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Category : Publishing
Okay, so maybe I’m not exactly on my death bed… but I caught this really lousy flu that has kept me in bed with a sore throat, aches, and a fever the last few days. Thought I’d emerge from my Robitusson-induced haze and answer a handful of questions from people.
Janet wrote to ask, "With the advent of e-book readers, how will this affect authors and the money they are paid? Will there be a bunch of ripple effects from all the electronic gadgets?"
Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader are developing fans, and they are certainly beginning to sell some units. If you’re not aware, Kindle is a book-shaped reader with a great, easy-to-read screen that receives book text via cel phone technology. You can purchase a book from Amazon and they’ll send it to your Kindle wherever you are (using the same technology as text messaging) for ten bucks. A Kindle can hold about 200 titles before the memory is full. Last week Amazon cut the price from $399 to $349 — still too high, but moving in the right direction. I like the product a lot, though I think it’s a bit too plasticky. The Sony e-reader doesn’t have nearly as nice of a reading screen, but costs a hundred bucks less and you can send Word document to it — so many New York editors have been given them, in order to read manuscripts without having to lug around a bag full of heavy books. I’ve thought about getting one just so I could be reading the manuscripts of the authors I represent before they are sent into the publishers.
There are a lot of things to like about the future of these products, though neither are perfect. (The Kindle doesn’t do graphics; neither is doing textbooks yet.) Amazon reported yesterday that they now have 125,000 books available to send to your Kindle, and [get ready to
Lots going on in publishing these days…
First, Borders may or may not be in trouble. It would seem incredible that the nation’s second largest bookseller, in the midst of a growth phase with smaller "boutique" bookstores going up in malls, would suddenly be facing a financial crisis. But they say it’s caused by the tightening credit rules, debt, and the cost of money. They had to refinance a huge debt load at a very high rate — never a good sign for a business. And rumor has it Barnes & Noble is sniffing around, hoping to try and snap them up on the cheap. Nobody in publishing wants that to happen. Competition is always good for business, and B&N would have very little competition in the brick-and-mortar book business if they were to purchase Borders.
Actually, I’m not sure the government would allow it. Borders and B&N combined account for 55% of all retail book sales in this country, and surely the government would see that consumer prices would be bound to rise if the two companies merged. However, if you take into account Amazon and other online booksellers, B&N could claim the two chains only amount to about a third of all book sales…so perhaps a permissive federal regulator would allow it to happen. But I hope not. Having two companies creates competition, which is always a good thing.
Second, HarperCollins made big news with the announcement they were creating a new imprint that would rely on very different business practices than most publishers. Robert Miller, the longtime boss at Hyperion, has moved to HC to head up the new venture. The imprint will offer lower-priced books (word is they’re trying to keep hardcovers at $20), won’t pay advances to authors (instead relying on a profit-sharing plan), won’t buy display space in stores (instead relying on their online marketing efforts), and will sell books outright to retailers (rather
Some new information has come out on the bestselling books of 2007, and it’s fascinating stuff…
First, there were nine novels that sold a million copies last year, according to Publishers Weekly (in fact, all the numbers in this column will be based on the most recent issue of PW): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Playing for Pizza, Double Cross, The Choice, Lean Mean Thirteen, Plum Lovin, Eclipse, and Book of the Dead. I don’t know how many of those you read but I can tell you it was a great year for Janet Evanovich, and that Pizza is one of Grisham’s clunkers. Ugh.
Second, there were sort-of seven nonfiction hardcover books that sold a million copies last year: The Secret, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Decelptively Delicious, You: Staying Young, I Am America (and so can you), Become a Better You, and, apparently, The Daring Book for Girls. My reason for saying there were "sort of" seven books is because the recorded sales for that last book was exactly one million copies… which would have been an amazing coincidence. (On an honest note, You: On a Diet came in less than 2000 copies short of a million.)
Third, there were eleven trade paperback titles that hit the magic mark: Eat Pray Love, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, The Road, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Pillars of the Earth, Love in the Time of Cholera, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Jeusalem Countdown, Middlesex, and Measure of a Man. And no, I’m not kidding… John Hagee’s Jerusalem really did sell more than a million copies. Unbelievable.
Fourth, there were sixteen mass market novels that sold a million copies. I won’t list them all by title, but Nora Roberts held places #1 and #3, and James Patterson held #2, 4, 5, and 6.
Fifth, the only children’s book to pass the million mark was Philip Pullman’s The
Susan wrote to ask, "What is your opinion of e-publishing as a means to break into traditional publishing?"
I’ve yet to see this work much. I keep hearing about authors who plan to e-publish their novel one chapter at a time, which is an interesting concept and might be a nice alternative to those writers with a niche readership, but I’m not seeing it translate into regular royalty-paying deals. Stephen King tried selling his novel chapter-by-chapter and it went nowhere. And now publishers are becoming wary of allowing an author to include material in a book that has already been available on a blog or website or e-zine. I still believe the web is a great training ground for authors, but I’m not sure the practice of e-publishing is actually going to get you a traditional publishing deal.
Laura wants to know, "When an author sends an electronic proposal to an editor at a publishing house through a referral or because of a meeting at a writers’ conference, how long should the author expect to wait for a reply?"
It varies on the editor, the house, and the season (some seasons are busier than others), but it’s generally fair to say that an author will probably hear within 12 weeks or so. If you’ve been waiting longer than 3 months, it’s fine to check back with the editor, just to see if they’re still considering it. Be patient — publishing is a slow process.
Lynn writes to say, "I have an article that has been showcased on an online writers’ forum and has proven popular. Now I’d like to find a publication where I could submit my article. Since most magazines have an online edition, would they consider my article already published?"
