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Bolero
01-24-2016, 08:21 PM
I drop in on Juliet McKenna's blog from time to time. One from earlier this month is very interesting:

Looking at what is going wrong with the book trade "Are we finally seeing the long-overdue examination of what’s gone wrong with the book trade?"
http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=1872

This is working from several sources, including references and quotes from a long blog by a publisher
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/04/the-civil-war-for-books-where-is-the-money-going/

Perks
01-24-2016, 08:45 PM
I'm not sure I understand what they are saying The Problem is. Every writer (in fact, every person in every endeavor) encounters hurdles and disappointments, problems if you will, but I don't know what global problem they're talking about here.

The last long quote seems to be talking about the one-giant-bookclub phenomenon, where because of online connectivity readers are quite enjoying all having read the same book. I don't see where it's a problem in general, although it's definitely a bummer if you didn't write The Girl on the Train or The Martian this past year - which all but two of us didn't.

But it was ever so that there are arguments that whatever books are doing well shouldn't be.

The idea that avant garde, unique, or edgy fiction isn't being published today is nonsense. The big publishers will certainly attempt to butter everyone's bread with books that they think they can make the public buy, but again, that's not news. And the big blockbuster books pay for all the niche-y, more modestly performing ones.

So, before we go on, can we address the elephant in the thread title? What is it that's going wrong with the book trade?

Latina Bunny
01-24-2016, 09:46 PM
Ok, from what I could understand (or think I understand), the main article seems to be saying that, because of the pressure to please the most readers and get the most visibility, and to get the next blockbuster, publishers are looking more at books that could become potential bestsellers/blockbuster and appeal to a wide audience.

Basically, according to the article, writers who write more niche or artistic/"creative" works are left in the dust, or are told and pressured to adjust their ambitious manuscripts to become something that will appeal to a wide audience and/or become a blockbuster.

It's pretty much saying that ambitious or artistic/avant grade projects are not able to be published (or have a lower chance to become published), and some authors have to adjust their projects (or drop them entirely) in order to appeal to the pubs who want to "play it safe" and publish something that will become popular or a blockbuster.

This is just me paraphrasing and summarizing, so I could be missing something here. Also, there was mention about writers/authors being discouraged due to this pressure to appeal to a wide audience and also because of low pay, or something like that...?

Basically, it's the old "being true to your artistic vision, or sell out to the masses" kind of deal.

Perks
01-24-2016, 10:07 PM
Yeah, if that's the case, then it's the inflation of individual fear of failure into some sort of large-scale shortcoming of publishing. But our individual fear of failure is not any indication of a pervasive Big Problem in the motives of the publishing industry - which is made up of people who love books and also love paying their light bills. (Now, a more general decline in reading as a pastime in competition with electronic entertainment, and the winnowing down of the average person's attention span could be argued as a worrisome plague. But that's not what's being put forward as the problem here.)

I'm in a fearful place myself right now. My first novel, Three Graves Full, did pretty well. The second book, which I sold to my publisher on spec, didn't do as well. And I don't know why. I have to consider that maybe it's not as good as the first one. Or maybe my status as a debut author was more helpful than can be repeated. Maybe the publicity around the disaster of the Barnes & Noble/Simon & Schuster contract clash, back as my first book was coming out, gave TGF a boost that didn't find its equal in the timing of Monday's Lie. Who knows?

But no matter, since I still want to play in the sandbox, I have no choice - I'm writing another novel. And it's hard. It's hard to make myself work when I don't know if anyone will buy the manuscript. But the hardest thing is knowing how many tens of thousands of other people out there, at this very moment, are tapping away at their own manuscripts. Are they better than me? Will their story cross the right person's desk at the right time when mine flounders out of synch with its potential champions. Will the money made by the reliable bestsellers and surprise blockbusters be spent before my next effort gets there to vie for a piece of it? Maybe.

It's hard to risk so much effort and time (and it takes me for-ever to write a book) to have it go nowhere. That's the monster under most of our beds. But that doesn't equate that with some greedy shortsightedness on the part of publishing.

