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Monday, November 21, 2011


I'm an avid trend-watcher and base my predictions by extrapolating trends to their logical conclusion. The publishing world is still in huge flux and I think it'll get worse before it gets better.

Penguin recently announced it had created Book Country, a self-publishing package for writers. (A very pricey package at that.) Dean Wesley Smith posted an excellent report on Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and the unsettling remarks by Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Literary Agency. Notice on Trident's page that they never call it self-publishing, yet that's what it looks like to me.

Because I edit the newsletter for OWW, (Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy and Horror) I've long kept track of agents and their blogs. Fewer are blogging about the fantastic deals they've made for their clients. Some have established self-publishing arms for their business. Others have simply disappeared.

Giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, and Barnes & Noble are expanding their empires, robbing traditional publishing of their leads before the trads get a chance to react.

But the most telling development of all, the one I've been watching closely, has been with the average consumer. Every time I see someone with a book or an e-reader, I always ask what they like to read and how they choose what they read.

The two most common answers? Mystery is the top favorite, followed closely by romance. The people I polled said they buy the author--not the publisher or the genre. If they like someone, they simply keep buying him until he starts to disappoint. (This doesn't apply to the giants like King, Rowling, The Nora, and Patterson. Their fans will read them no matter what.)

This is a most unscientific poll, but I've been doing it for so long, it's begun to form a pattern.

But the trend that struck me as most dramatic has come from yard sales. You can tell a lot by the things we recycle and dispose. I've been seeing a significant drop in paper books at backyard sales. Even at used book stores, recent releases are fewer and snapped up quickly. Books that sold poorly on their release glut the shelves and languor there.

This can mean several results in 2012.

• Smaller demand could make paper books more expensive to produce and buy, reducing author advances even further.
• Traditional publishers might have to turn their operations to Print On Demand (POD) to stay solvent.
• Watchdog groups and lawyers will be scrutinizing traditional publishers even more as publishers try to lure unsuspecting authors to self-publish with them.
• Droves of authors will try self-publishing and fail. Not because their work is bad, but because they'll drown in obscurity as the market becomes increasingly glutted.

Not very cheery, is it? What we need is an outfit that can stream new book releases through many outlets at once, aggregated in such a way that it'll be easy for the consumer to window shop in their jammies. 

Amazon has done this best, but Google with its massive reach ought to be able to tap a few smart people who can create an entirely digital shopping experience.

What can authors do? Write more. Chat less. Sometimes, we insulate ourselves among peers and rabid readers, forgetting there is a huge group of consumers out there who don't give a flying fig who's got a blog tour or a book trailer. They just want something to read and your book happened to have caught their eye.

Call them the real silent majority. They're the ones calling the shots now.



Renee Miller said...

Awesome post, Maria. Very accurate and it echoes much of what I've observed. I think we'd have to be blind not to see what you've laid out here.

I've worn the rose-colored glasses for several years, telling myself that if I just hang on a little bit longer, just keep plugging away, it'll happen; a traditional publisher will want my work.

The thing is, it's not about good or bad anymore. It's just an impossible dream (in most cases) for a new author to land such a thing. Not with the perks it used to come with anyway. Self publishiing is not the path I wanted to take, but I'm removing the glasses and admitting to myself that it's possibly the only option at this point. I need a platform and in today's industry, a platform is different than it was even just a couple of years ago. Publishers want proven "talent".

Will I succeed? Well I certainly won't be any worse off than I am right now with nothing published and hundreds of queries going unanswered or rejected.

Actually, I think it's good to let readers decide. For a long time publishers made up their minds for them. It's going to be a tough road for authors, but I think in the end, those of us who are professional, tenacious and work hard at our craft will see rewards.

It's okay. The world hasn't ended. Sometimes I get optimistic. Don't worry, it'll pass and the universe will return to normal.

Maria Zannini said...

I can tell it's going to be one of these weeks. Since yesterday, my internet has been playing footsies.

Apologies in advance if I disappear for long periods of time.

Maria Zannini said...

Renee: It seems to be evolving so that the consumer has more control on selection. At least I hope so.

Much like going to these big box stores where you'll find a favorite product and then whoosh, they don't sell it anymore. They decide what you buy--not you.

Angelina Rain said...

