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Lauri B
10-26-2006, 04:18 PM
In a couple of threads it has been asserted that the publishing system is broken. Why do you think this? What would you do to change it (and please don't say, "publish my book")?

MacAllister
10-26-2006, 04:27 PM
I don't really think it's broken. The more opportunity I have to listen to people who work in publishing, the more the system seems a bit, ummm, eccentric--but it works.

This is an interesting take (http://www.fresh-books.com/blog/archives/2006/10/publishing_is_d.html) on the topic of non-fiction publishing. And I've recently returned from Viable Paradise, where one afternoon we had a really interesting discussion about the changes in paperback distribution in the eighties, with the rise of national chains that drastically changed how mass-market paperbacks are distributed--thus sharply reducing the number of titles that appear in newstands, grocery stores, and drugstores.

What do you think, though, Nomad?

Fahim
10-26-2006, 04:43 PM
Personally, I don't think that publishing is broken. The thing is, I think we get a little bit of tunnel vision as writers (especially aspiring writers) and begin to think that there is some conspiracy or that they don't accept good material if you aren't famous/published before/have an uncle who ran with the bulls/(insert other preferences here). I don't think this necessarily means that publishing is broken - just that people perceive it as being so because each of us gets so involved in our own hopes and dreams and so get disheartened when we can't get published ourselves.

Whenever I get a rejection, I remind myself something that I read somewhere - that Nicholas Evans, author of "The Horse Whisperer", cried himself to sleep every night before he finally sold his novel. If that happened to Nicholas Evans, (and remember that he did get published eventually and went on to become a bestseller), why should I think I'm special and somehow I should get published as soon as I submit? Of course, that's just my take on things :)

veinglory
10-26-2006, 06:11 PM
Publishing is tough. Breaking through in any small, highly competitive industry is tough. I think that publishing as we know it will always be highly selective and so cause a degree of resentment from people who don't realise that bars select their clientele, ladies their husbands and publishers their authors. It really doesn't matter if you think they made the wrong choice--it was their choice to make.

I think the existence of small and self-publishing opportunities allows a second approach with its own risks and rewards. Acceptance is more likely but sales are much more likely to be low. I am concerned that people who cannot get publisher are entering publishing at this level, it seems more likely they failed to understand the market than that they identified the deep pools of genius the "big boys" refused to swim in. But small presses do in fact open up niche and underexploited markets -- erotic romance being a most promonant example.

If people understand the market, their book and their priorities there are a lot of opportunities out there. Unfortunately this is a not a subject where it is easy to be objective about the nature of one's work.

victoriastrauss
10-26-2006, 07:15 PM
From a midlister's perspective, one of the biggest problems right now is the emphasis on profit--a result of the conglomeration of the past couple of decades, and also of the fact that too many publishers are owned by media corporations that insist on wringing corporate-style profits from an industry that traditionally was tolerant of smaller profit margins. The net result has been that writers must prove themselves with sales above anything else, and the things that used to be a substantial part of what sustained a writing career--good reviews and reader loyalty and perceived literary merit (which I admit is a problematic concept)--are seriously devalued.

A corollary of all this is the relentless pressure to self-promote. This was something that almost no one did in the 1980's, when I was submitting my first novel; it was even considered rather tacky. Now you all but have to do it, partly because publishers expect it, partly because you feel driven to do everything you can to try and boost your sales. Although I'm still not convinced that authors' self-promotion efforts make much difference in most cases.

But I don't think that publishing is "broken"--it's just different. It was always a tough business with a high failure rate, in which it was difficult to make a living. I'm a member of the Authors Guild, and their quarterly Bulletins often include a sample of "publishing is going wrong" journalism from decades ago. It's amazing how similar those laments sound to those you hear now.

- Victoria

Sheryl Nantus
10-26-2006, 07:50 PM
I don't think it's broken - but the public perception might be.

I put the blame totally at the feet of that stupid Xerox commercial where the professor tells the students that you have little chance to be published, blah blah blah... and the upstart kid stands up and announces that no, now YOU can be self-pubbed thanks to the new technology.

