Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's The End of Publishing As We Know It: Do You Feel Fine?

Last month, Publishers Weekly published an "end of the publishing industry as we know it" article that was very different than most of the other "end of the publishing industry as we know it" articles, mainly because it was really good.

As it happens it was written by former Random House CEO Peter Olson, and he addresses a somewhat familiar litany of problems: the weak standing of bookstore chains, discount stores treating books as loss leaders and slashing prices (which further erodes bookstores), the rise of Amazon, and the sinkhole of confusion that is e-book pricing.

His solution? Demand-based pricing on e-books, partnership with Amazon, and enough with the layoffs.

The article is must-read of all must-reads if you want to know the challenges facing the book industry. Olson should know. He was there, and you won't find a better summary of what the industry is facing, and particularly new authors. Olson writes:

"Despite the drive to cut costs, the market for advances for celebrity books shows few signs of abating in 2009. Publishers will likely continue to overbid for potential bestsellers, justifying their offers on marginal contribution from outdated sales projection models. This means bad news for other writers, as the willingness of publishers to invest time and money in developing new projects and of retailers to risk stockpiling unknown authors may drop precipitously."

Can publishing change? One Harvard Business Prof isn't so sure.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Anita Elberse defends the blockbuster model, citing the blockbuster effect of publishers doing everything in their power to make a book a bestseller when they've paid so much, paying a lot means agents will send their best projects, bookstores take notice when a publisher is investing in a title they believe in, and the vast array of books available creates an even stronger craving in the reading public for a shared experience. People want to read what other people are reading.

So what, dare I ask, should we make of all this?

Well, in my opinion there are two meta forces at work in book publishing at the moment. With the closing of bookstores, fewer titles being ordered by the bookstores that are left, and more people buying their books in stores where there are fewer titles available (i.e. box stores like WalMart), there is tremendous pressure on publishers to invest in the few books that can reliably sell.

At the same time, the Internet and e-books are opening up new sales avenues for authors who either catch on through word of mouth or are able to build their own buzz. As a result, you're seeing progressively more self-published and small-press books rise up through the cacophony of titles and find their readers.

In essence, it's the best of times and the worst of times. If you're an enterprising author there is a world of opportunity out there. Never before have we had a book publishing world where truly anyone could publish and potentially find their readers. Before there was a fundamental obstacle: distribution. That's going away. Anyone can publish. It's a massive, groundbreaking shift! I suspect soon there will be even more opportunities for collectives and online communities to boost sales, build brands, and become real players in publishing. Out of chaos comes order.

At the same time, when faced with such a multitude of choices, people tend to go with the familiar, and publishers are following that trend and filling that niche. The blockbuster model carries a great deal of risk, and there are drawbacks to putting so many eggs in a few baskets, but it may not be an irrational choice. And of course, this means that precious few new authors will get the backing of the publishers, making it that much harder for them to break out. But once an author is able to break out and convince a publisher to invest in them, no one can match a major publisher's combined efforts in publicity, production, and distribution.

It certainly is a brave new world. After changing so little for 75 years, the book industry is in for a wild ride.


Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

EVERYTHING is changing. Not just books but film, music, TV shows, and videogames.

Instead of fighting it, we must embrace the changes and think of new innovative ways to make it work.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nathan. The question is... how can an author take advantage of the changes that are inevitably to come?


Suzan Harden said...

The book world is a few steps behind the comics, music and television markets where fragmentation of the audience forced the big boys to change.

For crying out loud, you know the wind's blowing when Harlequin jumps into the interactive gaming market.

MzMannerz said...

What was the major change 75 years ago? Just curious - sorry if I should know.

Nathan Bransford said...


The Great Depression -- it brought us the returns model, paperback books, and more.

Dara said...

It's nice that there's the self-publishing avenue. However, my issue with the ease of self-publishing is that you generally have to have a decent amount of money invested if you want to get your book to more than just a few hundred people. And for people like me, there's no way I could put the money into that only to not get enough return or profit.

It is a time of change for the publishing industry and it'll be interesting to see what happens in another year or so.

I do wonder though--where does all this change leave an agent? I'm sure it's got to be a little nerve wracking. Then again, in this economy, many people are nervous about job stability.

Madison said...

I am the type of person that tends to not accept change easily. However, I still love this industry with all its ups and downs because nothing it perfect. What will come will and I hope the publishing indistry's future is a bright one! :D

RW said...

It seems like half the equation in this problem is something publishers have very little control over -- a decreasing market because of apparently decreasing number of readers, regardless of what the product, price or distribution model are. Publishers can find creative ways to surf the tech and distribution changes, but even if all of them do everything right, if there are not enough readers in the market . . . .

Nathan Bransford said...


Good points and questions, although the costs of entry are going to be markedly lower if we enter a primarily e-book world.

Agents are going to have to adapt. I think the tendency is to follow the publishers toward a blockbuster model of our own, but I think you'll start seeing some innovation when it comes to the way we make our living as well.

Anonymous said...

Quote from the Wall Street Journal article:

"... And do media companies sometimes pick the wrong titles to focus their attention on? Absolutely -- no one in the industry has a perfect record, and the process of picking winners remains "an informed crapshoot," as one executive put it..."

**I'd be in love with the blockbuster business model, if only I could be the next blockbuster they created! Hey, some publisher out there, take a "crapshoot" on my book!


T. Anne said...

I disagree with no one being able to match a major publishers publicity endeavors. Maybe that's true today but something tells me tomorrow will bring about a new way to create a buzz.

Rick Chesler said...

Thanks for this post, Nathan. Timely, informative, and interesting.

other lisa said...

I'm really mixed about this. Of course.

Here's the thing: I don't mind doing my bit for marketing. I'll blog, I'll tour, I'll Tweet, whatever. That said, I am not an entrepreneur. Marketing and promotion are not my natural skill-set, and I think that most writers would say the same. The exceptions are a few mega-success stories who are their own corporations, who, you know, hire people to do a lot of the actual writing (I won't name names), so it seems to me that although storytelling is certainly something these guys are very good at, they are at heart as much businesspeople as writers.