Great post, Maria. I agree with you on all of it. It seems like traditional publishing is becoming the CD of the book world. Just like with music, where CD’s became outdated and people started downloading MP3’s, it’s the same with publishing and ebooks. However, the thing that disappoints me is that when CD’s were replaced with MP3’s, all of the sudden file sharing sites started popping up where people could get their music for free. Now I’m starting to see that same trend among books. That makes me sad. People always used to steal books, like borrowing it from friends rather than buying their own copy. But unlike the older days when one person will buy a book and share it with maybe three people, now they will share it with three hundred or more. That is just unfair to the author. The publishing world is changing and there is nothing we could do about except change with it.

L.G.Smith said...

Things are definitely still in flux. I do think e-books will become the majority of sales someday soon, but like you said the consumer pays little attention to who actually publishes anything. All they are concerned with is the quality of the product (and perhaps price). I really believe many authors will choose to go the self-published route in the years to come.

I also think a ratings system will determine how many people choose their e-book -- like the star ratings on Amazon -- but they have to figure out a way of protecting against the idiots who give one starred reviews for things that have nothing to do with the book. Grrr.

Dru said...

Great post and very valid points.

As a reader, I buy first on genre, then author and rarely by the publishing house.

Nowadays, every time I go into a bookstore, they never have the book I'm looking for, so there goes my choice, but online, I can find the book (at a less expensive cost) and other similar books, introducing me to new-to-me authors.

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: The parallels between the music and book industry are almost identical. You'd think that would've been traditional publishing's first clue about that slippery slope, but they completely ignored it.

LG: I still don't know what the answer is to vetting work. I'm a thorough researcher when I buy books. I read reviews, excerpts, and author blogs before I click buy. I doubt most people go through that much trouble, so we need something easier for the impulse buyer.

Dru: Genre was the second most popular reason given in my unscientific poll. But I'm like you, I go for genre first.

Rita Webb said...

Great points. Loved what you had to say.

I chose to form my own publishing company because I found that I loved the process of producing a book from beginning to end. I love the freedom of making my own decisions, but I also have more responsibility. Accounting, marketing, editing, planning, covering the expenses--it all rests on my & my husband's shoulders.

Maria Zannini said...

Rita: It's the best part of self-publishing. I grumble a lot (mostly to myself) but I love being in control.

Marianne Arkins said...

I'm a genre first reader... but I have the benefit of owning a reviews site so if a new-to-me author catches my eye, I can read for free first.

That said: I'm a loyal author follower. If you win me over (and I'm not an easy sell), I'll auto-buy you without a blink.

Most recently? Natalie Damshroeder (her "Fight or Flight" knocked my socks off, so you can bet I nabbed her latest release from Carina Press without so much as a blink), Amanda Arista (she had SUCH a great voice in "Diaries of an Urban Panther", so "Claws and Effect" is a no brainer buy), Dana Fredsti blew me away with her "Ashley Drake Zombie Hunter" book (which she regained rights back to and is having published elsewhere ... but also has a sequel coming that I'll buy the moment it's available).

Still, I'm tied firmly into the book world, so I'm not the average consumer. But I'm noisy. I talk A LOT. I've sold more books for authors by word of mouth -- including folks who don't typically read in the genre I'm gabbing about.

So, the future of publishing? Aside from Harlequin, which has done an amazing job branding itself, I don't think people buy based on who published it.

BUT ...

I admit to being very, very, VERY cautious about self-published books and have never bought a new-to-me author who self-published. Every self-pubbed author I've purchased has been traditionally published somewhere else first. My experience with author who self-publish ONLY has been very poor.

I also seldom buy from a new ePublisher. Again, my experience shows that they'll initially publish almost anyone who's breathing and they're so impatient to get releases out that their editing is substandard. Not always, but mostly. As so I err on the side of caution.

Not sure where this comment is going... I'm rambling a bit. ::shrugs::

Guess that's my .02 FWIW

Kay Theodoratus said...

Little about the newish turn in publishing has surprised me. My daughter's a professional musician.

LD Masterson said...

I was struck most by your final paragraph. I've been very concerned about my ratio of writing to chatting. Aside from making some excellent online friends, all this business of building an online presence isn't going to help me much if I don't get anything written because of it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Maria! Genre and Author reader/buyer here too. I love that the average reader has more say. I've never cared how a book got to me as long as it did.

Yes, self-published books can be hit and miss. They can also push boundaries traditional publishing won't cross because of the niche, the PC fear of offending some group or other, and the simple monetary fact.

Awhile ago, Kait Nolan talked about today's self-publishers being yesterday's pulp fiction: E-books the New Pulp Fiction? Thus far she's a self-pub only author and she raised some great points.