Suddenly everyone became an "author" if they could put two words together, and many who couldn't. And the industry vomited up vanity presses and scam presses who took advantage of these people who thought/think that writing is as simple as breathing. And if you can't sell it to a legitimate publisher, it's part of the "conspiracy" to hold new authors down.

If I could go back in time I'd burn every copy of that commercial and smack the ad agency hard for putting out that misconception. It's encouraged an entire generation to have no respect for the skill of writing and instead put out the idea that everyone's a writer and everyone's story is worthy of publication.

bah.

JennaGlatzer
10-26-2006, 10:04 PM
Very much agree with Sheryl. I don't think the system of acceptance/rejection is broken.

I do worry about the promotion trends, though. I worry about the consignment system and how that puts publishers at significant risk, I worry about how publishers are expected to buy co-op space in bookstores to create Instant Bestsellers, rather than allowing bookstore staff to actually choose which books to put out front and on endcaps based on merit and popularity, I worry about writers turning into carnival barkers ("Buy my book! Hurry, hurry, step right up and buy the best book in town!").

I don't have any solutions, mind you, but those are my concerns.

RG570
10-26-2006, 10:55 PM
Everything is broken.

Anyway, I wouldn't go so far as to say publishing is, but things could be a lot better. They're trying too much to hang on to old ways of doing things. It's time to move on.

You'd think SF authors would be the first to champion this moving-on, but they are oftentimes the worst for sticking up for "the system" as it is now.

But, so long as the goal of publishing books is to create "growth" for shareholders, I doubt little will change. Except maybe that as technology progresses, small presses will be able to afford to do more, and compete with the lumbering, boring giants.

scottVee
10-27-2006, 02:01 AM
Well, there are more books being published per year than ever before, both in the number of titles and the overall quantity. If your argument is that the industry is broken solely because you find it hard to understand, then I doubt there's an argument to change your mind. "Broken" is a useless term anyway. I mean, the system obviously works, and gets books out there.

Unfortunately, it is business, and business is tough and does not change easily. If anything, there is an evil corporate greed taking over all aspects of business, and careers will be tossed aside and ruined if it'll make an extra penny for shareholders. Meanwhile our civil liberties are being crushed, and censorship is on the rise ... but instead of "everything is broken," try looking at the situation and seeing what's going on.

What is it that you think small presses are going to do differently? What is the great solution? Printing every book every author can churn out, regardless of the quality? Printing is easy. But Publishing involves printing, support and distribution. Distribution has become monopolized and independent products are shut out -- there's something we can focus on.

The internet is not exactly the solution, either. It's the ultimate network of free stuff. All that power. But it's frightfully hard to get hits and sales these days, except for stupid stunts. Again, the distribution is choked off for most people. Any whizbang technology is going to get swamped by media companies trying to control it. Got a solution? We'd love to hear it.

SJAB
10-27-2006, 11:08 AM
It's a business and as such it will grow and change, as everything and everyone does.

There was no "golden time" never has been for anything. We all look back with rose-rinted glasses at even parts of our own past, denying the unpleasant events that happened.

Maybe, in my opinon, the publishing industry relies a bit more on the subjective taste of those involved in it, far more than facts and figures, but it is a business. You are tendering to supply parts (manuscripts) for this business to make money for you, for their employees and share holders. And to be honest it is no harder to sell to than some of the companies I have helped prepare tenders for services/supplies for in the past. Least all that is at risk in submitting a manuscript is my ego, not a few hundred jobs.

JennaGlatzer
10-27-2006, 11:14 AM
They're trying too much to hang on to old ways of doing things. It's time to move on.

RG, I'm curious what you're talking about here. The "old way" in what sense-- technology? The selection process? Distribution? Promotion? Wanna expand on what you mean?

aruna
10-27-2006, 11:54 AM
I do worry about the promotion trends, though. I worry about the consignment system and how that puts publishers at significant risk, I worry about how publishers are expected to buy co-op space in bookstores to create Instant Bestsellers, rather than allowing bookstore staff to actually choose which books to put out front and on endcaps based on merit and popularity, I worry about writers turning into carnival barkers ("Buy my book! Hurry, hurry, step right up and buy the best book in town!").

