Pub Rants

Category: news

As we head into August, we are officially settled into a new, semi-permanent state of Covid. What does that mean for publishing in 2020, and what does it mean for authors?

For publishing:

  • Editors will not be going into their main office spaces for the rest of 2020.
  • Agents are getting quite good at Zoom coffee chats as a way to connect with or meet new editors.
  • I’ve seen a lot of editors’ and publishers’ living rooms, and they’ve seen mine.
  • Marketing meetings are full-on eight- to ten-person Zoom gatherings, which is kind of fun.
  • Editors are still acquiring. All agents at NLA have closed deals since March, one of which was a pre-empt for a debut author. That particular project was submitted on a Friday, and the editor pre-empted the following Monday.
  • Marketing directors and publicists are getting remarkably good at leveraging virtual spaces—although the verdict is still out on how their efforts are translating to book sales. (Although one agent here at NLA had her debut author land on the New York Times bestseller list!)
  • Publishers are taking the time to re-evaluate leadership and hiring practices, and they’re rethinking publishing’s lack of diversity and representation.
  • August is not going to be the dead month. Traditionally, that’s when most editors and decision makers go on vacation, so agents usually avoid submitting until after Labor Day. Not this year. We are in it full speed.
  • There will be no travel to New York. Oh, I miss my Manhattan neighborhood walks and excellent pastries! And no international travel to book fairs for the foreseeable future, mainly because America is not getting a handle on the coronavirus, so there are travel bans or mandatory 14-day quarantines. 

For authors:

  • Known and established authors are seeing a rise in sales as readers gravitate to the tried and true.
  • Debut authors are having a rougher time. More creative strategies are needed to make debuts stand out. Hard to say whether more debuts would have broken out in the past six months if COVID hadn’t happened. I have no statistics, but I would say, yes, we probably would have seen higher numbers for newly published authors had the pandemic not been a factor.
  • Mid-list authors, as always, will be the most at risk. Editors, driven by decision makers with the final say, are scrutinizing option material, only looking for the “bigger” books and often passing on subsequent books by authors who haven’t broken out. That leads to a need for more career strategizing between author and agent.
  • Big books are going for big money. But the definition of a big book might be narrower now.
  • Film/TV deals that would be great for animation are hot properties. That is one field of Hollywood that is pandemic-proof, so all studios are aggressively looking. 

If you are an aspiring writer, you need to stay the course. The world could shift once again if a vaccine becomes a reality. And no matter what, publishers still need books to publish to stay afloat. 

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Miki Yoshihito

For us here at NLA, it was paramount to get June’s newsletter right. We are living in a civil rights moment in history; we simply couldn’t do a business-as-usual publishing article. We embraced and then discarded many a topic for this space. None seemed right (and many would be powerful articles, but my voice is not what needs to be heard in this moment in time).

Then we realized we could release this newsletter on June 19, 2020: Juneteenth. One way to honor #BlackLivesMatter is to amplify black voices in literature on this date. So that is what we are doing.

What is Juneteenth? It is a holiday observed each year on June 19 to mark the official end of slavery in the U.S. For the history of this holiday, let me pass the mic to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who is an Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

To honor Juneteenth, we encourage our newsletter readers to buy a book, fiction or nonfiction, by a Black author today. Actually, buy two, or three, four, or more. At a loss for ideas? This is by no means an exhaustive list; however, we are positive that you will find a gem.

NONFICTION

NLA BOOKS

LITERARY

HISTORICAL

COMMERCIAL

SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

YOUNG ADULT

LINKS & LISTS

Creative Common Photo Credit: XoMEoX

As I type this, it’s a little hard to believe that we’ve been sheltering-in-place for over a month. 

In a sign of the times, I taught my 80-year old mother how to use FaceTime on her iPad while also playing Rummikub with me on her computer in a virtual game room (www.playingcards.io). She was definitely motivated. At any other time, I’m not sure I would have convinced her to tackle this level of tech. I imagine all of you have similar stories. 

As a company, we’ve been staying sane via virtual NLA happy hours and playing that old 90s party game Taboo, the one where there is a list of five words you’re not allowed to say, so, of course, the minute you read them, those words are all your brain can think about. 

Publishing Updates from Abroad

  • We are seeing delays in foreign advance payments, royalty statements, and royalties received. Although a lot of payments have come in on time.
  • Offers are still happening but mostly for bigger projects. I do think other offers will trickle in more after the peak of the crisis has passed.

