Big Publishing

Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing

2 December 2018

From BookBaby Blog:

Despite the constant upheaval that defines the current publishing landscape, many authors (and would-be authors) labor under some old “assumptions” about traditional publishing that are simply no longer relevant.

Myth #1: Traditional publishers serve as “gatekeepers”

As the argument goes… with a bloated book marketplace being invaded by millions of self-published titles, readers can depend on publishers to maintain quality literary standards as they allow only the best stories to be told through well-written tomes. This is false for many reasons.

First, publishing is a cold business. There is no noble mission to protect readers from bad books. Publishers put out books they think will make money — for the publishing house, maybe the bookstore, and possibly the author.

It’s true that traditional publishers are full of book professionals, some of whom are pretty good at spotting talent. The best placement editors also have an instinct for what the market will consume. They’ve published a lot of wonderful books. They’ve also published a lot of stinkers.

But if the gatekeeper myth were true, surely no good manuscript would ever be rejected, right?

. . . .

Myth #2: You can only make the big bucks through traditional publishing

The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing. In fact, the vast majority of authors will tell you there isn’t a lot of money to be found in a traditional book deal. Sure, you get an advance check, which averages around $5,000-$10,000, but you have to earn that back before you see another dime.

Moreover, the royalties associated with publishing through one of the major houses are paltry. If you publish through a large publishing house, you can expect to make $1-$2 per book sold. To make matters worse, most publishers only pay authors twice a year, so you can’t expect to see your monthly income increase because of your book.

It got to the point that, in 2016, the US Authors Guild sent an open letter to the Association of American Publishers demanding better contract terms. In the letter, these writers stated, “Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey —  our first since 2009  — the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500.”

. . . .

Myth #5: Once you land a book deal, your author career is set for life

Loyalty to authors is, largely, a thing of the past. The duration of a traditionally published author’s career is controlled by his or her publisher, and it’s usually all about sales of the latest book. If your new book doesn’t perform well, the publisher will not want your next one.

In fact, your first book must perform exceptionally well before the next one will be considered for publication. And the odds are long: only one to two percent of all books published become bestsellers.

Link to the rest at BookBaby Blog

The UK’s 2018 ‘Building Inclusivity’ Conference: A Safe Place for Discussion

30 November 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

There were several key messages highlighted in the UK’s third conference on Building Inclusivity in Publishing, presented by the London Book Fair and the Publishers Association on London’s South Bank on Tuesday (November 27).

. . . .

  • Inclusion should be a given, not an exception
  • Unpaid internships should disappear completely
  • Publishers should establish “safe places” in which conversations concerning issues like identity can take place
  • Children’s publishers need to recognize how important it is for black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) children to see themselves in books

Self-defined “queer working-class woman” Kerry Hudson—whose memoir Lowborn Growing Up, Getting Away, and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns is to be published February 5 by Penguin Random House’s Chatto—noted that strides have been made to improve inclusion.

One example Hudson pointed to is the Good Literary Agency, specifically set up with the purpose of reaching marginalized voices, for example—but she also pointed out that a recent report funded by the the Arts and Humanities Research Council and titled Panic! 2018 Social Cass, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries (PDF), suggested that only 12.6 percent of employees in publishing are of working-class origin.

“Marginalized writers aren’t looking for a scheme or a month of open submissions when for the rest of the year they feel as isolated and overlooked as ever,” Hudson said.

“We want an industry where inclusivity is the norm and not the shiniest new project. The aim must be not for superficial changes but actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is. That means moving away from pilots, meetings, and mission statements and looking at how to roll-out, scale up, and truly integrate these principles.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that traditional publishing is built upon a foundation that is exactly the opposite of inclusive. Publishing drones sift through the never-diminishing slush pile looking for the rarest of manuscripts. They automatically exclude 99%+ of the voices who want to be heard in the broader society.

One might argue that the principal value of traditional publishers for most readers is to create an exclusive collection of books that will appeal to those readers. If a publisher doesn’t exclude manuscripts its readers will, for whatever reason, not enjoy, the costs of publication, overhead, etc., will quickly exceed the publisher’s income and the publisher will disappear.

