selling.)

This might seem good.  Publishers spend to get their books in front of people, so it’s good for indie authors to have the same chance.  Except I think this system–as it stands now–takes power away from writers.  In the old days before this system, the primary way that you sold books on Amazon was by having people read them and like them.  If fans of the Stormlight Archive read your book (even in small numbers) and left good reviews, then your book showed up for free on my page.  Amazon might claim that it would be hard for indie authors to compete with traditional authors this way.  But if they really cared, then on the Stormlight page they could make a section titled something like “Independent authors liked by fans of the Stormlight Archive” and help them that way.

The truth is that while the people at Amazon are wonderful, Amazon itself doesn’t care about the indie authors as much as it claims.  If it did, it would let them raise their prices with inflation, and would promote them for free like it once did.  And we shouldn’t expect Amazon to be benevolent.  It is a corporation.  Indeed, this is exactly what we should expect Amazon to do in a system where it has a near-monopoly.  It lacks competition, and so where are these authors going to go?  There’s no other game in town.  So, now it’s time for Amazon to cut into what they’re being paid.  (With Audible, the move was more transparent.  Audible just dropped the royalty they’d been paying indie authors from 60% to 40%.)

This is a long-winded way of saying what many of you probably already knew.  Monopolies (or if you insist on being technical, near-monopolies and monopsonies like Amazon) are bad for everyone.  I insist this is bad for Amazon.  They could collapse this very market they created, and squeeze too much on both the publishers and the authors.  They could stagnate to the point that their user experience is bad, and we lose readers to other forms of media.

Regardless, this has been bothering me for over a decade.  I feel that the current system has a gun to my head.  Heck, all that has to happen is for someone at Amazon read this blog post or see my Kickstarter and decide they just want to make an example out of me.  Poof.  85% of my sales gone.  And while some people might go to another vendor to get my books, the painful truth is that many would not.  Time and time again, studies of contemporary tech media consumption have shown that the person who controls the platform is the one who controls the market.  And users like their platforms.  I mean, I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I still haven’t gotten around to playing Starcraft 2, despite loving the first one, because I just am so used to Steam (where Starcraft 2 isn’t available) that I haven’t overcome the inertia to go buy it.

That said, even if Amazon weren’t a dominant force, there are some problems with traditional publishing that I’ve been fighting for years.  This is another reason for the Kickstarter.

Link to the rest at Brandon Sanderson and thanks to C. and others for the tip.

The OP includes substantially more of his thoughts and plans for the future together with past experiences, including some ways he’s tried to persuade his New York publishers to change.

PG was pleased with his perception that Sanderson doesn’t show signs of having this experience go to his head. PG didn’t agree with all of his thoughts, but admits Brandon has devoted some serious time to thinking about how he and other authors can be more successful.

Book Publishing Revenues Flat at $25.71 Billion For The Year

From The Association of American Publishers:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) today released the StatShot Annual report for calendar year 2020, estimating that the U.S. book publishing industry generated $25.71 billion, a slight decrease of 0.2% from 2019 revenue of $25.77 billion. Consistent with past StatShot reports, book publishing industry revenue has ranged between $25 billion and $26 billion since 2016.

“The 2020 results are remarkable and inspirational for a year that people will long associate with an unprecedented public health crisis, worldwide suffering, and colossal business disruptions,” said AAP President and CEO Maria A. Pallante. “That publishing is resilient is nothing new, but we should nevertheless take a moment to recognize the incredible dedication and innovation of the industry in serving readers and the public interest during such an isolating and confusing time.”

In 2020, total revenue, including directly reported and estimated data, in the industry’s largest category, Trade (consumer books), increased by an estimated 6.0% to $16.67 billion, and by 8.6% in directly reported revenue. Revenue from Higher Education declined 5.7% to $3.10 billion in addition to PreK–12 revenue, which declined 12.3% to $3.84 billion. Revenue from Professional books declined 14.5% to $1.68 billion. University Presses, the smallest category reported, grew slightly, by 2.9% to $391.7 million in 2020.

. . . .

The year 2020 will long be remembered for the onset of an unforgiving public health crisis and corresponding economic uncertainty for businesses of every size. Throughout it all, however, the publishing industry stayed laser-focused on its mission to serve readers and the public interest, even while pivoting to shifting consumer needs.

While the market was flat overall (−0.2%), Trade books had a strong year, up 6.0%, as many consumers turned to reading and listening to both fiction and non-fiction with renewed interest and commitment. 

Print books continued to dominate the market during the year, with Hardback, Paperback, and Special Bindings each seeing an increase. 

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Association of American Publishers

Note that this report is for the year 2020.

Behind the Forbidden Bookshelf: Du Pont Dynasty

From Forbidden Bookshelf:

For over half a century, America’s vast literary culture has been disparately policed, and imperceptibly contained, by state and corporate entities well-placed and perfectly equipped to wipe out wayward writings. As America does not ban books, other means — less evident, and so less controversial — have been deployed to vaporize them. The purpose of Forbidden Bookshelf is to bring such vanished books back to life. In Behind the Forbidden Bookshelf we look at each book in the Forbidden Bookshelf and discover how it was erased from the public consciousness.

. . . .

T­­he press universally praised Du Pont Dynasty on its initial release, with the notable exception of a review of the first edition written for the Harvard Business Review by business historian Alfred D. Chandler, without revealing his family affiliation. (The “D” stands for Du Pont. After his retirement from Harvard, Chandler moved to the Du Pont family’s “chateau country” in northern Delaware.) Some months before, in the summer of 1974, an unedited manuscript of the book with a specially prepared index was leaked “under orders” by a Prentice-Hall salesman to a Wilmington bookstore previously owned by a Du Pont family member. It was picked up by University of Delaware trustee J. Bruce Bredin, who then promptly delivered it across the street to his brother-in-law, Irénée du Pont Jr., who was senior vice resident of Du Pont Company at the time. Irénée read it and took it to Du Pont’s public relations department, which then called and made thinly veiled threats to Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC), whose Fortune Book Club had selected it. Within 24 hours of being told that the Du Pont family had found the book “scurrilous and actionable,” BOMC informed Prentice-Hall that it was dropping the book, in a move BOMC later admitted was unprecedented in its history.

