I normally dedicate Mondays to talking about the craft, but it’s my blog and here I reign supreme. Mwah ha ha ha! Oh, no pouting, we’ll talk about craft plenty more later on. I think you feel encouraged by what I have to say.
Friday’s blog got a lot of great discussion going about publishing and the sweeping changes we are seeing to the industry. Over the weekend, I watched the movie “The Social Network,” which gave me the courage to share with you my solutions for the problems publishing is facing. People are reading more now than they ever have in the history of humanity, which means there are more readers than ever before. Yay!
So, today I want to give my vision of how those in the publishing world could solve some major problems. Writers, agents, editors could work together for the bigger win. Let’s call it, The WANA Plan, because in my world, we all work as a team. We are not alone.
Yes, call me Pollyanna. You guys wouldn’t be the first.
Any proposed solutions must accept reality. The future is now. Everything is going digital. We cling to the horse and buggy, and we’ll get run over by the automobile. We need to move with change, adapt and reinvent. Those willing to work their butts off and innovate will behold a world of wonders never before imagined.
Think I am overselling? Who would have thought ten years ago that a person could have friends they talked to daily on every continent…for free? Facebook did it. So let’s embrace some of the entrepreneurial mojo and get excited.
Times Are Changing…FAST
Virtually every creative industry has gone digital. I have argued this for years. In music, the record labels were decimated by NAPSTER. Record stores are a quaint relic, and CDs are losing the battle to digital downloads. Photography has also gone digital. Kodak had to reinvent or die. Now movies are going digital. We sit in the comfort of our home and watch a movie from Netflix, or we download one from iVideo or Vudu.
Three years ago, I argued that this was the future of publishing, that eBooks would start to dominate the market in the next five years. I caught a lot of criticism. People loved paper too much. It was too expensive, too technical, etc. They told me, A decade at least!
I countered that technology had hit a critical mass and now innovation was taking off exponentially. Software developments that once took years now were happening in weeks and months. Technology was also getting far more affordable. It was going to happen faster than anyone could imagine. Books, I challenged, were next to experience this mass transformation, and faster than the mediums before.
Then the iPad launched and redeemed me. Nooks and Kindles only reinforced this idea that eBooks would be a force to be reckoned with.
Publishing will be wise to take lessons from other industries and reinvent. Be architects, not artifacts. Either we will define change or it will define us. And we don’t have the luxury of time, either. Change is no longer linear…it’s exponential.
Four years ago, I proposed that it was possible to market fiction. I posited that social media had the power to generate word of mouth and build a following for an author by building a network that could expand exponentially based on relationship. Most agents didn’t believe me. I even had big authors tell me that social media was just a time suck and that it was just better to spend that time working on the novel. Twitter was a waste of time.
You guys have no idea how hard it was to get anyone to take me seriously. I thought, for a brief time, that We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media would never see print unless I self-published.
Agents said they couldn’t sell it. In a way, I can see why. First, I was new and unproven. I will grant that. Also, my book was just a bad fit for a publisher that couldn’t get a book out right away.
My book highlighted a HUGE problem that the big publishers are working to remedy, but they aren’t there yet. As things stand, the big publishers are too slow. A social media book would be irrelevant by the time they could get it on the shelves. Also, if the technology suddenly changed, any unsold books would be as good as trash. I was writing about a hot topic, but traditional publishing was not tooled to accommodate.
The Advantage of Speed and Efficiency
Indie Publishing and self-publishing currently have a major advantage. JIT, which stands for Just in time. They are fast. They can keep pace with changing events and trends and only print as many books as are selling. Fiction authors can take advantage of reader tastes and preferences. If vampires are hot, an indie press can get a book out to market before the trend cools off, and only print what sells. Since they don’t face the same waste, they can take more risks.
Same with non-fiction. Technology books and science books are able to get to the reader while the information is still germane. POD allows for books like these to be updated regularly to keep pace with innovation. Waste is minimized.
Additionally, what if you are a soldier in Afghanistan who writes your story? Or happened to be caught in the crossfire of these riots in Egypt? If you are a decent writer and get professional editing, your book can be on the market while the topic is still sizzling. Indie press and self-publishing are great options, especially if you have a platform.