I can operate in the business world to a certain extent, but I'm not that comfortable there and I doubt that entrepreneurial activities are my greatest strength, or even close to it.

So my question is, does this brave new world actually encourage good writing? I'm not sure that it does. It encourages people who have a gift for self-promotion and networking. And while I won't say that those talents are mutually exclusive, it's more like a Venn diagram, with an overlap in the middle of people who are good at both, and a lot of folks in the larger circles who are good at one thing or the other.

IMO, a writer will still need a team, and the larger industry will still need a quality filter of some sort.

Nathan Bransford said...

t. anne-

Probably true -- there are new ways of creating buzz as well. Although publishers have the resources to produce it more consistently and with the right venues (at least in theory)

7-iron said...

I can't decide about this.

At times I think, texting and YouTube comments are killing grammar, and the world is getting seriously stupid.

Then I think, sure, everyone can publish, but not everyone is good.

But then... what's good if everyone is stupid?

Brian said...

Self publishing will play a larger role until things stabilize in the publishing world. However the big publishers are not doing themselves any favors by paying celebrities like Brittany Spears 14 million dollars for one book.

Even the publisher of Tom Clancy's books has released them in all electronic formats. Actually, that happened today.

Mary said...

Exciting times ahead!

Alessa Ellefson said...

I don't know if you're ever going to get around to reading my meager comment, but I wanted to thank you for your article. I found it very interesting and actually motivating. What this is telling me is that people need to really do their best if they want to make it in this industry.

So, how much more exciting can it get to have to give it your all? :)

Kim Stagliano said...

So true. The world is moving at warp speed. I fear the brick and mortar bookstore is going to go the way of video stores - although I hope and pray there will always be room for independents.

Are we newer writers foolish to think a mainstream house will offer us contracts?

How do you see this affecting you as an agent, Nathan. Is the quality of the queries and MS's you receive changing now that "Anyone can write!" to bend a phrase from Chef Gusteau in Ratatouille?

Ink said...

Hmmmm... I struggle with that concept from the second article which suggests that failing to get in ridiculous bidding wars will cause agents to shun a publisher and thus kill the quality of their list. I mean, there are a lot of agents with a lot of good projects. So, a publisher isn't willing to get in a ridiculous bidding war for a Tina Fey book... and somehow that means you won't send a marketable literary novel to them? Or a real keen thriller? If anything, I think the chances would be better there, since you already know what book the Tina Fey publisher is going to put their money and marketing behind. Lead title has been stamped on that book before the ink on the contract is dry.

I mean, the key to success is not the size of the advance and the subsequent risk, but rather the designation of a book as a lead title (with the marketing and publicity push that goes along with it). And that designation could be given to a book with a 100,000 dollar advance as easily as 5,000,000 dollar advance. Wouldn't agents and authors be willing to accept that for excellent projects? We'll give you a reasonable advance, but we'll push your book just as much as the Tina Fey people will push hers. Same marketing, same publicity... and maybe both earn back at the 3 million level. One publisher rakes in the money (and the author does just as well on royalties), while the second publisher just lost two million. Author is fine... until their next book comes up and the publisher ain't so thrilled with the person who cost them a couple big ones...

I don't know, it just seems like there's other ways to interpret the possibilities of that situation. Even if they're not making crazy bids at auction, the publishers will steal need great books and lead titles... and agents will know this. Right?

Admittedly, I'm under the weather today, so I might not be thinking clearly. Slap me down if so, and lay the truth out there.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Whirlochre said...

I can't see the fundamental rules changing in the relationship between voice and ear, but things do look exciting/daunting at the moment, depending on your POV.

If a greater variety of writers get heard (and consequently wanted), then good.

If fewer blockbusters are demanded (and their authors get to eat slighly fewer luxury pizzas), then, also, good.

But if we're complicit in perpetuating the end of the world, let's just dial the big alien battlestar now and get it over with.

(Interestingly, my word verification here is 'hypaymen' — an odd coincidence given other end-of-the-world scenarios)

Nathan Bransford said...


I'm getting more queries than ever, but a lot of them are actually really good lately. So it's kind of a mixed bag.


Well, as an agent you go first to the places where you think you can get the best deal. It's not like I've crossed off any publisher who did not bid on Tina Fey's book, but at the same time, I'm definitely conscious of where the bread gets buttered.

Tashai said...

Books, music, and films. All these mogul industries must change with the new technology.

Teri said...

On top of what you have described, the end of small, well-done magazines like Realms of Fantasy (which just announced this month that it was going out of publication) signals the increase in difficulties for authors to find places to grow and develop - short stories in fiction magazines being a great gateway and learning opportunity for all new authors.

Ink said...


But Publisher A can only butter so many pieces of bread, right? (eg. Tina Fey) And after that they're gonna start giving out saltines. :) At which point you'd be wise to send a good project to Publisher B. Maybe they don't put as much butter on as Publisher A, but it ain't no stale cracker, either. :)

I know, I know, I should've used sports metaphors. Hmmm... the Knicks will have the money in 2010 and the glitz and glam of the Big Apple... but they might still suck. Whereas the Kings may not have the glam, but they'll still give you a nice deal and maybe they'be stockpiled some young talent and in a couple years will be a contender...

Maybe I'm just upset that knucklehead Stephen A. Smith is saying Bosh is leaving my Raps... the world's a cruel place. :)

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Samuel said...

In the meantime, we could all do our bit by supporting first-time authors. After all, if we're hoping people will one day buy our debut offerings, then it seems a tad hypocritical to not support our fellow new authors by, say, buying one debut novel a month.

Make the pledge. I can - and do - recommend Ross Raisin's God's Own Country (though I believe it's called Out Backward in the States), and Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End.

wickerman said...

I would think traditional publishers are going to have to think outside the box to stay on top of things here.

