Pub Rants

Category: Publishing/Publishers

Where’s The Rise In The Mass Market Paperback?

STATUS: TGIF! Lots to do still over the weekend. One of these days I’ll get caught up and I’ll feel less guilty.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DO I DO by Stevie Wonder

Here’s an interesting monkey wrench to throw into our whole discussion concerning hardcover versus paperback.

Many of you mentioned that that the price point on HC is just too high—you wait for the paperback release, which often happens about a year after the HC release.

In recent articles I’ve been reading in Publishers Weekly, it has been often mentioned that sales of the mass market paperbacks have been on the decline. In other words, the pocket size versions that usually have a very nice price point of $5.99 or $6.99.

Now I have to wonder why that is. If price is the issue, then that certainly solves it so the reader can buy the book. It’s only a couple of dollars more than a fancy Starbucks latte. (That’s putting it into perspective!). Yet, sales are down over previous years.

What’s causing that do you think? Is it aging baby boomers who can’t (or don’t want to struggle) with the smaller print? I’m not there yet but soon I’ll be able to relate.

Trade paperback (same size as HC) is a bit on the rise—but not in huge numbers. (I really wished I had saved that article or articles so I could reference it here. I’m too lazy to look it up right now as I only have a few minutes to blog before I head out of the office.)

If price is the issue, than folks should be buying more mass markets rather than fewer. That doesn’t seem to be the case…

Have you seen the slightly over-sized mass market versions some publishing houses have been experimenting with for their big name authors? They aren’t as big as the trade pbs and not as small as the regular mass market. I know they were experimenting to see if that would draw readers. I haven’t seen any statistics on those yet. They are priced a buck or two higher than the regulars.

Hardcover vs Original Trade Paperback

STATUS: It’s been a bit of a long day. Right now I’m just reading as I’m still a bit behind on client material and requested manuscripts. I don’t think it’s actually possible to get ahead so a perpetual state of being behind is pretty much normal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL I WANT by Toad The Wet Sprocket

Basically the conversation about whether to publish a debut in original trade pb versus hardcover relates to literary fiction or commercial literary fiction.

Why? Because there are many genres where original trade or even mass market publication for a debut is widely acceptable and the issues of support really aren’t in question.

For example, publishing romance, thriller, and debuts in SF&F often happen in the mass market version without too many blinks of an eye. In fact, in these genres, it’s often a reverse process. An author can start in mass market and move “up” to trade or hardcover.

For those of you who are confused, mass market is the pocket size publication of a work. Trade paperback is the same size as a hardcover (for the most part) but simply has a soft cover rather than the hard (and a lower price point).

Lots of terrific women’s fiction and commercial mainstream projects are published as original trade pbs and work great.

The trick is deciding about a debut in the literary realm. Do you go for hardcover with all the “prestige,” the marketing/pr backing and the reviews (but the higher price point—which lots of readers perceive as too high) or do you go for the trade pb? Right now there are still vestiges of reluctance to fully support an original trade pb in this realm.

Thus the dilemma. Forgo the higher price point and the stronger royalty percentages to satisfy reader desires (and if you do the math, authors earn less money with trade pb until the tipping point), or go for the hardcover, get more support and have a higher chance of earning out that advance (or the greater risk of failure if it doesn’t work).

See the issue?

Now I think publishing is evolving because so much good new literary stuff is coming out in original trade pb and succeeding but yet, there are still these hesitations (as the failures loom greatly)—and for good reason.

If we are going to revolutionize the industry and move more to this format (which I’m certainly not opposed to), then let’s re-examine all the facets of it—including the marketing/pr, the print runs, the royalty structures, and gasp, even maybe the advances paid for works that will be pubbed in original trade pb.

I’m lobbying for a holistic approach to the question—rather than simply examining individual facets. Publishing, traditionally, doesn’t work this way. By examining recent history, this is not a nimble industry which makes it interesting for agents to navigate and thus why the BEA panel was so fascinating to attend.

Reporting From The Floor

STATUS: Tired and my feet are a bit sore.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing on at the moment.

Today was my first day at the BEA so I haven’t had anything to report until now. Last night I went to a Hollywood party but for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything to blog about except that I had met so-n-so and so-n-so and I had a glass of wine.

Rather boring. But today I actually did stuff—like walked the floor, attended some interesting panels (and some not so interesting panels), and chatted with a bunch of editors I knew.

So as promised, here are some pics from the floor via my iPhone. The LA convention center is divided into 2 halls—the south and the west.