In the end, I agree Maria, "Write more. Chat less." I'd also add, "Continue to learn. Don't settle but rather continue to push your writing to the next level."

Shelley Munro said...

Very good post, Maria. It's a bit of a catch 22 situation. With the growing number of books out there the demand to promo is growing ever louder. If authors don't promo, the reader won't find their book. Shelf browsing in a book shop is a thing of the past, yet other than promo there's no way for a reader to find a book by a new author.

The low price point of many self-pub books worries me, but that's another post entirely.

I differ from many readers because I often try new authors, and I pick solely by blurb and genre. With my favorite print authors - once they go to hardcover, that's it. I can't afford hardbacks and borrow from the library instead.

Marianne - It's great to hear that the Urban Panther story is good. I have it on my iPad ready to ready.

Shelley Munro said...

Jeesh! That would be ready to read.

I'd like to add that I think it's good that the publishing industry is changing. Things have been done the old-school way for far too long. These days it's much easier to find books that I want to read rather than books a publisher thinks I should read.

Kaye Manro said...

This is a very informative post.

I tend to agree with Shelley. I think the change is good for writers who epublish, and readers too. Well, mostly. There is the chance we as authors could still get lost in the massive number of books that will be available. Still I do like the fact there are so many authors and books to choose.

Maria Zannini said...

Rushing to answer this while I have connection. It's been storming here and the cloud cover is deep, preventing satellite connection.

Marianne: I used to be wary about self published books but since I do so much research before I buy anything, I'm usually not disappointed.

Kay: If only publishers had paid attention when digital struck music first.

Linda: I've cut down my chatting a lot. There just isn't enough time. I visit the people I like and those who have been gracious enough to visit me.

Raelyn: It's all cyclical. We react before we know all the facts and to add insult to injury, few read broadly enough to make an informed decision. It's all so elitist sometimes.

Shelley, woman. Why are you up at his time of day? I'm going to ship you some sleeping pills.

Ref: price point
I've been giving this a lot of thought lately. What do we make with traditional publishers? Are we really losing that much compared to what we might earn with a trad? I'm still figuring that out, but it's been on my mind lately. --now go back to sleep.

Maria Zannini said...

Kaye: The ability to choose has been my favorite part of authors taking over. I don't like big corporations to dictate to me. Yes, they vet work and screen for quality 80% of the time, but they're so focused on the bottom line, they never see beyond what is trendy and commercial.

Hollywood is the same way. How many great original films have they made lately? It's all pop and remakes.

Misha said...

Great post. I can see your predictions coming true. Still, I think it's something that might turn out better than we think as methods and market players evolve. That's what I'm hoping. Whether that's how it will end is another question.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

sigh. Now i'm a bit sad, even though you haven't said anything new. Still, at least i'm working on the writing more, chatting less bit. Sometimes it's hard to purposely keep yourself out of "the club" but it's worth it if makes me a better writer

Cate Masters said...

It's such an unpredictable time right now for authors. One loop had a thread by authors who'd been published by certain houses and were now receiving rejections from them, a sure sign that there's no sure thing these days.
Great advice, to work on your craft. I don't know how else to stand out in this sea of writers.
Hope your internet stabilizes, anyway!

Clarissa Draper said...

I agree with you. I think authors spend too much time on social media thinking it will sell books but it wont. People will buy books (especially series books) if they think another by the same author is coming out soon. So, I think writers have to keep writing.

broken biro said...

I'm just visiting in haste, so haven't read all the previous comments, but working in a busy central library I can confirm your 'unscientific' survey fits with my experience - we don't have quite as many crime/thriller books as general fiction but they go out faster, more frequently and to a more voracious audience. Other genre (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) are much smaller departments - this applies to people borrowing books, not buying them, so the demongraphics might be different... ooh look - I said demongraphics... spooky!

Sondrae Bennett said...

Very insightful. The last point you make strikes a real chord with me about "the silent reader".

Southpaw said...

Great points. The best thing Amazon does is allow people to download a sample chapter for free. You can download a bunch of things that look interesting, read through the next day or so and then purchase the ones that resonated with you.

It's a fascinating time, but a little unnerving for newbie authors.

Krista D. Ball said...

Chatting is the only thing that keeps me sane. If I stopped talking, I'd drop dead. Is that really what you want?

(There is only one right answer to that question, FYI, and it isn't yes :p ).