If you look at the music industry, sales were up like 10% in the last year, but physical media (CDs) were down 20%. Digital downloads are huge. If books start to go that way, why the heck would James Patterson stay with his publishing house when he could sell the book himself - he obviously had name recognition - and keep a HUGE % of the profits?

Similarly, as mentioned above, with more houses throwing a big piece of the marketing back at the authors, why would you accept 7-15% of the retail cut when you are also doing the marketing portion of the book? YOU wrote the book, why does the publisher get a bigger cut? Because they laid out the money for printing, binding etc.. Soooooo if you - as the author - want a bigger piece, go ebook. At least you are getting paid for being your own marketing agent.

Maybe the big guys need to fully embrace POD, stop paying out stupid advances and look for better retail angles for their books. If you are publishing a non-fiction history of Harley Davidson motorcycles, try selling it at HD motorcycle shops!

The problem with a Britney Spears bestseller is that 5 years from now, chances are, no one will give a damn about her. It's a one trick pony. Sure its $$ now, but the next Stephen King is $$ for years.

With less money for breaking in new talent, a vicious circle begins.

And Nathan gets few sales.

And might have to cancel cable TV.

And misses his reality shows.

And then... well let's pray taht never happens...

other lisa said...

I like Olsen's idea of variable pricing structure for different eBooks at different places in their publishing lives though.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't think it can so neatly be boiled down to individual books. The major publishers pay the most money and offer the most distribution and promotion. That's basically what's at stake. Within that, if one publisher wants to make a book a lead title at the same time that another publisher is offering more money... well, that's a rare situation and you'd have to decide on a case by case basis.

And yeah, I'd be nervous about Bosh.

Anonymous said...

Wait, though. Nathan, if you're getting better queries now, and presumably are submitting them to editors, are you getting bites back? Are you signing authors and getting them contracts?

In all the news about the "change" that has to happen, I don't see a lot of talk about the fact that --guess what--most people still don't want to read poorly written dreck. I think we still need the process of editors and publishers to filter that. (Or did I miss something about that?)

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I'm getting bites, but it's harder to sell a book now than it ever has been, so I'm also passing on stuff I might not have a couple of years ago.

Bane of Anubis said...

If you pick up a Writer's Market it states "over 5 million copies sold." - making the very lofty assumption that one is in the top 1% (much less the top 50%) that puts the competition at 50,000 - whittle it down to 5,000 if one is targeting a narrow sect and the odds with which success can be attained in this industry become quite daunting - given the dearth of readers and the explosion of writers, this makes the task of getting published (not "self") quite depressing.

Kristan said...

Nathan, what about the "stigma" currently attached to self-publishing (mostly within the publishing industry)?

Bane of Anubis said...

Given the e-book proliferation, I'm surprised there hasn't been a venture (spearheaded by Google or Amazon) that marries books and advertisements - similar to what we've seen in the music and film industries.

Not sure if this would resuscitate the book industry in any way, but at least it would tie it to the current generational paradigm.

Ink said...


What about a salary cap? Industry wide cap on ridiculous celeb advances. :) Hey, it works for the NBA and the NFL, and we know where you're publishing knowledge all comes from...

My best,

Nathan Bransford said...


Sorry, publishing industry advances are modeled on the MLB.

Ink said...


Now that I've actually lured your attention with talk of the Sacramento Kings, I thought I'd ask a quick, and more pertinent, question. If, after an agent has requested a Full, they say they will look at anything else you write in the future does that mean A) "Hey, you're not bad, so feel free to query me in the future, or B) "You're really good, and while this project wasn't right for me in the end feel free to send a full manuscript of your next project to me if you think it's suitable." So, basically, how much is generally implied by that offer to look at future projects?

Much appreciated,
Bryan Russell

Nathan Bransford said...


Could be either one, depending on the agent. Alas, wish I could divine more.

Bane of Anubis said...

BR - I'm just wondering if Kobe's 61 was a warmup for another throwdown in Toronto :)?

That would suck if Bosh left Toronto - 1st T-Mac, then VC, and potentially Bosh joining Bron Bron in NY (w/ Amare and Steve Nash, too, j/j)... I'm wondering how long Toronto will remain in Toronto before it becomes refranchised like Vancouver.

Dan said...


How much is this talk about the publishing industry directed toward fiction as opposed to non-fiction?

Though I do read a bit of the best sellers (I like the treasure hunting type books), I primarily read non-fiction, and I feel like I'd be extremely reluctant (if at all willing) to read self-published non-fiction.

Ink said...


Thanks. As long as agents don't strike down with lightning impertinent authors who sneak in Fulls... Actually, I figured it was probably subjective, but there was a chance it might've been Secret Agent Code and the dangerous plans of the Illuminati would be revealed to me so that I might save the world with my esoteric knowledge of ancient art. It's plausible. Really.

Anyway, Go Kings! Go Raps! (Hey, if we combined their records they might actually make the playoffs...)

Thanks again,
Bryan Russell

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I agree with a previous poster who noted that we, as writers, should support new authors.

But I disagree with the example cited: "Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End."

This book WAS lead title, and because of that publisher support/media attention has become a rousing success. That author's career is quite secure as is his bank account, I'm certain.

That's the "crapshoot" the article link was talking about. How can the rest of us survive, without being a lead title? No one ever seems to have an answer to this, and what's worse, is they aren't looking for one.

Write a better book? But "better" is subjective. One cannot force themselves to be a lead title, after all. I can read books from the same publisher released in the same month -- one a lead title and one which gets released in a "sink or swim mode" and always end up liking the latter better. Don't know why.

Nathan Bransford said...


It's affecting nonfiction too, particularly things like trade reference and biographies, which are moving online. "Platform" is more important than ever to publishers.

Ink said...

Bane of Anubis,

Please do not remind me of The Night That Never Was. It did not happen. When I count to one hundred I skip the number 81. That guy on the Lakers is like the villain in Harry Potter... He Who Shall Not Be Named. (My wife's a Lakers fan. It's painful, I admit...)