The South Hall being the main floor. So here’s a pic of entering the main floor—literally right after exiting the escalator. Obviously the Hachette Goup (otherwise known as Grand Central Publishing and before that known as Warner Books) has some prime real estate.

This second pic was taken at my first panel for the day, which was the Editors Buzz. This panel is hosted by Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly. PW chooses 6 editors to buzz what they hope will be the next big books for the fall season (or books they feel deserve special attention).

From left: Sara Nelson (at podium), Richard Nash (Soft Skull), Megan Lynch (Riverhead), Jonathan Glusman (Harmony/Crown), Sarah Knight (Henry Holt), Reagan Arthur (Little Brown), and Laurie Chittenden (William Morrow).

Now, if I were a good reporter, I would have written down the titles of all 6 books mentioned at the panel! But I’m not; I’m a lazy BEA attendee who couldn’t type fast enough into my iPhone notes section so if anyone was there and can provide the other titles, please do so in the comments section.

At the end of the panel I only snagged two galleys—THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER (Which Reagan discussed) and THE LACE READER (which Laurie mentioned). Noticed they were at the far right and therefore went last on the panel, which is also after my chai latte had kicked in. (This panel was excruciatingly early in the day…)

This last photo is from an afternoon session. As you can tell, I was a bit far back in the room but this is Jeff Bezos from Amazon talking. And what a snoozer. I’m as evangelical for the Kindle as any good consumer can be but the first 30 minutes of his “talk” was basically a commercial for the Kindle. Yawn. Things got a lot more interesting when interviewer Chris Anderson (author of THE LONG TAIL) did the spontaneous interview. Mr. Bezos, however, still managed to sidestep the question regarding Amazon and the controversy generated by their recent Booksurge decision (where Amazon would only allow easy access to POD books generated by their Booksurge arm).

Ends up that I was sitting right next to Ellen Archer, Publisher of Hyperion (and of Chris’s book) so we had a fun chat.

Off to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. If I see some fun shots, I’ll snap and post.

What’s In An Edit (After The Sale)

STATUS: Total confession time. Yes, I’m addicted to nostalgia because I couldn’t resist going to the Duran Duran concert last night for their new album Red Carpet Massacre. Last time I saw this group was in 1984. Yep, twenty-four years ago when I was 16. Oh, how time flies. I have to say that the group as a whole aged fairly well. They even did Planet Earth and Girls on Film in concert. Those were the days…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIO by Duran Duran (duh)

Yesterday I talked about new clients and on agents editing manuscripts before going out on submission for the very first time. What about new projects by current clients who are previously published? Do agents edit those manuscripts as well?

The answer is both yes and no. For the most part, when a current client has sold that first book and has an editor, then I, as the agent, don’t usually work on the edit with the client for the next subsequent book. After all, that’s why they have an editor and I don’t want to interfere with the editorial process.

There are some exceptions to this though:

Exception 1: the author has an editor who isn’t editing and sending in the delivered book straight into copyediting (and yes, this has surprisingly happened). If an author doesn’t need much editing, then this can be a positive thing but for the most part, I have to say that most writers need a bit of editing and guidance before a project is ready for copy edits. So as the agent, I have worked with my authors to do the edit if this is happening.

Exception 2: if this is an author’s sophomore attempt, I will sometimes read and work on an edit with the author before their editor sees the manuscript for the very first time. This way we can avoid the sophomore disaster that often happens when an author has spent several years writing the first novel and then has to write the second on a deadline under a year or 8 months or whatever. It’s hard to imagine this is a different process but it is. Editors often complain of the messes they have to clean up when the second (sophomore) contracted book is delivered. If I can help to avoid that, then we’ll do it because I want my author to look great.

(If my client has a strong relationship with his or her editor and I know the editor likes things done a certain way, then I stay out of it—even for the sophomore effort. It’s the editor’s job to edit and there’s nothing worse for an editor than having an author who is getting conflicting opinions on the edit from the agent. My job is not to make the editor’s life more difficult on this aspect—on other things yes, but not on the edit. Now if the author is convinced the editor is wrong about the editorial direction, then I’ll be jumping in but as you can see, it all depends on the situation.)

Exception 3: If a current client published in one field with one editor is looking to do something else in another genre or in YA (if they write for the adult market), then yes, I’m usually reading and editing that project.

Exception 4: If a current author client wants feedback on a new idea or proposal and they’ve put together sample chapters, then I’ll often read and give some feedback for revision before the editor sees it. This doesn’t always happen though. It depends on how strong the client’s relationship is with his/her editor.

As you can see, there are just as many ways to edit as there are to agent and how involved the agent is in the editorial process varies greatly! It all depends on the situation.

