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Category : Current Affairs
I sometimes hate reading people’s predictions for the new year, since they tend to be incredibly safe (“a new author will arise and start selling well”) or so obvious a moron could have guessed it (“it will rain a lot in Oregon”). But I enjoy the notion of trying to guess what will happen, since I’ve spent my life in this business, and I tend to try and stay ahead of the curve. So here are my un-safe, non-obvious thoughts on what may happen this year…
1. Amazon is going to start a chain of stores. Maybe it’ll be in airports, maybe they’ll start micro-stores like the kiosks you see selling headphones and chargers in airport terminals, but Amazon NEEDS to find an outlet for their Amazon-branded books. No brick and mortar store will touch them, and they need a presence in paper somewhere.
2. Barnes & Noble is going to be sold but remain in business. Okay, I don’t have ANY insider information, even though my wife worked for them for years. We all know B&N is struggling. They may sell off their Nook business (and I’m a huge fan of my Nook, as I’ve noted on this blog several times), but I don’t think America’s largest book retailer will go under. Instead, I’m wondering if the good folks at Microsoft (who propped up the Nook with an infusion of cash two years ago) might buy the entire chain. Someone will.
3. We’re going to see a bunch of publisher mergers. Hear me out: the rise of ebook readers led to a flood of category novels. That in turn led to the creation of countless smaller publishing houses — start-up companies that focused on one genre. But with ebook sales gone flat, and dedicated e-readers failing due to tablets, a bunch of those semi-successful smaller houses are about to be taken over by the Random Houses and HarperCollins of
So we’re in a state of revolution in publishing — a season where everything about books is changing. The writing, the editing, the production, the marketing, the sales channels, even the way we read books is different from the way we did five years ago. In the midst of all that change, there has been a lot of debate over the state of the industry, with some people decrying the changes and other embracing them. Some folks (see the letter from Richard Russo that I shared on the blog last week) are worried about the decline of bookstores and the takeover by a handful of conglomerates. Others (see Konrath’s harangue via the comments section) are celebrating that power has begun to move from publishers and bookstores to writers. There are strong feelings on each side, and no doubt some truth to be gleaned from several sources.
In the midst of all the noise, I thought it would be good to review some of the biggest publishing stories of the last year (before we all start making predictions about what will happen in 2014).
Before I offer my thoughts, let me just state that I’m of the opinion there’s never been a better time to be a writer. There are more readers than ever before. There’s moire training available than ever before. The industry is producing more books than ever before. And the web has created more opportunities for writers than ever before. So consider me an optimist when it comes to the publishing future. With that in mind, here are what I consider the ten biggest publishing stories of 2013:
1. Flat sales for ebooks. While it’s true we’ve watched ebooks capture a huge percentage of the market over the past five years, the expected rise to a 50/50 split between print books and ebooks hasn’t materialized. Instead, ebooks make up about 20 to 23% of all books sales… and
As we wrap up 2013, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the top publishing stories of the year, make some predictions for the upcoming year, and get back to answering your questions. But first, I’d like your input on one question:
What was the single best book you read in 2013?
It could be fiction or nonfiction. It could be a new book that released this year, or some great book from prior years that you just discovered. But I’d like to know what your best read was in 2013.
My list of the top ten books read this year:
Heartbreaker, by Susan Howatch — A fascinating look at the good and evil that resides in us, told through the story of a young woman raising money for a healing center who meets a male prostitute looking for meaning in life. Perhaps the best book I read all year.
Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker — A gritty, clear-eyed look at four victims of a still-at-large serial killer on Long Island. Great research and writing.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer — The moving story of a nine-year-old boy who lost his father on 9/11, and who is determined to find out why and how. I was in awe of the writing.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach — A wonderful novel about friendships, determination, acceptance, love, success, and baseball. (I’m a sucker for a great baseball story, and the story of Henry Skrimshander is one of the best novels I’ve read in years.)
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson — I love a book that makes me laugh out loud, not just smile and nod. This book by a longtime blogger will make you snort coffee through your nose. Hilarious.