Perks
01-24-2016, 10:13 PM
The second linked article ends in a rather tangled complaint that in the digital market, the transaction data of online book retail is becoming more valuable than the actual contents of the books being bought. I have no idea if this is a legitimate concern, but if it is, it's certainly a problem that no writer can influence. If it's even a real issue, that's something well out of our expertise, and if somehow you find the time to be both a writer and e-commerce data expert, then good for you - you've got two avenues that might pay.

CharlyT
01-24-2016, 10:41 PM
This 'Problem' has been around as long as art has been an income source for some. Even Michelangelo and da Vinci wrestled with the same issues. It's not going to go away, and for as long as you want to earn your keep in the arts playing the patronage game is integral to your survival. Shakespeare would've gotten *nowhere without Queen Elizabeth's patronage to cover his bills. The only difference between then and today's society is that for writers the publishing houses are our patrons rather than royalty / nobility and so you must learn to aim the appeal of your writing to the masses rather than to an individual.

The alternative is to write the 'edgy' and more niche style and support yourself through other means (Starbucks employs an awful lot of artists, lol). I think that's up to the individual to decide, but to wail against it is pointless and far from a productive use of time. Human nature is what it is, and without it we wouldn't have much to write about. ;)

ElaineA
01-24-2016, 10:47 PM
Except that one of the IT books of the year was The Millions, which, true to its name, went for $2 million at auction, got an all-star launch party, is 900 pages long and can't be called anything other than literary. IDK, this seems like an age-old argument. People thought Shakespeare and Twain were hacks. There's always a push and pull between those who consider non-commercial writing undervalued in the marketplace and those who champion books with bigger commercial appeal. And please, when have there ever been anything BUT commercial and series-style novels at the grocery store?

Frankly, I'd like to know the last romance novel or action thriller to get $2 million at auction. I know some YA books have hit big numbers, but it just doesn't ring true to me that literary works are being "conformed" out of the marketplace by greedy or leery publishers. Those books are the ones we hear most about getting all the big bucks up front. Now, selling enough to make back the advance...that's a whole 'nuther issue. If that's the conversation this blogger wanted to have, lamenting that people they aren't reading the "right" books because they're all blinded by the "mass market fodder" as she puts it, well...have at it.

rugcat
01-24-2016, 10:52 PM
I have to say, I agree with bunny-gypsy's description.

I am most familiar with genre fiction, but one thing that I have noticed over the last few years is that mid-list authors who used to be able to at least scratch out a living, are having an increasingly tough time getting their works published.

It's very much seems that publishers are viewing each book with an eye to its potential to be a breakout bestseller. Nothing wrong with that, and they always have, but the difference now is if they don't see a bestseller potential, they are quite reluctant to put out the book at all, even if it will do well enough earn out and make them a profit.

A book that will end up making them $20,000 in profit is a failure if it takes the place of a book that can possibly make them a couple of million. It's almost like a gambling game – they understand that many of the books they put out will lose money, but what they're looking for is the big winner that covers all those losses. They would rather take a flyer on the big money than publish books they feel have no shot at it, even if those books are guaranteed to make a profit - because everyone of those books would be taking a slot that could go to a possible lottery winner.

In a sense, debut authors have a slight advantage, because with no track record publishers can be convinced to take a chance that it will be a breakout novel.

But if you write a book that does pretty well, then write a follow up which does less well or even the same, it becomes established you are not going to be a bestseller. You may develop a loyal and steady core following and sell enough books to learn your publisher a profit, but that's no longer enough.

So authors who write good books, and that sell reasonably well, nonetheless can find themselves left out in the cold.

I think Perks is unfortunately caught up in this dilemma.

In a different thread, I referenced my own situation with my agent, who for my most recent ms told me "Sorry, but I can't sell this." What I didn't mention is that she also said "Ten years ago, or even five years ago, I think I could have easily placed this. But not today."

Now, it's very difficult to judge one's own work. But I do have a track record, and the manuscript she can't sell was, in my opinion, better than my previous books that have sold. Just different.

And so, after consulting with my agent, I'm just finishing up a ms written with an eye to the market – in other words, I'm writing something I think will sell in today's market, something less interesting to me and less enjoyable to write than the book I originally had in mind.

