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Category : Trends
Hello Everyone – Ive spent my life in books and words. Friends know that my mom used to tell the story of my coming home from school one day in First Grade, and announcing, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a book guy.” And so I have been. Always a book guy, whether as a writer, an editor, a collaborator, a publisher, or (for a couple decades now) an agent. I love books and I love words, and I’m happy that I’ve spent my life and made my living with them. Please forgive me if I’ve told this story too often.
I started this blog more than a decade ago, when we were all discussing whether the new e-reader called “The Kindle” was going to work or not, and when CBA fiction was growing by leaps and bounds. I’d been let go as a publisher at Time-Warner, and decided I was going to head back into agenting, since it was one of the fews jobs that would allow a middle-aged guy with a very limited skill set to make a living. So I began the blog as a way to get my name out there a bit. It’s been great, I’ve talked with fabulous people, and I’ve loved being able to answer questions from writers. I always figured that my experiences (I made my living as a magazine editor, a collaborative writer, a book editor, an author, a book publisher, and an agent) gave me a rather unique perspective when it came to talking books and the book process — and I had enough experience with marketing and sales and business to at least point people in the right direction.
For a few years, the blog just exploded. We had millions of people stop by to read, won some awards, had Writers Digest name us as one of the top websites for writers a few times. Then I
This month I’m back to trying to get to all the questions people say they’d like to ask an agent, if they could just sit down with him or her for a few minutes and talk privately. In light of some of the notes Steve Oates, the VP of Marketing at Bethany House, shared on this blog last week, here are some questions that people have asked recently…
So are the low costs of e-books costing authors money?
Sure. (Expect to see a bunch of indie published authors tearing their hair out over this response, because they tend not to want to hear about economics, in my experience.) Okay, if a retailer sells a book for $20, the royalty paid to the author is higher than if the publishers sells it for $10. The average e-book is way down — many below $5, and often you’ll see a slug of books for 99 cents. That doesn’t leave much for an author. So earnings are down across the board, but they are more spread out among a wider group of authors — that makes it feel as though there’s more money being paid out. Economically, it’s not true. The overall sales numbers are fairly stable the past couple of years. So with all the low priced ebooks and mass market titles earning less per book, the overall income of authors is actually down.
Saying that doesn’t make me negative on indie publishing, by the way, and certainly not on genre publishing. Anyone who knows me or has read the blog for any length of time knows I have long been a fan of indie publishing, and I’ve represented a ton of category fiction. The concern is with the low price point, which has lowered the earnings of authors — particularly established authors. The argument is made that people want a deal, and low prices build readership by finding readers who will
Steve Oates is the VP of Marketing for Bethany House Publishers. Recently, after I had blogged about the significant changes we’ve seen in Christian fiction, he contacted me with some thoughts. I invited him to send me a blog post to use — and here is his initial response…
Hardly a week goes by without another announcement from someone that they are getting out of the Christian fiction market, or another retailer is going out of business or shutting down. So, is it time for all of us working in Christian fiction to quit and find something else to do?
Before we all leave town, let’s check on the data and see what we can actually know about this market. I recently did the second year of a study of what is selling in all markets under the Christian and Amish fiction categories as reported by Bookscan (these are the data folks behind the ECPA bestseller lists). What I found is surprising: While there is a lot of upheaval in what is selling, what is remarkable is that both unit and dollar sales of fiction actually rose slightly from 2016 to 2017. And we are not talking digital here, this is just print, and just in the trade paperback and hardcover formats.
So if sales are growing rather than declining, why so much pain in the market? The pain is real, and there is consolidation taking place. What we are seeing is a migration in the market out of the “C” level books that is going into the “B” level books. By this I mean a movement out of the bottom tier (based on sales of less than 7,500 copies) in to the next tier — let’s say books that sell in the 7,500 to 15,000 range. The shrinking shelf space has harmed stocking of these lower-potential books, stores simply can’t put them all out there, and their marketing
All last month I was inviting writers to send in their questions — If you could sit down and be face-to-face with a literary agent, what would you ask? I’d like to continue down that path for another month. Here are some of the questions that have come in…
At a big writing conference last summer, I noticed that most agents and editors now insist on seeing a “completed manuscript.” I have a manuscript I’ve rewritten several times — you even once took a look and suggested I work with an editor to improve it. So what is the definition of a “completed manuscript”?
