Via Boing Boing, Forbes has a great special report about the book publishing industry, Linked.

Interesting articles include:

Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow on ebooks and free downloads, Giving it Away,

Institute of the Future of the Book’s Ben Vershbow on The Networked Book,

and a sobering piece about Robert Jordan, My Author, My Life, about his recent illness and the response of his fans. I didn’t know he was sick but I’ve always admired the commitment and passion of his fans, online and off. I hope he gets well and finishes his Wheel of Time.

Plus articles on Dave Eggers, Amazon Reviewers, and more. All in all, great book coverage, I’d say cutting-edge even. It’s well worth checking out, especially for anyone jaded with the industry and concerned about the future of books.

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I drove “down the hill” (as we say up here on the hill) to speak at the (for Dummies) Authors’ Unconference on Saturday and wanted to share my brief impressions.

Good: Conference organizer Alan Rubin and crew did a great job of attracting press notice and scheduled numerous author book signings and media events throughout the area.
Bad: The loneliness of the poorly attended book signing.
Ugly: Some signings were scheduled during the panel sessions.

Good: I missed this session, but Wiley execs made a point of showing up in force and sharing lots of info about the Dummies brand and the company in general.
Bad: some of the authors told me that they felt Powerpointed into submission 😉
Ugly: I wasn’t able to stay for the Wiley cocktail party or dinner.

Good: I had fun on the agent’s panel and I hope I gave a few helpful answers (and thanks to Carol McClendon from Waterside who shared the panel with me).
Bad: I rambled before the Q&A came back on track.
Ugly: I didn’t follow my notes at all, here they are —

A good agent can help you to:

– Find books you might not hear about yourself
– Develop your book proposals
– Submit proposals to publishers you can’t approach on your own
– Negotiate your contract
– Choose which books to do
– Manage your schedule
– Manage co-author relationships and contracts
– Coax your publisher on all fronts
– Manage and sell your sub-rights
– Manage your expectations

Good: Authors sharing.
Bad: Maybe too much sharing at some points. It’s wise to be careful in what you say about your publisher (in public).
Ugly: “My last agent thought I was high maintenance.”

Good: Paul Aiken, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, led a great discussion about the Wiley contract.
Bad: Nothing bad here but the ultimate question is “how many Dummies authors does it take to change the Wiley contract?”
Ugly: You could see authors deflate when they understood the difference between “net” and “list” royalties.

The guild discussion was great. It’s too bad that some authors missed it.

Regarding the guild discussion, I am poised somewhere between the idealism of the guild and the realism of an agent who often works with series publishers.

Paul noted that reasonable author contracts create a profit sharing relationship between the author and publisher, and that after all expenses are deducted, in the trade at least, that ideally balances out to around a 50% share of the profit for each side. So far, so good.

But a series publisher often holds substantial (and expensive) assets: trademarks and trade dress, style guidelines and templates, a large editorial machine, existing licensing partners, and hopefully, a successful sales and marketing team. The author may hold fewer cards in this situation, and the publisher itself may have higher costs (editorial development, especially).

If you choose to work with a series that has its own strong brand and infrastructure you become a “franchiser” of sorts (i.e. you “rent” the brand) and it can skew the ultimate deal percentage.

This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea to write a series title, not at all. I love series publishing. These books can do very well for their authors, and can help an author to create their own platform and brand that they can leverage into future books, and even at a reduced rate an author may make more money on the series deal. There are plenty of publishers who can publish your book on wedding planning, but there’s only one that can publish Wedding Planning for Dummies.

With any agreement, you need to understand the pros and cons of your contract before you sign it, and it’s equally important to understand and appreciate what your publisher brings to the table. Use the Guild attorneys, use an experienced agent, or hire a publishing attorney, but make sure you understand your contract. Change what you can, live with what you can, and remember that you can always walk if the deal doesn’t work for you. Just make sure you walk for the right reasons.

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Also not retiring, some indie booksellers who find that in the age of cut-rate online booksellers they need focus, creativity and community. At Wired News, via Boing Boing, Linked.

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A client called my attention to well-respected copywriter and advertising author Bob Bly’s Finis, his post about retiring from writing books.

Bob’s writing about exactly my market: the non-fiction book caught in the headlights of Google. I feel his pain and I share many of his concerns, and I’m sorry that he has decided to retire from the business, but I’m not retiring from the book business just yet.

