Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Future of Publishing
Part 4

Read here to see what this is all about.

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

Please do not throw out the beautiful baby with the bathwater!
Do not get rid of the whole system - fix what doesn't work. Maybe betting the farm on hoped for blockbusters isn't the way to go anymore. Instead, maybe use P.O.D. to bring the brighter literary lights (that may not have celebrity status or other hook, but nonetheless are solid stellar work) to the market. We have the technology. We CAN rebuild it (publishing, that is).
The agents, editors, designers, production people, marketers, sales reps, acquiring librarians, critics, reviewers, bloggers, etc. etc. - they are all doing a fantabulous job of putting great books in front of the readers who will most appreciate them. That's not broken -- what's broken is a business that exists to serve shareholders and not readers. Subsidy publishers - in spite of their claims to even the playing field for authors are no better - as they live to serve the paying author (again, no one paying for book production seems to care too much about the end user - reader). That needs to change. Put the reader first, Jason. Put the reader first.
Kat Meyer, editor,

For starters, admit that newspapers are dead and spend marketing dollars accordingly. If somehow, newspapers find a way to survive going forward, then they become an opportunity. Second, publishing needs to get a clue about the Internet and electronic publishing. People are still reading, but you have to put the words where the eyeballs are. Print books also need to advertised as such. Right now, there's no standardized non-proprietary format for ebooks. Both publishers and authors act more hysterical than the recording industry (which deserves everything bad that's happened to it for its own shortsightedness) about ebooks. That needs to stop and a lot faster than it's happened in recording. Third, ditch the returns system. It's an illogical system profitable only for the big chain stores. Fourth, break up the big distributors. I'm sure Borders and BN will howl with agony over this idea, but we have reached a point where distribution suffers from a near monopoly.
Jim Winter, reviewer for Mystery Scene and January Magazine

Expanding on Scott Sigler's previous answer: when the iPhone App Store first appeared, I immediately made both books of my 'Max Quick Series' available as $5.99 downloads for the iPhone. In addition, I also made the first six chapters of the first Max Quick book (The Pocket and the Pendant) available as a free app download. As a result, my free sampler got *a thousand downloads per day* in the first two months, and I converted hundreds of these into sales weekly. In fact, in the app store right now -- after nearly six months -- my sample book is still at #41, still ahead of samplers by established authors. Before this, like Scott Sigler, I had made my books available as free podcast audiobooks. I've received over 2.4 million downloads to date. Like Sigler, JC Hutchins, Mur Lafferty and Seth Harwood, I've built an audience online via podiobooks, twitter, facebook and email. I know them, they know me. Which leads me to the first thing I would do: the iTunes App Store book section (both ebook and podiobook) is not very well organized. Publishers, authors and Apple should work together to create a better 'iTunes of Books' experience. This should be inclusive of new authors and established authors: the chain should not be locked up. The benefit to the publisher is access to a crowd-sourced farm league of new author talent: it comes to them already proven, with an established audience.

Jason’s received some interesting and even provocative responses, although I have one caveat – most of the answers are critical of the publishers and the way they go about their business. Silly advances for silly books; anachronistic marketing; a failure to adapt to the latest technology; in short, most people complain that publishing companies are clinging to an outmoded business model. This may all be true, and the Good Lord knows that I’ve had my fair share of disappointing experiences with publishers, as most writers tend to have; but is there an element of mote-and-beam going on here? In other words, no one writer has said that the one thing they’d do to change book publishing for the better is write better books. For all the hand-wringing about publishers’ inability to incorporate the interweb into their marketing model, how many writers have incorporated the interweb into their writing? How many writers have thought to themselves, for example, about the sea-change in other forms of popular art – movies, TV and music – and audience appetite for a blend of reality and fiction? There’s a generation of potential readers coming through for whom the Fourth Wall doesn’t exist. Last night, for example, I watched the ‘Family Guy’ episode in which Peter ‘outs’ Luke Perry, with the character of Luke Perry voiced by Luke Perry – although Lois refers to the character as ‘Dylan’, his character in Beverly Hills 90120. On Wednesday I watched the documentary ‘Anvil!’, the story of how an aging metal band from Canada are still trying to make it in their fifties. As a movie, or even a mockumentary, it would have been very funny in the ‘Spinal Tap’ mode; as a documentary, a real take on the rock ‘n’ roll dream, it was simultaneously soul-destroying and inspirational. Next Thursday, I’ll be getting along to see ‘Notorious’, a biopic of the Notorious B.I.G., who – regardless of your opinion of gangsta rap – made art of his life, of experiences that are possibly fictionalised but certainly rooted in an authentic, relevant reality. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that left me hollowed out and yet bursting to make something new, the way ‘Anvil!’ did. Or, for that matter, a book that makes me laugh like ‘Family Guy’ does because – bonkers as it is, and with no respect for the boundary between truth or fiction – it taps into the experience of our utterly confused cultural narrative. This morning, on the web, in the space of an hour, I read a short story, took on board the responses to Jason Pinter’s question, checked last night’s football scores, watched a book trailer and two music videos, downloaded the latest Anthony and the Johnsons album, and watched an extended trailer for the ‘Notorious’ movie. Can, or should, that kind of disjointed cultural mish-mash influence my own writing later on, when I grab a quiet couple of hours? Not the specific elements; but the jump-around nature of it, and the blend of reality and fiction? Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of movies, reviewing them for a living, and read a lot of books, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief when confronted with a story I know is pure fiction, regardless of how good it is. For that matter, just look at the Oscar noms for ‘Best Picture’ – Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire are all, to a greater or lesser extent, examples of the collision between fiction and reality. I’m currently working on a story in which the name of one of the main characters, Billy, is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, which is the last book I read, when I re-read it last May, to really suck out my guts and make me think about life, the universe and writing (I subsequently read ARMAGEDDON, but it’s not Vonnegut’s finest moment). Billy, my Billy, is actually a character from a novel I’d written about five years ago, who last May turned up in my back garden wanting to know why he’d been forgotten, and condemned to the limbo of the unpublished ghosts. The result was a book called A GONZO NOIR, which is currently under consideration with a U.S. publisher, although I’m not optimistic about its chances; nonetheless, I’ve started a new story, in which Billy returns, telling me about this guy he’s met on Crete, Sebastian, who claims to have been involved in a Nazi war crime, but who has been left in the limbo of an unfinished manuscript after the untimely death of the author, who may or may not have been writing a novel based on a true story. Can I help Sebastian finish the story and get him out of limbo? Whether anyone will want to read that story is a moot point. And I’m not claiming that the notion of meta-fiction is so new and fresh that, to come back to Jason Pinter’s question, it’s going to change the industry – Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Flann O’Brien, Italo Calvino and, going a long way back, Laurence Sterne, are all favourites of mine.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that if there’s problems with the publishing industry, it extends to all elements of the industry, and that includes, vitally, the writers. Maybe, just maybe, a central issue for the future is that the audience, and certainly the generations coming through, won’t be content with straightforward fiction, in the way that even the best animated movies from Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney will, for adults, always be just kids’ movies.

Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 3. 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 Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I disagree with Jim about returns.
You can't eliminate them for a number of reasons.
The most important being that it would kill all the small book stores.

If they take a chance on a new author or book and order 20+ copies they have the fall back of being able to send them back if they don't sell so they take a chance. if they can't be returned then they will order maybe one or two.

There is probably a way to make the system better, but you can not eliminate it.

12:54 PM  
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7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly believe that we have reached the point where technology has become one with our lives, and I think it is safe to say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of downloading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.

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12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, just want to say hi. I'm new here.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

5:59 PM  

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