These days, people have high emotions and short memories. Hit while emotions are still piqued, and a writer could have a runaway hit. But, if your book can’t expect to hit shelves until two years after the event? Who knows? How many great books have been passed over for this very reason? The big publisher couldn’t get it to the reader while the topic was still all the rage…so they had to pass. These non-traditional publishers are filling the market gap.
Ah, but what about quality? The WANA Plan
This is where traditional publishing now holds the advantage. Ah, the dreaded deluge of awful books. But I have some solutions.
I posit that there is a new career field for authors. In the past, authors like Tom Clancy wrote book after book, success after success until they had this huge fan base that expected a new book a week from Tom Clancy (yes, I am exaggerating, but you get the point). These writers get so big that they even have other people who help them write the books. They are the “bread and butter” of the big houses.
What if these authors, instead, did what many singers in the music industry do? They start a record label. Or what many big actors do? They become producers—Clint Eastwood, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey to name a few. Why not create the literary equivalent?
As it stands, the big concern with indie and e-publishing is this perceived lack of quality. There are a lot of genuine reasons for this, but we won’t go into it today. Self-publishing is something we will talk about later.
One of the greatest advantages that traditional publishing has to offer, aside from distribution (which is also changing) is that they offer a solid, time-tested brand. They are a Nike shoe or a Prada handbag. Their name stamped on the spine offers at least the promise of a certain degree of quality.
Branding is probably the largest hurdle an indie book or a self-published book has to overcome.
But if we trust Clint Eastwood for great films and we trusted Michael Jackson for great vocal talent, then why wouldn’t we trust Sandra Brown Publishing for a great romance? Or Stephen King Publishing for a bone-chilling horror? These mega authors could, conceivably, become the new gatekeepers to ensure quality.
Mega authors can keep writing, or they can do like actors do and branch into a new area of their field. Some actors act until they drop dead from old age. Others want to learn new things, explore new areas of their craft from a different side of the production line. Also, many midlist authors have new options to broaden their reach and profit margin.
New Career Options for Authors
First, these authors could form their own indie press. Use their best-selling status to build their own label. Bob Mayer is basically doing this with Who Dares Wins Publishing. Not only did he publish all of his backlist (which were still excellent books), but he actively sought out writers he thought showed promise. I am one of them. The fact that my book hit #4 on the best-seller list on Amazon in Computers and Technology shows he might have a good eye for talent.
Do you think Bob would put any NF author up with his best-selling Novel Writer’s Toolkit? Do you think Bob is going to put any hack military thriller up with his Area 51 series that sold millions of copies? No, because he has a “label” to protect.
But a lot of writers are introverts and love to write and create and don’t want any part of that. It’s a lot of work. Ask Bob. Fair enough. I don’t blame you. Not my style, either.
What if a big author wanted to continue writing? She likes her publisher and doesn’t want to break off on her own. What now?
Author and publisher can work together to do what traditional publishing has failed to do for years…actively support new writers. Groom that next level of celebrity authors.
Big authors could become the celebrity endorsers of new talent. Say Tess Gerritsen wants to keep writing awesome thrillers, and she doesn’t want to run her own indie press. Couldn’t traditional publishing come out with new “celebrity lines” of books?
If Paris Hilton can endorse perfume? And Kim Kardashian can endorse butt-lifting shoes, then why couldn’t a big-name author endorse new books? Why can’t they have their own imprint? Or at least their own line? Why couldn’t Ballantine launch its new thrillers as the Tess Gerritsen Line? A newer author has to meet a certain watermark to carry the prestige of being in this mega-author’s designer line of books.
Agents can pitch editors the writers they feel will be a good fit for the Tess Gerritsen Suspense Series. Now this new author doesn’t have to build her reputation from scratch in the readers’ eyes. She automatically has an advantage in that she is part of an elite line of books. Fans of Tess, once they have read all of her latest books, now can feel safe to read her Tess Gerritsen Suspense Line.
Ms. Gerritsen now can earn money off not only her own work, but the works her name is endorsing. I mean, Ms. Gerritsen can only write so many books, and now she can make royalties off books she hasn’t written. Who wouldn’t dig that? She gives her star power in exchange for a percentage of the royalties of the books in her line. Now Ms. Gerritsen is vested in the future success of these new writers.