Self-described “curators of culture” can’t open the gates to just anyone without failing in their curational role, the only value they provide in a world in which self-publishing is becoming more and more widely accepted.

One might also ask if traditional publishers are providing a useful service to marginalized authors by inviting those authors into a business structure in which, “Don’t quit your day job,” is the most common piece of honest advice publishers give to debut authors.

Isn’t Kindle Direct Publishing “actually changing the bones, the very structure of what this industry is” to a far, far greater extent than conferences held on London’s South Bank?

Won’t more marginalized authors succeed in sharing their unique viewpoints with the world by self-publishing? Won’t most marginalized authors find a life as a professional writer easier to attain by selling their work in ebook form on Amazon?

 

The best ways to use Lightning are not widely employed yet 20 years in

29 November 2018

From The Shatzkin Files:

The 20th anniversary of Lightning Source, the digital service provided by Ingram that supplies both printed-on-demand books and ebook file distribution services for publishers, was recently noted in a tribute piece in Publishers Weekly. The growth of the file repository at Lightning was reported to have reached 15 million titles.

Those represent books that might not have copies for sale in anybody’s inventory but which can be delivered in the next 24-48 hours by Ingram to any bookstore, library, or consumer in the country (and many more around the world).

John Ingram was quoted suggesting that publishers would only get the full benefits that Lightning has to offer them if they have every title they own archived with the service and ready for delivery. The story doesn’t unpack that idea, but it is a very powerful one.

The value that almost all publishers now recognize in Lightning was summed up very well by Steve Zacharius of Kensington Books.

“We use it for short runs to cover books temporarily out of stock or to keep the book available when there’s not enough demand to do a full offset printing. We also, of course, use it for ARCs.” (ARCs are “advance reader copies”, sometimes called “bound galleys”, which are usually pre-publication samples of a printed book.)

But there is another way to use Lightning which only a few publishers have employed so far but which could become one of its most valuable capabilities in these times. Ingram now has what they estimate is “several tens of thousands” of titles within the catalog that sell thousands a year, so they wouldn’t be obvious candidates. But they are set up “Just in Case” (as opposed to for “Just in Time”) and they make use of Lightning in ways most publishers still don’t.

Because, more than ever before the Internet changed communication, our collective attention is briefly grabbed and we see a “spike”. A sudden and unpredicted surge in interest in a topic (which often means a book) is suddenly driven by an event in the news or public sphere. These surges can be extremely brief but the boost in demand they can deliver for any book can also be extremely powerful. And, of course, the body of thought contained in a book could actually further sustain the interest, if the book is available for media exposure and public consumption at the moment of opportunity.

. . . .

Because if there’s a news break on a Monday morning that could promote interest in a book, even a publisher with ample inventory in its own warehouse is unlikely to be able to get copies to Ingram to place on sale any earlier than Wednesday. Those two days could be two major days for sales, perpetuating a chain of interest into the book-buying public.

Turning on Lightning printing for that book could mean thousands of copies in stores and libraries by Wednesday. This is the potential magic of the Lightning-Ingram connection. Ingram is shipping books to just about every bookstore and library that matters just about every single day. The newly hot book could be in all the shipments to stores that want it almost from the moment of the news break by employing Lightning. In our times, delaying the book’s real distribution into the marketplace by even 48 hours could be the difference between a book that catches fire and one that misses its opportunity.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG will note that an agreement between a publisher and Ingram for Lightning service could arguably provide a basis for the publisher to claim none of its books would never go out of print. Under language commonly used in publishing contracts all rights revert to an author if the author’s book goes out of print, but most publishers don’t do much to clarify when a book will go out of print.

For those authors who wish to enter into publishing contracts with traditional publishers, PG suggests that out-of-print provisions be triggered at the author’s election whenever royalties paid to the author for a particular book drop below a specified dollar amount. For example, if the publisher fails to pay the author at least $1,000 in royalties for a book during any royalty reporting period, the author can cause rights to the book to be reverted because the book is selling so few copies, it is effectively out of print.