Publishing Updates from the US

  • None of our contracts or offers have been canceled—although Penguin Random House did contact agents to restructure payouts for deals in process.
  • Publishers have moved to reduce their costs. Scholastic has implemented furloughs of two weeks on, two weeks off. Disney Publishing also announced furloughs this week. HMH implemented a 20% pay cut for editors and a four-day work week. (I’m finding that Fridays across the board have become an almost no-email day.) Macmillan executed a round of layoffs across all imprints, which has impacted NLA clients. I anticipate additional announcements from other publishers.

Sales 

  • Publishers are reporting ebook sales are up by 40%. This is helping to keep the publishing picture stable for now.
  • Print sales initially did a sharp drop (down by 25%), but they rebounded last week, and we have word that sales at Target and Walmart are especially healthy.

From the April 16 edition of Publishers Lunch:

NPD Bookscan reported print book sales for the week ending April 11 of 12.47 million units. While that is nicely higher than the previous week, the proper comparison is to the week just before Easter a year ago, since book sales always spike measurably right before the holiday. The comparable week a year ago — ending April 20 — saw sales of 13.97 million units, making this year’s holiday week down over 10.7 percent in comparison.

Per the trend during the pandemic, juvenile books continue to account for most of the week-over-week gains, registering sales of 6.385 million units (compared to 5.21 million units in the previous week). Board books in particular were up 47 percent week over week, at 1.27 million units.

What does it mean for the long view? Too soon to say. I heard on the news this week that the unemployment rate is estimated to reach 20%—the same level as the Great Depression. We are living in interesting times.

Stay safe, sane, healthy, and kind. 

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Jernej Furman

As announced on Publishers Weekly, NLA is pleased to welcome two new agents: Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Burby.

I was always the class bookworm, but, for some reason, I spent most of high school convinced that my future was in Broadway. In fact, I felt really bad for the English teacher who told me she thought I was destined for a career in books because she was so very wrong. Turns out she knew me better than I thought! Of course, looking back, the fact that I never left the house without a minimum of two books (the book in progress and at least one backup) should probably have tipped me off.

I double majored in creative writing and women’s studies at Hamilton College (both “impractical majors” that have been incredibly practical for me) and figured out that creative writing classes do a really great job of honing your editing and critiquing skills. After internships at several top literary agencies and publishers, I spent four years at New York based literary agency and began building a client list before moving to NLA in January 2017.

I primarily represent YA and MG along with very select mystery and women’s fiction. I look for a strong narrative voice and a cast of characters I want to spend time with (which doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be likeable!). Something all of my clients have in common is the ability to sweep me up in their writing and make me grateful for a chance to spend time in their worlds. When I finish a novel and immediately want to thank the person who wrote it, I know I will have the enthusiasm to fight tooth and nail for that author.

Click here to check out my Manuscript Wish List.

As announced on Publishers Weekly, NLA is pleased to welcome two new agents: Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Burby.

I owe my love of books to the librarian of my childhood bookmobile, who, after I had worked my way through The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High, lifted the velvet rope and let me in to the grown-up section, where I discovered V.C. Andrews. And to my father, who gifted me Cat’s CradleWuthering Heights, and One Hundred Years of Solitude for my 15th birthday.  In 2002, I got my start in publishing at a Chicago-based literary agency. While there, I successfully placed numerous manuscripts that have gone on to become critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling novels. I love working with authors who embrace the full publishing process (read: love revisions) and am committed to the stories my clients want to tell both with the words they put on paper, as well as with the careers the build.

I am excited to join the Nelson Literary Agency team, and to expand my list in both adult and YA. I’m looking for the epic read that, at it’s center, beats with a universal heart. In particular, I’m drawn to smart and timely women’s fiction, as well as absorbing, character-driven mysteries and thrillers—both, ideally, with a little edge. I have a weird obsession with, what I call, “child-in-jeopardy lit” and can’t get enough kick-ass mom heroines. On the YA side, I’m interested in coming-of-age stories that possess a confident voice and characters I can’t stop thinking about. Originally from Poland, and by way of Canada, I’m all about narratives that deal with the themes of identity and the immigrant experience as well as those that delve into all aspects of the relationships that make us who we are—parents, siblings, best friends, and first love.

Click here to check out my Manuscript Wish List.

