Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Peek at the Future

(Thursday style, which you KNOW means naked, but I may not have edjudamakated all of you about the fact that Thursday is also DELUSIONAL)

Yesterday I was going through my email from over the holidays—all the little newsy things I think I should keep up on that I never seem to find time to read, and came to Naked Authors.  I don’t remember which one, but one of them linked this post: Book Publishing Predictions

It got me thinking, which we all know is dangerous. So I invite you now on a little speculation ride, based on some of these predictions.

Background Check

With the idea in mind that the big publishing houses are going to put a lot behind ‘branded authors’ I looked up the top American sellers, just out of curiosity… then I looked up their ages and publishing house, so we could do our supposing with a little information at hand.

The first thing I noticed was an unnatural number of best sellers born in 1947, so noted because my mother was, so it is a year that pops out for me.

1. Dan Brown Age 45 Doubleday (two years and one day older than me)
2. Mary Higgins Clark Age 82 Simon & Schuster
3. Michael Crichton Age 67 Harper Collins *cough* and sadly. Dead.
4. John Grisham Age 54 Doubleday
5. Stephen King Age 62 Scribner
6. Sophie Kinsella Age 40 Black Swan
7. Stephenie Meyer Age 36 Little, Brown
8. James Patterson Age 62 Little, Brown
9. Jodi Picoult Age 43 Simon & Schuster (one month and 4 days older than me)
10. Nora Roberts Age 59 Penguin
11. Nicholas Sparks Age 44 Grand Central Publishing
12. Danielle Steel Age 62 Random House

Notice anything? I did. Lots.

* The best selling authors are pretty darned spread over the publishing houses

* If you drop Mary Higgins Clark, there are two fairly clearly defined generations of authors here. I have no clue why, but it seems John Grisham is the only mid-aged baby boomer writing—you have several first wave (all those born in 47 and then Nora) and you have the post-boom (the ones about my age and younger). I have no clue or speculation on why this is, except maybe the people compelled to write in this age range spent a little time being groovy, instead of finding formulas to become super-hits.

* In twenty years, there will maybe be ONE of those early boomers still writing, but like poor Mary, now, she will be alone on the chart—only saying she because the life expectancy for women is longer…

Now lets be morose for a minute and start killing authors… Crichton is already dead… Harper Collins is out a top 10. Knock off Stephen King and Danielle Steele and you have two more houses with no top authors.

Are these houses REALLY going to put on their eggs in so few baskets? It just seems baffling from the perspective of a rational thinker.

I searched further and from Wikipedia looked at the best selling authors ever. Of those that have sold over $100 million in books only JK Rowling is under 60 (she is 44) (Meyer may have been in that group, but I keep thinking someone will realize she can’t write).


In about ten years these publishing houses, if they really follow the predictions set out in the Huffington Post, are going to realize they have an insustainable model (because their reliance on OLD talent will stop being ‘proven’ and start being ‘DEAD’. They will come begging the Burrow and friends to let them buy their novels.

I will of course hold out for a lot of money—they deserve to suffer for being so short sighted, just like the American Auto Industry refused to make small, economical cars in the 80’s and 90’s because they were stubborn, when any idiot could have told them that conservation as a value WOULD return (they killed themselves in the same way many people do—by enjoying their bad habits without thinking about the future) THEN, I will give in, because I will think retiring early from the day job is DEFINITELY overdo, and I will have a stack of twenty or so great books that I’ve been polishing, so I will know I only need to work part time forever more…

At that time, when I am richer than Bill Gates, you are all invited to a really great party on the island I intend to buy in the Caribbean (no clothes allowed, of course).

Better Plans

I would sure love to see a… co-op of authors put together a publishing house that published based on peer review (to be reviewed, you have to review), so there was a quality assurance to customers, and credibility that the books are good, but that it was really about GOOD BOOKS.

I don’t believe for a second that there will be fewer readers in five, ten or twenty years. There should be MORE readers—yeah, I read the failing eyesight of the boomers—so there is an increased market for audiobooks. Bad eyes doesn’t mean they suddenly don’t want a variety of choices. It doesn’t mean they want to turn themselves over to brain-dead TV (heck, they can’t SEE it!). So this idea that it will be HARDER for the public to sort the good from the bad because only a handful will get decent publicity is just a BAD business model.

Another Better Plan.

What about if the PUBLISHING houses gave over to the idea of the print on demand model—they print small runs of LOTS of books, give them some publicity, and give the book stores the ability to print more if they run out—displays hold the ‘store copy’. Customers say, “I want this one,” and everyone is happy—or book stores that see they are running low on a display can print more that night and the next day they are stocked again, but not with so many that they have to DO anything with them.

Because let’s face it, the BIGGEST waste is in those books printed, shipped and not bought, and therefore returned and destroyed. Take that piece out of the business model and we are in profit range again.