As far as the OP is concerned, it’s hard to believe that anyone with an internet connection will be interested in waiting two days to go to a bookstore to buy a hardcopy book instead of reviewing all the online information on the topic that would appear much sooner  (which online info could easily include excerpts from the book).

Much of the value of Lightning also assumes that the publisher doesn’t already have an ebook for sale on Amazon.

Margaret Atwood to write Handmaid’s Tale sequel inspired by modern America

28 November 2018

From the BBC:

Margaret Atwood is writing a sequel to her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, inspired by the state of the modern world.

The landmark 1985 book, about life under a totalitarian regime in the US, became a hit TV drama in 2017.

In a message, Atwood wrote: “Dear Readers, everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book.

“Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”

The sequel, to be titled The Testaments, will be published on 10 September 2019.

The Canadian author said it would be set 15 years after the end of the original book, which has become a feminist classic, and would be narrated by three female characters.

She didn’t mention President Trump, but the press release noted that The Handmaid’s Tale had become “a symbol of the movement against him, standing for female empowerment and resistance in the face of misogyny and the rolling back of women’s rights around the world”.

Link to the rest at BBC

PG wonders if reporters, editors and/or authors have any moral qualms about making money from stories arising from the various phenomena associated with President Trump and his many critics.

If the United States ever has another boring president – Gerald Ford comes to mind – will that signal the final financial collapse of traditional media?

Is Literary Glory Worth Chasing?

27 November 2018

From The New York Review of Books:

Is writing worth it? Does it make any sense at all to pursue literary glory? Are the writers we praise really the best anyway?

In 1824, the Italian poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi decided to take on the subject in a thirty-page essay, of kinds. In fact, he puts his reflections somewhat playfully in the mouth of Giuseppe Parini, perhaps the finest Italian poet of the eighteenth century, a man from a poor family who spent all his life seeking financial and political protection in the homes of the aristocracy. Leopardi imagines Parini—“one of the very few Italians of our times who combined literary excellence with depth of thought”—responding to an exceptionally talented and ambitious young writer seeking advice. What follows here is nothing more than a brief summary of what he says; I take no responsibility for the ideas expressed. Readers can decide for themselves how much of this rings true today.

. . . .

Young man, literary glory, or the fame that comes from learning and then writing, is one of the very few forms of glory presently available to the commoner. Admittedly, it’s not as impressive or satisfying as the glory that derives from public service, since action is much worthier and nobler than thinking or writing, and more natural. We weren’t made to spend our lives sitting at a table with pen and paper, and doing so can only be detrimental to your health and happiness. All the same, as I said, this is a glory that can be achieved without initial riches and without being part of a large organization.

. . . .

First, only a tiny minority of people are able to judge great literature. Since literary achievement depends largely on style, and style is intimately tied to language, anyone who isn’t a native speaker won’t be able to appreciate the immense efforts you’ve put into developing a refined style. So that puts most of mankind out of the picture. Then those who do share your language will have to have put in the same effort that you have if they’re going to enjoy your achievements. Only people who have learned to write well themselves can really judge writing. There are only two or three such experts in Italy today, and don’t imagine the situation is much better in other countries.

Second, perception of literary achievement is very largely a question of celebrity. I am convinced, for example, that the reverence felt for the best writers of the past mostly comes from blind tradition rather than individual judgment. We enjoy the classics in part for their celebrity as classics, the same way we admire a princess to a degree because she’s a princess. A poem as good as the Iliad, written today, would not give the pleasure of the Iliad. We wouldn’t feel the warmth of its centuries-old celebrity. Similarly, if we were to read a great classic without knowing it was a great classic, it wouldn’t please us so much.