We won't be refranchised though! We got a pretty crazy following, though backtracking would be frustrating. We'd still turn up, though. We like booing those sonsofbi*&%$& that left us at the altar too much. :)


Anonymous said...

My worry is that digital music was never tangible, but you lose that quality in digital books. Books are wonderfully tactile and even though I like my Sony eReader, I miss being able to flip back a few pages, flip to the back cover, feel the paper, smell the paper.

That fact might contribute to where digital book sales go. And, the Sony eReader screen is still not as good as paper (I haven't seen a Kindle).

Chris Bates said...

Publishing isn't dead. The old business model of books, bricks and mortar may be gasping for air but the young scattershot upstart business model that is staging a takeover is something to be reckoned with.

The shotgun effect of millions of people self-publishing (POD or offset print), blog promoting, online selling and self-distributing is unarguably the beginning of a revolution in the world of books.

This paradym shift may not produce better writing in the most part (you can guarantee that it won’t), but it will enable true talent to out itself with much more ease. The barriers to publishing have been reduced to a simple contract – that between author and reader. A new author need not engage an agent, publisher, distributor, designer or marketing firm … they don’t even need a query letter.

Authors will, however, need content. Good content.

Of course, this is something that agents and publishers knew all along.

Only now, authors have no excuse. The world is your reader … and they’re just one click away. If you’re work is good enough, then the market is yours.

The bullshit has been eroded in this new era to reveal, not bankruptcy and failure, but opportunity.

DebraLSchubert said...

Nathan, Could you please pass the cyanide? My arsenic-laced chai tea latte is tasting a bit bland.

Steve Fuller said...

As I have said before, I believe the new model (at least in part) will be an author's ability to build an online following, self-publish, market himself, sell a bunch of copies, and THEN get a sniff from big publishing houses.

That is why they are signing celebrities. In this economic state, they need sure things, and no first-time author is a sure thing.

We need to learn to use the new system to our advantage, not fear it.

Janet said...

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Just when I want to break into the market too. Figures.

Now, Nathan, who is going to write an article on how all this will affect agents? Publishers, bookstores, authors, they've all been mentioned. But is this going to cause a major upheaval in the life of agents too?

Bane of Anubis said...

Or... be irresponsible and impregnate yourself with 8 children... surefire way to get a book deal:

Rick Daley said...


You do us all a tremendous service, thank you for your research and insight.

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl hit the nail square on the head. Adaptability is a key to survival.

Blockbuster faced a major challenge with NetFlix, and they stepped up to the plate and adjusted their business model. Now both of those companies are competing against cable on-demand movies, and downloaded movies are gaining steam as well.

Many years ago, the CEO of Iomega (remember them?) said "The future is zip [drives]" He was wrong, and their products went the way of the floppy disk as consumers snatched up high density storage (memory sticks, CD-RW, etc.), not compression technology.

The publishing industry is now at the edge of a similar precipice, with the need to maintain the status quo and continue to leverage the established infrastructure that it built, but it also needs to find creative ways to exploit the new technologies that have the attention of the consumer masses.

Authors now have more influence than ever regarding the promotion of their works, and can be an asset to the publishers that choose to invest to them, or have reasonable success on their own. As Peter Gabriel says in one of my favorite songs, “Don’t Give Up.”

Sue said...

"how can an author take advantage of the changes that are inevitably to come?"

You start building a following now. You invest a few minutes every day in developing a blog readership who enjoys your voice and who will pay to read more. Whether you end up self-publishing, or getting published through a more traditional route, it can only benefit you.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Sure gives us new authors a lot to think on.

Now that I'm back at the hunting, I'll have to consider epublishing.

Kwana said...

Great post, Nathan. Reminds me of a saying I love, "desperation breeds creativity."

lotusgirl said...

We HAVE to learn to embrace the changes if we're going to make it. It's been a long time coming. Publishing has avoided it longer than most. I'm feeling fine. How about you?

Jaime Theler said...

Nathan, I add my thanks for the post. What about back door ways to get an agent's/publisher's attention, like the Amazon Breakout Novel Award? It feels a little American Idol, but we love our AI, right?

Mira said...

I would like to argue with the comments that people don't like to read, and that is responsible for declining book sales.

Bolderdash, I say. People love to read.

Look at the internet. People spend hours and hours on-line. And what are they doing? Reading.

I think there is a tremendous market for readership, but I think much of it is untapped. This is due, I believe, to the lack of market and consumer testing on the part of publishers.

I think the success of self-publishing on the internet isn't so much the ability of the writer to market, although that helps. What I believe is more important, is that it makes products more accessible to the right market.

The publishing industry may be changing, but I actually think that will increase readership, not lower it.

I could be wrong, of course, but that's my two cents.

As always, interesting discussion.

j h woodyatt said...

As an aspiring author with no fiction publishing credits, I'm actually beginning to be more optimistic about my chances by going through the all-electronic self-publishing path than I am about landing a print publishing deal right out of the gate.

Marjorie said...

I believe that after many rejections from agents, writers turn to self-publshing as a proactive and empowering alternative. I have seen beautiful books written by authors that they self-published.

I put my book in a blog because it was written not for the purpose of making money, but for the joy of making others laugh...

I am happy when people read my book and send me an E-mail or comment and tell me they think it is hilarious. I don't have to see it in bookstores for my own self-aggrandizement or earn one dollar from the sale of one book.

I may self-publish it at some point... but for now, I am happy it is on the internet.

It's in 74 entries at:

Nathan, everything changes. After 30 years in teaching, I was no longer permitted to seat my students in rows and a quiet classroom was considered an environment where no learning was evident. It was mandated that students sit in groups, and "productive noise" was the new buzzword. I retired.

Richard Lewis said...

Interesting to note that the Great Depression brought about the Old Model, and the New, Improved Depression is going to usher in the new, improved model.

Marilyn Peake said...

Great title for today’s blog. My answer: Yes, I feel least for today. This week, another one of my short stories won an award, and that will get me through the next round of writing. In order to hang in there for the long haul, through all the ups and downs and crazy turns in the publishing field, I decided about a year ago that it’s best to expect the unexpected, to balance writing with book promotion, to never overextend myself in regard to time or money for book promotion, and to just keep on trying to produce better and better work.