Prentice-Hall executives subsequently decided to cut the book’s print run by one third so it “[could not] price profitably according to any conceivable formula,” cut the advertising budget by a proportionate amount, and scaled back plans for a national book tour to just three cities: New York, Philadelphia, and Wilmington.

In the publishing industry, this is quietly known as privishing, a term meaning to privately publish. It entails going through minimum motions as if honoring the contract with the author to publish the book while actually cutting off the book’s life-support system so that it silently disappears. The author, of course, is kept uninformed.

The conscience of my editor, Bram Cavin, got the better of him after three months and he finally told me over a martini lunch. I suggested a press conference, but Cavin said that his superiors, who preferred to keep the incident secret, would not do that. Cavin nevertheless got the story to one of Time magazine’s best investigative reporters, John Tompkins, who interviewed officials at Prentice-Hall, Du Pont, and BOMC and wrote a story, which Time’s editor killed. It turns out that this same editor, Frank Lubar, had previously been contacted by Du Pont officials when they thought Time Inc. still owned BOMC, only to discover that it had been sold (hence their subsequent call to BOMC).

Meanwhile, the book was getting rave reviews, including a two-page review in the Sunday Book Section of the New York Times. Prentice-Hall’s chief legal counsel, William Daly, could not take it anymore and delivered a copy of his file on the suppression to Alden Whitman of the New York Times. The Times — whose editor Max Frankel had likewise come under pressure from Du Pont because of the Times review and had refused to buckle under — ran Whitman’s story. On the same day and page, he ran another story on the Du Pont family firing the top staff of Delaware’s largest daily newspaper, the Wilmington New-Journal, which they owned. But despite the reviews and Whitman’s story, Prentice-Hall could not fill orders during the typically impulse-driven Christmas season for the simple reason that Prentice-Hall had cut the print run. I asked my literary agent for help in getting Prentice-Hall to print more copies, but he told me, “Look, Jerry, the book has had its run.”

. . . .

The Du Ponts apparently wanted to cover all their bases in killing this book, even by suppressing coverage by the only non–Du Pont–owned daily newspaper in Delaware, the Delaware State News. The State News had serialized the book, which helped make the book the number-one bestseller in the state, remaining on the bestseller list for weeks. The State News, however, immediately came under a charge of bias before the Delaware News Council from a journalist who had been in contact with then–Congressman Pierre S. (“Pete”) du Pont IV, who was running for reelection. The reporter charged the Delaware State News with bias for serializing the book. Suddenly the Delaware State News had its bank loans called in, and its editor, Joseph Smyth, was quietly sent to Phoenix, Arizona, by his father, DSN’s owner. He spent the rest of his career there, editing one of his father’s other newspapers.

I fought back against the suppression of my book by pursuing justice in the federal court. I sued Prentice-Hall for breach of contract and Du Pont Company for inducing that breach. I slapped the officials of Du Pont Company, BOMC, Prentice-Hall, Richmond Williams, Mark Duke, and involved Du Pont family members with federal subpoenas for documents and interrogatories in a discovery process in Delaware and New York that lasted years, until trial in 1981 in New York’s Southern District Federal Court. After three judges stepped down for conflict of interest — two having represented Du Pont in the past as lawyers and the last judge stepping down after a year and a half on the case for reasons unknown to this day — Judge Charles Brieant, one of the most conservative judges in the district, was assigned the case. But I knew we were in trouble when, during Irénée du Pont’s reading of a document in his testimony on the stand, Brieant suddenly rose up from his seat, stepped down to the witness stand, and turned on a light for Irénée.

After two weeks of trial, during which there was a complete press blackout on coverage by the New York media, Judge Brieant called lawyers from both sides into his chambers and announced that he was not going to find a “pillar of American society” (Du Pont Company) guilty for merely expressing its objections to a book. He agreed with Du Pont’s assertion that as a corporation it enjoyed a citizen’s free speech rights under the Constitution. My attorney, a Republican former assistant US attorney, tried to object that Du Pont had not just expressed its opinion but made the threatening phone call that obviously (and admittedly) had the intention of inducing BOMC to break its contract with Prentice-Hall and drop the book — and succeeded, harming the author. Brieant dismissed the argument. “But you,” he said, turning to Prentice-Hall’s attorney, “if you are going to publish a book, you are going to publish it, not privish it.” At which point, Prentice-Hall offered a settlement to me that would not even have covered court costs and further insisted on my silence about the case. I refused, and the next day, the trial ended. Many months later, Brieant came down with his decision. He let Du Pont off but found Prentice-Hall guilty of privishing the book for no good business reason. He awarded me almost exactly what Prentice-Hall had offered.

Link to the rest at Forbidden Bookshelf (on Medium)

PG had never heard of this matter before and can’t assess the author’s claims, although he admits, it certainly strikes him as consonant with the behavior of more than a few large publishers.

The global book publishers market

From Research and Markets:

The global book publishers market is expected to grow from $87.92 billion in 2020 to $92.68 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.4%. The growth is mainly due to the companies rearranging their operations and recovering from the COVID-19 impact, which had earlier led to restrictive containment measures involving social distancing, remote working, and the closure of commercial activities that resulted in operational challenges. The market is expected to reach $104.21 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 3%.

