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Tough Times for Book Publishing

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by swenk, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. swenk

    swenk Member

    This was mentioned on the Author's Thread, but thought it was worth carrying over here.

    Last week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--one of the big guys--announced it would no longer be acquiring new titles. Others are quietly doing the same, just not announcing it publicly in case something great comes along.

    Today, two icons of publishing--Steve Rubin and Irwyn Applebaum--were ousted in the complete restructuring of the Random House group. The RH group includes Random, Crown, Doubleday, Bantam, Broadway, Dell, Knopf, and a zillion imprints of each of those, all of which claim to bid aggressively against each other for titles, but hahahaha to that. Pockets of the same suit.

    Why does any of this matter here? Maybe it doesn't, but in these tough newspaper times, we're seeing a lot of writers looking toward books as a possible source of income.

    If you're one of those exploring the possibility of a book deal, please, please, don't take shortcuts when you're working on your proposal, and listen to your agent and/or editor when they tell you what you need to do. It's not a great time to be shopping book proposals; editors are clinging to their jobs, and no one is overpaying for anything right now. Now more than ever, publishers want well-written books with substantial and clearly-defined audiences; they really need to justify the investment we're asking them to make.

    Good luck to everyone with a book proposal out there now, and anyone considering it.
  2. swenk

    swenk Member

    And while I was typing that, Simon & Schuster eliminated 35 jobs.
  3. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    So how, pray tell, are these guys going to make money without any new product to push?

    That's stupid on a scale even newspapers haven't tried yet.
  4. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    Not defending the ostrich-like maneuver in any way. But I suppose they can just keep filling the pipeline with Hemingway and Steinbeck and Grisham and King and Sedaris and those folks, counting on the people who haven't yet read them to keep the money coming in.

    Newspapers can't exactly sell stuff it published a while back. Except for the occasional reprints of editions from the first Wednesdays in November.
  5. swenk

    swenk Member

    I think you answered the question with the third word of your post.

    Book publishing is Vegas with better grammar. Even in good times, publishers acknowledge that the majority of books will lose money, but the few big winners will cover the losses and make the profit for the company. Strange business model, but that's how it works; no one ever really knows what's going to sell, or what size advance will earn out.

    So in hard times, they reason, why not just publish the sure thing? Brand name authors, built-in publicity vehicles, books that need no explanation. Why throw money at risky projects that could dunk you further into the red? Cut back for a season or two, sell what you've already acquired, sell the backlist. Pay lower advances for the books you DO acquire.

    Like fielding a team with only starters, no bench. Of course, if one of those starters fails, you're in big trouble.

    But the true scandal in publishing now is the crisis over the numerous houses that have ordered their editors to cut back on the daily agent lunches. A good agent can eat lunch in the best NY restaurants three times a day, five days a week, and never once pick up a check. Honestly, I don't want more lunch, I want more money for my clients. What a waste of already-limited resources

    I didn't bring this up to scare anyone away; there will still be books. But for now there may be fewer books, and if you want yours to be one of them, you really have to show why it's worth the risk.
  6. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    "Vegas with better grammar". Fabulous.

    I always compare publishing to baseball. If you bat .300, you're successful.

    And I'll echo Swenk's comments about your proposal. As our successfully published F0F will tell you, it's the single most important thing you'll write if you want to get published. Some authors will tell you, the most difficult.

    You have to an EXACT idea of what your book is about because 99 times out of a 100, you have one kick at the can.

    If there's a hole in your proposal, publishers will find it.

    It's like auditioning for theatre. If you're ill prepared, you're doomed.
  7. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Oh, what the hell do you know about publishing and/or auditioning? It's not like you've ever dated anyone who has performed on stage. Jesus. :D

    (just trying to lighten the mood)
  8. clutchcargo

    clutchcargo Active Member

    Thomas Nelson eliminated 55 more jobs yesterday, six months after knocking out about 60, including a friend. They publish more than Christian titles, also some sports, as I have edited several for them.

    For what it's worth about proposals, I"ve had about 15 books published with likes of Triumph and am now shopping another proposal with a different twist on Notre Dame football. I've also been an acquisitions editor at a mid-major publisher and can tell you, I"ve spent every night the last two months polishing and tweaking my proposal to get it just right. But I still know the odds are against me.
  9. Smasher_Sloan

    Smasher_Sloan Active Member

    So I guess this means fewer six-figure advances for unknown authors?
  10. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    After that, do they even have people to cut anymore?
  11. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Probably fewer six-figure advances for known authors.
  12. As someone who just landed a book deal, here's some advice:

    1. Get an agent. The best way to do this is to name-drop somebody you know already working for that agent, or have them name-drop you.

    2. Have a definite idea with a definite audience that will definitely sell. This is no time to be selling the book idea about the spunky high school girls basketball team you covered that you know would make a great book (and it probably would) if someone would just give it a chance. No one gives a shit. How are you going to sell it?

    3. Be prepared to put more work into your proposal than you have into anything you've ever written for any newspaper or magazine. Mine was 20,000 words long and went through several rewrites for several months until it ever touched a publisher's desk. You will be doing this, by the way, with no guarantee you will ever be paid a dime for your efforts.

    4. Listen to your agent. Listen to an editor if he has suggestions that might be deal breakers. This is no time to play the indignant, stubborn artist.

    PM me if you have any other questions.
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