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View Full Version : How Publishing Industry Works - A True "Random House"?



Another
05-19-2007, 01:56 AM
For a look into how publishers make book buy, publish, market decisions, I might suggest the NY Times, Sunday, May 13 article by Shira Boss on the publishing industry. Some points:

Discussing how some books are buoyed by favorable press and word of mouth while others with similar attention go nowhere, the article asks what makes for good/bad sales. Answer: "No one really knows." And, quoting William Strachan, editor and chief at Carroll & Graf Publishers: "It's an accidental profession, most of the time ... Nobody has the key."

The article goes on to say publishers do not follow other industries in doing sufficient or in-depth market research and views consumer taste "as a mystery ... akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling." Compensation in the industry is not tied to sales performance. Analysts looking at the industry tend to be stunned by its unpredictability, small profit margins, and "almost total lack of market research," says Eric Simonoff, literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit.

An exception in the industry is consumer research gathered by Romance Writers of America, an association that publishes a regular market study of romance readers. It reports on demographics, what respondents are reading, where they get books and how often, and what kinds of covers work.

Possible implications: if you are writing romance and wanting to hit the market, maybe you have a chance to find data on what your potential readers want. But for the rest of the market, one might as well write from the heart and not obsess too much about market potential since publishers themselves donít know. Perhaps there is relief there too, as rejections may say little about either the literary quality or marketability of your work, coming from an industry and its middle-people (agents) who are themselves in the dark. The summary line of the article says much: "People think publishing is a business, but it's a casino."

Other thoughts?

Another

Tish Davidson
05-19-2007, 02:44 AM
So what else is new?

Will Lavender
05-19-2007, 02:47 AM
Maybe the best advice to give authors who want to catch the Next Big Wave in publishing would be:

Write a book that's similar to a bestseller, but not too similar.

blacbird
05-19-2007, 02:58 AM
Or: "Make it different, so it stands out, just like all the other stuff."

caw

Birol
05-19-2007, 03:18 AM
Many other industries have discovered it's cheaper to put something into production and see what the consumer thinks of it rather than wasting the time and going to the expense of indepth market research. Candy manufacturers and electronics have started to take this approach. In that, publishing is not so different.

As far as it being a mystery, to a certain extent it is. A friend of mine had his first novel accepted and published. My mother wanted to buy it because it was a friend of mine. I told her that she would not enjoy it; it's not the type of thing she normally reads. She bought it anyway, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it and is now eagerly awaiting the release of his second book.

ATP
05-19-2007, 05:34 AM
Many other industries have discovered it's cheaper to put something into production and see what the consumer thinks of it rather than wasting the time and going to the expense of indepth market research. Candy manufacturers and electronics have started to take this approach. In that, publishing is not so different.

A long time ago, Sony utilised this approach when it introduced its cassette tape Walkman. Later utilised for its CD versions. No market research on its designs - get a group of very strong designs to market asap and continue to innovate on design and introduce successive waves.The same tactic is now used by the major mobile phone manufacturers.

One might add that publishing is not a FMCG industry - or doesn't appear to be.So, much more weight is given to the 'mystery' element.

ATP
05-19-2007, 05:36 AM
For a look into how publishers make book buy, publish, market decisions, I might suggest the NY Times, Sunday, May 13 article by Shira Boss on the publishing industry <snip>

...Er, is there any reason why you are unable to provide a link?

small axe
05-19-2007, 06:06 AM
I find it reassuring somehow, if the industry trusts and leads with its soul, rather than some Hollywood cookie cutter formula.

Sean D. Schaffer
05-19-2007, 07:38 AM
...Er, is there any reason why you are unable to provide a link?


It could be that Another simply does not know how?


I think this whole 'study the market' thing is not so great an idea when it comes to writing, simply because a publisher can take years to get a book out. What is popular now might not be so popular two or three years down the road, when your market-researched book comes out.

When you write a manuscript, it could take a year to get it accepted even, and a lot can change even in that short period of time.