Is that selling out? Sure, in a way, although the current ms turned out to be kind of fun anyway. But for me, if the choice is writing something I believe in, only to end up sticking it in a drawer unseen, and writing something that has a chance to be published, I'm going to go with the publishable work.

(There is always self publishing, but as an old guy, I'm still wed to the traditional route of printed books. To be successful in self publishing, you need either a strong reader base or a talent for self promotion and social media, preferably both. And if you do have a reader base, you pretty much have to stick with the same type of books that established that base in the first place. Besides which, my last ms was a middle grade effort, which at present would pretty much be a nonstarter as a self published e-book.)

Perks
01-24-2016, 11:05 PM
It's very much seems that publishers are viewing each book with an eye to its potential to be a breakout bestseller. Nothing wrong with that, and they always have, but the difference now is if they don't see a bestseller potential, they are quite reluctant to put out the book at all, even if it will do well enough earn out and make them a profit.

A book that will end up making them $20,000 in profit is a failure if it takes the place of a book that can possibly make them a couple of million. It's almost like a gambling game – they understand that many of the books they put out will lose money, but what they're looking for is the big winner that covers all those losses. They would rather take a flyer on the big money than publish books they feel have no shot at it, even if those books are guaranteed to make a profit - because everyone of those books would be taking a slot that could go to a possible lottery winner.



I do see arguments to this effect, but I don't understand why anyone thinks this is the case. The publishing houses are putting out more titles than ever. They can't think they're all going to be blockbusters. They take on manuscripts they love, there is internal vying for marketing and publicity resources for these projects and away they go. Sometimes the books that got argued in-house into a big push pay off bigly. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes books that lost out on a major campaign find an influential champion reader(s) and outsell all expectations.

Since there is no slowing of the avalanche of titles produced each year, I don't understand where this concern comes from.

jjdebenedictis
01-24-2016, 11:06 PM
I'm in a fearful place myself right now. My first novel, Three Graves Full, did pretty well. The second book, which I sold to my publisher on spec, didn't do as well. And I don't know why. If I may voice my baseless, clueless, mostly-random opinion, Three Graves Full is an awesome title; it hooks attention, gives you an idea what the book will be about, and makes you curious to know more.

Maybe the difference in sales is simply a matter of that title convincing more people to pull the book off the shelf and give it a chance. Those kind of almost-beyond-my-control factors are the things that give me the heebie-jeebies. Good books tend to do well, but it's not a pure meritocracy; marketing can fluff or deflate sales by a surprising amount.

ElaineA
01-24-2016, 11:08 PM
I don't doubt your experience one bit, rugcat, and I'm definitely empathetic, as one who is shopping a manuscript in an "out" genre. I'm just not sure it's anything particularly new. Like musicians, maybe authors have been living in a sort of golden age of earning potential, one that has no historical precedent and is destined to burst. This bit of your post puts me in mind of Shakespeare:



And so, after consulting with my agent, I'm just finishing up a ms written with an eye to the market – in other words, I'm writing something I think will sell in today's market, something less interesting to me and less enjoyable to write than the book I originally had in mind.

Is that selling out? Sure, in a way, although the current ms turned out to be kind of fun anyway. But for me, if the choice is writing something I believe in, only to end up sticking it in a drawer unseen, and writing something that has a chance to be published, I'm going to go with the publishable work.


I imagine he had to put out some plays he wasn't passionate about to keep in Liz's good graces. On the side he wrote his sonnets, presumably something he was passionate about. I don't know how many people were actually reading his sonnets at the time, but I suspect it's less than were seeing his plays.

IDK, maybe I'm just trying to convince myself why I should keep bashing my head against the door...

CassandraW
01-24-2016, 11:13 PM
I have to say -- I've read both Perks' books and all of rugcat's. And it is really disturbing to me that either of them would have trouble selling a book. (Perks, your second novel is most certainly not weaker than your first.)

It's depressing, and it rather makes me think I should give up on my novel manuscript and stick to poetry. I've no delusions about selling that, and I get more pure pleasure out of writing it for its own sake, even if I'm the only one who likes it.