Link to the rest a The New York Review of Books

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Our book launch was botched and it’s been crazy at work trying to fix it

18 November 2018

From Medium:

I’m trying to remember when it was last this crazy at work. Before we spent a month fighting poor planning and terrible execution on the publication of our new book It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. Was it when we got DDoS’ed over two days and were fighting to keep Basecamp on the internet? Was it when we touched the third rail and spoke about customer data in public? Or do we have to go all the way back to the early days when Basecamp went down whenever I, as the only technical person at the time, would get on an airplane?

Whenever it was, it’s been so long that I had almost forgotten the cocktail of feelings that go with it. That mix of frustration, exhaustion, exasperation, and, perhaps for a fleeting moment, even disbelief. Why is this happening! How could we be this stupid?

But now it’s back. Oh it’s back. Publishing It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Workhas been the most frustrated, exhausting, exasperated, and even unbelievable process. For the dumbest reasons too.

It started with the design. When we signed on with our new publisher, the shared intent was to publish a new book in the same format as REWORK and REMOTE. So we designed a powerful new cover to the same dimensions, and felt really proud about how clean and clear we managed to make it. We were so invested in the impact of the cover that we didn’t even put our names on it!

But when we saw the final book, our hearts sank. This wasn’t right. The book wasn’t the same format. It was taller, so the dimensions were off. And the translation of our design was a complete hack job. It wasn’t even centered on the page!

Yeah, nobody else is likely to notice. Nobody else knows what it was supposed to look like. But we did. We noticed. And when you pour your heart into a book like this, which we’ve been thinking about in some form or another for almost a decade, it hurts.

Okay. Mistakes happen. We were partly to blame. We could have triple checked. We fell for the illusion of agreement, because we weren’t looking at the final thing. Whatever. The second printing would get it right. Bygones.

Forgiving what happened next proved to be much harder.

Harper Business bought the rights to publish It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work with a mid six-figure offer. They outbid another publisher who were in the final running for the rights by a fair margin. Awesome, we thought. This means they’re really invested in blowing this out! This is going to be great.

It was not great.

Despite paying top dollar for the book, Harper Business decided to only print 14,000 copies in the first run. That 14,000 was based on the first orders from retailers. Barnes & Noble wanted 4,000 copies. Amazon wanted 3,300. The rest went largely to independents and wholesalers, and a few for overseas. Once everyone had gotten what they had ordered, Harper Business had no books left. The whole first run was spoken for.

This is where I kick myself. You think when you’re dealing with a major publisher like Harper that you’re safe to leave the details of the printing and the publishing in their hands. This isn’t some upstart publisher. They’ve been around forever. They publish so many books. They’re the professionals, right?

But if we had dared to question that premise — that they’re the professionals, they know what they’re doing — we’d have remembered that we printed 34,000 copies of REWORK. Our first book! The one that went on to sell more than half a million copies around the world. So why were we printing so few books this time around? We’d soon try to in vain to answer that question.

. . . .

But this book got off to a roaring start. We flew up the Amazon best seller list, making it to #24 one of the first days. Then we sold out their entire stock in less than 5 days. What joy! What celebration!

If only. Amazon selling out their stock right away was a disaster. Not because of the copies sold, but because Harper seemed to be taken completely by surprise. They had no books ready to restock, because they printed so few in the first place. The first reprint wasn’t even set to go, because they dillydallied fixing the busted cover design. And worse, the remaining 11,000 books that had gone to Barnes & Nobles and wholesalers and independents could barely be accounted for. We couldn’t get straight answers on who had the books, or whether any of them could be sent to Amazon, since that was clearly where people wanted to buy the book.

The bookscan numbers for the first week hammered this point home. While Amazon had sold 3,300 books, Barnes & Noble — who had ordered even more than Amazon for their first order! — had sold a pathetic 240 copies. And at least 10% of those sales were either us or friends or family excited to see the book in a physical bookstore.

Here’s what worse: Harper knew this would happen. They had told us that Amazon on some titles were 70–90% of sales! In our case, Amazon was over 90% of hardcover books sold the first week, despite the fact that we had gone out of our way to guide sales to B&N during the pre-order phase.