Barbara Ann Wright said...

I'll also read on friend recommendation, and an author can lose my loyalty quickly if they seem like they're going self-indulgent.

I think we'll see the rise of more peer-reviewed sites to help people sort through the ebook morass.

Jenny Schwartz said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed the post and comments, though they don't make comforting reading. Still, as a reader as well as author, I know no matter what happens in the world, I'll be looking for good new books to buy.

And LOL to "demongraphics"

Maria Zannini said...

Misha: I count on human engineering to build a better mouse trap. I have a few ideas myself, but not the technology to put it into practice. That will take someone with deeper pockets than mine.

Sarah: I kinda resigned myself at looking at writing as a job. If I were at work I wouldn't spend half my time at the watercooler--not without getting fired. This time I have to be the grownup and know when to walk away from the playground.

Cate: Internet is awful right now. We have three more days of very cloudy weather too.

Clarissa: I think we live in a nice safe bubble when we're among peers. To actually be seen by the public is a whole other beast.

Broken Biro: Agh! I wish I had thought to canvass librarians. Talk about having the pulse of the reading public. You are gold.

Maria Zannini said...

Sondra: The silent reader has not been given his due and I think that's about to change very quickly now.

Southpaw: I download a LOT of samples. If I like the voice and the narrative I put it in my cart. Time consuming, but I feel I get what I want too. I've rarely been disappointed with my fiction choices. Non-fiction is a different cow.

Krista: Chat away, K. I'm a good listener. (and I don't want you to perish for lack of conversation)

Barbara: Yes! If it's an opinion I trust, I don't even question it. I just buy.

Jenny: Isn't it sad we missed the golden age of publishing back when they were handing out advances like carnival balloons?

We do get some great comments here, don't we?

And everyone, you must read Broken Biro. She is way funnier than I am, and she's a LIBRARIAN! It don't get no better than that. :)

Krista D. Ball said...

Whew. There's NO way I can stop chatting! :D

Angela Brown said...

This post gives me a lot to think about. And when I say a lot, I truly mean a whole lot.

Thank you for the post. It helps me understand some of the things I've been noticing as well.

Rosie Lane said...

My thoughts are mostly gloomy. As a baby writer armed with my first manuscript, I have no idea what to do with it. Posts by the likes of DWS and Kristine Rusch make me feel like I'll be the biggest sucker in the world if I try to get an agent, but on twitter and FB I see the army of self publishers trying to get noticed and don't see many prospects there either. At this point I'm likely to plump for self-published obscurity as being least likely to do unacceptable damage to my day job, family or mental health.

Even dreams must be subject to a cost-benefit analysis which realistically assesses how much publishing will give you compared to what it will demand of you.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: Every tidal wave starts with a ripple in the water. That's why I pay particular attention to the little things in the periphery.

Ref: Even dreams must be subject to a cost-benefit analysis which realistically assesses how much publishing will give you compared to what it will demand of you.

Wow! I couldn't have said this better myself. This is a very real consequence. It might not mean much to a young person, but I'm getting older and I want to do things that are both meaningful and profitable to my net worth.

If I write for the fun of it, that's one thing. But if I write with the purpose of making a living, I need to look at it more critically and dispassionately. Anyone can call themselves published now. The real benchmark is calling yourself solvent.

Thanks for your observation, Rosie.

Madeleine said...

Interesting findings. I would agree, I stick with authors I like, but I love my paperbacks and would mourn their loss, tremendously.

Mark Noce said...

Interesting observations. I've given up on trying to figure out trends in publishing, especially after the vampire thing just kept going and going:)

Maria Zannini said...

Madeleine: Paper won't go away, but I suspect it'll be rarer.

Mark: LOL. Don't get me started on vampires. I guess as long as they keep coming up with new ways to describe them, we might never be rid of them.

julie fedderson said...

Brilliant post! I think publishing, although changing in venues, will still be difficult for an author--traditional pub or not. It's no longer about just writing the story, you must be a spokesperson for your work and branch out into marketing. I think you are right when you say many good stories may get lost in the self publishing world, just because of that unfamiliar territory.

Nadja Notariani said...

Thoughts -
I'm writing and publishing, hoping to tap into that market. I'm not putting a whole lot of emphasis on making trailers and such right now. I've got to concentrate on getting my books out there.

Here's to success in a changing realm.

Mike Keyton said...

Phew, I've left it too late to comment here. Just excellent post, Maria. Excellent