I have two answers for you… First, when an editor says they’re only looking at completed manuscripts, that means they aren’t going to seriously consider a proposal and sample chapters. They insist on an author showing them a finished manuscript, so that they lower their risk (no worries about missed deadlines, or the story going off the rails, etc). That’s the industry norm for first-time novelists these days. But my second answer is that “completed” to an agent can also means your manuscript has been revised, rewritten, and is ready to show to a publisher. I frequently see novels that have promise, but they need more work, so I’ll suggest changes to the manuscript, or I’ll encourage the author to work with a writing coach, or I’ll just give the author the names and emails of half a dozen editors and encourage them to get some professional assistance. Does that help?
I know you represent a lot of thrillers. Is it possible to have a female protagonist in a thriller? Does she have to be teamed with a strong male in order to survive?
Sure, it’s possible. In fact, there are some publishers right now that are looking for strong female leads in some contemporary thriller novels. Examples of books with strong female leads
So a new year is here, and it’s time to make some predictions about what will happen in 2017. I do NOT have the gift of prophecy, but that doesn’t stop me from pontificating and making wild surmises, all while not really having a clue about much of anything beyond the concept that “books are good.” So with that as an introduction, here are one agent’s thoughts on what will be happening in our industry during the new year:
- We’re going to see huge growth with audio books. It’s clear that alternative forms of books are part of the growth pattern in publishing, and audio is the next big thing with the under-40 crowd. (The only downside? Amazon has bought up every audio book company, so they’ve basically cornered the market.)
- All the talk about growth potential with US publishers is going to be on rights sales. In other words, subsidiary and derivatives are going to play a MUCH more significant role in every contract negation you have this year. Expect every conversation you have with a publisher to explore dramatic rights, foreign rights, greeting cards, plush toys, and board games. Another reason to go on living!
- The Pareto Principle will be more evident than ever. Wilfredo Pareto was the Italian social economist who noted that 80% of the Italian government’s income came from 20% of the population… and thus the Principle of Factor Sparsity was born, which demonstrates that 80% of publishing income comes from 20% of all authors. Or, in layman’s terms, more and more publishers will continue promoting a handful of successful authors and ignore your book because they know where the sure money comes from. Hello James Patterson!
- Barnes and Noble will open some mini-stores that only stock bestsellers. I don’t have any insider knowledge about this, but with Amazon opening brick-and-mortar stores, B&N has to do something to try and grab
For the past several months, I’ve had numerous people write in to ask about the trends I see happening in the world of publishing. We’re in a state of evolution in the industry (one could argue we’re in a state of revolution), where answers to questions as simple as “what is a book?” and “what constitutes a publisher?” are changing. With everything in a state of flux, I’ve been trying to use this blog to respond to the basic questions writers have about the industry. Then, over the weekend, a longtime reader sent me the question worded this way: What trends do you see having the potential to reshape the world of publishing?
Wow. A fascinating question. Here are some thoughts…
1. Convergence: How stories continue to shape, reshape, and adapt. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in the publishing industry is that a novel is no longer just a novel. Nowadays a novel is being evaluated not just as a print book and an ebook, but as a potential film or TV show. (That part you knew about — publishers have long been interested in the dramatic qualities of the stories they produce.) AND the novel is being evaluated as a potential video game; it’s being explored from a social media perspective; it’s being reviewed for potential as a series; it’s being read with interactive media in mind. The story itself may not end — others may participate in the story by writing new endings, or creating entirely new stories that relate (have you seen what J.K. Rowling is doing?). One of the changes that has occurred in storytelling over the past 15 years is the gamer’s mindset, where a story may not have an ending, or it can be told and altered a million different ways. All of those issues are now part of the discussion when we examine a novel. That’s a huge change in the
Behold! Our new-look website. We’ve done a complete revamp of the site, with the goal of making things easier to read, easier to research, and to get back to having a cutting-edge blog that tackles the questions authors have about the world of publishing. Glad you are joining us! (And if it’s not quite done, or have all the edges squared up yet… well, we’re working on it.)
Let me start the new year with my The Predictions for Book Publishing in 2016…
- We’re going to see more rights sales. I think both traditional and indie publishers are going to push for more global sales, push for more audio books, and push for more variety projects (like coloring books) in 2016, which is good news for authors. It means there are more opportunities to make some income.
- We’re going to see more of iBooks. While Amazon is the 800-lb gorilla of ebooks, their shopping experience has always left a lot to be desired. I think this is the year Apple figures out how to improve the shopping experience and makes iBooks a destination spot for readers.
- We’re going to see more people reading on mobile devices. I know we keep hearing about the growth of print in 2015, but I think that was tied to the fact that the Big Five simply started charging so much more for ebooks, readers fell back to buying print. I think we’re going to see new technology and new interest from readers who want to go mobile.