So I personally think researching the market is not a good idea for writers. I think writers should write their books, and leave the market researching to professionals in that field.

Birol
05-19-2007, 07:58 AM
To me, researching the market is not about trying to anticipate what the readers want, but about which publications, publishers, and agents are interested in what types of work.

When it comes to shorter works, periodicals do not change radically from issue to issue. A magazine that publishes women's fiction is not going to suddenly start accepting science fiction. Field and Stream is not going to start accepting hints for cleaning soap scum from bathroom tile. For book-length manuscripts, market research is about identifying which publishers and agents are interested in publishing what types of manuscripts. One doesn't send a memoir to a publisher or agent that specializes in fantasies.

ResearchGuy
05-19-2007, 08:08 AM
. . . When you write a manuscript, it could take a year to get it accepted even, and a lot can change even in that short period of time.

So I personally think researching the market is not a good idea for writers. I think writers should write their books, and leave the market researching to professionals in that field.
A year if you are very good or very lucky or a known quantity AND know the drill to query/propose/submit.

FWIW, for Kiyo Sato's manuscript of Dandelion Through the Crack, I had copies printed and bound (with the author's ok, of course) and had several people read them and comment. The uniformly enthusiastic response from regular readers, men and women from 20s to 50s, told me all I needed to know (that, plus a rave endorsement from a prominent writer/scholar, which I have relentlessly exploited). I was acting as an informal and unpaid consultant/market researcher/promoter/advocate (two years now in that role, and more hours than I could count). The author had neither the time nor the brass to do what I could do on her behalf. (She is still charmingly incredulous of the responses to her manuscript, and too modest to relentlessly promote her own memoir.)

I am no expert, of course, but working for years on behalf of a (certifiably brilliant) manuscript has taught me a lot. I suspect that there are a great many fine manuscripts gathering dust because the authors do not have the skills and knowledge to promote and to pursue publication and did not fortuitously meet someone with a combination of knowledge and skills (sufficient to the purpose, at least, in my case, I hope) and an obsessive determination to see the manuscript to publication. Few folks can volunteer years of effort like that. It was just luck that I was in the right place at the right time and had some solid gold connections. Now, time will tell if I am right that within a generation graduate students will be writing dissertations about Dandelion Through the Crack and that it will be a recognized classic.

--Ken

ATP
05-19-2007, 08:12 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/business/yourmoney/13book.html?_r=1&oref=slogin (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/business/yourmoney/13book.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)

Sean D. Schaffer
05-19-2007, 08:13 AM
A year if you are very good or very lucky or a known quantity AND know the drill to query/propose/submit.

...Snipped.



I appreciate the correction. Thanks!

:)

Jamesaritchie
05-19-2007, 04:08 PM
I read that article, and it's right in every detail except research. Publishers have poured hundreds of million into research, they have the best database possible for an industry of this type, and trying to treat publishing like a motel chain is nuts.

This subject shows up every few years, and it remains nuts. The reason no one has a clue what makes a bestseller has nothing to do with lack of research, lack or sample groups, or lack of a database. Publishers do and have all these things.

Publishing is more like the candy bar business than a motel chain. Those who make candy bars and other snacks have a massive database, have research coming out their ears, and do extensive testing with huge test groups. . .and most of the snacks they release still fall flat.

The only reason there's a casino-like atmosphere in publishing is because the huge publishers have been taken over by accountants, and they want to gamble because it's the only way they know to find the next bestseller.
They throw ridiculous amounts of money at anything that looks remotely like a bestseller.

They need to give publishing back to editors and other who love books, stop handing out massive advances to unproven writers, and get over the notion that books and motels have anything in common.

ATP
05-19-2007, 06:41 PM
I read that article, and it's right in every detail except research. Publishers have poured hundreds of million into research, they have the best database possible for an industry of this type, and trying to treat publishing like a motel chain is nuts.

This subject shows up every few years, and it remains nuts. The reason no one has a clue what makes a bestseller has nothing to do with lack of research, lack or sample groups, or lack of a database. Publishers do and have all these things..