Drift, by Rachel Maddow — You won’t agree with all her conclusions, but this story of how US Presidential
Yesterday one of my friends and mentors passed away. Jim Reimann was well known in the publishing community, having started a great bookstore in Atlanta, served as President of Family Christian Bookstores during their big growth phase, and having created a couple of bestselling books. Note that I say “created,” because he didn’t really write them — he took some classic old books and updated them into contemporary language. Back in the early 90’s, he took Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, updated the language, then watched it sell hundreds of thousands of copies. In the late 90’s he took L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert and updated it — giving new life to a treasured old devotional text. That book has sold millions, been produced in a couple dozen iterations, and has had a huge reach into the lives of spiritual seekers.
Jim did some other updates — he recently did contemporary versions of famed American preacher Charles Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, and a dozen years ago he did a wonderful job of updating Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables — cutting the 70-page description of the Paris sewer system, bringing the dialogue into more contemporary language, and taking a wonderful novel that is often more revered than read and making it accessible to readers everywhere. He had recently gone back to Les Miserables, did a bit of fine tuning, and Jim and I had just signed a deal with Barbour Publishing to produce a new edition of his updated version. That will release next summer, and I’m proud to have been part of the process.
You may not know how you feel about “updated language” books, and there is certainly a valid argument that books ought to be left alone — that modern readers need to struggle through the wordiness of Dickens or the structure of having no paragraph breaks for an entire page. But
It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that
Vilfredo Pareto was a Paris-born Italian, from a prominent exiled Genoese family, famous in his own day as a social economist. He is often referred to as the first modern economics professor, and he more or less developed microeconomics as a discipline. But what he’s best known for is the principle of factor sparsity — what we usually refer to as “the 80/20 rule.” Pareto noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from about 20% of the pea pods. He determined that 80% of the wealth in Italy was held by roughly 20% of the population. And, when looking at the Italian tax structure, he noticed that 80% of the government’s income came from just 20% of the taxpayers.
Sometimes referred to as “the law of the vital few,” the Pareto Principle is found in many of the organizations you belong to. For example, 80% of the work done at your church is performed by about 20% of the members. 80% of the money raised by the non-profit you belong to is donated by 20% of the givers. And, if you work in publishing, 80% of the income your publisher makes comes from 20% of the books. (Which, if you think about it, means there is significant factor sparsity in book publishing, since 80% of the titles released this year will produce very little income for publisher and author.) Pareto noted that most every element tied to finances is ruled by a vital few (which he referred to as “the elite,” thus popularizing the term), and that it’s the success of those vital few that allows the rest of the category to persist.
Here’s why you need to understand that as an author: Your publisher is going to release a LOT of books this year. A mere 20% of them are going to generate 80% of the publisher’s income, so of course your publisher is going to
Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “making a living at writing.” In addition to the advice I’ve doled out, I’ve heard from several people with wisdom to add to the discussion, and I have a few other tips to share, so I thought for the Thanksgiving weekend, we could share the best advice we all have for those looking to make a living at writing. Some of my thoughts:
—Keep your mornings protected for writing.Â Move the other work to the afternoon, but write every morning.
—Group similar activities.Â If you do all your phone calls back to back, you’ll get through them faster. Ditto emails, snail mail, project planning, looking over proposals, etc.
—Organize your day first thing every morning. If you have a plan, you’re much more apt to stay focused. Having a “to do” list helps most writers immensely.
—Take a day off one each week.Â Getting away from writing one day each week allows you to recharge your batteries and get your mind refreshed. Hey – even God rested.
—Kill the muse.Â That is, forget the concept that you have to be in a certain mood to write, or find exactly the right space to create words. Just sit and write. I’ve long appreciated Ernest Hemingway’s writing idea that you end each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down the next morning, you don’t have to figure where you are, or get yourself into a certain moody, or work up to it. All you have to do is to finish the incomplete sentence you’d left yourself, and you’re off and writing.