In the scant few years since dipping my toes into the waters of the publishing world (my first book published in 2003), it’s seemed like a never-ending series of tsunamis taking place there. I’ve seen book publishers and print magazines go out of business, authors walk away from their writing careers, publishers go bankrupt, publishers and writers overextending themselves and suffering from both exhaustion and health problems, and book promotion businesses springing up everywhere, charging authors time and money in exchange for hope.

But then there’s the other side of the modern topsy-turvy publishing world: the deep satisfaction of writing and having so many places to publish, and the wonderful success stories of authors who make it. One of my favorite stories is that of Sonny Whitelaw, a Stargate novelist who got her start at the same small publishing house where I’m published before getting several novels accepted by the publishing house for the Stargate novels. She now appears at Sci Fi conventions with actors from the Stargate TV series. She also has a background as a research scientist and photographer and has had photographs published in National Geographic Magazine. The books and photographs on her website are awesome!

Amie Stuart said...

Interestingly enough there was an article in the Star Telegram on Sunday about how car manufacturers are going to have to find new ways to appeal to Gen Y because traditional advertising methods don't work. It definitely made me think about publishing.

Anonymous said...

It's very interesting to see the support for self-publishing on this blog. When it was mentioned on another blog, it was stabbed, mutilated, and thrown in the fire for mutiny.

Christine said...

First of all, I am not a writer and I am barely a reader. I write non-fictions such as computer software. I have been here for a few weeks simply to be amused by Nathan’s profound philosophies in an intimidating business.

So to speak from an “outsider’s perspective, the fundamental problem is that we humans simply have too many choices to stimulate our souls, hearts and 5 (or more) sensors. The current trend of “Interactive Media” is a huge threat to many traditional forms such as books (Please don’t stone me.) Interactive entertainment and media contents such as blogs, XBOX 360/PS3/Wii along with their enormous amount of live media contents, YouTube, Facebook, BitTorrent are taking over a lot of younger generation’s limited human time. Do you know Aerosmith’s Guitar Hero game brought them more money than any albums sold?

Will books die? Certainly not. But it is inevitable that the “market share” of books will shrink tremendously when newer forms of media contents start to penetrate the mainstream, fast and furious. My guts feeling about the changes are, A) Agents such as Nathan will be more cruel on queries. B) New form of technologies will aid the new talents to become pop culture icons without going through Publishers or even printers. Meaning, the delivery method of books will change dramatically and I am not talking about eBooks.

Lupina said...

I have a friend whose publisher acquired her book and tested it as an e-book, then printed it and asked for a sequel.

My friends doing well in self-publishing are not doing POD's but making real print runs of nicely designed books. One has enough titles to get distribution, the other hand-sells at events.They make so much more per sale than they would get from standard royalties that they really ARE doing well.

I'm personally considering both options for certain future titles. The revolution is already here, sneaking in through a thousand little back doors.

Steve Fuller said...

Someone mentioned earlier that they are a writer, not an entrepreneur.

I think this is the first part of our thinking that has to change. Whether you do it yourself, or hire someone to lead your marketing campaign, authors MUST market themselves in order to survive.

In the new world of publishing, it will take more than a great book. You need a great book that you can market to the world. And regular people can do that these days because of technology.

Make room on your head, because it's time to put on that second hat.

Brion said...

Scary since the perceived notion of what can sell does not always equate to quality. With the pressure on, will the publishing industry restrict it's focus to a tired model of audience expectations? Take the effect of a feared SAG strike circa 2002, which resulted in a plethora of scripts being rushed to production. Surprisingly, the tripe Hollywood put out sold well beyond producers' expectations and the state of U.S. "cinema" hasn't been the same since. Certainly, any book must be able to sell, and the onus falls upon the author to ensure that it does, a task not so onerous to someone dedicated and capable of telling a compelling story, but one should hope that the publishers, due to the harrying times, don't latch on to a restrictive "proven" model that shows less deference to quality and innovation.

Abby Gaines said...

If you want to see your name on the cover of a book, it is indeed the best of times.

If you want to make a living - a decent living - as a writer, it is arguably the worst of times for writers (and their agents?!)

BarbS. said...

A fine summary, Mr. B!

I wonder: What were people saying about the future of books when the printing press was invented?

Had to ask...

L to the Aura said...

Great! Just when I finally get the gusto to start putting my writing out there....

Chris Bates said...

To quote Steve Fuller’s post with regards to ‘writer as entrepreneur’:

“Make room on your head, because it's time to put on that second hat.”

This is far more relevant if you wish to succeed as a self-published author.

Anonymous @ 2.59 said: “It's very interesting to see the support for self-publishing on this blog. When it was mentioned on another blog, it was stabbed, mutilated, and thrown in the fire for mutiny.”

Self publishing is hard graft. Especially when you actually print ‘properly’ ie, offset presses, large print runs.

I used to publish a 180 page magazine, distributed nationally here in Australia. My wife and I approached this venture as a self-publishing exercise/torture.

In a previous life I had been an unhappily produced TV writer of mediocre skill (with a well-known agent to boot!) as well as a talentless small-town newspaper hack! These ‘successes’ meant that I was a shoe-in for successfully publishing my own projects. Such a dick…

Paying a company to print 10,000 copies of a title is just the beginning to bleeding cash as a publisher. Once you build a relationship with a distributor and become acquainted to the infamous world of ‘returns’, you soon feel like slitting your wrists to add to the cash being bled. This is why publishers want a sure fire hit – because losing money sucks. Most publishers probably aren’t requesting agents to sluice their slushpile for ‘…the moving account of one man/woman’s journey of self-discovery through the often hillarious, yet ocassionally heart-breaking story of rearing four score and ten field mice from Minnesota’. Although I could be wrong - Marley and Me rodent style perhaps?!