The book publishers market consists of revenues generated by entities (organizations, sole traders or partnerships) that carry out design, editing, and marketing activities necessary for producing and distributing books. These establishments may publish books in print, electronic, or audio form. Their products include atlases, religious books, school or university textbooks, encyclopedias, technical manuals, maps and travel guides, in all cases excepting exclusive internet publishing). The book publishers market is segmented into consumer books; educational books and religious books.

Asia Pacific was the largest region in the global book publishers market, accounting for 34% of the market in 2020. North America was the second largest region accounting for 34% of the global book publishers market. Africa was the smallest region in the global book publishers market.

Print-on-demand (POD) model is becoming popular among book publishers as it allows them to control printing and inventory costs. The Print on Demand (POD) model is characterized by printing the book only after an order is secured. Due to high publishing costs writers and publishers are preferring to keep their work in digital form. Major print on demand book service providers include Blurb, CreateSpace, Lightning Source and Lulu. Amazon too aims to fully integrate the POD technology. It promises to print a book within 2 hours of the order. Self-publishers stand to gain the most due to this technology.

The outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has acted as a significant restraint on some of the book publishers’ markets in 2020 as businesses were disrupted due to lockdowns imposed by governments globally. COVID 19 is an infectious disease with flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, and difficulty in breathing. The virus was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei province of the People’s Republic of China and spread globally including Western Europe, North America and Asia. Steps by national governments to contain the transmission have resulted in a decline in economic activity and restricted movement of goods and services with countries entering a state of ‘lock down’. The outbreak is expected to continue to have a negative impact on businesses throughout 2020 and into 2021. However, many media markets have been unaffected or benefited from this as they transmit their content remotely through digital channels. It is expected that the book publishers’ market will recover from the shock across the forecast period as it is a ‘black swan’ event and not related to ongoing or fundamental weaknesses in the market or the global economy.

E-books sales is growing rapidly in established markets of the USA and Europe. eBooks generated a higher share of revenues than the physical print in developed markets such as the US and UK. According to PWC, total global book publisher’s revenue will increase, growing at a CAGR 1.7%, during the forecast period. Although the physical book publisher’s industry continues to shrink (-2.8%), this decline is offset by growth in e-books which are predicted to grow at a CAGR of 11.7% in the forecast period. Increasing consumer preference for the digital versions is expected to significantly impact the growth of the market during this period.

Link to the rest at Research and Markets

PG suggests that this isn’t marketing research designed to provide insight into what sorts of books will sell better than others at a granular level. It’s basically a rehash of the past year’s sales statistics projected into the future.

Not All Cinderella Stories Have Happy Endings

From Shaken and Stirred:

Publishing twitter is having a very important public conversation, touched off by the announcement by Molly McGhee yesterday that she was leaving Tor after being refused a promotion, when her first acquisition hit the New York Times list this week. In her post, she detailed the large scale problems that led to this decision, including scads of administrative work she was also expected to do.

Link to the rest at Molly McGhee and Shaken and Stirred and thanks to C. for the tip.

Fantasy Author Raises $15.4 Million in 24 Hours to Self-Publish

PG managed to get round the NYT paywall today. The OP was published two days ago.

From The New York Times:

Brandon Sanderson, a prolific sci-fi and fantasy author, started an online fund-raising campaign this week to self-publish four of the novels he wrote during the pandemic. His goal: to raise $1 million in 30 days.

He blew past the first million in about 35 minutes. And the ticker kept rising.

In 24 hours, he raised $15.4 million, which the fund-raising website Kickstarter said was the single most successful day of any of their campaigns. By Thursday, two days into it, he had raised more than $19 million.

The eye-popping sum raises questions about what is possible for authors with major platforms who are willing to self-publish — and why the vast majority of big names stick with traditional routes to publication. But analysts, and even Sanderson himself, don’t see this kind of self-publishing as a problem for the industry or a desirable choice for most writers. Rather, for the right author, the two paths can coexist and help expand options for readers.

“Publishers need authors to be entrepreneurs these days,” said Kristen McLean, the executive director of business development at NPD Books, which tracks book sales. “This is just going to build his profile and continue to drive the backlist sales of all of his books.”

Part of why this project has worked for Sanderson, McLean said, is his unique relationship with his fans. He has sold 20 million print, audio and e-books, Sanderson said, including titles such as “Rhythm of War,” an epic fantasy novel about a coalition of humans resisting an enemy invasion. Like many authors of science fiction and fantasy, he has spent a lot of time in conventions and interacting with his audience. In 2019, he said, he was on the road for 111 days.

But self-publishing on the scale Sanderson is proposing is an enormously complicated proposition. Fundamentally, most authors want to write books, not run a publishing house.

Books require editors, designers and lawyers. Someone has to register the ISBN number and file for copyright. Someone else has to proofread the manuscript, then proofread it again. Printing thousands of copies of physical books, then storing and distributing them, is expensive and onerous.

To that end, Sanderson has built a company, Dragonsteel Entertainment, which employs 30 people including a marketing director, concept artist, continuity editor and human resources director. He also has a warehouse in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a short drive from his house.

Sanderson has been self-publishing e-books since the early 2010s, he said, and a 2020 Kickstarter campaign to fund a leather-bound reprint of one of his books served as a test run for this larger project.

“I am an artist who was raised by an accountant and a businessman,” Sanderson said in a phone interview from his office in American Fork, Utah. “For a lot of authors, this would be a bad idea because there’s a lot of management.”

Sanderson emphasized that he was not leaving traditional publishers, in part because he wants to be sure that bookstores can continue to have his work in stock. He is published by Tor, which is part of Macmillan Publishers, and Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and he has a book scheduled for publication later this year with each of them.

e also has no plans to use his company to publish other authors, he said. What makes him successful is his ability to appeal directly to his own fans, who may not necessarily want to buy work by somebody else.