I don't have any solutions, mind you, but those are my concerns.

I echo what Jenna says here. To that I'll add - and I'm biased here, this being my own experience - that I'm concerned that the concept of author loyalty seems to have all but disappeared. Back in the days, I understand, a publisher was content to grow an author through several books, till he or she had reached his/her peak. Not so these days. Now young authors (young in the sense of new) have to scramble to make the bean counters happy, and if they can't do so in two books they're out the door.
Creativity and sales were never the most compatible of bedfellows and that is the case here. I feel I could write my best if I had an editor committed to getting the best out of me from book to book. These days, they are more eger to find the next best big thing to take a gamble on.
As an author, it really is sink, or swim for your life.

triceretops
10-27-2006, 12:53 PM
I am distressed to see the amount of decision-making and power that once was held by editors, nearly wrested away from them by marketing teams, who think they have the answers to profitibility in such an artistic/subjective business. I harken back to the old days, a few decades ago.

I'm abhored that so many real small and mid-sized publishers have disapeared or have merged, or been bought out by the big fish. The available markets to submit to nowadays, even for agents, is severely limited and finite.

I feel that I've served an apprenticeship after 28-years in this business, and admittedly I'm a bit put off by every writer who thinks they're a writer, (and have recently discovered the internet), clogging up the email channels, making my potential editors pull their hair out. I end up belonging to the collective blame and the horrendous glut of manuscripts.

I do believe the industry is cracked, but we've been trying to glue it back together for years. What's the answer? Here's a trend I see coming and gaining momentum: No Advances. It's the only guarantee that the large publishers won't tank on celebrity books and it's just Possible that the entire industry will adopt this method in the future. The print-on-demand pubs are there right now. I hope it doesn't happen. But...

Why is it so hard to obtain distribution and book shelving for the little publishers? Some have made it. The majority haven't. Will POD kill us, or is it the wave of the future?

I don't think it is broken, as much as it has changed sooo much. I wish I had a solution. I would love to see huge standup printing machines that could (via menu selection and pdf) select a title, format it, print, cut, trim and bind (in a few minutes), and deliver it out of a slot, like fast food. I'd like to see these automoton publishers sitting at all major traffic areas, mall outlets, grocery and drug stores, and even at fast food establishments. Visibility, visibility, visibility--location, location, location.

Would love to see reward systems for readers who buy a certain amount of titles per month or year, get special treatment and discounts for promoting literacy. I would like to see seniors and childeren get 5-10% discounts on any titles they buy.

Would love to see tiny book stores according to genre only (owned by the same franchise). The Horror Show. Alpha Adventures (SF). FantasyWord. LoveWords. The Game's Afoot (mystery). Billy's Thrillers. Sammy's Suspense.

Anything! Anything that would get more books in the potential reader's face. We have the book channel, but it's all about non-fiction and celebrity politians pushing their tomes. Where's the book channel for fiction? Why can't we have one?

Oh, if I owned the world...

Tri

Miss
10-27-2006, 06:03 PM
There are certainly elements of publishing that are broken.

I believe that the general bookreading public would read good, quality literary fiction, rather than juicy memoirs or Da Vinci Code clones if it was promoted to them and marketed with the fervor with which the juicy memoirs and Da Vinci Code clones are currently marketed. For whatever reason, this isn't happening.

From my experience, agents seem to be a bottleneck. While I don't expect a personal, handwritten response from any agent who is declining to represent me, I do wish that I had some faith in the process agents go through when deciding whether or not to represent a piece of writing. In places where the process has been made transparent, such as agent blogs, I sense a condescending lack of respect for writers. I've become so used to rudeness from agents, in fact, that when I receive a professional looking or sounding communication from an agency, I begin to wonder if it's a scam.

Scams are another thing--media like POD and poetry.com style anthologies could have been embraced by the publishing industry to bring more quality work to the market and let people decide what they would like to read. Instead, such media only seem to have been embraced by the scam artists. Technology in general seems to have passed much of the publishing industry by. Many (most?) agencies still require queries via postal mail and many of those who accept email simply never respond to the queries.

