The future of bookselling: keeping authors happy

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bookstoreThings are changing on a steady course for the trade of selling books. Now there’s analysis emerging that suggests the most important part of publishing — in the trade sense, where there are agents and the lot — is keeping authors happy.

It’s been said before, but this book industry is really about the storytellers, not the companies which make their stories available and try to lure readers toward them. Imagine the role of the bookstore in five years as an advertising medium, a place to help generate desire for a book. You walk the aisles, but you order from an online source. Showrooming, it’s already being called.

A savvy column on this is online at The Idea Logic Company, written by Mike Shatzkin. In The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishinghe writes

Most of all, publishers are going to have to think about how they maintain their appeal to authors if putting printed books in stores becomes a less important component of the overall equation. It is still true that putting books in stores is necessary to get anywhere close to total penetration of a book’s potential audience. Ignoring the in-store market obviously costs sales in stores, but it also costs awareness that reduces sales online. (After all, stores are very aware of the “showrooming” effect: customers who cruise their shelves with smartphones in hand, ordering from Amazon as they go!)

But that’s today when the online-offline [book sales] division may be near 50-50 overall and is 75-25 for certain niches. If those numbers become 75-25 and [niched at] 90-10 over the next five years, the bookstore market really won’t matter that much to most authors anymore. Whether through self-publishing or through some fledgling publisher that doesn’t have today’s big publisher capabilities but also doesn’t have their cost structure, authors will feel that the big organizations are less necessary than they are now to help them realize their potential.

It’s still easy to find the agents who remain cheerleaders for the “curated” book. That’s the one which is selected from many which are submitted, then re-crafted by revisions from the author [demanded by the big organization to ensure sales, or the hopes of them], then finally edited by a pro and turned out to a sales force.

Maybe. But when bookstores become shops for coffee and blank books and writing instruments and toys, the big organizations are going to get a smaller share of retail space. Book retailing is going to become less important than book selling, and the latter is much more available to the indie publisher.

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Popular and good writing can be exclusive

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A USA Today story reports that Stephanie Meyer of the Twilight series is now “dominating” the paper’s bestseller list. These books of the undead, and the movie franchise they’ve spawned, are lively enough to have earned her publisher Little, Brown $40 million already. So the author has her own $4 million in royalties to bank.

By most accounts, though, the writing is weak. Especially compared to the Harry Potter series, which USA Today was quick to compare to Twilight. Bestselling seems to be the only point in common. A reading teacher reports as much in the comments on the USA Today site.

I’m a Reading teacher, its my job! And I must say JK Rowling’s books are far superior in writing, character development, plot, and readability, just to name a few things. Meyer is good, but Rowling is great! I put Breaking Dawn down utterly disappointed, compared to the tears of joy and sorrow that were gushing from my eyes when I put The Deathly Hollows down. Meyer may break records, but overall Rowling is Queen.

Does Stephanie love it, and live the creating like Rowling did? Her publicist reports that she’s taking a break from the romance of vampire passion.

When Meyer might publish a new novel isn’t known, says Megan Tingley of Hachette’s Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She’s “enjoying the writing process without a deadline or targeted publication date.

What writer wouldn’t enjoy that kind of writing life? Wealthy beyond her dreams, with only millions of Potter fans and the reading teachers of the world to sniff at her work. As for the publisher, they want the books as fast they can get them, to piggyback on the publicity. As the article points out, Stephanie has tapped the motherlode of young female readers with Twilight, Edward and vampire fantasy. If you desire good and popular writing all at once, working for the first might be a better place to start to get to the second. Unless you’re plugged in to the fantasies of YA-reading women. They buy a lot of books.

I’m reminded of the line from Citizen Kane, when his business manager Bernstein is interviewed. “Making a lot of of money isn’t difficult, if all you want to do it make a lot of money.” I’d be wary of starting a vampire novel just about now, though. When every publisher wanted the next DaVinci Code when it was soaring, imagine how many candidate queries poured in trying to be just like the Flavor of the Last Three Months. The time of just-average writing of vampire teen romances is gone by now.