3 Publishing Trends Writers Must Stay On Top Of

This week marks the publishing industry’s largest trade show, BookExpo America. This is the first year since 2004 that I’m not attending, but in honor of that show, I’m offering up 3 key industry trends you should stay on top of. (Above: My cat Zelda implores you to stay informed.)

1. Agents Becoming Publishers
This is becoming more widespread and accepted. Agents are starting to publish/distribute clients’ e-books editions; see Ed Victor in the UK for the biggest recent example. Agents are also testing e-book originals, e.g., Scott Waxman’s Diversion Books.

Also, a recent article by Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware has a good summary of what’s going on.

Why you need to stay on top of this

Agents’ roles are changing. To make the best decisions for your career, you need an understanding of what constitutes traditional vs. emerging practices. While some people might question whether agents can stay on the right side of ethics when they publish clients’ work, it will boil down to an agency’s reputation and clout, rather than its adherence to a set of increasingly outdated ethical guidelines.

2. Amazon Becoming a Publisher
Hopefully you haven’t been living in a cave, and you’ve heard about Amazon’s growing footprint as a publisher of e-book originals. There’s a good summary of its current imprints here, but it’s already out of date. Thomas & Mercer, a mystery/thriller imprint has since been announced, and also—just announced in the last 24 hours—one of the biggest names in book publishing is leaving agenting to head up yet ANOTHER imprint, still to be named.

Why you need to stay on top of this

Amazon is ramping up its publishing operations and poaching recognized book pub talent. One day, instead of dreaming about your next big deal with Penguin, you might be dreaming about your big break with Amazon.

Don’t forget Amazon now has two of the most popular self-publishing services: CreateSpace (for POD) and Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon would be foolish not to be actively surveying the ranks of self-published authors for statistical signs of the next Amanda Hocking.

Will self-pub via Amazon become a proven way to get noticed? If that seems far-fetched, see this post: Is an e-book the new query?

3. E-Book Sales Increasing

Speaking of Amazon, they just recently announced that their Kindle e-book sales now outpace print books sales. Remember: This is just the ratio at Amazon, not the entire book industry, but the decline of physical bookstores  (see Borders bankruptcy) will only quicken the transition.

Why you need to stay on top of this

The faster this happens, the more it impacts what decisions you make on when, how, and why to publish. It’s why JA Konrath and Barry Eisler have decided to step away from a traditional publishing house: Because they see more money to be made in the long run from strictly e-book sales paying a higher royalty.

Of course, there are always trade-offs—otherwise self-pub phenom Amanda Hocking wouldn’t have moved to a traditional publisher.

(We always want a taste of what we DON’T have, right?)

I recommend that no matter what path you choose, look for and demand flexibility in the contracts you sign. Agents can help with this, which is why agents now help their clients self-publish. (See this story of Neal Pollack, who is sticking with his traditional publisher AND self-publishing with the help of his agent.)

What other trends would you add to this list?

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22 thoughts on “3 Publishing Trends Writers Must Stay On Top Of

  1. free samples and coupons

    I was hoping for this, actually. I want an agent for their experience and expertise. I wouldnt mind epublishing, but I dont want to do it alone, there are too many things I shouldnt do alone. thanks for talking about this trend in publishing! it is encouraging.

  2. lisa

    If we could all go directly to publishing without an agent then by all means, cutting out the middle man would save authors money. If the agent becomes the publisher? Ditto, so be it. In the end it’s about getting hired and getting paid. I have nothing but respect for those who can go it alone.

  3. Mark Williams

    @trisha – how do you find a new debut author in B&N if they are a spine only bottom shelf non-entity?

    The beauty of the ebook is that, once someone does discover you and like you they can promote you that same minute and others can be buying minutes later at the click of a button.

    Find a debut author you like in B&N and while you can email fb / twitter that discovery the next person has to visit the store if they live near one / go online and order, wait a week for delivery, and pay a hefty price for the privilege. And chances are that book is only on a small print run and will almost certainly only be avalable in one country.

    There are millions of paper books out there just as there will be millions of ebooks. Buyers will soon sort the wheat from the chaff.

    @jennifer – "a 99 cent e-book cannot be compared to a hardcover book or even many paperback books."