The key to successful publishing probably is:
a) firstly have a good product (content is king),
b) publicity, publicity, publicity.

Yes, the publishing industry is changing. No, it is not the end of the game. Take heart that huge numbers of people still read. Just take a look at the bestseller lists over the last 12 months – print runs in the millions. This is not the sign of a dying industry. Borders, B&N etc lose cash yet Amazon gains sales. The industry is merely evolving.

Solution for authors: Sure, take interest in the business of publishing … but focus of the business of writing.

Sorry for the long rant.

BTW, good post, Nathan … it’s a hot topic.

Dara said...


Marketing often takes time and resources. What about those of us who don't have much of either?

Anonymous said...

"Agents are going to have to adapt. I think the tendency is to follow the publishers toward a blockbuster model of our own, but I think you'll start seeing some innovation when it comes to the way we make our living as well."
For quite a number of years quite a number of years ago I pursued a career in music. We had agents, yes, but we also had managers, people who took up with a band or a musician early in his or her career and did more than on-sell finished product into the great corporate miasma. I wonder if the role of the literary agent might morph, or perhaps re-morph, into a more personal one, more involved at the creative end of the equation. What agents/managers, and publishers too, do still have going for them is the idea of exclusivity, of discovering talent and becoming the spigot through which the world accesses the talent. I realize that many agents today still see themselves as nurturers, but I wonder how this conceit matches up with reality. In the old days in the music business, the larger the agency you were dealing with, the more you needed to have a manager to act as go-between between the agency and you. It could be that the new days in book publishing (in the US, at least) might look a lot like the old days in the music industry, when bands built their brands one beer-soaked bar at a time with their faithful manager there, counting the take at the door, mixing with the crowd during the gig to gauge which tunes are working and which need to be reworked or dumped, and of course running interference with angry bar owners when the PA overloads the power supply.



Richard Mabry said...

Either the sky is falling or we're on the threshold of a brave new world. What a great time to be a writer...or an agent...or a publisher.
Bottom line for writers, as I see it: write the absolute best work you can, then hope all the pieces fall into place. Changes are taking place, but there are some things we can't control.

Anonymous said...

If it is up to the author to lead their marketing campaign then I am afraid the world is going to lose out on a lot works of art. Perhaps this is the reason for the claims of inadequate writing; the focus of the author has been placed on too many other distractions. Maybe the changes in the publishing industry should go as follows: the author writes, the agent reads and finds publisher, the publisher prints. All of the hoops authors have to jump through take away from what should be the primary concern A GOOD STORY.

And to Stephen King: it doesn't really matter what you think of Stephanie Meyer's writing, her fans get her - just like your's get you.

And THAT is what is important- what the readers want (not the agents & not the publishers)in whatever form it comes in!

J. M. Strother said...

This is the part that keeps niggling at the back of my mind:

"If you're an enterprising author there is a world of opportunity out there. Never before have we had a book publishing world where truly anyone could publish and potentially find their readers. Before there was a fundamental obstacle: distribution. That's going away. Anyone can publish. It's a massive, groundbreaking shift! I suspect soon there will be even more opportunities for collectives and online communities to boost sales, build brands, and become real players in publishing."

I think if an author or group of authors did it right, they really could change the game. Until now publishers were absolutely indispensable for production and distribution.

That is not necessarily the case anymore. The Internet really does change everything. Just look at the newspaper business. Can someone break the book publishing mold? It would be hard, but never say never.

Steve Fuller said...

Dara and Anonymous @ 7:35,

Trust me, I am with you guys. I wish authors were responsible for writing great books, agents snatched up those books, and publishers marketed them like crazy.

But I just don't think we live in that world anymore. Yes, it still happens. But not often. Nathan seems like a good guy, but why would he take a chance on an unproven writer when publishers won't take chances?

What I am saying is great writers have to think differently about how to market themselves. We need have an online following. We need to post free stuff. We need to network. We need to post interesting comments on blogs like this. We need to use to our advantage. You can do that without lots of money.

How can we use Youtube? How can we get publicity? How can we build our brand?

I think Chris Bates said it well earlier. The new gatekeepers are readers. Get your message to the world, and if people like it, you'll have a career. If we are smart, we don't need publishers.

But this requires more than just the ability to write a great book. We can hate it all we want, but that doesn't make it any less true.

I'm not saying the old model is dead. I'm saying the new model is alive.

Anonymous said...


No. I do not feel fine. Thanks for asking. I am terrified. I knew it would be a horrendously small chance that I would ever see my name in print, but now I feel as if I have no chance at all. I don't have the money to self publish or the urge. So where does this leave me? Without an agent and unpublished. I hope someday I am able to get an agents attention, but for now I am just another writer with a dream that may never come true. For now all I can do is write and wait.

Newbee said...

How can an author embrace these changes?

Well look at the market. What sells? Write something that will sell to the masses. Great themes, universal ideas, all in a creative way. Something that can be popular with any age and in a niche that hasn't been tapped. Hopefully that's what will work. That's my focus...

Mira said...


Newbie, don't look at the Market to sell. Sheesh. Don't prostitute your talent. Write from your soul, your heart, your mind, your muse. Otherwise, what's the point? If you just want to make money, I think plumbers make a good living.

I imagine there will soon pop up a service for writers. People who will market you on the internet. For those writers who write well, but don't want to or can't market well.

Blog-starters. Youtube consultants. Etc.

Mira said...

No offense to any plumbers.
An honorable profession

Mira said...

oh, I bet I'm right. I wonder if I can patent that idea really fast.

Internet marketing consultants.

Maybe agents will play a role in that as well.

Chris Bates said...

The problem with being a writer is that we’re all far too introspective for our own good. We just love to be in touch with our emotions … thus Nathan’s post seems to be the harbinger of doom for many of us.

“How the hell am I supposed to foreshadow Joe’s death in Chapter 21 when the entire world of publishing has imploded midway through Chapter 13?”

The world of publishing is not imploding. And, get this … your book will find an audience, agent or publisher … with the prerequisite disclaimer: if it is good enough. People are still looking for the next ‘big thing’.