Perks
01-24-2016, 11:15 PM
But if you write a book that does pretty well, then write a follow up which does less well or even the same, it becomes established you are not going to be a bestseller. You may develop a loyal and steady core following and sell enough books to learn your publisher a profit, but that's no longer enough.

So authors who write good books, and that sell reasonably well, nonetheless can find themselves left out in the cold.

I think Perks is unfortunately caught up in this dilemma.




And just to be clear, I'm not worried that my short and less-than-meteoric track record will effect getting picked up again. That's not what I meant. I meant that my fear of failure is the same as it ever was - and that I am not bitter about this. It's hard, but that's the way it is. Until such time as I would ever have a big hit, it will always be that way. It's one cost of choosing to do this job. There is always the worry that the next one won't find its place or its paycheck.

I do not feel that any publisher should take on my next work if they don't love it and feel they can make it worth everyone's effort. My first two books have not performed well enough that it's a given, so I'm where I am - where my talent and work and luck have left me. I have to find a way to be okay with this. And I do not feel like I have been treated unfairly or ground up by a heartless corporate machine.

Certainly other people feel differently about their experiences. I'm just sharing my perspective.

AW Admin
01-24-2016, 11:31 PM
So, before we go on, can we address the elephant in the thread title? What is it that's going wrong with the book trade?

I think partly there's some confusion over terminology. "The book trade" doesn't mean publishing; it means the trade, book stores.

Moreover, from a historic point of view, if you look at what was published and what was popular/sold well since say 1930 in English, it really hasn't changed much except in scale; yes there are changes from year to year and trends, like the recent huge upswing in YA readers/books.

More books, more readers, and more units per book. Trends in what people are reading, yes, those exist. Self-help isn't what it used to be; erotica is mainstream.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2013/10/30/twenty-years-of-usa-todays-best-selling-books-list/3194493/

http://www.hawes.com/pastlist.htm

As to what's going wrong with the book trade, that is the business of retailing and wholesaling books, I think Amazon is a very large part of the problem.

Yes, it's super that you can order online; as someone who can't drive, and lives three busses and about 8.00 in fare and a little over 90 minutes away each way by bus from the nearest actual book store, Amazon and buying books online is awfully convenient.

But bookstores used to have a lot more to do with surfacing good books than Amazon can, does, or wants to.

Hand-selling was incredibly important for debut authors/books. And for those mid-list authors (that means authors whose books are not new, so in the front of the list or catalog book stores order from) whose last book was a year or more ago, whose books sell but not as much as best sellers, hand-selling was crucial.

Midlist is where most books are; midlist is where most authors are. Midlist is about half of any publishers in print stock; maybe more.

Midlist authors depended on their books being on the shelf at stores, where buyers would see them. And where knowledgable bookstore staff would know customers, and would know that if you like Author X and Book Q you'd probably like Author N and Book Z.

That doesn't happen nearly as much with Amazon being the largest book retailer in the world; I suspect that at this point they're larger than some wholesalers.

Amazon has from the start treated books as a commodity, like oatmeal, corn or potatoes. One book is very like another.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/17/cheap-words

http://www.thenation.com/article/amazon-effect/

Remember Amazon vs Macmillan? Amazon vs Hachette? And Amazon vs Apple?

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/amazon-escalates-its-battle-against-hachette/?_r=0

Amazon is effectively getting between eyeballs and books by treating books as a commodity; where bookstore employees will hand-sell books that they read and knows their customers will love, Amazon doesn't care. Amazon thinks one book is like another.

Perks
01-24-2016, 11:42 PM
I think partly there's some confusion over terminology. "The book trade" doesn't mean publishing; it means the trade, book stores.

<big snip>

Amazon is effectively getting between eyeballs and books by treating books as a commodity; where bookstore employees will hand-sell books that they read and knows their customers will love, Amazon doesn't care. Amazon thinks one book is like another.

Ah, this is very helpful. And it makes a lot of sense. So the trouble with the linked articles is that the complaint about the book trade, about how books are being sold, should not end up in the age-old gripe about why publishers are not picking the "right" books to publish.

Thanks!