One of his goals for this project, Sanderson said, was to experiment. First, he wanted to see what it might look like to poke a little hole in Amazon’s dominance. Amazon sells more than half the printed books in the United States, but it is even more powerful in e-books and audiobooks, which account for 80 percent of Sanderson’s sales, he said.

“If Amazon’s grip on the industry is weakened, that’s good for the publishers — they are very much under Amazon’s thumb right now,” Sanderson said. “I don’t want to present this as ‘Brandon versus Amazon.’ Amazon’s great. But I think that in the long run, Amazon being a monopoly is actually bad for Amazon. If they don’t have competition, they will stop innovating.”

He also wanted to play around with bundling and upselling. Traditional publishers, he said, offer few products and few options. The array of packages on Kickstarter range from $40 for four e-books to $500 for the four books in all formats, plus eight boxes of “swag.”

Other high-profile writers occasionally self-publish. Donald Trump Jr. took that route with his second book, “Liberal Privilege,” after releasing his first book, “Triggered,” with an imprint of Hachette. Colleen Hoover, a novelist who has three books on the New York Times best-seller list this week, continued to self-publish long after she became a hit maker. And there are certain genres, like romance, science fiction or fantasy, where self-publishing e-books remains common for signed authors.

“There’s a lot of hybrid publishing out there that is just happening quietly in the background,” McLean said. “It’s just the way sophisticated authors in genres manage their business.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The author of the OP, Elizabeth A. Harris, is an NYT reporter whose beat is books and publishing. PG is not acquainted with her and, to the best of his knowledge, this is the first article written by Ms. Harris that he has read.

For 95% of traditional publishers in the United States and for quite a few commercial English-language publishers who sell their books in the US, The New York Times is an extremely valuable place to have their books be mentioned. A NYT Books and Publishing reporter is certain to have a great many excellent contacts in every major and a lot of minor publishers.

PG expects Ms. Harris may have contacted several publishers as she prepared her article. That would be the almost certain first step a reporter would have taken with a story like this. Yet, nobody who works for a publisher appears to have agreed to be quoted, even on an anonymous basis.

The one source identified in the article is NPD, a company that operates BookScan. BookScan’s business is providing information about the sales of printed and ebooks, mostly to traditional publishers. An interested observer might ask why a traditional publisher would need to pay someone else to track its sales, but, hey, publishing is a special snowflake and commercial concerns are for the beancounters who work somewhere in the basement and is a bit off topic anyway.

A chance for an executive of a major or minor publisher to be quoted in the New York Times would usually cause her/him to stop any business meeting or interrupt any lunch or vacation to speak with an NYT reporter. But nobody was willing to say anything, not even a catty remark, about Sanderson.

PG’s speculation is that everybody in New York (and maybe London) publishing hopes this is just a one-time happening that will never be repeated again. Everybody knows fantasy and science fiction authors are strange people anyway. Nothing to see hear, move on.

PG would appreciate it if any of the visitors to TPV discovers anyone associated with a traditional publishers commenting about Brandon Sanderson in print that they would send a link to PG via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Crave Rejection? 7 Never-Fail, 100% Guaranteed Tips for Raising your R-Score.

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

Here’s some advice for those who feel they are missing out on one of the basic building blocks of a successful author’s career: Rejection.

For those who feel they are not paying their dues.

For every writer who is not receiving an adequate, soul-satisfying number of rejections, try these pro tips to help you pump up your pathetic, wimpy R-score.

1)  Embrace the Jackalope.

From the gory, surgical details of a tummy tuck to the onslaught of grammar Nazis and an attack by vicious sabertoothed cave rats, you must heed the advice of everyone in your crit group.

By all means pay attention to advice from “experts” who know almost nada about your book or your genre.

For example — the James Bond fan who wants “more action” in your sweet, sensitive romance about disabled teenagers looking for love.

Or the James Patterson reader who wants shorter chapters in your elegant, carefully-considered literary deconstruction of Finnegan’s Wake.

Be sure to give in to the devastating ego destroyers whose nasty tone and censorious delivery cause you to go to bed for a week and even contemplate suicide. They must know what they’re talking about, don’t they, these hit-and-run drive-by “authorities” who aim right for your confidence?

Heed the amateur shrinks who want to know “motivation” of every character including the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donut who serves a Double Chocolate Donut instead of the Boston Kreme Donut your adorable but scared alien from another planet ordered.

The counter guy must be suffering trauma cuz he screwed up the order. Or is he enduring an unhealed childhood wound? Or did he just get fired from the rotten job at DD he needs to pay the rent?

And what about the adorable but scared alien? Where is his family? His parents or grandparents? Does he have siblings? If so, where are they? What happened to them? If not, why not?

To guarantee producing an unreadable mess, and sure fire instant rejection, be certain to pay attention to every comment and your dreams of infinite rejection will come true.

. . . .

2) Write the Best Horror-Thriller-Mystery Ever Created — and Send it to the Wrong Agent.

Your villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat.

Your victims are so vulnerable, defenseless and forlorn they will make a stone weep.

The prose sparkles.

Your grammar is of such flawless perfection a revision of Strunk & White is being published at this moment to acknowledge your excellence.

The whole manuscript has been edited so scrupulously it contains not one single typo.

Your use of the Oxford comma and the activating hyphen are impeccable.

You’ve worked for years, neglected your spouse and children, let your dog go hungry and unwalked.

You’re survived without food and sleep.

The time has come at last for submission.  Which lucky agent will get first look at the best horror/thriller/mystery ever composed in Word/Pages/Scrivener?