Everyone Wins with the WANA Plan
Now, the traditional publishing house has a better chance of its new authors getting recognition, and selling more copies, and building their own loyal fan base. Why? Because a celebrity endorsed them! Everyone wins. The big authors make money off their name. The publisher makes money off the big author they helped create, and the new authors get a chance to grow and thrive under the shelter of a big name until they are strong enough to strike out on their own.
Newer authors now have a far better chance of selling more copies because the existing fan base for Ms. Gerritsen now can also support the authors in her line, which makes agents all around happy. Now agents can feel like they are investing in new authors’ careers…not playing craps with their future.
Yes, Even the Indie Press Wins Under the WANA Plan
Indie presses could actively recruit successful authors to have their own lines of books. There are writers who don’t yet have mega-author Dan Brown status, but they do have a massive fan base. Say you have an author who has hit some best-seller lists, but his career is stalling in the current paradigm. He wants to write and not be bothered with all that other business stuff. He can still broaden his portfolio.
This midlist author could approach an indie he knows and respects to put up his backlist and send him royalties. But…this type of author has two additional advantages (aside from rights to his backlist). An author of this caliber has an established reputation (his name) and likely knows good books when he sees them.
Couldn’t this indie publisher make an offer to this hypothetical mid-list author? Editors at the indie press would weed through the queries, select the best manuscripts and then let the celebrity author take a look. He chooses which ones, if any, can carry his name. He gives a celebrity endorsement and, in turn, gets a royalty off what sells. Now a new author at an indie press can have an established stamp of quality….which should improve sales. Why? Because the endorsement removes the stigma and changes consumer perceptions.
I know I have thrown a lot out there. I had to get this out because, no matter what way I looked at, it is a great time to be a writer…for all concerned.
You no longer hold a monopoly. Big deal. AT&T no longer controls all things telephone, but they aren’t exactly hurting either. Reinvent, get up to pace with technology and then play to your strengths….lots of celebrities. Traditional publishing has star power. Use it! My solution makes money for the big author and supports the little guy who now will stand a chance of thriving because now he is being genuinely nurtured and groomed for success.
Indie press is going to thrive simply because of inherent advantages of speed and efficiency. Now I have posited a way to give building your own brand a boost. Approach a well-known author and see if they would be willing to lend their name for endorsement. Create a line of books bearing their name. It helps build their brand and yours and the newbie author’s. Again, everyone wins by working together.
Mega-authors, you now can do something different if you want to. Five years ago, launching your own indie would have been suicide. Now? Want to be the Clint Eastwood of publishing? It is doable. Go talk to Bob.
Mid-list authors have the same options. You guys have a name too, and your stamp matters and is what a lot of new authors need to gain some respect now that everyone can be published. We need a new benchmark for success now that the traditional barriers have fallen away. Making a “Celebrity Author Line” is a good substitute.
New authors now have more options, and all the ones I listed give new guys far more chances at actually succeeding than the traditional model ever has. Your agent might be able to get you in a celebrity line or, if you go to an indie, you might make their cut for their celebrity line. It also gives us something to aspire to…that one day we would be a big enough deal that a publisher would offer us a line of books bearing our name.
These days, consumers are inundated with choices, and they are going to cling to brands more than ever. My suggestions make it where we can help each other, and new guys and indies don’t have to start from ground zero. We all play to our strengths, and everyone can come away happy.
Now that everyone can publish, we need new watermarks of quality and new benchmarks of success. All I suggest is that we change our focus and work together.
Readers in the end will benefit because this vast sea of new books will now be manageable. Not only can Harper Collins sell lots of James Rollins books, but now they can sell his celebrity line of thrillers. Readers benefit because they feel confident that the publisher will select books that will fit their tastes (sort of like when Netflix suggests movies).
So what do you guys think? If you like the WANA Plan, pass in this link. Maybe someone will listen. My solutions might seem overly simplified, but experience has taught me that people tend to make things too complicated (*cough* social media). I believe simple is better. But what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.
And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.
Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home
#1 by Wendy Bertsch on February 7, 2011 - 2:25 pm
Your concept is brilliant! It implements the less attractive aspects of the book market today (the focus of the big publishers on ‘star appeal’) in a way that could actually benefit the entire industry.
While I prefer a more independent approach, myself, your plan might be a workable route to bigger, faster money for the mid-list author while offering a way for the publishing world to focus on star writers rather than stars that can hardly write at all!
