Chip MacGregor

November 17, 2016

Ask the Agent: What are the new trends in publishing?


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 way we view story.

2. Design: How content continues to become more visual. Advertisers have been telling us for decades that interesting visual content is far more effective than simple words, and the message stays with people longer. So perhaps we shouldn’t all have been surprised when the numbers of interactive video games began outselling movies and dwarfing the sale of books. Graphic novels have moved from the fringe to the center of our culture’s entertainment choices, spurred on by the capabilities of tablet computers. Now we’re seeing animated content in enhanced ebooks, interactive content in books (a reader can go into the text and comment or even add material), motion-formatted books (think of graphic novels as advanced cartoons), and “visual journalism” projects (take a look at Symbolia on your iPad sometime). Organizational theory tells us that ideas becomes more complex over time, not less so, and we’re seeing that with the presentation of content to potential readers.

3. Brand: How marketing has taken over the world. I used to talk with editors about the value of an author’s idea before getting into the author’s bio and qualifications for writing a book. Now the first question I get is invariably, “Tell me about the author’s platform.” Sometimes it can seem as though the value of the content is subservient to the ability of the author to market the idea. So authors all got onto Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to get the word out, which has led to some authors having specialized content only for loyal readers, or offering premium products (like a private message from the author, or behind-the-scenes information) in order to incentivize readers. At the same time, professional marketing types are exploring how a fringy idea becomes a core entertainment concept, and moving to transform marketing from “sharing product news” to “subtly reshaping the discussion so that our content gets noticed.” All of this means that there is NO discussion about publishing a book these days that isn’t influenced by marketing.

There are other trends shaping publishing, and I’ll continue mentioning them, but I’m interested in your perspective… What trends do you see shaping the future of publishing? 

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  • Peggotty says:

    Looks like I picked the wrong time to give up smoking.

  • The question that comes to my mind is how much of these new trends in marketing are here today and gone tomorrow? Perhaps those of us who see some of these things as absurd are old, but I often feel if I wait long enough, the fad will have passed, and life returns to “normal.” Just a few short months ago, we saw so many people walking around the park next door with their cell phones, playing Pokemon. (We happen to live in a hotspot for the game). One day I realized that these people have literally vanished from sight.

    I have never made the transition to an e-reader. I saw no reason to… I like reading books. It seems I’ve waited long enough to see this trend reversing itself back to a book in hand.

    I’ve done a guest blog here about the concept of face-to-face marketing by doing talks at libraries, conferences, colleges, and universities. I’ve done 170 book talks, and it works. I think that is another trend that will reverse itself in the future… from isolating ourselves by having a screen in front of our faces, to seeking out community events. People need people, and Facebook does not always satisfy this need.

    I’m with Sandy… any books I write will not be a candidate for gaming. Movie maybe… but not a game. It is a relief to know this up front, I agree.

    • Diana says:

      We’ve had a lot of “Uh oh, that’ll replace–fill in the blank”. TV would replace movies. VHS would replace movies in theatres. TV would replace radio. eReaders would replace print. on and on. I suspect there will be some cohabiting. Just as my grandsons [early teens] play video and computer games and also read print books. I read both print books and my eReader. Some things may die out, eg 8 track cassettes, VHS. But some things are here to stay at least for a while.

  • Diana says:

    What I see in my own small world, reading novels, it seems book covers are way more complex than they used to be. This morning I was watching how book covers are made. A lot more is poured into them nowadays. That would fall under marketing, partly, and also under the visual aspect of just a plain novel.

  • Debra L. Butterfield says:

    That a video game release can outsell a movie release doesn’t surprise me. I have adult sons who are big gamers. Buy the game and you have hours of fun. Go to the theater and you get only 1.5 to 2 hours of entertainment for your $20. I have heard a lot of people (readers and writers) say they enjoy the feel of a printed book in their hands rather than the digital.