New, innovative methods of publishing, such as MacMillan New Writing are, like poetry.com and its ilk, accused of being scams and 'abusing authors,' though I look at those who are pointing their fingers and tend to see those who have already made it, or who have a vested interest in keeping the current system going.

I also believe there is a disconnect between what aspiring writers who choose to pursue their craft at the graduate and postgraduate level are being taught and what agents are willing to accept or even consider. I'm not sure whether this is an industry problem or a problem with postgraduate institutions, but the disconnect bothers me.

aadams73
10-27-2006, 06:35 PM
From my experience, agents seem to be a bottleneck. While I don't expect a personal, handwritten response from any agent who is declining to represent me, I do wish that I had some faith in the process agents go through when deciding whether or not to represent a piece of writing. In places where the process has been made transparent, such as agent blogs, I sense a condescending lack of respect for writers. I've become so used to rudeness from agents, in fact, that when I receive a professional looking or sounding communication from an agency, I begin to wonder if it's a scam.



I've never had an agent be rude to me. Ever. I've been thoroughly professional and received professionalism in return.

And when an agent says no, there's usually a pretty good reason for it. Either the writing is poor, the story isn't fresh, or you've targeted the wrong agent.

My concern with the publishing industry lies in promotion. I don't want to have to spend so much time promoting myself that I don't have enough time to write. I'm an introvert, dammit! :)

aruna
10-27-2006, 06:53 PM
I'm wondering if the "no advances" thing coul dbe turnedto our advantage; What is instead of taking a large advance,m you ask that the money be put towards promotion?
I would gladly do that if it kept me in the business. I've had a large advance which didn't earn out, and a small advance coupled with large promotion budget, that was a huge success. The latter is far preferable.
I think the 6 figure davances are part of the problem. I just read by accident that the author of one of the worst books I;ve read in the past 2 years (I don't want to mention names here, but her father was somebody famous) had been paid a MILLION DOLLARS for that book (it was her first) even before she'd finished it. Sometimes I really need to set my hair on fire.

icerose
10-27-2006, 07:26 PM
I actually like the no advance idea. It may spur publishers to take more chances on the fringe books and I think you would see more quality rise. Especially if all books were treated as equal until the public set a book above the others and I think that would lead to better bestsellers. Also your career wouldn't be ruined if you didn't earn much because the publisher didn't have that much to lose and I would hope that it would slow down the rebound of the books where they currently have a few weeks to make or break it.

Also I think they should penalize bookstores for ripping off the covers and be more lenient when they return them whole. That way the books could be sent to programs to improve literacy and to schools on wholesale rather than just chucked.

The problem with the no advance is how do you differ between the scam presses who are just out for money and the real publishers who are out for books?

And in response to Miss. Believe me, scams are scams and the complaints are from genuine authors who were taken by them. And those within the industry are kind enough to add in their knowledge of how the industry really works and to do research on the companies in question.

See Publish America.

veinglory
10-27-2006, 07:33 PM
I see no good reason for the industry to "embrace" poetry.con et al. Publishers begin to get respect when they have a readership outside of their contributors and a product other than every single thing submitted to them (the two being related).

It would be nice to see more of a spotlight given to small presses who put out a quality product that reaches some kind of readership, even if their distribution is limited. There are many fine small presses in areas such as horror, romance and erotica but they tend to get lost in the "noise" of scams and incompetants.

Miss
10-27-2006, 07:45 PM
I don't think that the writing industry should embrace the scam that is known as poetry.com. However, I think it's sad that the most prominent poetry contest and publishing site out there is this huge scam.

I think that a poetry community where anthologies are compiled is a good idea, and it's a shame that it isn't conventionally embraced because there is probably a small market for it.


And when an agent says no, there's usually a pretty good reason for it. Either the writing is poor, the story isn't fresh, or you've targeted the wrong agent.

Well, the rejections I've gotten usually say that things are fine, but there just wasn't sufficient interest or they don't feel enthusiastic about it. Of course, those are form letters, so who knows the real reasoning behind sending comments like that.

I am unconvinced that agents are rejecting on the basis of lack of quality. I have seen too much quality writing that no agent will represent.