The Email That Started It All

STATUS: Blogging late. No particular reason other than it has been a rather busy day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THICK A** STOUT by Skankin’ Pickle

It never gets old. When Wednesday comes and the NYT bestseller list for the next week is released and Ally Carter is still on it, holy cow. You’d think the thrill would die down but it really doesn’t.

And this is what gets me. Three years ago, I didn’t even represent young adult or anything in the children’s world. In a sense, Ally has my author Jennifer O’Connell to thank for starting me down the children’s world road (which I absolutely love, is totally a natural fit, and I can’t imagine why I didn’t rep it to begin with).

Jennifer was the person who started it all when she wanted to write for the YA market and asked me if I could sell it. Of course I said sure (even though I didn’t know any children’s editors at the time), and got on the phone immediately with a good agent friend who only reps children’s books to get the scoop. Then I went to New York to meet the people I needed to for Jennifer’s submission. And that’s how my repping YA began.

Her first young adult, PLAN B, sold at auction in less than a week. Thrilled, all I could think of was that I love YA and where could I get more to sell.

That inspired an email to all my current clients asking if any of them had ever thought of writing for the young adult market.

Ally immediately emailed me back with a list of ideas—which I promptly shot down (Ally tells a more colorful story on her website if you want to check it out). But it inspired her to come up with 3 more ideas and I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILLYOU was the second on the list. It hit me immediately that that was the novel she had to write so I called her to tell her so.

She did. And here we are on the NYT bestseller list for 14 weeks running.

So thank you Jennifer! I think it’s her turn to hit the list so mark your calendars for June as LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS hit the shelves and these two books seriously rock. It’s her best stuff yet (and I want that girl’s abs…).

Potpourri of Publishing Tidbits

STATUS: Do you know how hard it is to work today when it’s 78 degrees here in Denver and the forecast for tomorrow is for cold and rain. Sara and I are really making a heroic effort…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TAXMAN By The Beatles
(couldn’t resist playing this one today)

You guys are all way cooler and hip then I am so I’m definitely behind when it comes to pointing out other cool blogs and stuff. Just recently (I know, I live under a rock), I’ve discovered two new-to-me agent blogs that might be worth checking out—if they aren’t already a part of your daily reading.

Agent Nathan Bransford

And Agent Rachelle Gardner –who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. She works in the CBA market (and I’m not talking basketball but Christian literature for those of you who might not know the acronym).

So that might be worth checking out.

And here’s an interesting tidbit (that will probably cause controversy) but what the heck, it’s worth sharing and discussing. My author Mari Mancusi participated in an anthology entitled THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR STOMPING. Her publisher, Dorchester, did an interesting promotion for this book. They partnered with an actual online shoe selling company so readers who pick up the book, which is about magical shoes granting powers, can actually buy the shoes featured on the cover via a website listed in the book.

This isn’t brand new as I can name at least two other books (one a YA and the other a nonfiction work) that also experimented with product integration.

Future of publishing going to heck in a hand basket or is this the publishing future as book readers decline and new sources of revenue need to be explored to make it viable?

Or is this just a cute concept for shoe lovers who might dig the boots that were made for stomping featured on the cover?

Let the discussion begin!

How A Book Gets A Cover–Romance

STATUS: I’m typing up editorial comments for one of my clients. I was reading all last night. And Sara sent me an email yesterday that a full we requested is hot stuff and I should get reading. Ack!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CRAZY by Patsy Cline

I don’t know about you but I find the whole book cover process pretty fascinating—especially because I have zero ability in anything artistic.

For example, take a look at the cover for TWILIGHT. I think it’s brilliant but how in the world did somebody come up with the concept?

Well, I’m certainly not going to be able to reveal any secrets there but I can give you some insight into how at least one cover was made.

My client Marianne Mancusi (THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR STOMPING) is a Producer at Better.TV and she just did a segment on C.L. Wilson’s new cover for her upcoming sequel to LADY OF LIGHT AND SHADOWS.

Click here to check out the video for an inside peek. This cover isn’t even up on yet so you are seeing it here first.

(Cheers to my agent friend Michelle Grajkowski and her client!)

HarperCollins New Imprint

STATUS: I can see the glass of my desktop. This is the first time in about a month that I’ve reduced the piles enough to have a clear surface. Now I’m off to do client reading like mad because I’m a little behind.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN by U2 and B.B. King

When I first read the news, I immediately thought of Vanguard and the new imprint model Roger Cooper is exploring over there at The Perseus Books Group.