VeryBigBeard
01-24-2016, 11:46 PM
I imagine he had to put out some plays he wasn't passionate about to keep in Liz's good graces. On the side he wrote his sonnets, presumably something he was passionate about. I don't know how many people were actually reading his sonnets at the time, but I suspect it's less than were seeing his plays.

And the poor guy gets remember for his hack drivel, then had to watch from beyond the grave as that work established or reestablished pretty much every modern tenet of dramatic storytelling in English.

I wonder if we could have a new bingo card for trade publishing, with a block for "Throws Hands Up, Writes Blog Bemoaning Digital"?

I also tend to think it's possible to write interesting stories that appeal to loads of people and do nifty aesthetic things, but each paragraph I write here is getting more and more into my own, uninformed opinion.

Mostly,
:nothing

:e2BIC:

lizmonster
01-24-2016, 11:56 PM
Amazon has from the start treated books as a commodity, like oatmeal, corn or potatoes. One book is very like another.

Having worked in software for 27 years, it's my opinion that Amazon is a software company with a retail business. It's all about spending as little as possible to make as much money as possible. Quality of the product is not the primary concern.

It seems to me publishers have built businesses (and reputations) by taking the long view. Amazon, as a software company, has never taken the long view, because software companies just don't do that.

AW Admin
01-25-2016, 12:06 AM
Having worked in software for 27 years, it's my opinion that Amazon is a software company with a retail business. It's all about spending as little as possible to make as much money as possible. Quality of the product is not the primary concern.

It seems to me publishers have built businesses (and reputations) by taking the long view. Amazon, as a software company, has never taken the long view, because software companies just don't do that.

Apple does. Granted, like Amazon, they produce software and hardware.

But Apple absolutely does take the long view. I'm only just this year able to talk about stuff I saw in c. 2002-2005, because NDAs have started to expire.

I do think that Amazon/Bezos really truly did have their metaphorical eyes on metadata. And I've heard Bezos say that the ease of shipping books, and the quantities of metadata that were already associated with books made them the first option.

Consider that Amazon owns GoodReads and Shelfari (which is about to die); that they insisted on a tiny portion of LibraryThing in order to allow access to their metadata, that Amazon owns BookDepository and Audible.

And that they absolutely tried to screw over publishers regarding ebooks—to no long term effect that benefits consumers.

Bolero
01-25-2016, 12:54 AM
One thing I was wondering about in all of this - so metadata is being sold and is suggested (by the second link) as potentially being more valuable than the books themselves.
BUT
The value of the metadata is because it allows you to target sales
For that to happen, you have to have sales
So if book sales drop, the value of the metadata must surely drop.
So having value to the books themselves is essential.

However Lizmonsters post rather answers that one - regarding Amazon being a software company.

lizmonster
01-25-2016, 12:57 AM
Apple does. Granted, like Amazon, they produce software and hardware.

Agreed - Apple does take the long view, but Apple is, if not unique today in the software business, pretty unusual. And Amazon is unique in that Wall Street doesn't seem to care if they earn a profit or not. Apple is often punished when their massive profit isn't sufficiently massive. It's puzzling, really. (Disclosure: I own a puny number of Apple shares.)


And that they absolutely tried to screw over publishers regarding ebooks—to no long term effect that benefits consumers.

You get no argument from me. :)

I think my real point was that Amazon, despite functioning as both a publisher and a bookseller, doesn't really have the same motivations as the longer-established players in the publishing business. I've seen a lot of people outraged by Amazon's behavior over the last year or so, but what they've done makes perfect sense for a typical (non-Apple) quarter-to-quarter-thinking software company.

(I'm a cynic about software, in case that wasn't obvious. And this is getting OT, so my apologies.)

rugcat
01-25-2016, 01:14 AM
I do not feel that any publisher should take on my next work if they don't love it and feel they can make it worth everyone's effort. My first two books have not performed well enough that it's a given, so I'm where I am - where my talent and work and luck have left me. I have to find a way to be okay with this. And I do not feel like I have been treated unfairly or ground up by a heartless corporate machine. Nor do I. I'm neither outraged, nor complaining – simply giving my opinion as to the way things are these days.