Still determined to bulk up your wimpy stack of rejection slips? The answer is obvious. What you want is an agent who specializes in — Ta Da! — Romance.


If you might just conceivably be interested in getting the best horror/thriller/mystery ever written actually published, why not do some research first?

Find out which agent(s) specializes in your genre. That agent will be up on all the latest developments in the market you’re trying to break into and will have close contacts with the editors who are looking for exactly what you write.

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

Looking for Answers to Paper Shortages

From Publishers Weekly:

If the early days of 2022 have been any indication, paper shortages and rising distribution costs are challenges that the industry will likely face throughout year. The seeds of the current problems were sown in the years of the pandemic, when sales of print books unexpectedly rose, increasing demand while people were leaving manufacturing jobs in droves that led to labor shortages in the printing and papermaking businesses.

. . . .

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve never seen a market like this before.” While the paper market has always had cycles, Rojack said this is something different. “The paper business has been consolidating for years and will continue to consolidate,” he said, adding that the pandemic expedited the process.

Noting that book paper accounts for only about 5-7% of total paper market demand (including for catalogs and magazines), Rojack said that, despite an increase in demand by book publishers, overall paper demand has dropped 50% in recent years. To compensate for that drop, many mills converted to other products where they can make money—particularly the growing demand for corrugated boxes and other packaging materials. Giving current trends, Rojack said that the paper crunch for books is likely to get worse before it gets better, and he noted that plants that have spent millions of dollars converting their factories are not going to retool back to paper even if the packaging market becomes saturated—something some experts believe could happen.

Rojack said book publishers are going to need to make some tough choices. “We’ve been spoiled,” he said. “Too many trim sizes and too many colors, and simply too many options.” He added that publishers should be in constant contact with their paper and print providers, discussing the options that remain available and shouldn’t even bring up prices. Rojack pointed to a slide that he said summed up the situation the best, which noted that the way publishers chose a sheet of paper for their books in the past may need to change. “Price and look and feel will always be important, but they need to be balanced by what works best for your paper manufactures and your print providers. If those parties are not show how represented in your initial production meetings, they need to be,” he said.

Some solutions were offered and many of them involve longer term changes rather than short term band-aids. One involves automation and streamlining the process. “Historically, the goal was print enough books to get cheapest unit cost possible; then it became trying to get as much narrow focus on just-in-time delivery and having everything there,” Baehr explained. “Now with a supply chain crunch it’s about finding the best balance.”

One solution might be print-on-demand, which solves many inventory and time issues, though retains a high cost per unit. “This situation creates an interesting dialog with publishers because it assures that there will have to be a standardization of trim sizes, paper usage, cover stocks, and more,” Baehr said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How sensitivity readers corrupt literature

From UnHerd:

What did the sensitivity readers say? And did I care? Of all the aspects of the recent attempt to cancel my work, the one that seems to fascinate most people is the moment when my publishers sent my Orwell Prize-winning memoir, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, to be assessed by experts who would detect and reform its problematic racism and ableism.

Of course I cared. I’m horrified that people found prejudice and cruelty in my book. And I went into the process willingly: I’ve always enjoyed and benefited from editing and saw this as an extension. I did an initial rewrite — there were many things I was eager to change — in the autumn of 2021 and sent it off full of interest and optimism. I received the reports on it before Christmas. They were never formally used and I share the content here — anonymously, of course — because sensitivity reads are being used more and more widely, and mine gives a valuable insight into how they might work with non-fiction and memoir.

There are several reports — Picador did a thorough job — and they are varied. The novelty of the whole field is reflected in the fact that the Readers use different titles — sensitivity and authenticity — and different methods, too. Some write A4 reports, others use the comment button on Microsoft Word or an Excel sheet, still another presents a simple list of headings, done very possibly with a word search. More than one grades infractions, 1-3. They have of course special areas of expertise — Islam, blackness, disability — but these emerge through inference, not announcement.

Their scopes vary, too. One Reader fusspots around single words: I should not use “disfigure” of a landscape (infraction level 3, as presumably comparing bings — spoil heaps — to boils might be harmful to acne sufferers). Nor should I use “handicap” in its ordinary sense of “impede” (infraction level 2, serious); and I should prefer the acronym “SEN” to its origin phrase, special educational needs, because it is more inclusive (infraction level 2).

Others have grander ambitions: paragraphs, sub-sections and even entire chapters should be revised. Still others focus on issues around the presentation of the book. One suggests the authors of endorsements containing the words “love” and “humanity” might want to “rethink their stance”. To add to the cacophony, the Readers contradict each other freely, even praising and disparaging the same passages.

Given this diversity, it seems reasonable to start with areas of agreement. These mostly occur in the first part of my book, which is set in the Nineties. Perhaps this is because all of the Readers seem to be experts on sexuality and gender, and resisting homophobia is one of my themes. There is even a particular passage, the only one in the book, on which the whole Reader crowd comments and concurs.

The setting is London, 1992. After end-of-term drinks, a favourite student, Liam, comes out to me and then asks me to take him to G.A.Y — because, he says, no one else in his world would know where it was. I was very worried about doing this at the time; even though Liam had just left school, I still felt like his teacher, and I worry even more now, when teachers no longer take 18-year-olds to the pub and are much more aware of influence and consent.

None of these sensitive issues, though — raised at length in the book — worry the Readers. They are concerned, rather, that I might be boasting about helping a young gay person: “Straight white saviour trope”, suggests Wordsearch List, “could be problematic”. And they set up a chorus about what I feel and say after Liam hits the dance floor and I note:

… a new kind of pain, a physical, chesty anxiety that I was not to experience again until I watched my own children walk along ledges or cross a busy road. What would happen to Liam among all those strong bodies? What would happen to his body? He was too young to understand you only got one. Fortunately, it was only twenty minutes or so before he came back out of the crowd and grasped his beer.