Anonymous @ 9.47 is terrified.

Don’t be. Without your little writer-ly dream there are no new books. Also, you suggest that you have ‘…a horrendously small chance that I would ever see my name in print’. Not if you write an un-put-downable story. First things first:

Number one: write the first draft of your book.

Number two: re-write it a few more times so the bloody thing reads better!

Number three: now go and worry yourself about the book biz.

Nathan, you owe me about ten double-spaced pages of undisciplined first draft - your comments board pretty much murdered my work routine today!

Anonymous said...

Sometime the need to speak up is more than the need to speak, Sometime the urge to write is more than the urge to publish,sometime the change is better than the stagnancy....Things are changing and being ever enthusiastic optimist I hope they are changing for the it publishing or writing ...Customers/Readers have become mightier than the Pen...
-Prateek said...


What might this mean for the role of agents?

(Love your blog!)

K J Gillenwater said...

If the blockbuster model includes the $100K paid to Sanjaya for a book, then I'm all for chucking the blockbuster model.

I think the big publishers need to do two things: focus on ebooks and make those ebooks more affordable than print. That would boost their sales immediately.

Penny said...

The successes in this uncertain market seem to be on the self-pub side of things. I talk to folks in this market and they are doing well, great in fact. Business has never been better. I think the beauty in indy publishing is the flexibility it offers. This is where corporate publishing could learn a thing or tow. It's much harder to change direction if you're steering a thousand pound ship. This kind of publishing climate requires creativity and flexibility, both things NY publishing lacks unfortunately. I do agree that people go back to the familiar, but only to a degree. Remember 45's? I know when the world was transitioning to tapes, then cd's, now iPods there were folks who didn't want to let go of their vintage stuff. Great, now it's worth a ton on eBay but has it hurt the emergence of these new technologies. No way. Eventually it'll find a home, just like eBooks have and will and just like other new publishing technologies will find their way to the consumer market. All it takes is time. You're right Nathan, publishing is in for the ride of its life.

Madison McGraw said...

This is a boon for independent authors everywhere. For the last 6 months, I've been building my "Madison McGraw-Girl Arsonist" brand.
The best part is, I'm finally writing for myself and being true to who I am. I launched The Arsonist Affair - Fiction Innovation Through Community Partcipation.
Sorry Nathan, but I LOVE that publishing is scrambling. It's the perfect opportunity to burn down old school publishing and blaze new trails. And who better to do that than authors who are passionate about writing, and equally as passionate about building a fan base?
For me, there's no more worrying and waiting, trying to fit into an agent or editors mold. If people like me, they will jump aboard my ship, and if not...great, I wouldn't want any smug downers weighing us down.
This is a fantastic opportunity for those who really want to succeed - and what better way than on your own terms?
Madison McGraw

Karen said...

As trite as this might sound, there's nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Everything changes. Climate changes. Governments change. Bodies change. Publising will change. It seems to me, the only problems arise when people struggle against change, attempting to keep things constant.

Rather than fighting the fear, I think it's far more exciting to consider the possibilities of catching a ride in on this wave of change.

Anonymous said...

It seems that for a new author e-publishing is the way to go, unless you are one of the lucky few the publishers want to promote. You keep all creative control, no hoops, and according to everything I have read everyone has to self promote anyways. Too bad, I love old fashion, but apparently that is out the window. I'll give trying to get an agent a go, but if it messes with my writing too much, so long. It seems the old ways are doing themselves in by making it more difficult on an author. If you have to do all of the work, what is the point?

Anonymous said...

Nathan --

Stephen King talks about other writers... some who can't write worth a damn (Stephenie Meyer) and others who are terrible but successful (James Patterson). I have to say I agree on both accounts, but as they are published and I am not, who am I to diss them? I know, we, as struggling writers need to be careful about not putting out negative things about other writers, but what about established authors doing so in a public forum? What do you think of this article?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:16,

I'm not Nathan, but I think you have a good point. No matter how much we earn as writers, no matter how little we've published, no matter how much we haven't published, we're all in this together. We all write for a reason, and we all aspire to the same good things that come from writing. And, if you want to get metaphysical about it, we're all the same writer, only functioning from different POVs.

Here's a miraculous coincidence: my word verification is gurus!

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:16am
I'm not Nathan, but every author that has fans and sells books is a good writer. Anyone who bad mouthes them in the public eye is only opening themselves for criticsm and they sound like they are being catty. There are so many types of personalities in this world, it is impossible to please all of them. I don't care for Stephen Kings writing, but I would never say he was bad at it. He said something to the effect about SM only appealing to teen girl hormones, but she also grabbed a lot of women fans and some teen boys; so she is obviously doing something right. It is not smart for anyine in the public eye to criticize something publicly, unless you are ready for the backlash; just ask the Dixie Chicks.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 7:35, this Anon 7:38 apparently we both know we are not Nathan. I saw your comment as soon as I was done typing mine.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:38,

LOL, My word verification said it all: gurus. Great minds think alike!

Anonymous said...

How do I feel? I feel like crap. Let's go into what caused this "depression". Heavy is the head that wears the crown. The freak and his moss-backed buddies that's who. He will retire to his mansion in Dallas and let his ranch in Crawford go to hell. How in the blazes do you expect a homeless person with a hungry stomach want to read a book. It's the economy(I should say stupid here) but I won't for I know the people who are reading this are not. I borrow a phrase from Frank on Everbody Loves...Suck it up Nancy...we are in for a wild ride. The pendulam will swing the other way. Perhaps the religious right will realize you don't hire a president becasue he's a good old boy who does not believe in stem cell research and believes the all powerful almighty ordained him prince of the universe. The whole earth is in chaos and it all began with Iraq. I am a firm believer that things will right themselves.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 7:16

Thanks for all the "Non" Nathans that replied. Interesting thoughts!

Anonymous said...

(Anon 7:16 again)

Also, I love this quote Anon 7:35--
"...And, if you want to get metaphysical about it, we're all the same writer, only functioning from different POVs..."

