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Archive for the ‘Digital Publishing News’ Category

If you’re published, but are already on book number two and haven’t hit the bestsellers lists, chances are you’re what’s termed a midlist author. To publishers, midlist authors are the least exciting category of writer. Their first books weren’t hotties. They’ve been bought again because they did okay their first time out, but are often pushed to the back of the bus in favor of those at the top, or the next potential hottie to come along.

Editors and publishers have been shouting about the death of the midlist since dinosaurs were harnessed to run printing presses, sometime in the mid-1980s. Publishing industry pundits at the time urged their readers to cup a hand to their ear and listen for the death knell, as corporations began gobbling up publishing houses and sought to “trim the fat” off their operations.

Why should we publish people who aren’t going to be runaway bestsellers? was the prevailing corporate wisdom of the era.

In truth, I suspect that the history of the midlist over the last twenty-five years could provide hours of lively debate. Is it less than it once was? The proverbial mere shadow? Or is it even stronger today?

Lori Devoti’s “The Death of the Midlist” revives the old arguments at Romancing the Blog, with news that two publishers are supposedly sending their midlists to the gallows. In addition to providing an excellent Midlist for Dummies-style primer, Devoti asks an important question.

…when I heard these two publishers were eliminating their mid-list I thought, “How?” Are they dropping everything that isn’t an A to them? Are they getting out their crystal ball and only buying the “big” books? Or are they just gouging out the middle? Keeping the A’s and the D’s but dumping those darn B’s and C’s?”

The answer, I think, would be yes. If publishers wanted to cut their midlist, there are a number of ways they could put the squeeze on the middle. They might raise the criteria for purchases of an author’s second and subsequent books, requiring higher sell-through rates or even a back-to-print order before an author was bought again. They could contract fewer new authors, selecting just a handful at a time, those they perceived as having the potential for mass appeal; whereupon they made those lucky few into bestsellers.

Where would all the unwanted authors go? It’s a sure thing that they wouldn’t stop writing, or attempting to see their books published. I know I wouldn’t. My guess is that more and more of them would turn to eBook publishers and even self-publishing as an option.

Which makes me wonder, will the large New York houses decide not to eliminate the midlist, but transform it instead?

What are the chances they’ll release most of the dinosaurs from the printing presses and put them to pasture, or swamp, or the Brontosaurus graveyard, and choose not to print, warehouse and distribute midlist books? What if they looked forward a decade, to when print book sales will be on the wane anyway, and came to the conclusion that the midlist should be eBook-only?

In this scenario, print would be reserved for two categories of books, the A-list, and those whom publishers visualized as having the potential to A-list, whether they be first-timers, or long-time eBook only midlisters who have found a large enough audience to merit the luxury.

Devoti makes a good argument in her post when she wonders how the buying public would react to a total evisceration of the middle:

…my guess is a lot of authors who live on the mid list would just disappear. This would be okay for a while. There is a never ending supply of new hopeful writers, but eventually wouldn’t that get old? There are a lot of really good books on that mid list. (Seriously, none of us believe only best-sellers are good, right? Or even all best-sellers are good.) If you could only pick between the new and the big, I truly think you would miss what used to be in the middle.

Regardless of what choices corporate publishing makes, to transition their B- and C-list authors to another format, or allow a great migration of the same to smaller eBook-only houses, my belief is that the midlist will never truly die.

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swlogoJust last month, Smashwords announced that authors and small publishers would have the ability to sell their books on barnesandnoble.com. Now comes word via Digital Beat that distribution channels for small presses and the self-pubbed have expanded once again.

The shift toward digital books is helping small-fry authors and publishers to get in front of wider audiences than ever before. That trend is being reinforced today as Smashwords announces that it has a distribution agreement to get its books published on Sony’s new eBook portal.

Self-published authors can now visit the Sony Publisher Portal and click on Smashwords to sign up for a free publishing account. Then they can format a book in Smashwords’ style and choose their distribution preferences, and their book will be made available for immediate sale at Smashwords.com. The book can show up a few days later on Sony’s eBook Store.

This welcome development means there are even more options for newer authors who haven’t yet made that first sale to a publisher, or published romance authors with a project that, due to story length or theme, may otherwise have difficulty finding a good home.

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In just nine short years, eBook sales will dominate the market. So says a survey from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Conducted last month, the survey polled 840 industry experts in connection with the fair, scheduled to take place October 14-18 this year.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is well known as the annual international meeting place for thousands of publishing industry professionals, a sort of RWA Nationals for agents, editors, publishers, film producers, and others who attend to buy, promote, and sell media and foreign rights.

In a post about the FBF survey, Bookseller.com reported:

Around half of those who responded to the survey said 2018 was the “turning point”, up about 10 percentage points on the same survey last year. In 2008, 27% were of the opinion that digital would never overtake print – now that number is only 22%.

The bullish prediction comes despite the majority of respondents admitting digital products still comprised just a fraction of overall sales – 60% esimated that “considerably less than 10% of their revenue” would come from digital sources this year – though this is expected to grow sharply over the next couple of years.

The vast majority – 80% – said they embraced “the radical change” digitisation brings about, rather than seeing it as a threat to the old guard.

I wonder how the Romance Writers of America awards committee will take the news, given their current stance on the legitimacy of eBooks?

