View Full Version : Great Article in New York Magazine--The End

09-24-2008, 01:11 AM

As auctions over hot books have grown more frequent, prudence has gone out the window— paying a $1 million advance to a 26-year-old first-time novelist becomes a public-relations gambit as much as an investment in that writer’s future.

That money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously. For every Pretty Young Debut Novelist who snags that seven-figure prize, ten solid literary novelists have seen advances slashed for their third books.

Normally, I don't tout articles about the publishing industry. This article is long--very long--and I'd suggest that you read it before comenting on it. It covers aspects of the industry from the current state of publishing, the editorial relationship with authors and why it's changed, huge-advance books that went bust last year (just check out the unrecouped advance figures--it's scary) and how the industry is trying to cope.

When my publisher suggested I read the article, I was prepared for a huge downer article about how publishing is going bust. But, what I found was an article that approaches the crisis from all angles and actually helps to explain some of those questions that new or *young* (my phrase) writers need answers to. Read it. It's well worth the effort. Check out Harper Studio's new business model and the stats of B&N vs Borders or Amazon vs publishers.

And then we have to ask ourselves some hard questions as writers too. How can we trust the components within the publishing industry if/when we get those shiny contracts? Is it worth holdng out for that higher advance figure only to discover that our book left the publisher millions of dollars out of pocket--and be ruined professionally as a result. Those smaller independent publishers--they're only getting 15 to 20 books into B&N warehouses and not the actual stores--is it worth the risk?

Fascinating article with a LOT of information that we should all think about. Just thought I'd share.

09-24-2008, 01:32 AM
Thanks for posting this, mscelina. I've been following this post and the responses on the blogsophere for a bit. Booksquare posted an interesting response to the article and so does a fellow named Mike Crane (both are probably my favorite responses)

Booksquare's Full Article (http://booksquare.com/its-only-the-end-of-rose-colored-glasses/)

I don’t think publishing’s condition is as dire as the New York Magazine article suggests. I think publishing is fundamentally broken, mostly because a business that relies on mega-hits to justify its existence — when those mega-hits are reliant upon capturing the imagination of a broad spectrum of the nation’s citizens — cannot sustain itself as it exists today.
I also think that there’s strong evidence to support a theory that those who are entrenched in the business are too far removed from the readers to understand how to identify potential hits.Mike Cane's Full Article (http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/print-book-publishing-doomed/)

I think as writers we have to get creative with how we share our books (some say market, but it sounds so commercial!). Ultimately we're in charge of our books and our writing career futures so we have to adapt to the shifts in this industry even if most of the big boys in publishing won't. Booksquare and the Jacket Copy LA Times article (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2008/09/the-end-of-publ.html) cited that the independents are getting creative. Many have podcasts, blogs and are reformatting their websites to reach the reader. Two big guys that are changing with the industry. Tor got on board by reforming their site and they're kickin' butt with the free ebooks and community of readers they're building at their site (thank you Tor!) and Harlequin is setting up reader panels to see what their readers want from the future of their books. I agree with the Booksquare article that the readers are being forgotten by the higher ups and many times the industry sells books to the readers that they WANT them to read rather than what the reader actually wants to read (see the Danielle Steele part). But many of the independent authors and epubbed authors are keeping in touch with readers throughout the blogosphere and could very well help the shift of how books are sold.

The old publishing industry model may be coming to an end and it may have to dismantle itself before thriving for the future, but that doesn't mean we writers have to die with it. We just have to adapt and look outside the publishing norm that is usually idealized in what will equal 'a potential success'.

09-24-2008, 01:59 AM
What an informative read. Thanks for posting!

09-24-2008, 02:13 AM
Booksquare's blog entry was pretty interesting--it was also interesting to see how quickly the discussion degenerated into a commercial vs literary squawkfest.

I found the NY article to be a bit doom and gloom, but the POV from inside the NY industry was fascinating. For a supposedly creative industry, it's no wonder some of these books are not paying out. In the constant quest for a blockbuster, publishers are digging themselves into deeper holes daily. So, what is the solution? Can the industry heal itself? I mean come on--5.5 million out of pocket because of an 8 million dollar deal made by a senior editor who has since been fired? If, as the Booksquare piece claims :

The publishing industry is also woefully unprepared to think beyond the book. Flat, bound, linear. Nice and very useful. Never goes out of style. Except, oh, when book is not the best means to distribute information, content, or story.

then how do they rectify that catastrophe? Is the HarperStudio model too little too late? I'm just brainstorming here, trying to apply the information from both articles to how I approach the business.

09-24-2008, 02:20 AM
a million dollar advance :-O
Time for me to hit the bestseller racks and kick my philosophical concepts to the curb...

09-24-2008, 02:28 AM
That magazine is a bit gossipy and alarmist, so I wouldn't read too much into the doom and gloom. It was a pretty good article, though.

09-24-2008, 02:36 AM
mscelina, indeed! I was surprised myself that they protested much because most of this stuff is kept behind closed doors.

The way I see it, the ones who know how to adapt their formats will be the ones who have an edge over the ones who remain strictly in ye olde format. Like a publisher that offers their books in ebooks, print and audio. Those are the ones that are going to reach readers across all media.

True people aren't reading as much as they were, but still there are the people that read aggressively whether mostly in their cars (via audiobooks) or on their computers and they will eat up books like there is no tomorrow (myself included lol). Big pubs get that different formats are wanted, but they don't get that you can't price a book in eformat as you do in hardcover. Things like that contribute to the slowing down of the transition based on what I hear from other readers.

The returns and shredding part was a downer, I think. It looks like it could be remedied though with things like printing on demand or a short run or even the espresso book machine (what the heck happened to that anyway?). That's why I get a little nervous when writers push for their books to get placed on corporate bookstore shelves. Is it really beneficial if its going to stay there until it has to be sent back in a few months to the pub for shredding to make room for the new batch?

It's a scary thought but as writers we have to think of things on all sides and weigh what will be best for our careers to continue in the future. I'd love to hear other authors weigh in on this. I'm not sure what the smaller pubs think of this right now (the article didn't post their thoughts) but I'd love to know.