    Why on earth not? What is the buyer paying for with a $20 hardback? Leaving aside the obvious discount of paper, ink, printing, distribution, storage and resale the bulk of the price goes to paying the shareholders.

    We published our book as an ebook for 99c. We don’t have staff to pay, premises to maintain, any of the production charges afore-mentioned, nor any shareholders.

    As debut novelists we would be stupid to even think people would want to pay $20 for an author they’ve never heard of. When you’re spending that sort of money you invest in what you feel safe with.

    Trisha, our book was just one among nearly a million on Amazon. We went three months almost completely unnoticed. But when we were discovered we sold, and are still selling 500+ a day…

    Our sales are just coming up to 75,000 for a six month old debut novel by an unknown name in a tiny market place that is the e-reading buyer.

    It’s also a book turned down by almost every agent in the UK as being not commercially viable… And yes, it is the book referred to in Jane’s opener "Will self-pub via Amazon become a proven way to get noticed?"

  4. Trisha Slay

    Yeah…I want to embrace the new trends. I do! Power to the people and all that. But I can’t get over the mythical slush pile I’ve always heard of, that colossal pile of unpublished material with its nearly infinite number of terrible to mediocre manuscripts. Is it now ALL getting published in eBook format? If it’s all going to get out there and flood the market, how will the average eBook consumer with the attention span of the modern era be able to find a new, debut author among the unedited masses?

  5. Phyllis Zimbler Miller

    I’m compiling info on the different ebook publication options.

    Remember the days when Betamax vs. VHS was difficult to decipher? This is even more confusing.

    Does anyone know of a single app that will prepare ebooks for Kindle, the Nook, Kobo, etc.?

  6. Jennifer Mattern

    Okay. I looked into the Bowker survey, and have just a few thoughts.

    1. 750 respondents is an extremely small sample to make claims about large-scale trends, especially since they had a pool of 65,000 to choose from. They also limited the survey solely to e-book buyers in the group, which limits their insight into adoption trends. Why many are not moving to e-books is just as important as knowing why some do, and why some choose both.

    2. What I’d be curious to know is how many "power users" they actually had in the survey and whether they’re representative mostly of early adopters or of a trend with the more general public.

    3. They mention the most influential factors leading to e-book purchases are freebies and low prices. That begs the question of sustainability — easy to make decent money with cheap e-books early in the game, but I don’t buy that’s going to last with simple oversaturation as more jump on board. Pricing ceases to work as an effective marketing strategy when everyone and their brother does the same thing. It also brings up the hoarders vs readers issue, which is in contrast to claims I’ve seen around that e-books and low prices are leading to people being more avid readers (not necessarily said in this survey as I only reviewed the publicly released summary).

    4. I have to give a lot of credit to Kelly Gallagher for sharing some of the most intelligent and responsible comments regarding the e-book sales stats released in that survey — notably that the results need further study and that they don’t yet imply substitution of e-books for print books. And that’s a lesson I think Amazon’s PR team needs to learn — sharing hard numbers and being able to be open and transparent about how they were obtained and what they may (and may not) really mean.

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It was an interesting read.

  7. Leah Carson

    I’ve done both traditional and self-publishing during my long career. I’ve also gone with and without an agent. The current climate is better than it’s ever been, thanks to ebooks plus sales outlets like Amazon. I recently published "Arts & Crap: A Spoofbook on Arts and Crafts" so quickly and easily, thanks to a professional ebook converter who did my text and cover design. It’s one of the most gratifying projects I’ve worked on — and the best part is, I can keep replicating the process just as quickly and easily with future Spoofbooks. There’s no limit to what I can produce…no gatekeeper between me and my readers…and only a few days’ lag between finishing a writing project and offering it for sale. Yee-haa!
    Leah Carson

  8. Jennifer Mattern

    1. Of course it would be BN’s key growth area. New products are almost always growth areas over ones already hitting maturity on the marketing curve. It’s just another example of doing exactly what you said — comparing apples to oranges.

    2. But that is not what Amazon claims in their release. It had absolutely nothing to do with their purchases. It was about consumer purchases of books from them. Big difference, and puts all their bias back on the side of e-books when it came to manipulating the stats.