DeadlyAccurate
10-27-2006, 07:54 PM
Also I think they should penalize bookstores for ripping off the covers and be more lenient when they return them whole. That way the books could be sent to programs to improve literacy and to schools on wholesale rather than just chucked.

Aren't the ripped covers something the publisher prefers? I thought they had to pay the shipping on the returns, so they prefer the ripped covers for shipping cost reasons. I could be wrong, however.

icerose
10-27-2006, 08:15 PM
Aren't the ripped covers something the publisher prefers? I thought they had to pay the shipping on the returns, so they prefer the ripped covers for shipping cost reasons. I could be wrong, however.

I thought the bookstores ripped off the cover so they didn't have to pay a restocking fee, they could return it for the full as damaged goods which is why it is done. I have heard quite a few publishers dismayed at the ripped covers, but I could be wrong as well because that was a book they paid to have printed and now it's good for nothing but a landfill.

veinglory
10-27-2006, 08:25 PM
No I think it is just because unsold stock need to be accounted for to show the retailer is not defrauding the publisher. Returning the cover is cheaper as proof the book was not sold (and so no moneys are due). It is the same for both books and magazines and I used to have the job of doing the ripping and mailing on magazines every month.

icerose
10-27-2006, 08:30 PM
No I think it is just because unsold stock need to be accounted for to show the retailer is not defrauding the publisher. Returning the cover is cheaper as proof the book was not sold (and so no moneys are due). It is the same for both books and magazines and I used to have the job of doing the ripping and mailing on magazines every month.

That makes sense but it still sucks, all those books destroyed. :(

Christine N.
10-27-2006, 08:39 PM
It IS rather wasteful, to pulp all those books, but they aren't on the best paper usually. The only books that return covers are mass-market paperbacks - not trade, which is a better quality.

I agree though, something should be done with them, even if it's to donate them to the local library for their book sales.

veinglory
10-27-2006, 08:43 PM
I prefer it when they just clip the corner and have some kind of program--like donation to school libraries or to children without books in their home.

Lauri B
10-27-2006, 08:46 PM
I can answer some of the questions here, I think:
Tri asked: "Why is it so hard to obtain distribution and book shelving for the little publishers? Some have made it. The majority haven't." I've had a lot of conversations with our distributor about this topic, and from what I understand, the answers are pretty simple: most small publishers have inconsistent quality in their lists. Some books are terrific, some are dreadful, and some just aren't marketable. Distributors usually take on a publisher's entire list (but not always), so if the distributor thinks the quality of the list is uneven, it's no dice.

Miss said, "I believe that the general bookreading public would read good, quality literary fiction, rather than juicy memoirs or Da Vinci Code clonesif it was promoted to them and marketed with the fervor with which the juicy memoirs and Da Vinci Code clones are currently marketed. For whatever reason, this isn't happening."
I completely disagree with this, on two levels. What books like the Da Vinci Code do is to get people reading, period. His book wasn't high art, true, but it was a fun read and interested people who hadn't picked up a book in years. The same person who was turned on to reading by Dan Brown's book might just be the person who decides that reading is way more fun than he or she remembers, and decides to branch out into other kinds of literature, too. That's the biggest struggle the publishing industry has right now--people don't read as much as they used to. The second comment I disagree with is that publishers don't publish high-quality fiction. There's lots and lots of it out there. It may not get the fast-flash media attention that some of the celeb books get, but lots and lots of people read good, quality fiction, and there is plenty of it available.

Icerose said, "I thought the bookstores ripped off the cover so they didn't have to pay a restocking fee, they could return it for the full as damaged goods which is why it is done. I have heard quite a few publishers dismayed at the ripped covers, but I could be wrong as well because that was a book they paid to have printed and now it's good for nothing but a landfill."
Trade paperbacks aren't ripped; mass market paperbacks are.