In conclusion

I agree with getting rid of huge advances to untested people. Heck, I don’t think TESTED people should get huge advances. I think the money comes when the books sell—that is what is fair. The advance DOES give assurance of promoting, because the publisher wants to make sure they get their money back out of it, but it is GAMBLING. So it seems to me they’ve put the kitty way too high for those big books. I’m just FINE with a five figure advance, thanks.

Dan Brown’s first three books didn’t sell 5000 copies in round one. DiVinci Code came out and suddenly they all start selling. You know what. That is when he SHOULD get paid—when they start selling. It keeps all of us trying for that GREAT book that will get the rest of ‘em reprinted.

What I want to know is, if it is this obvious to me, why is this industry not all over this?


M.J. Nicholls said...

McSweeney's is a good example of philanthropic book marketing.

Quality writing being published with a cut of the profits going to help literacy in the community and to raise the next generation of brilliant writers.

We need to form a community, perhaps inside a giant dome, consisting entirely of writers and educators, spreading the love and wisdom. Screw those cash-driven, piechart purveyors in the Major Publishing Market (blurgh blurgh).

Marjorie said...

I'm going to give you a hard time about Stephenie meyer. She's not a writer she's a storyteller. That said Read The Host. Throw away the fact that you can't stand Twilight, and I dare you NOT to get into The Host.

To the main point, I agree that these major publishing companies just don't care about what's good. They care about money. I don't think they are going about it the right way. They don't watch out and they will end up going under.

Watery Tart said...

Mark, you've GOT it!!!! A Utopia of inteligent readerly people is EXACTLY what we need... though probably no dome, or we can't grow any fresh things to eat...

I love the idea of philanthropic marketing, too... but it doesn't help me get published...

Marjorie--I've actually said Meyer's idea isn't bad, now that you say that. I think she is SEVERLY under-edited--she needed about 4 rewrites with an honest reviewer that was trying to improve the books instead of having wet dreams about the marketing potential of a hot sparkly vampire. I have heard grumbles from someone else about the Host though--don't remember why--they hated it even more... but maybe I will give it a shot (a library shot, not a purchase shot, because my teen has alotted more book dollars to her than she deserves)

I know you say she is a story teller, but is the WRITING any better? Does the second half have any foreshadowing or connection to the first half? Does the main character have a personality? Those are my fears...

siderealview said...

I detect the FUTURE OF THE TART in this treatise - ten years down the line, you've (finished editing - sorry, couldn't not mention!) published Confluence et al, are a BIG NAME at - fill - in - blank publishing house & editors & journalists are thronging to get gems to drop from your tartish lips & we who knew you beFORE smile knowingly & say - she always had a flair for the research - she does her homework - that's what makes her great. Actually I didn't detect a single (well, one single) ref to blue neon underwear. I LIKE it when you write like this! IMHO xx <3

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great point. And, while they're at it, the publishing houses should stop paying celebrities huge advances for their memoirs. They could get sooo much better talent by spreading that money around.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Watery Tart said...

Elizabeth, I am TOTALLY with you! Drives me nuts that celebrities get a ton of money, and the huge advances DO create some of their big money losers, though they also are some of the money makers, because the public, unfortunately, buys that crap.

Saw a link today about Alanis Morisette writing a 'Kerouac-esque' style book--it sounds totally like slapping a bunch of blog posts together to see it described, and while blog posts are fabulous and enlightening or entertaining at times, it is a rare blogger that deserves a book.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Sometimes I wonder. If we get it so easily, why don't the big publishers (or the mid publishers, or even the small publishers)? It is so very obvious.
Smaller print runs, payments linked to sale, decent marketing budgets for all (not obscene ones for some) - that's all it really takes to get new talent.

Or are we just being uthopian?

Helen Ginger said...

The big publishers are stuck in a model that's worked in the past - give big names and celebrities mucho dinero and they'll sell big based on name alone, not the writing. But it's not working anymore, at least not as well as in the past. And the huge machinery that is publishing is too slow to change.

Straight From Hel

Marjorie said...

In answer to your questions, Tami:
Yes, I DO believe the writing is better. Though I did have a few style complaints it was nothing as big as with Twilight. As far as connection and forshadowing I'm not sure, but I did feel that the story had a good solid timeline. Plus, you always know that eventually a certain event is going to happen. So, I guess she does a good job of showing where she is going. The main characters: She has two and I liked the human better than the alien. The two of them together make for an interesting time, I think. Not to knock your friend's opinion, but I wonder if her predjudice against Stephenie Meyer influenced her opinion of The Host. Stephenie's "voice" is still there, and I'm sure that can be annoying to a person who dislikes her so completely. You may want to keep that in mind.

Watery Tart said...

Natasha--Utopian. Yes. I think Helen answers us... they are entrenched at the mo.... wish they'd hurry and see the light.

Marjorie-I will definitely give a look. I'm not sure whether I hated her voice, or just that it was so poorly written, but the GENRE of Host is definitely preferred over romance for me, so it might work. I don't want to be unfair (though I don't mind being snarky--I don't think she deserves the fame she's had without a few more years mastering the craft, storyteller or not).