Wendy Bertsch, Author of Once More…From the Beginning
#2 by M. McGriff on February 7, 2011 - 2:41 pm
This is an awesome idea! Traditional houses can still profit off their big names while staying in touch with the people closest to the audience and trends – the writers. This world is fast paced these days and this model definitely lends itself to getting books that address current topics and trends out much faster and you’re right – everybody wins!
#3 by rozmorris on February 7, 2011 - 2:47 pm
Bravo. I’ve tweeted this. This is such an exciting time for writers. ebooks and POD have freed writers from the constraints of big-business publishing – we don’t have to fit in rigid genres or write books of a particular length because that’s what is economically viable.
In my own case, I wrote a short book about writing novels and was told that it was too brief for the market and would need to be padded. The point of it, though, was to get all the advice into a concise space because it simply wasn’t necessary to make the book longer than 40,000 words. This would leave the writer with more time to work on their novel, instead of reading a hefty tome! ebooks mean these considerations of materials and delivery costs are no longer a worry – and so we will have more books that are the length they need to be, no shorter, no longer.
Our other problem, as you point out, is invisibility. I think we will see more and more indie authors being brought together in curated collections, which will take over the role of publishers. Readers will learn which ‘brands’ they trust – as music buyers have learned what labels they trust. Hopefully that will allow authors to be more daring and experimental, if they want to be.
#4 by Gigi Salem on February 7, 2011 - 3:05 pm
Definitely food for thought as I re-evaluate my place in the universe, thank you.
#5 by M.E. Anders on February 7, 2011 - 3:32 pm
Kristen – these revolutionary ideas could transform publishing, writing, and authoring for the best. Do not be surprised if the Big Houses notice this post. Though they are often slow to respond, they might begin implementation sooner rather than later.
M.E. Ander’s latest post…Exercise, the Fountain of Youth? http://wp.me/p1gAw0-4N
#6 by dtrasler on February 7, 2011 - 3:49 pm
Oh No! Kristen makes more sense! I love books, the physical things, but as a nomad I’ve had to let many go. I love the idea of a Kindle or Nook, though to be fair a multi-use tablet would be better…. More things I want but don’t NEED…. Your view of the future is rosier than most connected to the book industry, who see the record company analogy from the wrong side : This is our livelihood being sabotaged! Our ship is sinking! Quick! Don’t run to the lifeboats, start bailing with this sieve!
Thanks for this post, Kristen, I’m Facebooking it for those unbelievers out there.
#7 by countrymarketcooking on February 7, 2011 - 4:53 pm
Kristen, as an agent I’ve been immersed in digital publishing and the fracturing of the old paradigms for nearly two years now. Must be my 20-year background in high tech prior to becoming an agent. You make some great common sense suggestions here and I found a lot to like about your ideas. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep exploring new ways to break boundaries!
Laurie McLean, Larsen Pomada Literary Agents
#8 by jasonamyers on February 7, 2011 - 4:54 pm
as usual Kristen has juicy stuff.
#9 by john Milner on February 7, 2011 - 4:54 pm
We’ve actually stand on mutually common ground.
The industry has been too busy rearranging the deck furniture while the ship sinks. It is time for innovative thinkers to exercise concepts outside the box. It’s time we stop relying on the tail to wag the dog, and disregard the cookie cutting mentality.
Good stuff Kristen Lamb.
#10 by nrhatch on February 7, 2011 - 4:59 pm
Times they are a-changing.
There is a difference between movie viewing, music listening, picture taking, and reading books though.
With movies, once the movie is in . . . we WATCH it on a screen. So moving from tapes to digital is a no brainer. Better resolution, better movie watching experience.
Music is the same . . . we LISTEN to music. So moving from records to tapes to CD’s to downloads is a no brainer.
Same with digital photos. We still TAKE photos in the same way, but we no longer need to have film developed, and can still print them out if we want to share them in paper format.
Books are different.
Many readers want to curl up under a tree outside and turn pages. Others want to lie in bed on a rainy day and curl up with a good book. Despite the advances in technology, I expect that print publications will be around for many moons to come.
#11 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 7, 2011 - 5:02 pm
Yes, but my solution works for paper books too. Now people who love a favorite mega author, mid-list author or even an established indie author can now make more confident selections for paper or POD. I personally like paper for NF because I write in my books. But if Christopher Vogler was givien a line of writing books–The Vogler Selection–I would trust the instruction to be in line with Vogler. Make sense?