‘Liam,’ I said, ‘I love you. You have to promise me to always use a condom and never get AIDS.’ 

I make, my Readers agree, a “reductive” and “rogue” remark. The preceding passage “comes across as homophobic” and is an LGBTQ infraction Level 2. But in 1992, people were still dying in large numbers from AIDS, and I would have urged all young people to use condoms. Excel Reader is kind enough to acknowledge this — “the author has chosen to reproduce contemporary dialogue which may not … reflect brilliantly on her” — but the other Readers seem to concur that the past should match an idealised present, in the same way that Anne of Green Gables, say, got a gay best friend when she went on Netflix.

There are similar injunctions throughout the text. I am enjoined not to quote from My Ántonia by Willa Cather, as it is “an old novel”; nor to state that homosexuality has historically been taboo in Nepal, as homophobia comes from colonialism; nor to mention that the Taliban were terrorists. Extending the principle of sunny improvement into the present, Wordsearch List breaks out of their list to make the helpful suggestion that I should remove references to terrorism from across the book, as it “over-sensationalises such a heavy topic, especially with minors involved”.

. . . .

But Some Kids isn’t a novel, nor written for children. Adults are able to put books down if they upset them, so their books may safely contain difficult ideas. I don’t, for example, agree with my Readers that the references to looks, attraction and sexuality in my book should be removed in case readers are hurt by a metaphor as a child might plausibly be. I think adults can endure bings being compared to boils. I also believe that physical human beauty empirically exists, is enormously important for adolescents, and that I can observe its currency and often destructive power, especially for young women, in the classroom. I make an explicit argument about this, which readers may disagree with.

. . . .

I struggle with all this. I baulk, besides, perhaps snobbishly, at their language: the imprecision of phrases such as “feels like the kind of saying that could be deemed insensitive these days”, or “white knight tone/verve” (verve?). I snarl when Excel helpfully suggests I have made a typo with e. e. cummings, and lost his capital letters. It upsets me in particular, when so many of their criticisms depend on it, that none of the Readers deploy the word “irony”, but use “sarcasm”, “jocular aside” and “subtlety” instead, always as negatives. Comment Button condemns my entire chapter on Prizes as “it shows none of the adults involved in a good light”. Indeed it doesn’t. They are being satirised, even though one of them was me.

Link to the rest at UnHerd

The OP gave PG an idea for another standard paragraph writers should put into their publishing contracts:

Phony Provision for Sensitivity Review

Publisher will not utilize “sensitivity readers” to review and comment on Author’s Work without the prior written consent of Author. In the event that Publisher desires to have one or more sensitivity readers review and comment on Author’s work and Author consents, Publisher shall immediately pay Author an additional sum equal to the advance Publisher paid Author at the time Author executed the Publishing Agreement with Publisher.

The purpose of this additional payment is to compensate Author for the additional time that Author will require to review the comments and recommendations of the sensitivity readers.

Author can reject some or all of the recommendations or make some or no modifications as suggested by all, some or none of the sensitivity readers.

In the event Publisher is not satisfied with Author’s response to the comments and suggestions of the sensitivity readers, either Publisher or Author may terminate this Agreement. Upon such termination, Author shall repay the advance received from the Publisher but shall be permitted to retain the additional payment received due to the use of sensitivity readers as described above. Upon receipt of Author’s returned Advance payment, Publisher shall give Author a document executed by an officer of Publisher, certifying that Publisher has relinquished all rights to Author’s Work.

Without the advance written consent of Author, Publisher shall not disclose the reason why the Publishing Agreement with Author was terminated nor any information regarding the sensitivity analysis, its findings and/or recommendations nor shall Publisher reveal the identities of any of the sensitivity readers to any third parties or, by acting or failing to act, reveal any information about the sensitivity analysis to any third party without Author’s advance written consent in writing in each case.

Publisher shall require that each employee, agent or representative of Publisher who has or had any information about the sensitivity analysis of Author’s Work to sign an an agreement to keep this information confidential under the same terms and conditions which limit Publisher’s disclosures above.

In the event that Publisher or any employee, agent or representative of Publisher discloses any information that it or they have agreed to keep confidential, the parties agree that the discovery, calculation and/or proof of the amount of damages incurred by Author will be difficult or impossible for Author to fully discover and prove.

Accordingly, in the event of any breach of the provisions of this Sensitivity Review provision by Publisher or anyone who is under obligation to maintain the information relating to the Sensitivity Review as described described above, Author shall be entitled to liquidated damages for such breach in the amount of Author’s Advance multiplied by ten. By way of example and not limitation, if Author’s advance for the Work is $10,000, the amount of liquidated damages Publisher shall pay to Author for breach of this agreement shall be $100,000.

In the event that Publisher refuses to promptly pay liquidated damages as provided herein and Author hires legal counsel to enforce Publisher’s obligations under this Agreement, Author shall be entitled to recover Author’s reasonable legal expenses and costs from Publisher in addition to the Liquidated Damages to which Author is entitled under this agreement.

NOTE: This is purely an exercise by PG to demonstrate how a Sensitivity Review provision might be constructed. PG has not conducted any research to determine whether such a provision would be enforceable under US or state laws or the laws of any other country in the world.


You obtain legal advice by consulting an attorney, not by reading a blog post. PG is not your lawyer.

If you want to try to accomplish something that is similar to what is described in PG’s fanciful Sensitivity Review, you really and truly need to hire a competent attorney to advise you. Failure to do so could result in a giant legal mess, a huge bill and untold sleepless nights.

The Bizarre, Unsolved Mystery of Filippo Bernardini and the Stolen Book Manuscripts

Note: PG first posted about this story over a year ago because he was intrigued by the success of the scam. The following was published on February 1, 2022.

