1.With the invention and growing popularity of devices like the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, the iPhone, where do you see technology taking the publishing industry in the next ten years?
Definitely digital—in books, short stories, and in quick-reads that translate to iphone and twitter-type formats. I see more cross-marketing. More games based from books, more manga. Most of those things are available now, but I see all of them at new levels. More interactive. More dynamic. Video-books where the user uploads photos and becomes characters that then experience book events.
I see fewer books coming out in traditional print. New authors “breaking in” in digital format and only when reaching national level bestseller status getting into print.
Remember that most in their early twenties don’t remember a time before computers and microwaves were in every home. Most have seen boom boxes, but are iPod generations. For them, reading in digital format is normal. So while we like the feel of a book in our hands, many of those following us find them cumbersome. They’re quite at home in digital. Add interactivity to that, and we’ll see a revolution of the publishing industry with broader and deeper cross-marketing.
2.From an experienced writers point of view, what is the publishing industry doing wrong and what is it doing right?
Right: A lot. Overall, they’re functioning leaner and meaner and awakening to the potential of online marketing, and working an inverted pyramid method in building author’s careers. They’re exploring more digital and cross-marketing methods that elevate relevance to a populace with limited discretionary income at present and stiff competition in multiple medias for those discretionary dollars.
Wrong: Some, not all, are slow to develop specific author strategies and branding. Many are getting creative in the ever-competitive push for shelf space. That’s a major challenge for publishers, and they’re creating special incentive programs to encourage booksellers and readers to stock more books. Space has dwindled dramatically over the past decade, and I expect this will continue to be a serious challenge.
There’s been a propensity when something “hits” to flood the market with it, which causes a glut. Then many are caught with contracts on books they’d rather not publish. That causes challenges to their bottom lines and creates challenges for what becomes displaced authors.
Returns have always been a challenge, but it is one everyone is trying to address.
Used book sales have exploded into a lucrative business that has pros and cons for publishers and authors. As we see more digital printing and less print printing, this is a challenge publishers want to address now if not sooner. For example, one of the national book chains has recently introduced a new reader. With it, comes access to 15,000 free books in the public domain. It also includes the ability to “lend” the digital copy of books purchased. Coupled with blogs, social networking, and other existing media, these two things–free access and book lending–stand to significantly impact sales. That significantly impacts publishers, distributors, authors. It significantly impacts everyone the entire industry.
3.What do you like most about the business of book publishing?
I’ve been interested in marketing for a long time, and some of the campaigns are interesting to watch, too. Also projections on trends, watching authors build their careers. It’s such a different process for everyone. You truly spot the author’s goals in the building patterns. I enjoy that. I also really enjoy successful strategies–watching them unfold. It’s pure joy to see.
4.What is most frustrating about the business of book publishing?
Well, it’s one of the few careers where you work hard and gamble—you have no idea what you’ll earn, and it could be four years or more before you’re paid. It’s not exactly a stable career choice, but then it’s risky for everyone involved in the process.
Over the span of a career, most authors must reinvent themselves multiple times. Seeing the struggle it is for some is very frustrating, and watching authors whose books you love not make the transition is downright heartbreaking.
It’s frustrating too that fewer and fewer publishers are willing to take risks on books that are different, unusual, and don’t fit in existing slots. Those that are taken on easily flounder in general fiction. For years, I’ve wished for an imprint called HORIZONS that would be home to these ground-breaking books. I’ve discussed the idea with the powers that be, but so far… We can but hope that someone will step forward.
The problem with always fitting inside existing boundaries is that they shrink around you and grow stagnant. Stagnant industries die. So innovation and speculation are essential to fiscal health. Bluntly put, if you shoot for Mars, you’re never going to hit Pluto. Mars is closest to Earth and Pluto is much farther away. But if you shoot for Pluto, you might sail past Mars and get to Saturn–or maybe even to Pluto.
5.What other industry do you think most closely resembles the writing industry?
The music industry shares a lot of common bonds and many of the same challenges. Its artists, however, are far more subject to the “fame” challenges than are authors because of the visibility required from them to achieve fiscal success.
6.What’s the purpose behind a pseudonym or pen name?
Authors use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Some, for privacy. Some to signal readers to different type books. Some, to gain a fresh start. The reasons are as varied and as personal as the authors.
7.How do you feel about crossing genres?
I do so with monotonous regularity and always have. I love books that blend genres, provided one genre is emphasized. Otherwise, the story typically becomes too muddy and doesn’t satisfy the reader in me in any genre.
8.Does the industry treat each genre differently? Does it favor one over the other?
Certainly it treats the genres differently. If I had a penny for every time I heard someone use the “romance ghetto” term, I’d retire today a wealthy woman. But romance isn’t a ghetto, it is the bestselling of all genres, and it provides funds for the publishing of many other types of books.
Favored treatment depends on who is making the determination and why.
Certainly some literary novels are considered more substantive, though in reality, they might or might not be. But they seldom generate the sales of many other types of books. It’s an anomaly, not the norm.
There’s a place in the industry for all types of books, and that’s the good news. Are some treated with more respect? Yes. Are some greeted with snobbery and nose twitches? Sure. But those in key positions know the value of each, and the value in diversity. And by key positions—I’m talking about readers.
9.What is the biggest misconception that new writers have about being published?
Many think if they can just sell the first book, they’ll have it made.
Doesn’t work that way. As I said above, most authors reinvent several times over the course of a career. Sometimes because the industry demands it, but often just because the author wants to change, doing something different, feels motivated to write in a different area.
Bottom line, it’s a tough business and you must have thick skin to survive in it. You also need a strong sense of self and purpose for what you’re doing. An absence of that will have the business eating you alive. And I’m not being glib or cute or melodramatic. I’m being honest. There are many, many ups and downs, and you can’t handle them well if you’re not centered and grounded. When you write to sell, you must get familiar with change, adjustments, and the words, “It’s just the realities of business.”
10.What should writers expect from publishing houses? Are current expectations fair?
The fairness issue depends on the individual or the publisher’s perception, in my humble opinion. I do think that there is a genuine desire to be fair and afford respect on both sides; it’s a strategic business alliance, not an adversarial relationship.
Some expectations are so grandiose and unreasonable that the course is set for disappointment. Know the business. That makes for reasonable expectations, and that protects both the writer and the publisher from falling into many unnecessary traps.
I believe writers and publishers should seek and expect a win/win, cooperative relationship:
Both to negotiate in good faith, to be kept apprised of events and decisions that impact the work, and for agreements to be kept or jointly modified.
Communication is key. In a successful strategic business alliance, all interested parties should be clear on their expectations and kept in the need-to-know loop .
Writers and publishers should expect that things happen and things change. Some are good and easy to swallow, some are not. It’s the nature of things. Flexibility is the key to sustainability and it takes plenty of it to survive and even more to thrive.
11.What should publishing houses expect from writers? Are current expectations fair?
Fairness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.
Certainly a writer is obligated to perform as contracted. Good faith and effort to do what the writer agrees to do matters. Meeting deadlines unless acts of God prevail.
Consider that your actions echo opinions, and those extend beyond you to those with whom you work.
12.Which parts of the publishing process do writers typically have input regarding the final product?
Editing, line and copy edits, galleys or final proofs. Cover art and cover copy consultation, endorsements, marketing and promotion. Orders, incentives, sales.
As I said, it’s a cooperative venture. Everyone being informed is key to capitalizing on collective efforts.
13.What is the worst thing a writer could do to hurt their chances of being published?
14.Are you a member of the Writer’s Guild of America?
Yes. I have been a member for many years.
Thanks so much for your questions. I hope these responses offer you some insight.