Alas, publishing is dead again. Really, it keeps dying over and over. This time it’s the Internet.

And boy, the children’s book market was in the doldrums before J.K. Rowling and Daniel Handler showed up.

Uh oh, flat is the new up in the computer book market. And what happened to home and garden books and all those “nesters?” They too have hit the skids.

And why doesn’t anyone talk about how high gas prices have also affected the book market?

Year to year sales at B&N and Borders, honestly, aren’t that great. It’s true. And I agree with Bob that the decline in the importance of books in our culture is a huge problem for the industry. We need to encourage our kids to read and we need to create books that rival or complement other experiences.

I also agree that there are lots of crap books published. Who cares about a novel “written” by the “famous for being famous though not as famous as Paris,” Nicole Richie? Well, sadly, more than 100,000 buyers did.

But, is the Internet killing the non-fiction book?

Well, some kinds of non-fiction books, sure. Encyclopedias have had a heck of a time. Straight-ahead references, well I can find pretty much any answer I need at Google or Wikipedia. Still, somehow, the “for Dummies” and the “Missing Manual” series continue to grow.

And the internet seems to be actually helping the writers at Boing Boing, who turned a cool but obscure zine into one of the top blogs in the world.

Plus, it looks like new franchises such as O’Reilly’s Head First series, which does books that are immersive and can’t be easily duplicated by online Q&A, are doing just fine. Not to mention MAKE or CRAFT, which aren’t just books but are also marketed as magazines.

And Rachel Ray is doing very well in all media everywhere, thank you very much. Tell me, was she even a blip on anyone’s consciousness five years ago?

In the sales and marketing arena I guarantee you that Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell are seeing great advances and selling lots of books, and they’ve built incredible unique selling propositions, some may even call it a platform: namely, hundreds of thousands of people care what they have to say.

And about those crowded shelves? Not to be arch, but Bob Bly himself told his readers to write books so that they could become known as experts in their field and generate multiple streams of income. It’s still good advice, but it sure has a way of crowding those shelves!

Honestly, publisher obsession about “platform” is okay. Publisher curiosity about the sales on your previous books is fair. Lower advances in a time of diminished expectations, that’s a drag and I know that from personal experience, but over time new books and authors will enter the market and some authors will write meaningful and useful books that sell well regardless of the advance.

Fundamentally, it’s hard to be relevant and new every year. What’s increasingly difficult about publishing is simply competition and the authors and publishers who are suffering are either not publishing books that readers want or need, or need to re-assess their own priorities and goals. Much as Bob has.

I know that with our new baby we spent at least as much time at as we did reading What to Expect or Ina May. Publishing has to change, but it has always had to change, and it will continue to change.

The “new new thing” eventually gets out front. The problem is that no one is in charge but the marketplace, which is always disconcerting to the establishment!

New writers will emerge that will topple old sales records. New series will emerge too.

And George W. Bush’s advance for his memoir will probably exceed Bill Clinton’s.

C’est la vie.

The king is dead, long live the king.

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Found via Mediabistro, this short post, Convenience and Quality, from noted publisher Peter Osnos.

The Caravan Project is simultaneously releasing books in multiple formats. Peter writes

“About two dozen books will be released simultaneously in the traditional printed version in hardcover or paperback supplemented, if necessary to keep the book in ready supply, by the latest version of print-on-demand technology. At the same time, the book will be available in digital formats for reading on computers (desk, lap, and hand) either in full or in parts. An audio version will be read by its author or a professional reader and downloadable on to your favored listening device. Finally (at least so far) the books will be rendered in a large-type format.”

That’s really cool and a great experiment, though it’s odd to think that it’s groundbreaking. I know there’s a strong economic incentive to release in hardcover first, and that makes sense, but what’s so revolutionary about releasing multiple formats?

What’s funny to me is that the book industry (including its bloggers and reporters) seems oblivious to that fact that the tech market has been way out front with alternative publishing strategies, from ebook subscriptions services such as Safari or Books24X7 to publishers asking that books be delivered in XML format and therefore ready for all sorts of electronic slicing and dicing from the get-go. Not to mention that for obvious reasons the tech book market is probably the best environment to explore ebooks (note too O’Reilly’s Rough Cuts or Pragmatic Programmer’s Beta Books. You’d also want to look at companies like Wiley, which is a leader in the electronic journals market.