I don't think publishing is broken. I think fantastic books are being published every day. What I think has changed are the average person's expectations for success. We have such instant gratification needs that everyone--and I mean everyone--seems to think that because they WANT to write a book, that they should. And they should have it published right away, and everyone should love it. But most people aren't good writers, plain and simple. Most people CAN write, true, because it's something we all learn in school. And most people have a story to tell that they find absolutely fascinating. But most people can't tell that story on paper so that it's fascinating and exciting and readable for the general public.
We've had this conversation many times on these boards, where someone will say, "but I know my writing is better than almost everything out there." And that may be true, but your writing, for whatever reason, wasn't compelling enough or wasn't consistent enough, to make it to publication. So there is something that isn't working. Usually books aren't so awful that it's clear to anyone who reads it that it isn't going to sell. Usually it's that it sags here and there, or it sounds just too much like every other book in the same genre just like it, or there are so many small, nitpicky aspects of it that just are just not quite working individually that when those small faults are added all together, it's too much work for an editor to take on the project--it's like pulling a loose thread in a sweater.

Publishing is a business. Publishers want to make money. I assume when writers are trying to be published they are doing it because they also want to make money. Otherwise, why bother submitting to a publisher? If you are submitting your manuscripts for reasons other than because it is a business in which you want to succeed, then save yourself some trouble, and don't. Print it yourself. Otherwise, assume that publishers look at your manuscript not only to see if the writing is good, but if it's on a topic that others want to read about; it's about people that readers want to care about, etc. IF the book will only appeal to a limited audience, a publisher can't take it on no matter how beautifully it is written. It's a huge investment to publish a book, with or without advances.

I think people bring up terrific points in this thread, and as a writer, I share many of your concerns. As a small, independent publisher, I also have concerns about the future of the industry, but I think it looks pretty bright, actually.

scottVee
10-27-2006, 10:45 PM
Great post, Nomad.

I love the small presses, but whenever I hear that small presses will change the world, I have to sigh. I hear that all the time. I wish it were true. But when you try to figure out how a small press with under $1,000 in the bank (and sometimes $0) can compete in the zillion-dollar media business, even in their home town, it can get depressing. Some work their butts off and others seem to be counting on a miracle to happen. Maybe they're all competing for a 1% market share: on the bright side, that's millions of dollars; on the down side, it's still just 1%.

I wonder about the folks who complain that nothing good is being published. Maybe they just aren't looking, or what they mean is that their own masterpieces have not been published, but when you look more closely it often turns out that they haven't even tried. Complaining is easy.

Yes, a lot of pop culture junk is shoveled out there every day. I wish the mass market wanted more than shits & giggles. But there's a big chunk of people who, after a long day, just want to watch other people do stupid things, so they can feel better about themselves. Look at the most viewed videos on various sites. Last time I checked youtube, the top video was a 16 second clip of a baby farting, and somehow the site just sold for over a billion dollars! Print is no different. You can walk into a store and see only the pop and the pap, or you can look more closely, or look elsewhere. It breaks down into hundreds of little niches, and we all try to find a comfort zone.

I don't see how the "no advance" thing would make any difference. I figured the advance was there so you can comfortably focus on your next book for a month.

SMART consumers would support their local businesses, and never set foot in a Starbucks. But there's a brainwashing aspect to mass media, and it's hard to argue that consumers are really making their own decisions anymore. We're preaching to the exceptions here.

As with all generalizations (including mine), make sure to weigh them accordingly.

jpserra
10-31-2006, 05:43 AM
Very much agree with Sheryl. I don't think the system of acceptance/rejection is broken.

I do worry about the promotion trends, though. I worry about the consignment system and how that puts publishers at significant risk,...("Buy my book! Hurry, hurry, step right up and buy the best book in town!").

I don't have any solutions, mind you, but those are my concerns.

Promotion and distribution. I believe there is room for the emerging POD industry (Or has it already emerged?) I realize shelf space is sparse, however, it's not shelf space that keeps the stores from handling PODs, rather the margins that the distributors need in order to provide those books, and the cost of return of unsold merchandise. The economics of book selling is keeping distributors from fairly handling POD selections. I negotiated my own deals with the book chains (Something that an Author should not have to do) because I could give them a better price on the book, so we could both make better money. This is truely the point at which elminiating the middle man could be good for us all.

I could be wrong! But I doubt it...

JPS

Medievalist
10-31-2006, 05:59 AM
I think it's interesting to note that most of the people claiming that publishing is broken do so in prose that's strikingly incoherent.