Around the (Publishing) World in 100 Years

I personally took this photo of David Morrell....

Novelist David Morrell

I recently had the pleasure of hearing David Morrell (successful writer and “Rambo” creator) speak on his perspective on publishing’s history.  He began by reminding us

that just over 100 years ago books were a precious commodity that not everyone could claim – outside of the family Bible and a Farmer’s Almanac.

Those leather-bound volumes still hold an iconic picture in our mind’s eye as the quintessential idea of a BOOK.  The advent of paperback “dime store” novels soon swept away any financial barriers to book ownership – and ushered in a new era of writers and readers.  The decades to follow brought more adventure, mystery, romance, even pulp fiction, all available at general stores and pharmacies across the country.

By 1972 independent book stores, carrying mostly paperbacks, were the source of the majority of sales, with books sold as an additional item in drug stores, and the like.  There were no book signings or media hype related to new titles.

That all changed with Jacqueline Suzanne, author of “Valley of the Dolls”.  She was the first to contact stores and promote herself as an author.  She had conversations with the public, while her husband, Irving, wrote down the pertinent information discreetly off to the side.  They kept it all in files at home, then sent handwritten notes to those who had anniversaries, started little league, and so on, creating a fan club that was invested as much in the writer as in the book.

When the rise of malls and anchor stores came on the American scene, Waldens and similar entities became chain stores in these areas, driving out the independent stores and stands.  They were eventually eclipsed by book retailing giants like Barnes and Noble and Borders.

The interior of the Barnes & Noble located at ...

The interior of Barnes and Noble's Grove Store

By 1986 book tours had become common – but vastly expensive. (If you sold 200 books at a signing, the publisher made about $4 per book = $800.  A tour of 15 cities costs about $30,000.  Book tours do not make money – they only assist a book hitting the Best Seller List and driving future sales.)

In the 1990’s international companies bought up the 40+ independent publishers (mostly in New York) and only a few companies remain with multiple imprints.  The umbrella companies are often focused on selling other products ( such as cornflakes) and do not want to be innovative in the field of publishing.  Analysts see this as a deciding factor in the failure of the mega-stores to embrace electronic books, and in their ultimate decline.

“I have not seen a revolution like eBooks in my lifetime,” says David Morrell.  Thirty million iPads have sold in the U.S.  While Amazon does not reveal the sales of their eReader, “Amazon is smart because it is not in the Kindle business.  It is in the download business.  They recognize that the vehicle may change, but the method of transfer is the same.”

Industry prediction: by the end of 2011, 100 million electronic readers will be owned by the public.

So why the resistance by industry leaders?  Electronic publishing eliminates the “gatekeepers” – agents and editors – who may have kept good books out of the public eye in favor of trends.  E-books now present the opportunity for anyone to offer their book to readers.  However, authors have to be in business for themselves – they need cover design, editing services, and marketing, adding to the writer’s burden of work.

Forward-thinking individuals are evolving – just like books.  Agents are now becoming “lierary managers” who coordinate these services for a fee, usually 15%.  Publishers are now interested in electronic rights.  (Make sure these have an expiration date, based on a minimum sales figure within a specific time frame, or by set time period.)

Morrell’s prediction: in 2 years, hardbacks will be a specialty item, paperbacks will be gone, trade paperbacks will be the choice for print, and electronic downloads will be the majority of sales.  Others look forward to the renaissance of the independent book store and a return to localized offerings.

Book Loft

There is certainly a lot to think about for writers and readers, but one thing that history shows us is whatever the format, good writing stands the test of time.

“Crummy Pap” or Classic Prose?

Technology can make a person feel like they just got pushed in the deep end of the pool.  Every new software release or “cutting-edge” gadget screams for attention – but is it the wave of the future, or just a shallow puddle?

E-books and Self-publishing get a lot of press today.  And when I see that much buzz about a game-changer in a field I love, I have one response – Scepticism.  (Should I fork over the dough for a Kindle, or a Nook, or wait or the next great thing?  I don’t know!)  But, I’m an open-minded gal, so I do a little research, a bit of querying friends, and then I remember my favorite barometer…history itself.  I came across this little nugget via Writer’s Almanac:

Sir Allen Lane, (born 1902), managing editor of London’s The Bodley Head, and later creator of Penguin Books, didn’t have anything to read on the train.  He had a long ride back from visiting one of his author’s – Agatha Christie – and refused the magazines and cheap literary fare available at the depot.  He thought, “Why isn’t there something good to read for sale, that people can afford?”  Penguin Pocket Books was born, making the hardbound publications accessible to everyone.