#12 by nrhatch on February 7, 2011 - 5:29 pm
I wasn’t really commenting on the totality of your plan. I just wanted to comment on your statement at the outset:
“Any proposed solutions must accept reality. The future is now. Everything is going digital. We cling to the horse and buggy, and we’ll get run over by the automobile. We need to move with change, adapt and reinvent. Those willing to work their butts off and innovate will behold a world of wonders never before imagined.”
You said, “everything is going digital.” I wanted to counter that by saying that books are different than films, music, and photos.
That’s said, I don’t know that it is true that we can trust Celebrity Endorsements with books any more than we can trust them with anything else.
Celebrities have Big Egos.
They want their names in the limelight.
They want more money, more attention, and more name recognition.
Last night, Michael Douglas compared the value of this year’s SuperBowl with the contributions made by JFK, MLK Jr., the astronauts, and the firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11. Give me a break. It’s a game. It’s not life or death, or courage of the kind displayed by great men during great moments.
Why did he do it?
Did he really believe what he was saying?
Should we trust his opinion?
Why? To make money and get publicity.
Did he believe his own BS? I doubt it. He’s egotistical, not delusional. Should we trust him? No.
So, will your plan work? Time will tell. But I think that as consumers we need to start being the gatekeepers to our own minds.
We need to stop watching the crap that Network Execs decide we should be watching and decide for ourselves how to spend our limited time on this awesome planet.
#13 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 7, 2011 - 5:48 pm
I agree paper will still be here, but I think it will go to POD (which is technically a digitized publishing). I do feel that everything will go digital and paper will go to the POD format. It has to. The current model is too wasteful. Also, we have entire generations who read everything on phones, iPads and PDAs. Publishing will have to look at those children as the future of the industry. Sort of like radio and television. Our grandparents and parents relied on radio for much of their entertainment. Then our generation relied on TV. This new generation is relying on computers and PDAs. Is radio still around? Yes. But it isn’t king like it use to be. We still want entertainment, but we have to appreciate the changing medium.
I dunno. I agree that celebrities have egos and we shouldn’t be mindless guppies. But, I also think big authors are still writers at heart and I can’t see them endorsing bad books. Maybe I’m an optimist :D. I believe these big authors still write for the love of the written word and for stories. Paris Hilton is a…what is she anyway? LOL
#14 by CMSmith on May 24, 2011 - 11:33 pm
I’m feeling the same about celebrities. Why should the people who are great actors or football players rule the literary world? I already think things are way out of balance with the attention they get.
It’s really a bad commentary on society. If I excelled at tennis, I could get my book published in a heartbeat. Are the celebrities’ stories really the best and only good stories out there?
I’m frustrated by this. If you can’t tell.
#15 by CMSmith on May 24, 2011 - 11:36 pm
That said, I appreciate your thoughtful ideas on this challenging topic. I was hoping you were going to address the quality issue and come up with an Indie editing board or some kind of stamp of approval. “This book has been approved for consumption.”
#16 by Author Kristen Lamb on May 25, 2011 - 12:12 am
Yes, but reality is still reality whether we agree with it or not. And I happen to love books by Tess Gerritsen. If I read her latest and wanted something similar, I think I would gravitate to a line bearing her name. Unlike a pair of $200 sneakers or a $120 bottle of perfume, books are less cost-prohibitive so there is no reason I can’t support writers I know and still trust brands for new authors. It would help new authors have a better chance of thriving. And, in fairness, to the average reader, a stamp of approval from an indie editing board would mean nothing. That’s marketing to writers, not readers. Readers, however, would have a favorite author and want to know what books are similar.
#17 by louise on February 7, 2011 - 5:19 pm
Such an interesting idea! And why couldn’t/shouldn’t it work? I’m all for the WANA plan, new writers need every bit of help to climb up through the glass ceiling/slush pile, and agents and publishers are too financially squeezed to risk new authors to want to help. Established authors should feel abliged to help! (But as a struggling writer, I guess I would say that.)
