Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Future of Publishing
Part 3

Read here to see what this is all about.

What is one thing you would you do to change book publishing for the better?

A. Understand no one will buy a book that they don't know exists. Have you ever walked into a supermarket and said to a clerk - I want to buy a cereal you never heard of and neither have I?
B. Stop reacting to every social networking trend as if it is marketing. Blogging, Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are all well and good for people who are social networking and for authors who are right for it but publishers can't use them instead of real marketing solutions.
C. Institute and option system for some books the way Hollywood does. Option a book, take it out in eformat -for free-see how it does - if it does well go for the full price and bring it out in paper.
D. Be honest with authors and make them your partners.
E. Offer higher royalties if the author is willing to forgo part of his/her advance to put it into marketing.
F. Pay more attention to models like Twelve, Vanguard and Bob Milllers -which is publish no book you cannot afford to market.
G. When you sell the hardcover offer the ebook and audio free.
H. For one week, before an authors next release comes out offer a title from that authors backlist as an unlimited free ebooks. Do this for every single author. Do it in audio too.
I. Understand sampling is not five pages-its a totally free book and nothing makes a reader buy a book than being in love with the author's work.
J. Don't remainder books. Give them to hotels to so every room has a library and people can discover more books.
K. Test every cover. Create an online testing program so no cover goes out without you being sure that it conveys what the book is about and will attract readers.
L. Get more books in non bookstores.
M- More ideas over at my blog often...
M.J. Rose, author of THE MEMORIST, editor of Buzz, Balls & Hype

In my post Cri de coeur, I recount the story of an author whose in house publicist spun empty promises, then did practically nothing to promote the book. I hear this story over and over again, from authors published by houses big and small. And now I'm hearing from authors whose editors and/or publicists have been let go just before publication, so there's no one to champion their books inhouse. And there's no one to offer any guidance about what the authors are supposed to do now. The one thing I would change is to have publishers treat ALL their authors as business partners, not just as product suppliers. This means publishers would do the following for each and every author, not just the few whose books are anointed as lead titles:
--Explain the publicity process well in advance, preferably with a written guide.
--A few months before publication date, schedule a sit-down (or phone-in) launch meeting between author, editor, agent, publicity staff and freelance publicist (if applicable). In that meeting, have honest, forthright discussion about how the publisher, author and any freelancers can best work together to promote the book. 
--Just as important: detail exactly what publisher and author expect of the other, and what the publisher will--and won't--do.
--Be truthful with "orphaned" authors. Tell them who's going to take care of their books, and what they can do to pick up any slack.
Bella Stander, book publicity consultant for commercially published authors

Publishers should start with niche marketing. Time and again, they pay inflated prices to book an ad in a huge daily which probably has the net effect of selling 100 books. Books like The Shack have proven that word of mouth is the most effective means of marketing and the old model of having a million people see an ad for a book in a day and then bank on that to sell a 100,000 copies should go by the wayside. Niche and targeted marketing is by no means a new idea, the problem is that publishing is very antiquated and I'm not implying that the industry is run by an elderly crowd--when the old guard retires, the new people are always ready to continue the same bad habits.
Anonymous, literary magazine editor

The industry needs to do a better job of marketing itself. Not specific titles (which they also don't do terribly well), but the idea of books and reading in general. The success of books like The Da Vinci Code and Marley and Me show that consumers are willing to buy and read books. What we need to do is convince them to do it more often. Publishers should find new ways to promote reading as a leisure activity. There are still a lot of people out there who like to read -- we just need to reach those people and remind them of how much fun it is.

Last week I signed a new deal with St. Martins/Thomas Dunne Books for my next two novels. I was one of the writers who got caught in the Houghton-Miflin Harcourt merger. In fact, my novel Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere came out in hardcover last summer and now it's completely in limbo, no plans for a paperback release at all from Harcourt. Which brings me to my one thing I'd do to change book publishing: make all formats of a book available at once - hardcover, trade, mass market, e-book - whatever version people want to buy. I guess I could have said, "Embrace the technology," and push it even further. If I'm going to buy a book online, why can't I click on whatever version I'm willing to pay for? Also, I'd like to see e-readers get a lot cheaper, or even be give-aways from e-book of the month clubs or from publishers if you're willing to agree to buy two dozen books in the next year, like Columbia House used to do. I'd still like to be able to browse bookstores, though, so I wish bookstores would "stock" e-books. I could browse, talk to the staff (the best part of bookstores) and get my e-reader loaded up. I've been saying for a while that publishers and booksellers have to stop thinking of themselves as printers, trucking companies and warehouses and start thinking about what it is they really do - choose, design, edit and know their stock and their customers.

I was a Publicist at Bloomsbury & Walker for 4 years and recently left for a job at an internet startup because I didn't see the traditional book publishing industry adapting (just panicking and crumbling) as the world changes around it. My thoughts are below.
1. Get rid of returns. No other business in the world has a model that matches the absurdity of the buy-and-return model that Barnes & Noble and other vendors enforce on publishers.
2. Publish less. Stop the "spaghetti against the wall" approach of rush-publishing too many barely-edited books that won't be promoted, budgeted for or even bought into stores and focus on the carefully planned publication of a select number of strong titles in order to give them the marketing and promotional support that they deserve. Retail buyers will be less overwhelmed and won't reject as many books for being too similar. Editors will be able to actually edit instead of just acquire. Marketing and publicity departments will be able to make solid plans with actual budgets. This requires boards of directors, stockholders, publishers, retail buyers and editors to reevaluate their priorities and profit models but they aren't currently making a profit so, why not?

Stay tuned for Part 4 tomorrow. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. If you work in publishing (author, editor, agent, critic, bookseller or reporter) and would like to participate, email me at with your response to "What is one thing you would you do to change book publishing for the better?" and I will post it.

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Blogger Daniel Powell said...

This has been a fascinating series Jason. Nice work, and thanks to all of those in the industry willing to share their opinions.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Jessica Keener said...

Great exchange, Jason. More than ever, we need to keep these discussions going as we all try to figure out how to make things better for books right now. I'm so glad you are doing this.


Fiction editor, Agni
Freelance writer and author

4:38 PM  

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