surviving the biz

Here in one small image: the end of publishing

Or at least, the end of publishing as we understand it. Consider this fact: In one month there were more than 100,000 new book releases on Amazon took this screen capture last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Two extreme ways of looking at this:

One: Electronic self-publishing has democratized the book industry. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Two: We are caught up in a tidal wave with no refuge in sight. It’s an embarrassment. 

There’s a weird disconnect in the mind of most of the reading public. Pat doesn’t want to spend $15 on a novel, so s/he jumps into Kindle Land, wanders around, and exits some time later having paid $1.99 for a novel that will be tolerable, or vaguely amusing, or awful, or (this is also possible) excellent.

The author of the $15 novel is an endangered beast in this new landscape, and still Pat finishes the  $1.99 novel and dreams of giving up the day job to be a novelist. And not just any novelist, but a rich one. Someone who knows Oprah’s cell number and who has a film agent. The fact that Pat is unwilling to pay more than $1.99 for a novel should put a crimp in these day dreams.

But this is not happening, as is plain to see because in one month, 100,000+ new books appeared on Kindle. And there are lots more in the pipeline, waiting to be sucked into the tsunami.

It would be very useful to get this huge number broken down and put in context.  Here’s an inquiry for Amazon that I might send, but they will never answer.

Dear Amazon:  

I am researching the career  and life cycle of the modern American novelist and require data for quantitative analysis.  Your assistance would be very much appreciated and duly acknowledged in the author’s notes. 

The data I require:

  1. Total number of new book releases for the years 2000 ______, 2010 ____ and 2015 ______
  2.  For each of these years, I would like the percent published in paper and electronically.  
  3. For each year and category (paper/electronic), please indicate what percent were published by established houses, and what percent were self-published.
  4. Now the same figures, but limited to fiction for the years 2000, 2010 and 2015.

If Amazon were to cough up these numbers (and please don’t hold your breath) we would have the makings of a really interesting discussion. As it is, I can only give you my impressions.

Publishers are in trouble, and will continue to be in trouble until the whole industry self-corrects. Publishers are not particularly good at introspection, so this is another area where you should not hold your breath.

Authors are in trouble because not only is the market saturated with cheap books, the publishers have no interest in helping midlist authors keep their heads above water. It’s sink or swim.  If 50,000 new novels are released over a two or three month time period, how will a reader ever find the novel you just published? What are the odds that your novel will even make it onto a shelf in a brick and mortar bookstore?  Answer: poor.

And that’s where we find ourselves. On the bright side, you’ll be busy for the rest of your life trying to read your way through the mountains novels that are piling up, right now.

revealing words on words

There are many things to admire about Barbara Kingsolver’s work. She has written some novels that I think about all the time, even years after first reading them. Her people and their stories crawl into my head and make a permanent home for themselves there, settling in between  Aunt Helen’s overgrown garden at sunrise in the hottest days of summer and the sound of chalk squeaking in Sister Peter Joseph’s fourth grade classroom.  What more could any author ask for? 

Then today I came across this quote about writing, and now I know that she is indeed the wise woman I suspected she must be on the basis of her fiction. Because it all comes down to this.

“A novel can educate to some extent, but first a novel has to entertain. That’s the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I’ll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessibility. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with — — who may not often read anything but the Sears catalog — — to read my books.”  

Barbara Kingsolver

Aspiring Writers Ask Questions

bookstack-tall.jpgWhen I have a few minutes and I come across an ad for a conference marketed to self-publishing writers, I go have a look. I admit I am cynical, but I am also willing to be convinced that these are legitimate offerings.

For example:  the San Francisco Writers Conference  has got me wondering.  It runs for three days, costs $750 plus hotel, travel and $60 if you want to do the speed dating for agents thing.  One part of what they list on the website front page:

  • Launch your writing career–or take it to a more professional level.
  • Choose the sessions you want from a schedule of workshops and panels that fit your specific writing needs and goals.
  • Learn about a wide range of publishing options from leaders in self-publishing and traditional publishing.
  • Get your questions answered at the Ask-a-Pro session featuring New York and California editors…included in your registration fee.
  • Go to Speed Dating for Agents – Pitch your book ideas one-on-one in a room full of literary agents ($60 option for registered attendees only). Since the literary agents at SFWC are on the lookout for new clients, you may find the perfect agent for you and your book.  
  • Receive free editorial feedback on your work from freelance book editors. Click HERE for the FAQ sheet!
  • Build your personal writing community at SFWC’s onsite Cafe Ferlinghetti with writers from all over the United States…and other countries, too.

There are opportunities to talk to other people who are pursuing self-publishing, of course, and to the hundred or so exhibitors who are there to sell their services.  Freelance editors, for example. I’m guessing there will be many opportunities to hire people to help you with marketing and book design, as well. I don’t know if there are any reliable statistics out there about how much money people invest in getting self published, but it would be helpful to have such figures.

If you went to this conference you might decide not to invest in any of those services, and be satisfied with what you learn in the three days. There are some well established and respected authors on the roster.

But there are some red flags. First and foremost: At the bottom of the page you’ll see that this horizontal list of links to more information: 


Beyond the typo in San Francisco, the real problem here is the link to  San Francisco Writers University. The link goes nowhere, which might mean they are having server problems, but then  (according to Google) no such university exists. Which makes me wonder about the non profit status as a 509(a)(2) organization.

My understanding is that this non-profit status is for organizations that exist to support organizations with full non-profit status, such as schools. Or universities. So the question is, if San Francisco Writers University doesn’t exist, which organization is being supported?

My advice to anyone interested in self-publishing is to be very careful about this kind of offering. Ask a lot of questions. Ideally they would let you get in touch with other people who have attended in the past. Ideally, they would have statistics to offer on how many people published (and how successfully) or found an agent following from the conference. I would want to know how much time that the featured authors spend mingling, or if they are only present for the classes or panels they participate in. And I would certainly want to know about the San Francisco Writers University. 

If you’ve been to this conference and have something to say, please do comment.  

Here’s the letter you get when your novel is at the starting gate

This email was waiting for me this morning, from one of the production people at Berkley (actually now Penguin/Random House — who can keep up with the mergers and splits in publishing? Not me.) It gives you a sense of how things work, when you come down to it. Note that I haven’t edited out the serious tone or admonitions.  This is my tenth go-round, and it still makes me nervous.

Subject: The Gilded Hour for author review

Here for your review is the fully edited manuscript for THE GILDED HOUR, as well as additional style sheets for your reference.

Please read through it carefully, noting the changes, comments, and corrections. Track changes is already turned on and the file has been protected. You will not be able to “accept” or “reject” changes, so if you want to stet anything you can either retype the words as you want them or insert a comment telling us what to stet. We ask that you please respond to all queries and please do not change or delete any of the copyeditor’s comments.

Please note: this is your last opportunity to make editorial changes to the manuscript. The next time you see the book it will be in the form of typeset page proofs (“galleys”) that you will read for proofreading purposes only. We can only correct typos, grammatical errors and production errors at that stage. We cannot accommodate editorial changes, so it is important that you review these copyedits carefully and ensure that you are happy with the manuscript you return.

The managing editor asked that I have the manuscript back by 3/25. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

At this stage I pull up this graphic which helps me hold on to perspective: