This article entitled “Have We Reached the End of Book Publishing? spells out what I’ve suspected for so long and heard from some of my fellow writers — that the very nature of the way major publishers do business does not bode well for aspiring writers. Large, million-dollar advances taken on new authors spell doom for literary writers, who find their advances shrink every time a publisher makes a “new” discovery. The argument of whether or not e-book readers will kill book sales continues to resurface, and the very nature of how corporations function take their toll on editors’ morale.
The book business as we know it will not be living happily ever after. With sales stagnating, CEO heads rolling, big-name authors playing musical chairs, and Amazon looming as the new boogeyman, publishing might have to look for its future outside the corporate world.
There is no doubt in my mind that the publishing industry is fractured. Small press publishers, print-on-demand services, free e-books and other shifts in the publishing industry are creating underground caches of really, great books. No, they don’t get the circulation of a best-seller and no, you won’t make a million dollars off of a small imprint. What you do get, though, is the satisfaction of publishing a book. Small press publishers have the benefit of establishing rabid readers in love with a niche, a more personal relationship with the writers and faster response times. They have their drawbacks, too, especially if they don’t understand contracts, how to edit or how to run a business.
What Large Publishers Could Do to Save the Industry
I have some fairly strong opinions about what the publishers could do to ride out this next wave of changes. In an economic downturn and technological advances, I feel that corporate publishers need to get with the program and modernize archaic business models that aren’t working any more.
First? Paying multimillion dollar advances on a book that may or may not sell is ludicrous and a recipe for financial disaster. By rewarding first-time authors and punishing established writers, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Couple that with editors who are becoming increasingly upset and bitter, and the quality of the finished book will suffer. Moderate advances are definitely acceptable. Heck, I’d take a smaller advance if it meant getting published through Randomhouse.
I still would encourage the writers to have a vested interest in their book sales by spending more time training writers on how to sell their books, how to do an engaging reading, how to create a marketing image. I’d also embrace online channels and social media like Tor.com did as much as possible and reward loyal customers who enjoy your publishing house’s books.
Print smaller runs of books, take a nod from the comic book industry and make the first run an “exclusive” or “collector’s” imprint that you’ll reprint once sold out. And for Shakespeare’s sake — don’t put piles of the same book on a table or in a bookstore. Just don’t. Basic, fundamental rule of merchandising is to make your product seem exclusive. Piles and piles of the same copy of a book might turn off some potential buyers because visually it doesn’t create that sense of urgency.
However the publishing industry shifts and shapes with the times, as the article pointed out — it is changing. It doesn’t change much for me, because I’m still going to write and I’m still going to submit. At this point, I’m definitely a writer for the long haul–not because I expect that my book will turn into a bestseller with a movie deal attached–but because I love to do it.