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News was released this morning that editor Kate Duffy, Editorial Director at Kensington Books, had passed away from complications of an infection. She is already sorely missed by so many within the romance community. Tributes of affection are springing up across the Internet. Among them: touching remembrances at barnesandnoble.com and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

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In an encouraging sign for the future of eBooks, the Kindle book of  bestseller is outselling the print version at Amazon.com. Dan Brown’s new title, The Lost Symbol, an action mystery about Freemasons in Washington D.C., is flying off the virtual shelves.

The news comes via Bookseller.com, which quotes Kindle eBook guru Stephen Windwalker:

Maybe that isn’t the biggest story of 2009 in the world of reading. But I am having trouble imagining what could be bigger.

The news is especially impressive given that Brown’s latest novel set one-day sales records yesterday for publisher Random House , selling more than any other of their previous titles in the U.S. and U.K.

I wonder when that latest Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan might do the same, with eBook sales blowing away print? Though there are still more male book buyers downloading eBooks than female buyers, which might explain Brown’s book as being the first to reach this milestone, my guess is that it won’t be that long, before a romance novel achieves this feat.

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One of the most frustrating problems for romance authors and author hopefuls is not how to write something, but what to write and how to find people, ideally lots of people, who will buy it. Some authors excel at the business and marketing side of the writing biz, while others loath it and just want to be left alone to do their work.

Personally, I hate marketing. Why? Because it’s extremely complex and considering the vast array of ways people communicate with each other these days, there’s just so damn much of it. If you’ve ever visited a writers forum and taken a look at the signatures of the various posters to that forum, you may have noticed it’s common for an author to include links to websites, multiple blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other assorted “content streams.” All of that has to be built and maintained, and it’s a helluva lot of work, time that’s pulled away from what many writers prefer to do, write.

Some experts claim that no amount of marketing an author does, and this includes book signings and tours, will increase that authors sales. Others believe it’s crucial to engage in as many activities that put your name in front of readers as you can. Most authors have the option of leaving all publicity efforts up to their publishers, but it’s becoming increasingly rare to find an author who doesn’t have at least a bare bones website or blog.

Even if the subject of market trends makes your brain want to shut down, it pays to have at least a passing knowledge of them. Who is buying books now and why? How are they buying books? Where are they buying books? What are they buying? How can you use this knowledge to sell your books to them?

More importantly, where is the market going to be one, two, five years from now? You may wonder, am I going to be left in the dust if I don’t pay attention?

Lucienne Diver, an agent with The Knight Agency, gave the keynote address at the Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine, Florida last week, a speech that addressed many of these questions. “New Publishing Paradigms,” is now posted on her blog. I liken it to the publishing version of a fold-out pocket map of a foreign city.

Some nuggets:

  • Reading among adults and teens is actually on the rise for the first time since 1982
  • Some companies are experimenting with enhanced eBooks, which do more than simply deliver words on the screen
  • Audio downloads of books are currently outselling eBooks
  • You can’t have a bestseller without having people talk about your books (handselling), and much, if not most, communication occurs online
  • Viral marketing is the “big buzzword,” (i.e. friends emailing links to friends who forward the links, etc.)
  • Serialized novels are becoming popular
  • Some print publishers are experimenting with a low advance/50% of monies earned model
  • Dark and sensual is currently outselling humorous and light (odd given the depressing economy)

This is only a brief list. I’ve left out many of Driver’s other important facts and insights. Some of you may already have much of the information in this address, but I’m willing to bet you’ll find a helpful surprise or two.

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yearsbestfantasyIs it a harbinger of publishing’s future, or just a publicity stunt?

Tor, the publisher perhaps best known for its catalog of science fiction and fantasy staples, will release Year’s Best Fantasy 9 as a print-on-demand title only.

In case you are unfamiliar POD, as the technology is commonly abbreviated, print-on-demand spans the divide between print and electronic books. With POD, a book is stored on a server as an electronic file, to be printed not by the thousands or tens of thousands, but one copy at a time, when ordered. Self-published authors have used POD services for years, but mainstream publishing has largely pooh-poohed the idea thus far.

Writes Pablo Defendini on the Tor.com website, “Similar to the launch of the Tor.com Store, this title is one of our various publishing projects that seek to experiment with the available alternatives to publishing’s traditional sales, distribution, and delivery mechanisms.”

Year’s Best Fantasy 9 is actually a sensible choice for such experimentation. Though editors David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have a strong following within the SF and fantasy community, anthologies are typically slow sellers that often cost more to produce than they are worth in sales. As the publishing industry bows under the pressures of falling revenues, POD is one way to give life to a valued, if not hot, seller.

As it stands, the main problem with POD is that the books have to be ordered online. They aren’t stocked in bookstores, which cuts out impulse purchases by buyers browsing the shelves at the local B&N. This could lead to much lower sales figures for any publisher who takes on the format.

Still, I’m not surprised to discover Tor as an early adopter of a technology SF writers have been yammering on about for more than a decade. Forward thinkers have long envisioned the bookstore of the future as one in which books are produced via in-store POD printers while a customer waits, sipping a latte from the coffee bar.

What will the success or failure of Tor’s experiment with POD mean to publishing at large, or more specifically the romance genre? My guess is not much, at least not for now. Romance eBooks haven’t quite made the leap to legitimacy with romance’s old guard. They are also still finding their footing with readers more accustomed to buying books from WalMart than through an eBook retailer. Given the self-published label so often attached to POD books, championing the cause for one-at-a-time romance novels will be an uphill battle.

That said, science fiction and fantasy readers tend to hover at the vanguard of new technologies. It may take the rest of the world a few years, but it usually does catch up. Ten years from now you may just be buying the latest Sherrilyn Kenyon from a fancy version of a vending machine.

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