So let’s do the math here: You print 14,000 books for the first printing. You know that Amazon is going to be up to 90% of sales. Wouldn’t you then reserve a good 10,000+ books for Amazon? Harper’s excuse? Amazon’s buyer just said they wanted 3,300 copies, so that’s all we gave them, and we held nothing back for a restock…

And that’s even accepting the premise that 14,000 copies is a good number of books to print for a title you’ve paid mid six figures to acquire. It costs less than $2 to print a book. So Harper spent less than $30,000 to print books, because their planning department didn’t want to risk sitting with $10,000 worth of unsold inventory if the book should bomb.

That’s what the team at Harper literally told us.

. . . .

All of this would just have been a funny anecdote about how dysfunctional large bureaucracies can be, if it wasn’t for what happened next. Taken aback that the book was selling(?!), Harper then had to scramble to get the second printing together. That took a month. Today is the first day that Amazon actually have books in stock ready for delivery tomorrow. They sold out on October 6th.

In that month, all our sales momentum for the hardcover book died out. We had all this publicity lined up. An incredible review by The Economist. Wonderful write-ups in WSJ and The Times UK. Podcast appearances coming out the wazoo. All the built-up excitement for a book that’s hitting right in an industry-wide discussion about toxic work environments and the cost of burning people out. It’s hard to have timed all this better, or, I suppose worse.

Because what good is having a wonderful launch campaign, if you have no books to sell? After Amazon sold out, our book page would scare away potential readers away with a 2–4 week delivery time notice. One time it even said it might be 2 months before the book was back in stock!

. . . .

So why did it take Harper Business a month to get our newly released book back in stock? Because of Trump. Because of tariffs. Because of paper shortages. Because there were a lot of other big books being published at the same time. Because of consolidation in the book printing business. I kid you not, these were all excuses pitched by Harper as to why there were no books.

. . . .

But no one else at our scale had their launch quite this spectacularly botched by the publisher not doing the due diligence to account for these challenges. Out of all the other new releases that broke into the top 50 on Amazon, we were the only title out of stock for a long time.

We’d get these long serenades about how they too were really frustrated. How these things just happen! How it was going to get fixed any day now, but they just weren’t exactly sure when. How mad they were and what loud noises they were making when talking to the departments in charge.

Every possible excuse except for “the dog ate my homework”. Which, really, would have been a more compelling excuse than “tariffs”. Because that’s really what it comes down to. We botched our launch because someone didn’t do the homework. They didn’t print an appropriate amount of books to the scale of the book, they had no solid plans for a second printing when the first one ran out, and they had no capacity for anticipating that all the factors that had been in play for months (like paper shortages or tariffs or, ffs, Trump) would impact the process.

They were unprepared for and proved incapable of doing the one job you absolutely must do as a book publisher: Print. The. Books.

. . . .

Anyway. It’s been crazy at work. Needlessly so. Painfully so. Frustratingly so. But, like all moments of crazy, it also held a buffet of lessons for us to take. Like, never work with Harper Business on another book again… kidding… sorta… maybe… 😂

No really. We went for the publisher who bid the highest, and we assumed this meant they had real skin in the game. We went with a major publisher, so we assumed they all knew what they were doing, and we didn’t have to double check every publishing decision. We made a deal with a single acquiring editor without meeting the rest of the team, because that played to our bias that someone entrusted to write a mid six-figure check on their own would have the authority to call the shots that mattered, but we still ended up haggling over $10,000 in costs to print books.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

PG will note that the book has 43 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.6 stars.

Why Do Authors Feel Hard Done By?

14 November 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

I was struck by a comment on my last column about measuring commercial success in publishing. It came from Ryan Jones who is, I imagine, an author. He wrote: “Publishers pull in billions of dollars yearly and yet few writers can even make a living. What’s wrong with that picture?”

I thought it might be worth examining this widely held sentiment.

Of course he has a point, and I’m sure the various organizations supporting and representing authors would agree. There was a recent spat between the UK’s Society of Authors, the Authors Licensing & Collecting Society, and the Publishers Association, about this very subject.

. . . .