Greatly appreciate that you took the time to read the article. I am of course, an outside observer of the book publishing industry. It may well be as you say James. However, the writer left me with a question based on a strong impression, created by comments of presumably long-time agents and editors: no consumer-style research conducted of readers at bookstores/point-of-sale as to reasons book/s purchased etc.





Publishing is more like the candy bar business than a motel chain. Those who make candy bars and other snacks have a massive database, have research coming out their ears, and do extensive testing with huge test groups. . .and most of the snacks they release still fall flat.

The only reason there's a casino-like atmosphere in publishing is because the huge publishers have been taken over by accountants, and they want to gamble because it's the only way they know to find the next bestseller.
They throw ridiculous amounts of money at anything that looks remotely like a bestseller..

This might be true as well. Though, given the general public perception of accountants as risk aversive - and from within the industry, this might very well be a given and absolute requirement - I can't be sure that what you've stated is correct.



They need to give publishing back to editors and other who love books, stop handing out massive advances to unproven writers, and get over the notion that books and motels have anything in common.

As has been mentioned by various people here with far greater knowledge of the book publishing industry, coupled with some of the things I've read, I think that editors 'still rule', but that the marketing departments now have a bigger or even the final say. Even so, according to the article, it is the bestseller that generally carries the (big) publisher through all the other just ok to poor sales stock. There is the example cited of a non-fiction book which over a 5-7 year period (?) has gone on to sell in the order of 400K or such, but this seemed more the exception than the rule.

From what I've read elsewhere, the massive advances also appear to take away from the opportunity that a publisher might give to a possible mid-lister and such others. I think that there was some discussion about this earlier IIRC, with quite a bit of contention.But, yes, one can only imagine that it must drive the accountants of these media conglomerates batty having to deal with the great 'chance' factor of their publishing arms...

Another
05-21-2007, 11:11 AM
ATP provides the link to the article, where one finds, not unexpectedly, the following:

"To read this archive article, upgrade to TimesSelect or purchase as a single article."

In short, one must pay to read the article via the net. Maybe Another read the article in an old fashioned newspaper, knew $ was involved in referring thread readers to the NY Times article and felt that was not such great form. You never know about Another.

Another

ATP
05-21-2007, 03:13 PM
I am not sure that I like the slightly sinister undertone of your post.

Of course, if you had wanted to, you could have mentioned in your initial post that you didn't want to post the link because you didn't want to direct members to a for-pay site. But, for whatever reason, you chose not to. Later, following the replies from James and myself, you then make your comment,implying that I in some way have committed an act of 'poor form' or bad manners by posting to a link of a for-pay site.

For your information, the link I provided, when I provided it, enabled both myself and, presumably, James Aritichie (and quite possibly numerous others) to read it in its entirety.

Instead of trying to score points, you could in turn assist the other members here who might very well be interested and/or benefit in two ways. Given its length, you could either provide your own (detailed) summary, or copy the article and offer to post them a copy via PM should they wish. Of course, this may mean that you'd ring their Rights and Permissions department to obtain general permission to post each and every full copy sent via PM.

I have enough issues contending on a daily basis with the vicissitudes of a tough business. And when I can, I really, really strive to avoid having to contend with members of the peanut gallery who seem to make up so much of cyberspace. I guess that I am not always successful now, am I?

Dawno
05-21-2007, 07:14 PM
I had no trouble at all viewing the article for free. I am registered with NYTimes online (free) so I can view any content. (A couple years ago I felt it was a good idea to register with a number of online papers - fodder for blogging, etc.) There is "premium content" on many of these papers - including, sometimes, access to much older archived articles. For some, this might be a worthwhile expense. I've always found Googling will get me most of the info without paying that fee.

If you want to read the article go to the main site (http://www.nytimes.com/) and register. Use a throwaway email ddy (yahoo or hotmail) if you'd like.