    3. "it doesn’t mean people will suddenly return to print"

    Nowhere did anyone claim people were "leaving" print with a need to return. In fact, even Amazon said some book sales are still increasing in print form. There’s no doubt e-books are here to stay. Those of us who have been e-publishing since before Amazon, etc dipped their toes in the water have known that for a long time now. It’s still a growth area. That’s great. Trying to increase that even more through misinformation or half-information as Amazon sometimes does, rather than letting natural growth happen is not so great.

    4. I have no issue whatsoever with the legitimate successes of e-books. What upsets me most about Amazon specifically is that they are blatantly misleading in much of their promotional jibberish, and others in the publishing industry just gobble it up and spit it back out without putting much constructive thought into the real numbers. I’m not saying you did that personally, and you didn’t delve too deeply into them in the post. But incomplete information is all over the place now, just like it was was when they released their initial stats vs hardcovers. They’re deceptive at best, and they deserve to be called on it rather than coddled.

    I can’t speak to the Bowker survey without reviewing the results. Who they surveyed makes a big difference, so I’d have to look into that before commenting.

    You’re welcome to think it’s passed the fad phase. I disagree. We won’t really know until a few more years go by. But in general you can’t get passed a fad phase until your sales or adoption are continually strong even without obscene marketing efforts on your part. Ereaders I say are definitely a fad. I didn’t say e-books were. If I thought that I wouldn’t release them. You don’t seem to disagree completely on ereaders, noting yourself that e-books may very well move more to tablets. With that I agree completely. One trick ponies don’t likely have staying power unless prices come down to throwaway levels… in a couple of years as we see tablet prices decrease with increased competition.

  9. Christina Garner

    It’s interesting about the self-pub ebook being the new query. I was thinking the same thing when I self-pubbed my YA novel. My thinking being that it’s so easy to download a sample, and agents can do that without any contact with me whatsoever. If they like my work they can get in touch with me. If not, in minutes they can move on to the next author.
    Thanks for being such a great source of information!

  10. David Klein

    Jane, very helpful and insightful article. I’m with a traditional agent and publisher for my first two novels, but am trying to formulate an effective strategy for publishing other fiction. Your post will help inform my decisions.

  11. Anne R. Allen

    You’ve summarized the revolution in less than 500 words! This should be used as a textbook for writing blog content.

    Plus you’ve linked to my blogpost on the e-book/query, which makes my day. 🙂 Thanks!

    I just took a long train trip, and saw Kindles everywhere. As ubiquitous as iPods/MP3s. In the early 1950s, my parents thought TVs were a fad…

  12. Stephanie

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!! Can I point out one small thing though…that I keep seeing over and over again?? Many Ebooks are not self-published. I am published through Lyrical Press, Inc, a primarily digital house. My books are available on many ebook sites including the Kindle store. But I am not self-published.

  13. Jane Friedman

    @Jennifer – I suppose it’s possible more people will buy print books initially, but in the long run, we are moving toward large spread, majority adoption of e-books. It’s just a question of how long it will take. I’m not saying print books will completely go away, but they’ll have a presence perhaps analagous to the LP in the music industry.

    While my post discusses only Amazon, they’re not the only ones focusing on a transition to e-books. Here are other strong indicators/perspectives on the topic.

    1. Barnes & Noble’s key growth area is the Nook. They are not increasing the number of print books in their stores; they are increasing gifts, games, and tech.

    2. If you want to pick on comparisons, then read Mike Shatzkin’s excellent post on the topic:

    A small snippet:
    "When PW or the AAP or even the publishers themselves talk about how the industry is doing selling ebooks in relation to print books, they are usually comparing apples to oranges. They are comparing what actual consumers bought from retailers in digital form with what retailers and wholesalers bought from publishers in print form for any period of time. So they are comparing ebooks that consumers actually bought now with print books that consumers might, or might not, buy later. The ubiquitously flawed comparison is fundamental to understanding many things. It is part of the explanation of why ebook penetration numbers appear to fall sometimes, even though it is counterintuitive that they would."

    3. The Kindle may not be long for this world (and the same might be said of all dedicated e-readers), but it doesn’t mean people will suddenly return to print. It’s more likely they will transition to another electronic device, such as a tablet.