    My concern with trends is that they often move into reality and the “older versions” become extinct. For example, cars with manual transmission are nearly impossible to find–no one likes driving them, so say the car dealers. But I do and I don’t like that the rule of the majority is wiping out my choices. I understand that visuals help us retain, but as I scrolled through Twitter the other day, I was bombarded by graphics. I liked being able to see those short snippets of text, but now I’m forced to scroll through more pages because of all those graphics.

    My worry is that we are raising generations of children who won’t know how to read or focus their attention on something for more than 30 seconds.

    Thanks for a very informative post on these trends.

    • Diana says:

      I agree with the concern that the Majority rules and those who want to keep “the old ways, which ain’t broke so why ‘fix’ it” are being pushed to the side. I still like reading an ordinary novel.

  • Chip, in this post you haven’t touched on what I consider the greatest “revolutions” in publishing–the change in self-publishing from an activity that conjures up the image of a loser who can’t get a traditional contract, and the tendency of publishers to shy away from newer or even mid-list authors as they look for guaranteed top-of-the-line writers. Want to share your thoughts about this? (Or maybe you’ve already done that. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast, much less what has been posted earlier). As always, thanks for sharing.

  • Theresa Lode says:

    Wow. Do I feel out of the loop! Makes me want to grab a paperback and read it by kerosene lantern, far from the glare of electronic glow.
    As always, I appreciate your insider information. Thanks!

  • Traci Hilton says:

    All I know is that now I need Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery video game and I hadn’t known I needed that before. Time to call my brother in law the programmer…

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I honestly did not know that a video game release these days will outsell a movie release… but it’s true. So publishers are just as interested in those types of derivatives as hearing, “We have movie interest.”

    • Diana says:

      My grandsons go back and forth between reading paper novels and playing video games but a lot of the novels are either based on a video game or vice versa, or similar to a lot of video games out there. They are mostly into fantasy and sci-fi and I think those genres are more into the various venues. A good example of a movie coming out ouf a video game is Mine Craft. Huge phenomenon among kids from age 2 to age 20. And there is a lot more out there.

    • Diana says:

      And Mine Craft is extremely interactive which has made it such a huge phenomenon. [I asked my Gk and his friends , aged 13 to 15 a couple of questions about mine craft and they were off gossiping between me and each other about all the Mine Craft options.

    • Traci Hilton says:

      It’s really kind of amazing! If only more women aged 35-70* were interested in video games… 😉

      *my readership.

  • Sandy Conrad says:

    I appreciate your honesty and insight so much. I know that you are passionate about great writing, so your expertise about trends and what catches attention is refreshing. It really is! I am old-fashioned and out of the loop, but I like knowing what I don’t know about the world of publishing, and I even like knowing what I’m not going to do and why I’m not going to do it. For example, I see miles of learning curves and hours of work ahead in my writing career, but I see no video game potential. I think it’s good to know this. I know what I’m in for. I am okay with that.Thanks Chip!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Hey, I’m with you on the “no video game” team, Sandy. Frankly, I’d be fine with NO new video games. But… well, I’m old.

  • Linda Wood Rondeau says:

    Breaking in to speaking engagements has proven to be a challenge. It wasn’t in my former community where I’m well known. But here in a city of a million, I feel like a leper sometimes. Building trust and credibility takes time. Even in my church, a large congregation. I’m sure with continued sowing, I’ll see results as God leads. But I am convinced, it is the personal, one on one that matters.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I agree, Linda. It’s personal, and you just keep plugging away at it.

      And let me just point out to everyone that Linda is NOT a leper. She had a bad rash, but it’s been taken care of. (You can thank me later, Linda…) :o)

    • Linda Wood Rondeau says:

      Yes…all healed up now!LOL

  • Melissa Tagg says:

    This whole post was super interesting.