Per Saugman was a distinguished medical publisher, the force behind Blackwell Scientific Publications, the sale of which to Wiley is the reason that the UK still has a high-quality academic and trade bookselling chain, Blackwell Retail, in spite of the many challenges. Saugman explained to an author why he would not increase his royalty rate: “I’m not paying you the royalty, the purchasers of the book are. The higher the royalty rate, the more we shall have to charge and the less enthusiastic they will be to reward you.”

The royalty system is a fair one. It links an author’s income not to any abstract notion of worth but to how much the reading market will pay for the author’s efforts. Successful authors are hugely well rewarded and I’m sure would prefer the current system to any other. JK Rowling, Danielle Steele, Stephen King, and many others have built fortunes from their books and frequently are able to deploy those fortunes generously and properly.

And then one should consider why writers write. It’s not always (or even usually) for money. There are many motivations.

For instance, a lawyer might want to write the ultimate book on her subject of expertise. It’s a way of establishing her credibility and hence the value of her professional practice. A few hundred or thousand dollars either way will be of little consequence but what she wants is a publisher whose brand carries weight, whose editorial support systems and marketing reach are first rate.

. . . .

The main complaints seem to come usually from so-called midlist authors whose income is almost certainly in decline. But that’s not from publishers taking more. It’s simply the case that general fiction (the bulk of this sector) is more widely split than ever between the bestsellers and the not-so-good sellers. Public library sales, which were the bedrock of midlist hardback sustainability, are in decline. Paperback sales have been eroded by lower-price ebooks. Fewer retailers are willing to dedicate space to any but the top 100 or so novelists. Self-publishing has created a tsunami of digital fiction, thus deflecting sales from the traditional market.

None of that is of any comfort to the professional writer seeing his or her income decline. Nor does it help that publishers seem willing to pay large advances to unknown new authors in the hope of finding the next big thing after a massive twelve-way auction. The trouble is that every now again the next big thing is the next big thing and it is the big things that keep general publishers in business.

. . . .

Yes, the publishing industry is big. A survey conducted by the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Publishers Association estimated total global sales of US$41.9 billion in 2016.

. . . .

The industry also employs many millions of people worldwide. And pays taxes. And creates markets.

But as I said in my previous column, sales don’t represent profits.

Publishing is highly competitive. Margins in certain sectors at certain times can be high. An unexpected bestseller can transform a business. Finding a new niche or a new market can generate profit and cash, but in the normal course of events, a publisher is happy to make a 10-percent return on sales (trade authors typically receive 10 to 20 percent of the publisher’s sales) and to generate enough cash to stay in business.

Publishing is a good business and an important one for all sorts of reasons, but publishers are not the greedy sharks they’re sometimes portrayed to be, nor are their companies out to prosper at the expense of authors. If authors’ incomes are in decline, the solution is to find a larger cake, not to argue about the size of the slices.

And Stanley Unwin’s famous quotation still holds true: “The first duty of any publisher to their authors is to remain solvent.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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Lighter release schedule hampers Hachette UK in third quarter

8 November 2018

From The Bookseller:

Hachette UK’s revenues were down 6.7% in the third quarter of 2018, due to a lighter release schedule and decline in sales in its education segment, its parent company Lagardere has reported. The fall in sales in the UK has been attributed “mainly” to an absence of curriculum reform, which also affected France and Spain’s performance.

David Shelley, Hachette UK’s c.e.o., conceded overall the third quarter had “fewer major releases for HUK”, but pointed to “some unexpected bestsellers and strong backlist and e-book sales”. He also said Hodder Education’s results “tracked the market, which was muted in September due to distance from the last curriculum change”.

The dip is comparably better than it was in the third quarter of 2017, when sales dropped 13.5% following the success of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Little, Brown) the previous year.

. . . .

Of the publisher’s performance in third quarter 2018, Shelley commented that digital publisher Bookouture had enjoyed “a very good summer with sales in the UK up year on year and significant growth coming from the UK and Australia” while John Murray Press enjoyed its second best ever month in August.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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