#18 by Christauna on February 7, 2011 - 5:20 pm
Thank You so much for this article. In the past few days I’ve been looking into POD with much fear in my heart. I now hope for a better publishing future. Cheers to the future! 🙂
#19 by Yami on February 7, 2011 - 6:07 pm
So I see this endorsement thing sort of working like the Oprah Book Club books – some kind of label on the cover that shouts out: this book has so-and-so’s stamp of approval. Is that sort of what you have in mind?
It’s a very interesting idea, with some great potential. I guess my only problem is that I actually get rather annoyed with all these celebrities and producers putting their name on everything. Taylor Swift’s line of clothing that she never so much as TOUCHED – her manager just said one day, ‘hey, this clothing designer wants to use your name, is that okay?’ Or when District 9 came out and all the posters and previews screamed: ‘Peter Jackson presents!’ when Peter Jackson just shelled out the money, and slapped his name on someone else’s hard work. I completely understand how this can be useful for someone new trying to get their work out there, but even now I don’t think most people could name Neil Blomkamp as the writer/director of District 9, and I guarantee no consumer has any idea who ACTUALLY designs and makes Taylor Swift’s clothing line. Despite how useful it can be, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But maybe that’s just me…
#20 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 7, 2011 - 6:45 pm
Yes, but I think authors would be different because 1) love of the written word and the craft and 2) if they are still putting out books, they don’t want to endorse anything that can ruin an image they have worked to protect. It would at least narrow the field of choices :D.
And Taylor Swift is a singer, not a clothing designer. Trust me, the Versace fashion empire doesn’t just let any hack fashion designer work for their label. In fashion, this is how designers grow to get big enough to have their own line. They work under a major label and then eventually launch their own line.
#21 by Piper Bayard on February 7, 2011 - 6:18 pm
It’s official, Kristen. You are freakin’ brilliant! This ties together the positives from all different elements of the publishing world. It’s visionary talent like yours that is desperately needed in an industry that seems to have a lot of people willing to go down with the ship rather than change how they set their sails. All the best.
#22 by Marilag Lubag on February 7, 2011 - 6:55 pm
Agreed. I love your plan. It’s what normal celebs do, right? I mean, Hunger Games had the endorsement of a lot of the big name authors and people bought it. Oprah endorses books, too and they become bestsellers.
Harlequin does this by having their lines. Other publishing houses need to catch up. Otherwise, the ship would sink them down.
The way I see it, changes brings a lot of uncertainty. Yes, they bring threats but we should focus more on the opportunity. After all, threats/problems/etc. can be opportunities in disguise (they could lead to innovation).
#23 by Amy D Shojai, CABC on February 7, 2011 - 7:14 pm
Five Paws Up! This post is a keeper…keep ’em coming.
#24 by theaatkinson on February 7, 2011 - 8:33 pm
I love the WANA plan. It’s brilliant. almost like endorsements.
#25 by zunger on February 7, 2011 - 8:43 pm
I’m with you on this. Let me add one note to the question of “how will we deal with all these horrible low-quality books OH NOES,” from the perspective of the search industry.*
It’s not a big deal.
Seriously, there is a clear financial incentive for companies like Google, Amazon and Apple to solve the problem of making online browsing and finding of books that you’ll like as effectively as possible. And it’s not a technically intractable problem; if anything, I’d say that it’s potentially even easier than the web search problem, since books tend to be better-formed documents than web pages are, and good ones present clearer signals of their basic quality than web pages do. I would expect that browsing as good as bookstores, or even better, will be solved in the next year or two, and search over a slightly longer window.
Yes, there will be plenty of crap out there. But there will also be plenty of ways to not only find good books, but find the books which you in particular (as a reader) would like, even if those books are liked by a small enough number of people that they would never justify a traditional print run. Which leads to more net book sales total, and a healthier industry for writers** and readers alike.
* This is actually my day job; I’m an engineer at Google, and former head of the ultra-high-capacity search group. But [important note!] this comment is my personal opinion, not that of my employer.
** And editors, art directors, copy editors, and so on…
#26 by Wendy Bertsch on February 7, 2011 - 9:27 pm
I agree with Zunger . . . the techies will come up with clever methods to utilize the data we’re pumping into the ether to connect readers with the books they want to find. And the dreck will be left by the wayside.
It will all work out folks. Have faith!