Of course in the reference world there’s more incentive to get information fast and to stay on top of the newest technologies.

Osnos says “Books, particularly the serious nonfiction and specialized works in the Caravan demonstration, have always been limited in distribution. As the technology enables them to be always available in so many different ways, it is fair to predict they will be more widely used.”

Yep. That’s true. Interestingly, that’s also a big selling point for Google’s Book Search.

The biggest challenge with multiple formats, and one not solved in the tech market, is piracy. With increasing frequency, books that are available in electronic form are available for download for free on warez sites throughout the world. The hope is always that downloaders will convert to purchasers, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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Dave Taylor has a great post on the Long Tail this morning (Chris Anderson’s new bestselling book, and his blog of the same name).

I’m a big believer in a key tenet of the Long Tail — that with the advent of the internet more obscure books, movies, and products can have a meaningful and productive sales history and might become profit centers in their own right, or as Dave puts it, “the inherent implication (is) that as the Internet grows you’ll be able to find more and more obscure information.”

I like obscure, I studied the obscure in college.

But based on my experience as an agent, I know the Long Tail will work best when you also have the “Huge Backlist,” and ideally a “Big Head” to boot. Amazon can make money on the Long Tail, and so can iTunes, or Random House, but it will be harder for Joe Author with the obscure backlist book. Sure, he can see improved sales, but they’re not going to make him rich.

A Huge Backlist has a way of paying for operations — your publishing company will grow as big as your backlist allows — but it’s the Big Head of hits that pays for growth, and your executive bonuses, sales conferences in Florida, and your bestselling author’s million dollar home.

The Long Tail can be a boon to authors who have a steady backlist, a self-published book with a higher profit margin, or some variation of multiple streams of income, and backlist provides critical income for any thriving agency, but I think Dave is right when he says that the real money remains in hits.

And I’m sure that Chris Anderson would also prefer to be in the Big Head.


Talk about putting your finger in every pie, this is straight from the pages of Variety and stolen directly from Publisher’s Lunch —

“Amazon has optioned screen rights to Keith Donohue’s bestselling novel The Stolen Child. Amazon will move to secure a filmmaker and then a studio partner to turn the fantasy into a live-action feature.”

I get it. Big-deal old-time tycoons like Howard Hughes built defense contractors, bought Vegas and made movies.

Big-deal dot-com tycoons like Jeff Bezos build e-tailers, start space travel companies, and… make movies.

I’m just jealous. This is a well-reviewed book published by Nan Talese. I can’t wait to see Amazon make hay as a movie producer. Could be fun. Will they scare DVD producers as much as they do publishers?

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Rumor via publisher’s lunch, and courtesy of engadget. Linked.

They need a bigger screen for sure but this makes sense any way you look at it. If someone is going to make a breakthrough with ebooks, why not expect if from the company with the platform (and store) that’s already selling the largest number digital downloads?


An author team and I just pulled the plug on submitting an awesome proposal that I was sure would sell.

The proposal was extremely well done. The sample chapters, wonderful. The topic (name withheld to protect the innocent) represents a life-changing issue for literally millions of couples in the US alone.

In fact, we had a great run at publishers, and lots of interest with editors pitching to editorial boards throughout the process, but the one element we couldn’t control decided our fate: the bookscan numbers on similar titles just weren’t good enough. As one editor said, “this is a big problem but not a big market.”

In fact, had I repped a book on this topic before I might have known that publishers were at their wits end. Here’s an important health issue with lots of potential readers but for some reasons these folks aren’t buying books.

I’m going to keep this proposal on my desk. Something might change. You never know when a surprise bestseller might re-ignite a category, or a TV show or movie might do the same trick, but for now it’s the most bittersweet moment: we did a great job, but we couldn’t sell the book.


via Publisher’s Lunch, here’s an interesting article summarizing the recent Association of American University Presses conference in New Orleans.

Textbook publishers have been struggling more than most in light of a robust used textbook market, and in being dependent on the leading edge of “net generation” learners who are increasingly used to learning online and expect information for free.

Plenty of money quotes here about this new audience. It’s worth reading.

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