And I think AW Admin's post on the effects of Amazon and its business model and the declining bookstore model and the effect it's had on writers in general is absolutely spot on.

Perks
01-25-2016, 01:32 AM
Oh, I wasn't suggesting that you were. I just had reread what I'd written and wanted to make sure that I got across that all my anxiety is natural to the endeavor, not that I felt mishandled or anything.
Nor do I. I'm neither outraged, nor complaining – simply giving my opinion as to the way things are these days.

And I think AW Admin's post on the effects of Amazon and its business model and the declining bookstore model and the effect it's had on writers in general is absolutely spot on.

AW Admin
01-25-2016, 01:47 AM
And the poor guy gets remember for his hack drivel, then had to watch from beyond the grave as that work established or reestablished pretty much every modern tenet of dramatic storytelling in English.

I wonder if we could have a new bingo card for trade publishing, with a block for "Throws Hands Up, Writes Blog Bemoaning Digital"?

I also tend to think it's possible to write interesting stories that appeal to loads of people and do nifty aesthetic things, but each paragraph I write here is getting more and more into my own, uninformed opinion.

Mostly,
:nothing

:e2BIC:

This is approaching a derail. [ETA: by me, I mean.]

But:

We aren’t really sure when Shakespeare wrote the sonnets, or if they were written contiguously or in batches. The convention is to assume that they were written during the late 1580s and the early 1590s, during the “gap” of 1585–1592, when he appears to have vanished, in as much as we don’t know where he was, or what he was doing.

If Shakespeare wrote them during the late 1580s and the early 1590s, that would be before what we know of Shakespeare’s early dramatic career. There is some suggestion in some of the sonnets that he is possibly touring the provinces, in sort of traveling dramatic troop.

There are also some thematic ties to some of the plays; some of the plays incorporate sonnets (e.g., Love's Labour's Lost). Edward III (II.i.451) dated 1594 repeats (incorporates?) the last line of Sonnet 94.

In 1598 Francis Meres refers in Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury to Shakespeare:

The witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare, witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugared sonnets among his private friends, &c.

The reference to “sugared sonnets among his private freinds” suggests that Shakespeare’s Sonnets did in fact circulate privately in ms. It also suggests that the sonnets existed (or at least some of them) before 1609 when the illicit pirate edition of the Sonnets was published. It looks a bit like Shakespeare may have tried to prevent their publication, perhaps because he didn't receive a dime for them, and/or for privacy reasons.

But there's a certain amount of irony then in that his works are all public domain, given the problems he had during his lifetime of pirate editions for which he wasn't paid.

AW Admin
01-25-2016, 01:49 AM
Nor do I. I'm neither outraged, nor complaining – simply giving my opinion as to the way things are these days.

And I think AW Admin's post on the effects of Amazon and its business model and the declining bookstore model and the effect it's had on writers in general is absolutely spot on.

I've been tracking this for years; I'm behind in updating my timeline but:

Amazon, The DOJ, Publishers, and Readers: A Timeline (http://floccinaucical.com/amazon-the-doj-publishers-and-readers-a-timeline/)

And in the nature of disclosure, I'm a current Apple stockholder and sometime consultant, and registered developer. And I (really, truly) helped invent the ebook working at Voyager, consulting for publishers and the Open Ebook Consortium which gave us the epub file format.

I want books and writers to thrive. I want printed books and digital books to flourish. I value trade publishing, scholarly publishing, independent publishers (i.e. not Big 5 but, like W. W. Norton, on their own) and self-publishing.

Amazon seeks to control all of them.

Jamesaritchie
01-25-2016, 09:35 AM
I drop in on Juliet McKenna's blog from time to time. One from earlier this month is very interesting:

Looking at what is going wrong with the book trade "Are we finally seeing the long-overdue examination of what’s gone wrong with the book trade?"
http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=1872

This is working from several sources, including references and quotes from a long blog by a publisher
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/04/the-civil-war-for-books-where-is-the-money-going/

No. There s nothing wrong with the book trade. Well, except for the fact that too many people would rather play games, text, or get high than read a book.

andiwrite
01-25-2016, 10:54 AM
It's depressing, and it rather makes me think I should give up on my novel manuscript and stick to poetry. I've no delusions about selling that, and I get more pure pleasure out of writing it for its own sake, even if I'm the only one who likes it.