You’re asking the question many writers are wondering. The fact is, this topic is still being debated, so I don’t have a definitive answer for you, Lynn. Check
I’ve got a bunch of notes and questions regarding writer resources, so let me try to get to several of them today…
On MONEY: Patricia wrote to say, "Thanks for your recent blog post about earning money. So if a book doesn’t ‘earn out’ its advance, is the balance applied against the next book?"
It is if your contract is cross-collateralized — that is, if all your various book advances are "basketed" into one deal. If not — if each book is on a separate contract — then no, your advance cannot be applied to your next book.
On REMAINDERS: DeeAnn wrote me to ask, "What does it mean to ‘remainder’ a book?"
That’s when the publisher sells the remaining copies of your book to a book wholesaler for less than the cost of printing. It commonly happens when your book is going out of print, or when they’re down to the last 1000 copies or so, and the publisher wants to be rid of them. The books might have cost $2 to print, but they’ll sell them for $1 apiece to somebody who will buy the entire remaining stock, just to get them out of the warehouse.
On SELF-PUBLISHING: Gene wants to note, "The latest issue of Writers Digest is filled with ads for self-publishing. I’m on my second agent, still trying to get published, but it takes SOOOO long. How can you convince me not to go to lulu.com and have my book for sale on Amazon tomorrow morning? When will the traditionalists speed up the process?"
You’re right — there are a ton of self-publishing companies. Some are good, some are not. Be careful. The problem with self-publishing is not the speed, it’s the sales. If you write a book, you have to make sure the book is good (and if publishers are all turning you down, there could be a message there, Gene). You also
I’ve been sent some tough questions lately — questions that you might have been wondering about in your own writing career. It seems like there are some difficult publishing questions that frequently get ignored, so I’ll try to tackle a couple of them today…
Donna wrote to say, "It seems like there are a ton of books that have sold a million copies lately. Can you tell me what the top books last year sold?"
I can, but prepare to be surprised. There were only four books last year that sold more than a million copies — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which sold more than 7 million); The Secret (just shy of 3 million); Eat, Pray, Love (just shy of 2M); and A Thousand Splendid Suns (sold 1M). That’s it. Four books.
There were another 15 titles that sold between a half-million and a million copies: The Dangerous Book for Boys, Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter all sold just under a million. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man, John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza, Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet, the two You titles (You: On a Diet and You: Staying Young), The Glass Castle, Eclipse, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince all sold more than 500,000 copies. And that’s it. There were 250,000 new books printed last year in this country. 19 of them hit the big time. Yikes.
John wrote to ask, "Do you have ethical problems with ghostwriting?"
I hate this question, because too many people are quick to say "YES!" without understanding the terms. I used to make my living as a collaborative writer. A well-known speaker would send me his notes and his seminar on tape, and I’d turn it into a book for him. It was all his material — I was
Today marks the four best words in the English language… And I don’t mean "Happy Valentine’s Day, Darling" (though there’s nothing wrong with those sentiments — I got engaged on Valentine’s Day way back in 1982). No, the four best words are these: "Pitchers and Catchers report." You see, for those of us who are diehard baseball fans, today marks the start of a new season. Nobody has any losses, everybody has hopes for the future, and there are people across America who believe that this could be our year. (Not everywhere, of course. My apologies to the people of Kansas City.) So on this happy occasion, I thought we should take a bundle of new publishing questions people have sent in…
Rhonda wrote to say, "I had a book published several years ago with a small press. It’s now out of print, but I’d love to get it back into print. Do you think that’s possible?"
The hard truth? Unlikely. I’m sorry, Rhonda, but the facts are there’s almost no market for books that have been in print once before. Publishers have a tendency to look at them and say, "Um…if that other publisher couldn’t sell this, what makes you think we could?" It happens occasionally, but most often with a successful author revisiting an old book, or repackaging a book that can now be tied to an event in the newspapers.
Keep in mind that a book is like a man’s suit. It’s in style for a while, maybe even a long while, but eventually it seems dated. The culture isn’t static — things are moving forward all the time. The world is changing. It’s why parenting or relationship or health books that your parents read won’t speak to our contemporary world. So when your book releases, assume it’s going to be in style about as long as a new suit. In a while, it will start to
Fiona wrote to ask, "What happens when you have a good proposal, a finished manuscript that people want to read, and you know the market — but you can’t get anyone in the publishing industry to read the darn thing? Do you self-publish? This is an exhausting process, I must say."
My dear, welcome to the world of publishing. While I sympathize with your frustration over creating something you think is good but not having the connections to get it read, you should know that’s a fairly common problem. You need to seek publishing relationships. Go to a writing conference and show your work to editors. Introduce yourself to agents. Enter some contests. Be part of a critique group to make connections. Become friends with other writers and begin to get plugged in to the industry.
Of course, if no one is willing to seriously review your work, the possibility exists that you’re being a bit too generous in your self-praise. I’ll admit I could be wrong here, but I’ve often had wannabe authors say to me something like, "Everybody on the planet has reviewed this and told me it was awful, but I’m sure I’m a genius…maybe I should self-publish." Just something to consider. I’ve covered self-publishing in other posts, but my basic argument is that you should only self-pub if you know exactly how you’re going to market and sell your own work.
As for this being an exhausting process, I’d submit that it is…but that it’s no more exhausting than making a living at any other art form. If you put together a band and write some songs, you may think your work is brilliant — but you’ve got to go play some gigs at local pubs, meet producers, and get some experience under your belt before you can expect to sign that record deal. You may think your paintings are genius, but you’ve got to sell