Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Upside to Publishing Merger Mania

As an agent I am reading that my days are numbered. That soon there will be so few places to submit books that my job will be obsolete. Even worse, as a writer I am to fear that my books--heck, I am a children's poetry anthologist--will never again be deemed to have an ROI that will attract these money-grubbing mega-corporations. Sorry, I'm not buying this negative and destructive way of thinking!

I am no pollyanna. I have an MBA from the mecca of conservative finance...The University of Chicago....and I get that the free market determines what succeeds and what falls by our capitalistic wayside. But we are not talking commodities here...a comparatively homogeneous product that can typically be bought in bulk...we are talking unique creative thought rising from a heart, a soul, captured on paper or forever floating in an icloud to be shared with those readers who choose one unique book over another. Just as many prefer junk food over a fresh picked apple, exploitive reality shows and magnified stereotypical scripted television/feature films over March of the Penguins and Downton Abbey, there remains a rather sizable audience for quality.

We are the human race, not sheep flinging ourselves into the dumbed down abyss. Yes, there will be those who slip and slide, heck dive head first, down to the bottom. But that is not all and those in the mud will not define us nor the next generation of readers, writers, learners and doers. 

The Publishing Merger Mania will result in less books being bought by traditional publishers, and in turn, more self-publishing. While these Mega-Publishers will hope to publish huge hits, they are still staffed by editors and art directors who love the written word, the stroke of a paintbrush. They are still run by many who care about what they publish while fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. Not all, of course not all. But we don't need all.

And as for self-published books, who says that quality will not shine there as well? Price does not determine quality in commodities nor in creative endeavors. Are all songs worth a buck on itunes? Are they all the same quality just because they are the same price. Of course not.

But, and this is a huge but, who will be able to afford to be a singer, a writer, an artist in this new world where music and books are selling for practically nothing? In a world where most writers not only write but must also be marketing whizzes and social media blabbermouths?

Here is my hope, that readers get tired of downloading free and $2.99 books that are such crap that they can't even read through to page ten. That they get tired of the clutter and look for books that fulfill their desire for story, and for white space. Books that fulfill the human body, mind and spirit like a fresh picked apple.


  1. Nice! Fantastic post! Hear! Hear!

  2. And when that happens, readers will be looking for someone to cut through the clutter and point to the quality. An agent or editor, by any other name...

  3. Great post, Jill. It was good to meet you at SCBWI Sydney.

    You’re right, neither adults nor young readers want to waste time reading rubbish and, especially when time poor, will seek known-quality experiences they're certain that they'll savour – including printed books.

    Children do not only want interactive apps. If the story is strong enough, they will always enjoy a ‘read only’ version and appreciate hard copy books as much as eReader versions. However, if parents only feed children of picture book age the cheap and dreadful self-pub’d books on Kindle (the number is alarming), I wonder if their offspring will think this standard is normal, or even be put off reading?

    I’ve had 4 non-fiction books trade published and each one benefited enormously from professional editor input. The last one took 2 years of close to full-time effort to write and illustrate, and I answered over 600 emails from the editor. The publisher put in tens of thousands of dollars in the design, publishing and printing process. A self-pub’d version would have been vastly inferior. A digital version will never compare. Printed books will remain popular in many genres, though they may die for text-books.

    But though I have an agent, this most recent deal attracted only a very small advance that has not paid my living expenses in the book’s creation time and while waiting for royalties due sometime next year, and lucrative school visits get harder to organise. My prediction is that an increasing number of mid-list authors will also consider publishing some new work on Kindle etc. in an attempt to make ends meet, and their print reputations may initially enhance sales there. Could a reputation for sales through Kindle entice better future deals from trade publishers?

    But there will be good self-pub’d eBooks by newbies. They will get recommendations, rise and be profitable, too. I have to tell you that my mentor, an author of about 60 trade and educational titles in Australia but little known elsewhere, has taken only 6 months of to pay the rent on a nice house from world Kindle sales for short ‘how to’ books in a series. She’s a good writer - people like one and buy the rest. And now she’s about to release a full romance novel on Kindle and other novels are in the pipeline, probably children’s books, too. Branding counts and each book provides links to the others and drives the sales. Free or dirt-cheap taster non-fiction ‘lite-editions’, or prequels, assist. She believes this sales medium will be a good retirement fund. Hmmm.

    Got to finish my block-buster YA, which I hope a publisher’s professional editor will help tweak to perfection…

    Best wishes to all,

    Peter Taylor

  4. Eh, we'll see. Time will tell. I get the feeling that the Big 6 (or Big 4?) are hanging on for dear life. Why else would they merge? They're obviously hurting. The problem is, there are so many writers and agents and there are going to be fewer editors to sub to. It's exasperating just thinking about it. That's why I chose to self pub. I'd certainly entertain traditional again, for distribution sake, but for now I can put out quality middle grade books with little to no overhead. Anyway, it'll be interesting. Agents will have to get creative, that's my prediction.



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