It's Not Business As Usual–Stop Acting Like It

In my role at Writer’s Digest I balance two key objectives that’s an odd, meta-publishing endeavor:

  1. Help aspiring writers succeed in the publishing arena
  2. Keep the Writer’s Digest business—as a publishing and/or content business—viable

of my position within the publishing industry, I see up-close the
effects of hard economic times, transformational technology, and
increased pressure to produce more with less. Friends lose jobs,
businesses fold, we try to follow the cliche “work smarter, not
harder,” and remind ourselves of the heartfelt reasons we’re in the
business in the first place.

Here are some recent thoughts from others, from a variety of perspectives:

Daniel Menaker (former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House)

believe that this impending Gutenberg-level shift in reading culture,
along with the economic disasters of the last two years, render the
challenges of present-day hard-copy publishing all the more agonizing,
immediate, and dramatic. At least in the abstract, and especially in
this economic climate, most other professions pose some of the same
problems for those who pursue them, no doubt. But the tectonically
opposing demands on publishing — that it simultaneously make money and
serve the tradition of literature — and its highly unpredictable
outcomes and its prominence in the attention of the media have made it
a kind of poster adult for capitalism and the arts in crisis. [click here for full article]

Guy Gonzalez (F+W community leader behind Digital Book World)

all the talk of publishing’s supposedly imminent demise, there are far
too many passionate people working in and around the industry, at every
level, to let that happen. And whether they realize it or not, it
doesn’t matter if they’re working for one of the major publishers or an
independent press, in senior management or as an editor, author or
bookseller — there’s a wide and fertile common ground we all share and
it’s best represented by the community we all serve: the readers.

it’s readers’ changing habits that are driving the fundamental changes
in the publishing industry – everything from the types of books they’re
reading to the formats they prefer reading them in – and as a
result, it’s the current business model of most publishers that’s under
stress, not the community service of publishing itself.

[click here for full post]

From Mark Barrett at

in the new content pipeline must demonstrate added value in order to be
embraced by both authors and readers. As an author, if you are not
helping me monetize my content in some way, I have no valid business
reason for partnering with you or hiring you. As a reader, if you are
not providing me a service I need at a competitive price I will simply
go elsewhere.

… As a writer, questions of cost and profit and
revenue are of interest to me because I now have a direct pipeline to
readers. I know I can reduce my costs to something approaching zero, so
the question of most concern to me is how to generate revenue. I know I
need help to monetize my content. I need sites that will host it and
promote it, readers that will recommend it, and publishers who will do
the same if I want to reach the widest possible audience.

I want
to make deals with business partners in order to accomplish these
goals. I want to have the money to hire professionals like editors and
designers to help me produce the best work I can. And I want publishers
to help me reach the widest market if that makes sense to both of us. [click here for full post]


I frequently encounter these two groups:

  • The
    writers/authors who read all of this, who do comprehend what’s going
    on, but seem unwilling or unable to adjust their expectations of a
    publisher or their own responsibility for success
  • The agents,
    editors, and other publishing insiders who also comprehend what’s going
    on, yet expect or demand business as usual when it comes to book deals,
    contracts, and other partnerships

There are also the people who say, quite rightly, that writing and publishing a “real” book is still the big dream, and people will keep chasing that dream no matter how much we all argue that the book is dead, that times have changed, that no one reads any more, etc.

Yes, the dream will always remain. As far as I can tell, it has been a dream for more than a century (The Writer, a competitor to Writer’s Digest, has been in business for more than 120 years).

But achieving that dream is going to take many more shapes, and look a lot different, than it did even 5 or 10 years ago.

Most of all, I want YOU to see, really see, what’s possible (now
& in the future—see The Art of Possibility),
identify what you can achieve, and understand tactics to get things done.

I’m trying to do these things, too—along with care for the morale of the people I work with at Writer’s Digest and F+W.

I am reminded of Kenny Moore’s words:

continues to remain dismal in most companies and employee surveys
reveal three disturbing trends: nobody trusts, workers don’t believe
senior management and employees are too stressed out to care. Problems
with trust, belief and caring. When I lived behind the cloistered
walls, we referred to these dynamics as a crisis of Faith, Hope and
Charity. As the Recession continues to take its toll, the business
world is facing a spiritual problem as much as a fiscal one. Napoleon
once said that leaders are dealers in hope.  That sounds like a sacred
quality to me.

Photo credit: benefit of hindsight

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0 thoughts on “It's Not Business As Usual–Stop Acting Like It

  1. Jane Friedman

    @Tina – Yes, the music industry is often invoked in publishing circles as something to learn from. I’m torn at times at how much similarity there really is (since music & books are consumed/enjoyed differently), but one can’t help but compare and hopefully do things better as a result.

  2. Tina Haapala

    I think we could learn something from the music industry– the way music is shared has changed, and the bu$iness has Really changed– but there are still lovers of music and music makers. It’s all still alive and kicking, just in different directions.

  3. Jane Friedman

    @Bri – I love the additional thing you noted, "They’re all out to get me." I can’t tell you the number of chicken buffet lines I’ve stood in, and overheard writers saying things like this. If one thing could contribute to more writers’ happiness & success, it would be the refocusing of this energy.

    @RKCharron – Agreed! And a life without change is boring. 🙂

    @Anittah – Thank you for the insightful comment! You are so right.

  4. Anittah Patrick

    My sense is that the spiritual crisis informed if not exacerbated the fiscal crisis, and that the attenuating attention spans of readers that’s driving much industry change is too undergirded by a spiritual crisis of sorts.

    We have forgotten to give pause, breathe, and feel each moment deeply. This lapse makes us want MORE QUICK NOW — bursts of text on a hand-held what’s it, double digit growth quarter over quarter, etc. etc. etc.

    I am glad that someone as thoughtful as you is on the front lines of this important time.

  5. RKCharron

    Hi Jane 🙂
    Thank you for the thoughtful post on publishing.
    I think it is an exciting time for the publishing industry. A time of change, yes, but change is good. With the advent of ebooks & ereaders, I think there will be even more readers than there are now. And with the runaway success of the Harry Potter and Twilight books those young readers will want to read more, having whet their appetite for great stories.
    Now if we can just get a universal format for ebooks/ereaders & get the price to a reasonable level, I think publishing will see an ebook boom.
    All the best,

  6. Bri Clark

    Thank you Jane. You hit the nail on the head. I feel the same way about many things that were quoted. I have become frustrated with many of the aspiring authors out there. They often times say things like "The publishing industry is determined to keep my book from being published." or "They’re all out to get me." I want to say hello we aren’t that important. Editors and agents are very busy. How about a little expectation of self. We expect agents to treat us like people and not dispensable. Well how about we treat them as people and realize it’s business. I took the opportunity of the many rejections I received to "learn." I don’t believe in only writing when the muse hits. If that happened I would never write. But I treat writing like a job. I put time, effort and enthusiasm into it daily. I work everyday at learning something about my trade. It’s not about being paid it’s about contribution.


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