If I was looking for evidence of how powerful Amazon has become in the book-selling market, then I don’t need to look much further than the news I received yesterday! Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series hit the New York Times young adult series list. [ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE, CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES, and WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY]

So what you might ask. Agent Kristin always has titles hitting the NYT list (Ha! I wish that were true.) But it happens often enough that I’m guessing folks aren’t surprised to hear the news. So why is last night’s news a big deal?

It’s big because of the timing of the hit.

As a general rule, unless a title is a big perennial seller, titles don’t hit the list except during release week and the immediate weeks following. That’s when any given title is going to have the most number of sales (in a short period of time) to catapult it on to the NYT list.

But in Gail’s case, Waistcoats & Weaponry was the last title to be released and that happened in November 2014. It’s months after the release. So then the question becomes, what caused it?

I’ll tell you. It was the Kindle Daily Deal for Etiquette & Espionage that happened last week. Thousands and thousands of ebook copies sold during a short period of time. As we can now see from yesterday’s news, it was enough to propel the whole Finishing School series onto the NYT list. (FYI – once there are three books or more in a given series, then an individual title can no longer appear on the regular NYT list. It can only hit the NYT on the Series List.)

Hubby and I went out to dinner to celebrate my 35th New York Times bestselling title/appearance. I do tally the first appearance of a series on the NYT list, attributing “the hit” to the last release in terms of my title count. Otherwise I’m not sure quite how to do it.

Regardless, it’s news worth celebrating.

Is HarperCollins Pitting Authors Against Booksellers?

Just this week, HarperCollins announced that they would give authors a royalty incentive (35% of net instead of 25% of net) on any sales of an individual author’s book(s) that are sold via an affiliate link to HarperCollins’ new consumer-facing branded book retail site.

In other words, if the author is directly responsible for the sale, they get a higher royalty percentage. (Note: this only holds true for sales of books by the author. Authors can’t provide HarperCollins links to other author books and get an affiliate commission on the sale.)

To sum up, authors are rewarded if the sale is made directly through their publisher.

So does that pit authors against booksellers?

In my mind, the answer is no. Here’s why. HarperCollins is not mandating that their authors provide and feature ONLY links to the HarperCollins’ branded retail site.

HC is simply asking that the link be included along with all the other retail links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, Indiebound (the consortium of independent booksellers), etc.

If HarperCollins mandated that authors could only use their links on websites, newsletters, and email blasts, that could create a problem.

But it does raise another interesting thought. If Publishers have online storefronts? Are they in direct competition with booksellers? After all, they are now selling direct-to-consumers.

(By the way, Publishers have always had the ability to sell directly to readers via mail order, phone sales, catalog, and special sales, but it hasn’t been a big revenue avenue in the past, except for some specific titles.)

That answer is probably yes, if a publisher’s retail store starts building real market share.

One of the reasons why I wanted Hachette to be forthcoming when I started asking about the shipping issues (many moons before the news became public) was because I had already guessed that Amazon was flexing some muscle in a contract negotiation.

So confirming it wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t probably already know…

But also so I could tell Hachette and the editors that my authors and I were firmly on their side and hugely supportive of what they were having to face.

Amazon – I have been very appreciative of the many changes you’ve already created in publishing but now you are just being a big old fat hypocrite.

Because your motto is customer first, always.

Well, this kind of hardball in no way serves your customers. It hurts authors (whom you claim to support) and you deserve the public fall-out that this spat creates.

This just hit the newswire in the last week but I’ve informally known about this since late fall 2013 (as early as November). The problem? My Hachette authors and I noticed this “shipping issue” multiple times and brought it to our Hachette Editors’ attention. 

Multiple times. Repeated emails. We were assured that all was fine. (Which we, of course, did not believe since it kept happening….)

This is yet another moment where big publishing could have chosen to partner with authors and agents by explaining the truth behind Amazon’s muscle flexing.

Instead, Hachette choose to go with “we don’t discuss contract negotiations” tactic, which leaves their authors in the dark, agents like me fuming, and fosters a general atmosphere of distrust that the publisher is not being forthright.

Not the end goal here! What we need is more communication, not less.

Let agents and authors help you take a stand–which is actually what’s going on now and is detailed in this New York Times Article.

As happens time and time again, the truth does emerge and leaves those of us who have been asking about it for the last six months with exasperated hands in air, the desire to bang head against desk, and authors who now won’t believe the publisher when the response is “all is fine” in the future.