From The New Republic:

For the last five years, the publishing industry’s most compelling story has been a mystery. Somebody had been going to extraordinary lengths to steal manuscripts—mostly, but not always, unpublished ones—from agents, publishers, authors, and literary scouts across three continents by creating an extraordinary number of fake email addresses. The person behind the scheme had an impressive facility for languages (though his English, oddly, wasn’t spectacular), as well as a palpable brazenness; a number of people I spoke to who received emails from him noted their “chatty,” familiar tone. As the industry eased into the Covid-19 pandemic and everyone’s world got a little bit smaller, the emails increased and interest among members of the industry in this strange caper heated up.

On one level, the plot was incredibly elaborate and time-intensive: the stuff of Ocean’s 11. It involved registering hundreds of fake domains and creating a fake database to steal emails and passwords, and required an intimate knowledge of the international publishing world, both its luminaries and factotums. He could be threatening if people called out his flimsy deceptions; he told several of his victims he knew where they lived and that he would pay them a visit one day.

The plot, however, also had a comical crudeness. Most of the email addresses the scammer used in his catfishing scheme involved changing a single letter from the original—often r to n or vice versa—or shifting a .com address to a specific country, making the plot into which he put this massive effort surprisingly easy for his marks to unravel. And while the would-be thief chased after some big books from time to time—most of the early coverage of this escapade centered around his quest for unpublished works by Stieg Larsson, Margaret Atwood, and Ethan Hawke—he mostly seemed to be after titles that had little commercial appeal. He stole, or tried to steal, several Icelandic short story collections—hardly the stuff that criminal masterminds dream of obtaining through illicit means.

In a famously gossipy industry, the lack of a clear motive fueled a frenzy of speculation. International publishing is, after all, an business highly dependent on email and, above all, driven by relationships; the scammer’s aggressive phishing scheme was fraying the bonds in a tight-knit world and causing widespread distrust. When I first learned that someone had been stealing manuscripts in late 2020, the people I spoke with entertained an unending array of fantastical possibilities.

A particular favorite of mine—shared by several people across Europe—held that Russia’s security service, the FSB, was behind the thefts, no doubt in an attempt to undermine the Western cultural industry. There were also rumors that China was behind the plot. Some assumed it was the Mafia—an Italian was long suspected of being the culprit by a certain cohort—or another international criminal syndicate. But the pilfered texts never appeared on the black market or even on torrenting sites; no ransom demands ever materialized. Despite all the teeming interest and flights of fancy, no one could provide a plausible reason why an international criminal syndicate or a ring of Russian spies, or Chinese autocrats, would want to get their mitts on a collection of Icelandic short stories, or what nefarious purpose required them to snatch up the fifth posthumous volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium “trilogy.”

Finally, on January 5, the figure at the heart of the mystery was unmasked. Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who worked as a low-level employee in Simon & Schuster U.K.’s foreign rights department, alighted at Kennedy airport in New York City, where he’d planned to begin a vacation with his partner. He was met, instead, by the FBI, who arrested him on the spot. 

He was charged with wire fraud and identify theft; it was alleged that he had poached as many as 160 aliases to steal unpublished manuscripts from publishers and authors. Bernardini is also alleged to have set up a fake scouting database that he used to harvest passwords from figures in the international publishing community. The wire fraud charge alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Multiple people I spoke with noted, upon hearing this, that where they lived convicted murderers typically face much less time incarcerated. (Last month, Bernardini pleaded not guilty to all charges. Dubbed a flight risk, he surrendered his passport after his father, an Italian politician, posted $300,000 bail.) 

The FBI crowed that they got their man. “Unpublished manuscripts are works of art to the writers who spend the time and energy creating them,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll in a statement. “Publishers do all they can to protect those unpublished pieces because of their value. We allege Mr. Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts.”

But whatever motivated Bernardini remains a mystery—and a confounding one at that, at least for industry veterans. I’ve spoken with dozens of publishers, agents, scouts, and authors in several of the countries Bernardini was allegedly swiping manuscripts from—the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Iceland, China, and Germany, as well as Italy, where he was aggressively pitching himself as a translator of books from many of those countries. No one really bought the FBI’s alleged motive; it flew in the face of how the creative process and the publishing world actually work. 

Link to the rest at The New Republic

How to Close the Racial Pay Gap in Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

As an immigrant woman of color, I wouldn’t have considered negotiating my author advance (and, indeed, didn’t in 2015, when I pitched my first book without an agent). Five years later, when I went through an auction for my second book, I was lucky to have an agent represent me. But as I reflect on the process—and talk to white author peers with similar professional backgrounds as mine—I imagine that having a young woman of color represent me could also have led me to receive a lower offer than my white peers. Many of my white peers could—and did—take years off to write their books, funded by their advances alone. I wrote my manuscript in the depths of the pandemic, while managing an out-of-school three-year-old and continuing to work on my business full-time to pay the bills.

I’ve dedicated my life to creating inclusive workplaces, so facing bias and exclusion in my own career feels particularly painful. It’s no secret that the publishing industry is very white: 85% of acquisitions editors are white and nearly 90% of books published are by white authors, according to a 2020 New York Times piece. Author advances are opaque, and publishing expert Maris Kreizman says deals are made on “mostly a gut feeling.”

How much of a gut feeling? Well, in June 2020, the viral social media campaign #PublishingPaidMe revealed just how inequitable author advances can be.

L.L. McKinney, a Black woman, urged other authors to share the sizes of their advances. The results revealed staggering disparities between the advances offered for debut books by women of color authors and those by white authors.

Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, a Black woman, tweeted she had to “wrestle” her way to a $100,000 advance after winning awards. By contrast, Chip Cheek, a white man, tweeted he received an $800,000 advance for his debut.