Let's stay on topic, now, and not snipe at each other further. Thanks.a

Maryn
05-22-2007, 01:13 AM
...you could in turn assist the other members here who might very well be interested and/or benefit, by alternatively copying the article and either offering to post them a copy via PM should they wish, or post the article here in its entirety.I really, really frown on people suggesting others violate copyright. The New York Times owns that article, and it should not appear elsewhere in its entirety, in PM or posted, without their permission.

Maryn, whose copyright has been violated

Another
05-22-2007, 01:39 AM
I am not sure that I like the slightly sinister undertone of your post.

Of course, if you had wanted to, you could have mentioned in your initial post that you didn't want to post the link because you didn't want to direct members to a for-pay site. But, for whatever reason, you chose not to. Later, following the replies from James and myself, you then make your comment,implying that I in some way have committed an act of 'poor form' or bad manners by posting to a link of a for-pay site.

For your information, the link I provided, when I provided it, enabled both myself and, presumably, James Aritichie (and quite possibly numerous others) to read it in its entirety.

Instead of trying to score points, you could in turn assist the other members here who might very well be interested and/or benefit, by alternatively copying the article and either offering to post them a copy via PM should they wish, or post the article here in its entirety.

I have enough issues contending on a daily basis with the vicissitudes of a tough business. And when I can, I really, really strive to avoid having to contend with members of the peanut gallery who seem to make up so much of cyberspace. I guess that I am not always successful now, am I?

My apologies for coming off as "sinister." My intent was more toward self effacing and whimsical, which didn't come across obviously. I'm pretty new to the entire forum, did in fact read the article in ye old fashioned newspaper and honestly felt uncertain about referring posters to what I thought was most certainly a pay site. I should have so stated all this in straightforward fashion, it seems. Now I get listing such a link is not "bad form." I appreciate knowing.

As for coming from the "peanut gallery," I'm not quite sure what that means. When is one there or not? Let's assume that's the home of snipers, people who want only to make hurtful remarks for effect (another poster calls that making "points," I gather) and are not truly interested in civil discussion of the main issues at hand. Does my starting post identify me as in that category? I hope not and donít think so.

Again, apologies for not listing the link and seeming to snipe. Not my intent.

Another

blacbird
05-22-2007, 02:13 AM
The only reason there's a casino-like atmosphere in publishing is because the huge publishers have been taken over by accountants, and they want to gamble because it's the only way they know to find the next bestseller.

Every accountant I've ever met (and I worked for a long time in professional positions at major international corporations) hates to gamble. They are the most risk-averse people imaginable. That is why huge publishers so dearly love the tried-and-true brands: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jackie Collins, Clive Cussler, James North Patterson, Norah Roberts, etc. etc. etc. Equally why they are so loath to take on a work by someone whose name they don't know. At the top of their wish list isn't the next bestseller (in terms of a new brand name); it's the current best-seller, the brand-name they know and trust.

caw

ResearchGuy
05-22-2007, 04:50 AM
Every accountant I've ever met (and I worked for a long time in professional positions at major international corporations) hates to gamble. They are the most risk-averse people imaginable. That is why huge publishers so dearly love the tried-and-true brands:. . .
A couple of generations ago, the accountants (and international conglomerates) were not in charge, and publishers were more willing to take risks. Much has changed. Andre Schiffrin's memoir, The Business of Books, is scathing. His is not the only one.

--Ken

ATP
05-22-2007, 04:11 PM
A couple of generations ago, the accountants (and international conglomerates) were not in charge, and publishers were more willing to take risks. Much has changed. Andre Schiffrin's memoir, The Business of Books, is scathing. His is not the only one.

I read the Amazon.com synopsis and reviews of this book. Some comments from some interesting and erudite people. There were some priceless comments and stories ie. about the female agent who - after attending a presentation by (another) agent - described as male, very successful and arrogant,who reportedly stated that the publishing business "was really about the money" - actually left the industry.
The B of B really does seem like it should be required reading for every struggling author/novelist as well as non-fiction book writer.