It's very depressing. I don't think my book is selling very well (I can't tell except for the rank), and I fear that this will ruin me as far as future book deals. I'll always keep writing and self-publishing if nothing else, but this desperate attempt to market my book and fear about whether the publisher is upset about my sales is killing me. They don't tell us anything, so I have no idea what to think about my current status in this industry. :(

I agree with AW Admin about hand selling. If I had physical books to sell, there would be much more I could do. There would also be a lot I could do if I was self-published (such as giving away free copies to review sites). Being traditionally published with a book that's only available on Amazon makes me feel helpless.

slhuang
01-27-2016, 01:07 AM
It also suggests that the sonnets existed (or at least some of them) before 1609 when the illicit pirate edition of the Sonnets was published. It looks a bit like Shakespeare may have tried to prevent their publication, perhaps because he didn't receive a dime for them, and/or for privacy reasons.

But there's a certain amount of irony then in that his works are all public domain, given the problems he had during his lifetime of pirate editions for which he wasn't paid.

I responded to your kickass Amazon timeline in Kyla's sticky thread as I saw that one first. (Thanks for putting that together!)

But at the risk of further derailing, I wanted to ask: An English teacher told me once that part of the reason so much of Shakespeare's canon has made it through to the modern day was that he was popular enough to be widely pirated, and playwrights who were more successful at keeping their work under wraps had it disappear from history a lot more quickly. I'd guess that some of this is the chicken-and-egg of the reasons those other playwrights weren't as popular also being reasons to be forgotten more quickly, etc, but I'm very interested in the history of copyright and piracy so I've wondered about the truth of this with regard to Shakespeare. How much does our Shakespearean canon exist because of piracy?

It's so fascinatingly complex to me to try to create a system where authors are justly compensated (as Shakespeare should have been!) and protected while at the same time preventing society from losing creative works. (And I'll leave that there, because if this turns into a copyright thread that will be a SUPER derail!)

CassandraW
01-27-2016, 01:17 AM
It's so fascinatingly complex to me to try to create a system where authors are justly compensated (as Shakespeare should have been!) and protected while at the same time preventing society from losing creative works.

I'm no expert, but here's a thought: things have changed a bit in the publishing industry since Shakespeare's time, and I don't just mean copyright law.

Now any of us can type up a book, self-publish it, distribute it digitally or in paper. Taking aside self-publishing, there are just way more books floating around today than there were in Shakespeare's day. Most people own some books; many of us own a lot of books. And if a book is popular, there are scads of copies kicking around. Were there ever a million copies of Shakespeare's plays, as there would be with a best seller today? I think not.

Not to mention today we have things like the internet to spread the news about a book around the world, and make it easy for people to obtain. Publicity didn't work that quickly and easily in Shakespeare's day.

And since we're talking plays, they wouldn't have been sitting on everyone's shelf anyway.

Therefore, the fact that others "pirated" his plays would mean it would be more widely known, that more physical copies of them would survive (probably bastardized copies, but still). Which would increase the likelihood that the plays would still be around today.

I can't see how something being pirated today would increase the odds it survives. It just means the author doesn't get rewarded as he should. (I stand ready for an expert to correct me on all this.)

AW Admin
01-27-2016, 01:37 AM
How much does our Shakespearean canon exist because of piracy?

It's so fascinatingly complex to me to try to create a system where authors are justly compensated (as Shakespeare should have been!) and protected while at the same time preventing society from losing creative works. (And I'll leave that there, because if this turns into a copyright thread that will be a SUPER derail!)

There are a handful of plays that exist only because of pirate copies (pirate in that Shakespeare does not appear to have initiated or authorized their publication); they are not well known plays; things like Two Noble Kinsmen.

There are alternate versions of some plays; Hamlet exists in a "bad" quarto, for instance, that was likely an illicit version made from a prompter's script.