Advances in publishing illustrate how, like in any industry, those who are given more money are expected to perform better; they’re given the resources to succeed. These advances reflect what sort of authors publishers think are “worth” taking chances on.

. . . .

  1. We urgently need more transparency about how author advances are decided. What are the metrics used to make these decisions? What if each publisher could create a range of how they’ve paid authors in the past and use this matrix (or update it) for future decisions? This would greatly help every author of color—and their agents—come in on equal footing and advocate based on a shared understanding of how decisions are made.
  2. Each publisher must perform a regular review, using demographic data (on race and gender at the very least, and as much other data as is available), of authors acquired and the advances paid. The data doesn’t lie, and as many of my corporate clients have found, even well-meaning organizations that believe themselves to be progressive are shocked to see the racial disparities when comparing the data. It is only when more acquisitions editors face up to the existing challenges that they can meaningfully make progress.
  3. Removing negotiations altogether would create more equity. When there’s transparency in numbers, there is a better shot at bias being removed from the equation. Don’t believe me? A study in the corporate sector found hiring managers were likely to offer Black candidates lower starting salaries if they felt they were negotiating too hard. As a woman of color, I’m often expected to be grateful for what I’m offered and have been penalized for asking for more. Negotiation as a practice favors those who are already (over)represented in the industry and workforce.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Yet more evidence that traditional publishing is a racist, sexist mire that all decent people should avoid like the plague or toxic effluent or pimples or Covid.

Digitization Can Support Publishers with Decision-Making

From Publishers Weekly:

“Digitization has made book publishing more efficient.”

According to the “Global Book Publishers Market Report (2021 to 2030): Covid 19 Impact and Recovery,” worldwide sales of e-books are predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.7% in the forecast period. This continues a trend that started in 2008 with the introduction of e-reading devices, most prominently Amazon’s Kindle.

Looking at the volume of e-books released each year since 2008, many titles are published directly on self-publishing platforms such as Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing. This has created a plethora of new information for traditional publishers—not only about which books are released but also about how individual titles, authors, and entire genres are perceived by readers.

In new research with my colleague Imke Reimers from Northeastern University, we studied how publishers use the information generated through digitization—such as online reviews, detailed bestseller lists, and download figures—to make decisions. Platforms such as Amazon and Goodreads, as well as services such as BookScan or Bookstat, provide new sources of data that can be tapped to make decisions about which authors to work with and which manuscripts to buy.

Using data on almost 50,000 book deals over a period of 12 years starting in the early 2000s, we looked at how digitization has affected the relationships between authors and publishers. In particular, we studied how the advances that authors receive for individual titles or series changed after 2008. As we looked at the data, it became clear that one genre is much more affected by digitization than others: romance and erotica.

No other genre is published as frequently in the e-book format, and no other genre is published as frequently on self-publishing platforms. Likewise, no other genre has seen as many works with a self-publishing background appear on USA Today’s bestseller lists.

So we compared how advances to romance authors changed relative to advances paid to authors who write in other genres. This comparison allowed us to isolate the effect of digitization from other industry trends.

First, we found that advances to romance authors increased by about 20% after the introduction of the Kindle, compared to advances to authors in other genres. We identified two possible explanations for this rise. On the one hand, it might have been driven by a relative improvement of the authors’ bargaining power, given that they now had the option to circumvent traditional publishers and use self-publishing platforms to find their audiences. Alternatively, it could have been driven by an increase in demand for romance books after spectacular hits such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

Secondly, we found that publishers benefitted from the data that became available to them as a result of digitization. To explore this, we took our analysis one step further and asked whether the authors involved in the book deals we reviewed eventually turned out to be successful in the market. This allowed us to study whether publishers’ predictions about manuscripts’ market potential (which we approximate with the size of advances to authors) are accurate.

Strikingly, we found that publishers made relatively fewer errors when choosing manuscripts after the arrival of Kindle, and these improvements are again more substantial for romance authors. This is true for both types of errors: false positives (high advances for manuscripts that eventually flop) and false negatives (low advances for manuscripts that eventually become bestsellers).

In addition, based on regression analyses that estimate whether a book from a deal becomes a bestseller, we found that an advance to a romance author can predict a book’s success at making USA Today’s top 150 bestseller list 33% more accurately, relative to before 2008 and to authors in other genres. This led us to conclude that digitization has made book publishing more efficient.

Finally, we found that publishers that are more likely to invest resources in data analytics (as measured by relevant job postings) see the largest improvements in prediction.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Book Sales Up, Readership Down

From The Authors Guild:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

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

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

From Inews UK:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bloomberg Law:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spine Collector

From Vulture:

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

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

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

Dear Linda and Catherine,

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

Thank you!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Vulture

FBI Arrests Suspect Scamming Authors for Unpublished Manuscripts

From The Authors Guild:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

BookTok: A Safe Haven for Young Female Readers

From Jane Friedman:

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

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

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

TikTok remains a positive place for young people.

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

. . . .

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

Publishers can use the platform organically and succeed. 

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

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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

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

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

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

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

2022 Publishing Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

5. Supply chain and paper shortage woes will continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

11. Audiobook popularity will continue to grow.

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

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

The Sad State of the Traditional Publishing Backlist

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

When she received the mic, Kat said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Flog a Pro

From Writer Unboxed:

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

Here’s the question:

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that the mill?” he asked.


“I do not remember it.”

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

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

“Then you cannot see the bridge from here.”

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

Were you moved to turn the page?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

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

Penguin Random House Defends Effort to Buy Simon & Schuster

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is YA Leading Diversity in Publishing?

From Book Riot:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Will Publishing Sales Grow Again?

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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