- We’re going to see more short works. People who like USA Today like short pieces. And if people are reading on their phone or pad, they want short books. I think the rise of the 40k-to-45k novel is upon us.
- We’re going to see more interest in China. The country is opening up, and publishers are just now starting to figure out how to get books in
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Kickstarter is a popular way for artists and entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to bring a project or idea to fruition. It’s been used by everyone from Reading Rainbow to TLC to Zach Braff. So clearly, some big names (along with plenty of little guys) have adopted the unique platform.
For awhile board games and the like dominated the Kickstarter platform, but more and more I’m seeing authors and even publishers launch their book projects through the site. It’s definitely a tempting idea. The thought of having $5,000 or $10,000 as opposed to the few hundred I used to put together my own indie book The Extroverted Writer, is…mind-blowing. Oh, what I could have done with that kind of money!! My book could have been edited by Stephen King and had a large print edition and a Spanish language edition and a braille edition and an ad in Times Square to boot.
Okay, maybe not, but this is the lure of Kickstarter. It creates this “the sky is the limit” mentality. And it works.
So what are the pitfalls? Oh, there are plenty. Kickstarter is an everyman’s version of Shark Tank, except the people with the ideas tend to be artists and creatives as opposed to MBA grads and business owners, while the backers (or partners) are regular consumers, looking to get in on a new product that fits their needs.
Clearly this is a setup that could have disastrous results. And sometimes it does. But it doesn’t have to! Being aware of the
Whenever I speak at conferences, I get the “what’s hot?” question asked me. I generally offer what I’m seeing, but I try to always temper it with, “That’s just my opinion, of course… others might see things differently.” So I was happy to see the Nielsen folks put out some facts on publishing trends with hard evidence to support them.
In the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly, they gave a summary of the Nielsen BookScan report, which tracks the bulk of printed book sales, and a handful of things stood out to me…
First, Christian fiction is really struggling. That’s become obvious to me over the past couple of years, and I’ve discussed it with many other agents. Several houses have stopped doing inspirational fiction, others have trimmed back their lists, still others have simply put a “freeze” on new acquisitions, so it’s become evident that it’s a tough time to be trying making a living writing Christian fiction. But the Nielsen report proved the depth of the problem. Of all the categories in publishing (and BookScan tracks about 50 genres), Christian fiction took the second biggest drop. In the past year book sales were down 15%. Coupled with the previous year’s drop of 11%, we’re seeing the category shrink considerably. (The only publishing category to do worse? Occult & horror fiction, which is down 26%.)
Second, YA fantasy and sci fi is the fastest growing category in all of publishing. It was up 38% in the past year, after having grown in double digits the previous year. So yes, all those Harry Potter and dystopian (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) readers have made their mark. And the study noted that inspirational and holiday YA novels (an odd combination in my mind) was up 16%, and YA family & health stories (hello The Fault in Our Stars) were up 17%.
Third, adult fiction overall is struggling. Romance is down
Analyzing sales trends is a tricky business. Predicting them is almost impossible. But when thinking of what type of crime novel sells, be it the cozy or the more violent thriller novel, there are a few clear issues that emerge. Are readers looking for reassurances that traditional narratives offer, or is violence the allure?
One model of analysis that is illuminating is the Nietzschean dialogue between Dionysian and Apollonian energies . If Apollo represents law and Dionysus chaos, then crime fiction is built on a fundamental friction between the two. And proportionally, the largest part of any crime novel is the narrative showing the seductive uprising of forces that threaten to destroy society. There may be a certain voyeurism at play here, as the reader is allowed to witness things he would not ordinarily see, as he is given a peek into lives that are as exciting as they are flawed. But ultimately the narrative thrust is towards the vindication of law.
That is one thing that is a recurrent feature: most crime fiction is redemptive. The plot and story are often driven by criminal subversions and focus on the damage done to peoples’ lives by criminals, while the protagonist, often a detective, struggles to catch the culprit, but in the end order is restored and justice served, often lawlessly where revenge is part of the plot. Justice is a prevailing theme, but it is one that is interpreted in many ways. The police procedural traditionally relies on the investigation and the judicial system to restore order, while other novels mete out poetic justice to the wrong doers. These are some of the shared themes of crime novels, but the approaches are all different.
Agatha Christie wrote addictive cozies that centre on a period of English history when class dominated social interactions. Her core strengths are her plotting and protagonists. Poirot remains an undeniable force among detectives. Christie’s novels are