    This line scares me but also excites me: “Sometimes it can seem as though the value of the content is subservient to the ability of the author to market the idea.” Obviously we want to have awesome content. But when an author has done everything she can to write the best MS she can, things can feel out of your control…and yet, let’s say an editor winds up with five awesome manuscripts/proposals in front of her…the one that stands out will be the one with an amazing platform and marketing potential…and that’s something we as authors CAN control. Or at least, we can control how much effort we put into it. I think that’s good news for authors who are willing to work at the marketing thing.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      It scares me too, Melissa, but it’s exactly what I see happening. I’ve seen great manuscripts set aside in favor of weak manuscripts by authors with big platforms. There has always been some of that, but the problem has certainly mushroomed in recent years. Marketing triumphing over content — not always, of course, but too often.

    • And that’s sad, IMHO. That, then, contributes to the boatload, as opposed to being the filtering system that is so badly needed.

  • I am fascinated by the new sense of possibility in book publishing and what that means in cross-disciplinary creativity. I’ve hard so many lamenting the shift because of the emphasis on marketing, but what is this expanding in the way of influence, voice and creativity? Even more so, how is this changing our relationships with readers? I like to think we will see a whole new wave of interactive books and fresh applications in what is out out there. I think we will have opportunities to serve our readers in new and colourful ways.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Misha. I think there are plenty of people celebrating the artistic freedom the new system has brought us, and the new possibilities for relationships. Those are two of the things that get mentioned most often as the blessings of the new publishing economy.

  • Linda Wood Rondeau says:

    Interesting info. What I’ve discovered is that social media is too inundated with “buy me” messaging. One person has some success in doing it one way and all of sudden the expectation is that this is the only way to do things. By the time you’ve got a handle on that approach a new one comes down the pike. I could honestly spend 15 hours a day on the computer just marketing…and it can be “much ado about nothing.” I am finding I sell more books from actual contact with live people.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Amen to that, Linda. It’s a lot of fund-raising and not a lot of friend-raising, which is what it’s really meant to be, in my view. Good thoughts!

    • I will add my “Amen” to that, Linda. I have come to the conclusion that my live audiences are nearly the only ones that count… or that I CAN count on actually selling books. The social media, is as you said, “much ado about nothing.” And no way to know how much (or if) our online efforts help sales one iota.

  • Ruth Douthitt says:

    Great article Chip. I agree with your assessment! I write visually and would love to see my books made into movies or a video game.

    A trend I see in publishing is self publishing children’s picture books now that Kindle has made it possible for authors to include illustrations. I’ll take advantage of this! I can’t wait to try it.

    And since self publishing is taking off, editors are in demand. I’m looking into becoming an editor online for this reason. I’ll like to work from home eventually.

  • Lisa McKay says:

    So fascinating, thanks!! A trend I’m seeing on Amazon as a self-publisher is a lot of quickly written, fairly low-quality books flooding onto the electronic shelves. And I mean, a lot. I’m writing in the area of long distance relationships, and I’d guess there are three times the number of books available on that niche topic now than there were two and a half years ago. And most of them are crap. Seriously. Crap. And a lot of these crap books have the obligatory handful of five star reviews.

    So what I’m trying to figure out is how the market will sort out the crap from the decent stuff – whether they’re still just going to rely on reader reviews etc to gauge quality or whether other gatekeeper mechanisms will emerge.

    • Marji Laine says:

      I was blown away by the amazing reviews of arguably the worst book on Amazon. And the reviews were obviously all written by the same person, likely the author since the technique, rhythm, and word choice were so similar.

      What’s to keep an author from setting up dozens of Amazon accounts and cheering on his books while slamming all of those from other authors within their niche. Seems like some type of gate-keeping has to come into play, otherwise, the reviewing on Amazon will become valueless.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Ha! That’s exactly right, Marji — a ton of authors (including some fairly famous authors) have admitted doing exactly that. You asked, “What’s to keep an author from setting up dozens of accounts and cheering on his books?” Nothing. So we’re seeing that happen.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes, Lisa, that’s a fact. And NOTHING has changed publishing as much (or as fast) as the explosion of self-published books on Amazon. That has meant good things (new authors, new readers, lots more money in the system being paid to writers) as well as bad things (harder discoverability, and, as you put it, a boatload of crap). Appreciate your thoughts.

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