—See the value of shitty first drafts.Â Too many writers tie themselves in knots because they think they need to make their manuscript perfect. But for most novelists, what they really need is to
We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I’ve talked about the importance of having a place, a time, a project, a writing goal, and a calendar (among other things). Let me suggest there’s one other thing you’re going to have to learn to do if you are to take the next step in your writing career: think quarterly.
It can be daunting to think you need to earn $1000 this month. It’s much less daunting to think you need to earn $3000 in a quarter. The fact that you have the extra time allows you to shift your priorities around, and give yourself enough breathing room that you can earn the money. So don’t think the pressure is on you to make all the money NOW — assume you’ve got a three-month goal.
The federal government already thinks that way — it’s why they ask self-employed writers and editors to pay quarterly taxes instead of monthly. Writing income never arrives on a monthly basis anyway, though it’s fair for a writer to plan for a decent paycheck four times per year. So you move your income into quarterly groupings, lowering the pressure and giving yourself a better big-picture view of your budget.
In essence, I’m suggesting the conversation with yourself becomes something like this: “I’m going to make $3000 this quarter. It’s going to come from three sources — my completion money, my royalty check, and those magazine articles I’m completing. And the money is going to go toward these things…” (because part of having a budget is determining where the money goes, not just where it will come from).
When I was given this idea from an experienced freelance writer, I found it took a bunch of pressure of my shoulders. LOTS of writers and other self-employed people have based their budgets on this model over the years. Thinking quarterly will help you survive as a
I’ve been exploring the notion of making a living in the new publishing economy, and I want to make sure writers understand the big picture… You’ve got to treat your writing as a business.
Oh, sure, some writers will insist on treating their writing as an art, which is fine, and for some writers no doubt more appropriate. I represent some authors who don’t really see themselves as business people, but as artists, creating words that share their stories. I totally understand and respect that perspective, since some writers are, in fact, artists with words. But if it’s important to you that you generate a full-time income through your writing, and you’re pondering how to create a number of writing projects that will improve your bottom line, then you need to begin to see your writing as a business. In essence, your words are a service or product — they have value, and others need to pay you in exchange for them.
Determining the value of your words is tough at first, which is why I’ve encouraged authors to begin by setting a small monthly financial goal, then building up the number as you find success. If you know you need to earn, say, $2500 per month, then it’s clear the goal is about $500 per week (which sounds small when you put it that way, doesn’t it?). Thinking in that manner moves writing into more of a business model, since it reduces your work to numbers: “I need to make $500 from my writing this week.” You then begin to map out which projects you can do that will generate the cash flow you need.
As I’ve said a number of times on this blog, today is a great time to be a writer. There are more readers and more opportunities than ever before, so there’s a market for people who can create good content. You’ll still hear people
SNIPPET: I had several people email me to ask why we had the blog post about Snippet. The fact is, I simply love the tool. It’s easy to use (an author simply drops in short chapters or essays), it’s interactive (so it’s very much like an enhanced ebook), and it’s both word-based and visual. I don’t have any sort of stake in the company — I just like the results.
In my view, there are two ways an author could use Snippet. First, he or she could drop in some text, insert videos or photos or graphics, and in a very short time create a lovely book that would sell for $3.99 and be WAY more attractive than most short-form ebooks. Second, a nonfiction author could use it to create a shorter version of his or her book — offering some of the content, with a couple videos or interviews as highlights, and simply give it away as a marketing piece to promote the full-length book. Besides, it’s free. This is the sort of tool that we see sometimes as writers and realize it has huge potential. Like I said– I love it, and I’m happy to have the folks using it come on and share their story. (And if you have a tool like this that can help writers, I’d love to hear about it.)
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: I’m often asked what the best resource is for figuring out trends, or hearing what’s going on in the industry, or looking for up-and-coming ideas. In my view, the answer is easy: Publisher’s Weekly. Sure, it’s expensive (I think an annual subscription is $168), but it’s probably the one place I go where I get the most information on our industry. (I also like the online daily digest at Publishers Marketplace a lot.)
This week PW highlights what they consider the best books of 2013, and I noticed they included Lost Girls