But friends and colleagues of Shakespeare, after his death, created the First Folio; that's our primary source for Shakespeare texts. There are I think 323 copies of it left that are entire; most of them are in the collection of the Folger Shakespeare library (which is sending copies out on tour to public libraries this March!).

The problem for Shakespeare of the pirate copies is that they weren't bought by readers for the most part; they were bought by other acting companies, who staged them without paying Shakespeare a dime—and since the pirate copies were usually based on prompter's copies and sometimes cobbled together from memory, they're crappy editions. They're the equivalent of a video made by holding a hand-held camera and filming a theater screen to create a bootleg copy of Star Wars.

There would be more, but an industry sprang up in the 20th century of selling single pages for 100.00 each.

There's a fairly recent study of Shakespeare and piracy; PM or Rep me if you want me to look it up. It's mostly about the Sonnets. There was a thriving Shakespeare forgery industry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

What I use as a touchstone in thinking about books and distribution are these facts:

1. We have a single copy of Beowulf, preserved in a single ms. that was badly damaged in a fire in the 1700s.

There's a transcript that was made by a Finnish scholar that has been exceedingly helpful, since he could see things in the 1700s that we can't quite make out post fire, and with the damage of age to carbon inks.

2. We have about 64 complete mss. of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and a bunch of partials. The two best mss. the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt are the primary basis of all modern editions. Caxton was the first to print CT, and his edition was his best seller. People are still occasionally finding copies printed by Caxton.

Roxxsmom
01-27-2016, 01:41 AM
With fewer large publishers competing, and more of a focus on consolidation of markets, it makes sense that there could be less diversity of offerings by trade publishing than there once was, at least in certain genres. On one hand, the presence of NYT bestsellers in genres (like SF and F) that rarely produced them in the old days is good news for people who write in these genres. Thanks to bestselling fantasy and SF books by authors like Gaiman, Rowling, George RR Martin, Stephenson, Weir and so on, there are probably more agents who consider SF and F than once did.

But there's a down side too: the bar has been raised in a sense. For a long time, the agents and publishers who did handle SF and F expected that books in this genre were not likely to appeal to a wide audience, but instead attract a smaller following of loyal readers who would stick with their favorite authors for years and buy a larger volume of books than the average "3-4 books a year" reader. They could be profitable, but it would take a while to build a following, and it would be a matter of making less money but over a longer time period. When I started writing, I had the very naive impression that writing something that would appeal to the same sort of audience as many of my favorite authors had would be "good enough," but now I find that I need to provide comparable titles for current bestselling fantasy writers, but by golly, they'd better be brand new stars, because saying my novel would appeal to fans of writers like Robin Hobb, who have been at it for a while, isn't good enough.

The problem is, all the insta debut bestselling fantasy writers who've come out in the past year or two are targeting a rather different audience than I am. They may be yesterday's news by the time my book came out (were it to be picked up) anyway, while writers like Hobb are still selling steadily with core fantasy fans. But that doesn't matter at the moment.

But of course, projecting my personal experiences and frustrations on the industry as a whole is problematic. It's n=1, and maybe my real problem is my writing. Or that I have really deplorable taste. But it does seem like there's an issue when agents and editors on panels say they pass on books today that they would have snapped up a decade or two ago, and that they drop underselling authors faster than they used to, because it's no longer profitable to rep and publish career mid listers, no matter how much they love their work.

I'd be interesting to see how established authors who aren't NYT bestsellers but have that steady genre follower think things have changed for them. I also am interested in the experiences of debut authors today and how they compare to new authors 10, 20, 30 years ago.

AW Admin
01-27-2016, 01:42 AM
It's very depressing. I don't think my book is selling very well (I can't tell except for the rank), and I fear that this will ruin me as far as future book deals.

It won't kill you; that's why Cthulu created pen names.


If I had physical books to sell, there would be much more I could do. There would also be a lot I could do if I was self-published (such as giving away free copies to review sites). Being traditionally published with a book that's only available on Amazon makes me feel helpless.

A good publisher gives you free copies at release and at least offers to give you a handful of ARCs.

A contract that doesn't offer free copies for the author to give away is a red flag for me.