    4. You seem to be very upset with Amazon, but Amazon is not alone in touting sales/success with e-book and e-reading devices. E.g., Barnes & Noble now declares the Nook Color "the bestselling android tablet in the US," and the second bestselling tablet of any kind. Just today, they released a new, cheap e-reading device priced at $139, for people who want a "simple, pure reading experience" (or: something like a Kindle!).

    According to today’s Publishers Lunch, a recent Bowker survey of consumers revealed: "Devices appear to be meeting consumer needs, and more than 65% of respondents reported that avid digital readers increased the number of titles purchased and the amount of money spent on books. And even though hardcover and paperback sales declined, the overall market is growing, with about 35 percent reporting they had spent more money on books across the board."

    I don’t think it’s a fad.

  14. Jennifer Mattern

    Just a side note. I left a message for Amazon’s media relations folks asking for clarification regarding 3rd party sellers being included (or not) in these stats. If they do their job and clarify, I’ll post an update here. But given the nature of the language they use in the release ("books by Amazon"), I’ll be very surprised if those book sales were actually included in the stats.

    And one more important point to add to my previous comment:

    4. New sales info also doesn’t take into account marketing changes on Amazon’s front. When you market one thing better than another, logically sales will increase for the one getting your attention. Not only has Amazon spent the bulk of their above-the-fold screen real estate on the homepage pushing the Kindle (and by association, e-books), but if you look at their general navigation you can see they’re now more heavily promoting digital products in general. Any way you cut it, the promotion of print books took a hit on that site. That’s not to say Amazon has to, or should, promote them equally. But it does skew the numbers in their favor and as usual they conveniently leave out facts that might encourage people to think beyond the hype they feed us.

  15. Jennifer Mattern

    "the decline of physical bookstores (see Borders bankruptcy) will only quicken the transition."

    Will it though? Or will it drive those buyers who want print books to buy more of them online (further skewing the usually already-skewed numbers of Amazon)? I think it’s far too early to say. We lost several Borders here. And in no way does it mean we’re simply replacing print books with e-books.

    It’s interesting to note the UK claims and how Amazon is yet again comparing e-books just to hardcovers there (something they were slammed for previously with their release of US pseudo-stats).

    And yet again their numbers boast general claims without really backing them up with numbers. And even with e-books selling more in number, that doesn’t mean much when you can’t separate actual readers from hoarders. The two markets aren’t directly comparable when you consider the full picture including the facts that:

    1. The Kindle is still in a general fad phase, and still extremely hyped up by Amazon. When you spend that much energy promoting a single product, of course it’s going to sell well. And therefore people are going to buy e-books to get their money’s worth. This would only really matter if we had industry stats showing people in general really do prefer e-books over print books overall, and not just when a reader is overly hyped and practically shoved down their throats.

    2. This is unjustly comparing markets that aren’t directly comparable. For example, a 99 cent e-book cannot be compared to a hardcover book or even many paperback books. Used books? Sure. That’s a closer comparison. Not new. On top of that we’re talking about many indie published e-books that do not have ANY other buying options, therefore letting e-books corner the market. That doesn’t in any way mean that e-book sales are more popular. They’re just the only option. While your post doesn’t imply otherwise, Amazon frequently comes across that way. It’s funny how their press release notes that numbers include print books with no e-book versions, yet they neglect to mention that many of the e-books have no print versions. Why? Because as usual, they don’t include anything that doesn’t completely back up their spin. As a former PR professional, now full-time writer I generally find myself disgusted by their releases for this exact reason.

    3. They leave out yet another very important bit of information. Many book sales that take place over Amazon.com don’t include Amazon as the actual seller. There are a lot of third party sellers on that platform for print books as opposed to e-books, selling both new and used copies. Are they included in those stats? I don’t know. But knowing Amazon’s history of twisting the facts my best guess would be "no." And that could completely change the story.

  16. tara tyler

    I was hoping for this, actually. I want an agent for their experience and expertise. I wouldnt mind epublishing, but I dont want to do it alone, there are too many things I shouldnt do alone. thanks for talking about this trend in publishing! it is encouraging.

  17. Ryan C. Christiansen

    If an agent takes on the role of publisher, is the agent really an agent anymore? Isn’t he more an editor/publisher? What about editors becoming publishers?


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