This, too, is an advance-less imprint with some big differences. Basically Vanguard focuses mostly on fiction and working with PR-savvy authors who already have an established name and fan base. Instead of an advance, Roger allocates a budget of 50 to 100k (or an agreed upon amount) for marketing and promotion and then there is a 50/50 split with the author in profits.

It’s an alternative for name authors looking for a different publishing model.

For the new HarperCollins imprint, it’s not clear where the focus will be but I hear the emphasis is on nonfiction. So far I haven’t heard mention whether the monies will be used instead on marketing/promotion as in the Vanguard model. The press release only mentioned a focus on the internet marketing and not buying-in co-op space in the stores.

So my thoughts (off the cuff and will probably evolve as I hear and read about how those first authors do with this imprint):

1. I can see this working for established authors with clear name recognition. Not sure I can see the advantage for a debut writer unless he/she has a large platform.

2. One of the biggest issues in publishing is how long it takes to publish. Since most books take 12 months to hit the shelves (and sometimes 18 or 24), this is a huge concern. I’d like to see an advantage in speed for this imprint—to forgo the advance to get books out in a timely manner (which can be a huge leg-up for nonfiction titles).

3. Connected to this is accounting periods. With this new publishing model, I’d like to see a revamping in the accounting/royalty statement period. Currently, publishers release statements twice a year and thus hold author monies/earnings for that time span. Since there is no advance paid, I’d like to see more regular royalty statements so authors do not have to wait unduly for their earnings from this imprint (as they haven’t had any other book monies to live off of in the meantime). Otherwise an author could be waiting up to a year, a year and 6 months, or whatever before seeing any return on their investment in writing/publishing the book. Since we are shifting the publishing paradigm…

4. Will there be monies allocated to marketing/promotion? Will there be a dedicated marketing person or publicist?

I’m sure tomorrow I’ll think of five other things to add here…

Unexpected Twist To Economic Downturn

STATUS: Off to Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Lots of new publishing news hitting the internet. If you haven’t seen this article about HarperCollins advance-less imprint in WSJ, you might want to give it a look.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE WAY I AM by Ingrid Michaelson

It is of no surprise to me that the publishing world may need to rethink its business model in the not so distant future. Returns haven’t made sense for a long time and I’m still flabbergasted at how long it can take to publish a book (up to a year and sometimes more).

Heck, I’m still surprised when editors hand-mark a paper manuscript. It just seems so old-fashioned (and a lot of copy editors do the same). So changes are imminent and probably necessary—especially with the economic downturn driving tight bottom lines.

But here’s another interesting take on how the economy might be impacting authors and the world of publishing. An agent friend visited her local B&N, Borders, and Books-A-Million earlier this week to check out her April releases. [Yes, agents are guilty of shelf elving to turn our clients’ books face out etc. You’d think it would be beneath us but I must admit I do the same thing always if I find myself in a bookstore.]

So my agent friend visited three stores and not one of them had her April releases on the shelves. Of course she talked to the store managers at each location. All of them cited the economy—they’ve had to cut staff and don’t have the people to get the books onto the shelves in a timely fashion. It could be as late as April 10th before the books hit their real estate.

One manager took her to the storeroom where she was greeted with boxes from floor to ceiling—some of which contained March releases.

Now I don’t want to cause a nation-wide panic as this might be a localized event for this specific area of the country (rather than a national trend) but it does highlight how an economic downturn can impact the success of an author’s book in all kinds of un-thought of ways.

Hard to get good initial sales numbers when your book hasn’t even made it to the shelf yet!

Defining Horror

STATUS: Ah, back in Denver. Now I can actually get back to work…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOST by Michael Bublé

I have a feeling that attempting to define this term is a whole debate all and into itself, so I’m not even going to offer a definition. I have been thinking about what it is over the last couple of days though and I have a few thoughts to share.

At the very least, horror is, at its most elemental level, the terror created by what goes bump in the night. That is horror boiled down to its simplest form and is often the focus of scary movies.

But it would be a mistake to assume that such a concept alone solely defines horror.

If that’s all your manuscript is, you’re actually missing what true horror is which, in my mind, is the ability to shine a spotlight on the baseness of human nature through a terrifying, grotesque, or horrifying way. Or in such a way that is fearsome for our minds to contemplate (I AM LEGEND comes to mind).

The best horror writers know that what they are really doing is shedding light on the essence of human nature and behavior and exposing the rest of us to the darkness that lies potentially in all souls.

Okay, that might be getting a little deep…

And shedding light into the essence of human nature and behavior is not the sole province of horror. I imagine that all good fiction strives to do the same and using the element of horror is simply one way to reach that place.