Writer’s Almanac reports,  “Lane was determined that paperbacks, then mostly low-quality products of low-quality writing, could be the vehicles of great, contemporary fiction… Like most innovations, Lane’s idea — and his success — was initially regarded as a cause for concern by many other publishers and writers. It lowered the aesthetic value of great works of literature — a book like The Grapes of Wrath, for example, needn’t be a beautifully bound hardcover to last a lifetime, but could instead exist as a nearly disposable pocket-sized tome in bright orange, adorned with a funny little bird in mid-waddle. But Lane claimed paperbacks would effectively democratize literature, converting frequent library users to book buyers and readers of crummy pap into readers of classic prose.”

Sounds a little like the furor over E-Readers, doesn’t it? 

How about the uproar about self-publishing?

As Steven Anderson (of GoldMinds Publishing) stated recently in a presentation (read more here), the publishing world has a history of trends – the era of hardbacks was replaced by the era of dime novels, then mass market paperbacks (thanks Sir Allen!).  Now we are faced with a new epoch in the life of literature – digital access, for both readers and writers.

Where do you stand on the issue of digital publishing?  Love e-readers, but hate self-publishers?  Devoted to paper books no matter who writes them?  Has history proven that changes in format and accessibility eventually find a balance

– and does quality rise to the top?

  Leave your comments below and give us YOUR perspective on publishing!

Navigating the Many Roads of Publishing

Steven Anderson (AKA Steven Law), who has worked in the writing and publishing industry for 15 years spoke at the Ozarks Romance Authors meeting September 3, 2011.

He shared his insights about traditional publishing, author co-op publishing, self-publishing, ebooks, and social media.

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I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from a professional who truly has his thumb on the pulse of publishing. Although his presentation contained too many aspects to reproduce here, I’ve noted a few thought-provoking points to get you thinking about what direction your next book might take…

  • Industry trends show that mass-market paperbacks are on their way out, to be replaced by electronic methods of distribution.  The printing of books has evolved quickly in the last 100 years.  What began as a limited availability of hardbound books in the early 1900’s, with a cloth or leather cover,  was surpassed by pulp fiction in subsequent decades, and then mass-market paperbacks.  The day has come for the next evolutionary phase.
  • Publishing is a consumer-driven market. (Not a supplier-driven one.)  It must change to adapt to the demands of the consumer, rather than attempt to dictate what the consumer should buy.
  • Printing is the most expensive part of publishing. (And you thought it was all those color posters.)
  • While adult mass-market sales are down 30% in the past year, audiobooks and e-books have seen their biggest increase in sales across the industry.  This seems to echo the projections that the big publishing houses will be gone within 10 years, likely to be replaced by print-on-demand and electronic books.
  • Social media now plays a key role in the sales of a book.  Just look at John Green‘s “The Fault In Our Stars” – it became a No. 1 hit before he even finished it.  And it was all due to what a little bird said (tweet, tweet).

There are other voices that harmonize with what Steven is saying.  I like Bob Mayer‘s perspective: “…It’s about the book, not the publisher’s perception about the book.  I think that’s a key change authors need to understand:  the gatekeeper in publishing now is no longer the publisher—it’s the author and the quality of the book…You can keep switching deckchairs on the Titanic or you can find a ship that’s actually going somewhere.”

There is much to think about in the current publishing climate, but it’s important to keep your balance – not jumping on every new app or forum that arises.  Don’t go sharpening your goose quills and pressing berries for ink, either. You don’t have to reject the new just because it may be unfamiliar territory.  With a little research and a lot of patience, you can find your own avenue on the road to publishing.  Or you could just ask a pro like Steven.

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Steven is an executive officer at Goldminds Publishing, and has written and published four novels. His latest, “Yuma Gold,” is scheduled for release by Penguin Group in New York in November 2011.  Steven is also founder of the ReadWest Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the awareness and diversity of Western literature.

For more information about Steven, visit http://www.stevenlaw.com

Many thanks to Ozarks Romance Authors for providing an opportunity for writers to meet, learn from, and support one another, (and being so welcoming of visitors – 30% of attendees that day were non-members!) as well as the Springfield-Greene County Library for providing a comfortable meeting space.