I might have to write that down, keep it when I look at books that I can't stand, and reprimand myself a little. Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

E-publishing will definitely be hard on the poor person who wants to pick up books at a second hand store to read for entertainment, the casual reader, the large families of readers who share books, and on the techilogical stupid/stubborn people. This group includes me. Oh I might add people who just love paper books.

Maybe we should all buy paper books, because they are going to be collector's items and then antiques!

Mira said...

Apropo of nothing that was a funny conversation between anonymous and anonymous. Was there a third anonymous? I lost track.

ryan field said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryan field said...

Once again, I have to agree with Steve Fuller.

Thank you, Steve, for the excellent comments. I take them seriously.

Dara said...


I lost track too. I don't know how many different people they are :P

Anonymous said...

Yep, three ANONS in the last few minutes. I think Anon 7:35 and I were sisters or sister and brother in another lifetime.

Anonymous said...

OH, maybe 5 ANONS

Anonymous said...

Awwww, thanks, 7:16!

Maybe we anons should have our own writers' blog called--what else?-- The Anonymi. We could say we're all the same writer, only the time is different. ;)

Anon 7:35

Word verification signifies what I'm supposed to be doing: workin

Anonymous said...

The Anonymi sounds like fun, and a place where people could say what they are actually thinking.

Anonymous said...


There's only one Anon 7:35: moi-meme, BarbS.

I'm having trouble signing in under my Google ID. The system tells me the function was already performed. Yeah, Right. My apologies for just leaving the Anonymous said hanging there and not signing myself.

Meanwhile, LOL, it must look like that scene in Spartacus, when all the captives are yelling, "I'm Spartacus! I'm Spartacus!"

All the Anonymi here are going, "I'm Anon! I'm Anon!"

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:16, again.(the original Anon)

I'm in. It'll be like an AA meeting... instead of, "I'm Bill and I'm an alcoholic,." We can start by saying, "I'm Anon and I write YA..."


Anonymous said...

Anon 8:33,

Heh heh, we're joined somewhere in the Great Chain of Creativity!

Anon 7:35
(BarbS, on the verge of converting from Mac to PC)

Anonymous said...

7:16 and 8:40,

Come to think of it, our "voices" might give us away!

...All right, might give ME away, now that the anon-followers probably followed my reveal.

Any ideas?

7:35 ;)

Mira said...


Dara, I'm glad I'm not the only one. :-) I'm sure people have good reasons for posting anonymously, I just thought it was funny.

Too bad Satre didn't live in the time of the internet. He could write a book (or even better, a play!) about anonymous talking to anonymous talking to anonymous.


Anonymous said...

Mira and Dara,

Just had a waking nightmare:

Forgot which Anonymous I was. Am.

Guess we sound like a Marx Brothers production of The Stranger. (Darn, but I'd love to know the IDs of my fellow Anonymi!)

Anon 7:35 (BarbS),who really explained it all above! ;)

Wordverificaion: preedle.

Kelly H-Y said...

Fantastic post ... wonderful perspective! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am the anonymous who said: How do I feel? I feel like crap. Every site I go to asks for a different password so consequently I had to choose anonymous. I hate to think that in the future we might look back and say "those were the good old days". user name starduster. Password: always incorrect.

Erika Robuck said...

I'm an enterprising first time author, and I've decided to self-publish to try to prove myself to an agent or traditional publisher. I've had so many requests from local book clubs, college professors, friends, mother's groups, etc. for my book that I just couldn't keep saying "It's not ready." My book, Receive Me Falling, will be out by the end of the month, I'll hit the pavement to try to generate some good sales, and then use that to query agents. I've got a good feeling. Check out my gorgeous cover:

This could be the future of publishing. The process could be a bit different, but we'll still need agents like you, Nathan, to peddle us to the publishers.

Zoe Winters said...

I chose to self publish. I just don't need the stress of trying to get into the hallowed gates of NY right now. I didn't need it to begin with, but now with the economy like it is, I definitely don't need it.

I don't think I could manage that stress very well and even if I got a contract I don't think I'd be a very happy person with the constant pressure to perform or lose my contract.

I know up front, I have to have other money streams besides just fiction, so I'm trying to build a business that fits me and lets me do other things AND write and publish my fiction.

Plus I see so much potential opportunity here right now for indie authors, that I would never forgive myself if I didn't ride this wave to see what I could do. Because I think I can do something with it and find my audience.

It has been interesting to see the tide of popular opinion slowly starting to shift in favor of indie authorship with less "you must not be good enough" derision.

I expect that tide of popular opinion to keep on turning. To me, this is the author version of what musicians did when they first started getting serious about being indie. And I'm very excited about it.

Heidi said...

Ugh. I'm going to take an anti-depressant and try desperately to not slit my wrists.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Thanks for the information. We live in interesting times.

Newbee said...


LOL! Don't prostitute my talent? That doesn't mean I'm writing something I don't like. In fact...I love it! I am coming from a background "as a reader". Not so much a writer...So, I hope to fill the void that us "readers" want.

I worked retail sales managment in large companies for years. I am looking at the numbers, the genre, and what I love about stories. I like popular stories. So, that's the kind of story and book I'm writing.

You gotta love these people who are all about the craft. The problem is...everyday readers look at so much more than that.

Mira said...

Newbee -

my comment wasn't about the craft of writing. If writing mass market stories is your soul, right on! I'd say you're lucky, actually.

I was talking more about integrity - writing from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

But if my comment doesn't match for you, that's cool.

Newbee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Newbee said...


No worries. I got it... I understand what you are saying. I'm not the typical writer in my opinion. I feel like this came looking for me in many ways. I didn't come looking for it.

Heather said...

[...]Agents are watching and waiting to see what happens with the ebook market. Last year, I remember reading a comment by Nathan Bransford that agents don’t consider ebooks a significant publishing credential, yet every other day now it seems he posts items related to the ebook market. Check out this quote:[...]

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