#27 by K.B. Owen on February 7, 2011 - 9:36 pm
Okay, let’s grab our pitchforks and torches and go storm the castle! I love these ideas, Kristen. You’ve tackled the biggest obstacle – credibility – and turned it into another viable branch of the business. I think it really has a shot at working.
The one difficulty I see is how epublishing will coexist with paper publishing. I know very little about how POD works, but there are people out there who still cling to paperbacks. Sometimes it’s by choice, and other times its because they don’t own computers or are intimidated by using them for anything other than e-mail. Sometimes I wonder if my own genre – historical fiction – is a little held back by that. I see a lot of my audience as older folks who just want to go to a bookstore, handle the paperback, read through the first few pages and the back cover, and then plunk down their money.
Coexistence of this sort has always been hard: when the horseless carriage first came out in England, there were local ordinances that required the driver to have a person hold up a red flag and walk two hundred yards ahead of the vehicle when it went through a town. Kind of defeats the purpose, wouldn’t you say? But most of the problems go the other way, like phasing out 8-tracks and cassettes (remember those? LOL). So what do we do about those sort of folks? I have a sneaking suspicion that they would be a large chunk of my audience.
#28 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 7, 2011 - 9:53 pm
POD will fix this problem. Paperbacks will always be around and they need to be. I prefer paperback for NF. I am bad about writing in my books. What Print on Demand does is it prints copies as they are ordered. For now, a publisher can order so much of a book. No more are printed until the next order. So my book is social media. We know that is going to need updating. But, if we are only ordering a couple hundred printed at a time, we aren’t stuck with a truckload of books that no one can sell. This minimizes waste, which is currently a HUGE problem in traditional publishing. It makes them hesitant to take risks on new authors because they don’t want to be stuck with a truckload of books they can’t sell. And who can blame them?
My proposal actually increases the odds that their newer authors would be able to sell out their print runs, because now they can have a celebrity endorsement to aid in sales.
The WANA vision of the future is that brick and mortar bookstores will have digital “shelves” and we will browse aisles of icons. Look at the covers, touch, read the first few pages and if we want it we can download or we can get a POD that will be ready by the time we finish our Starbucks latte. We pick up our freshly printed book at the counter where we pay. Obviously the technology isn’t there to do this today, but in 5 years? I think it could work. Everyone is happy. Download if you want an e-book, but if you want a POD then we can print you what you like while you browse the cutesy bookmarks and aisles of paper books (because it would be safe to assume that the publishers would still just ship paper copies of the best-seller mega authors). Now you have the paper aisles of the mega authors and best-sellers and the rest of us could be on the digital aisles.
This would actually be in a new author’s favor in that the customer gets a chance to see your book’s cover, instead of the current placement of spine out. But that’s just my sci-fi version of the future and everyone has what they want to read :D.
#29 by nrhatch on February 7, 2011 - 9:58 pm
I like that idea. Order POD while drinking your latte. 🙂
#30 by K.B. Owen on February 7, 2011 - 10:17 pm
That would be SO cool. Gives a whole new twist on “hot off the presses,” too!
#31 by Gene Lempp on February 7, 2011 - 9:42 pm
Wow! I really think you have hit on a powerful concept Kristen! Your posts are always excellent but this one tops them all for shear brilliance. It seems that the writing world has been blind to the powerful marketing ideas all around them: celebrity marketing, brand recognition, internal advancement (from new to recognized to branded to producer or endorser). I’m so glad I found your blog a few months ago, keep up the excellent work. What a mind you have!
#32 by Wendy Bertsch on February 7, 2011 - 9:58 pm
That sounds cozy enough for anyone! How soon will there be one near me??
#33 by K.B. Owen on February 7, 2011 - 10:18 pm
Hey, let’s all pool our funds and chip in for one ;D
#34 by Thaddeus Dombrowski on February 7, 2011 - 11:01 pm
I can see you’ve been brainstorming.
#35 by educlaytion on February 7, 2011 - 11:05 pm
Go on girl. You’re getting me all fired up. You just kept digging in further and bringing it harder in this post. In fact, this post was kind of like going to blog church with a fiery preacher bringin the goods. I think at one point I ever heard my dog bark “Amen!”
I love this line: “We cling to the horse and buggy, and we’ll get run over by the automobile.”
So much truth in here. Thanks for the message.
#36 by Training4now on February 8, 2011 - 12:48 am
I don’t why but I found myslef disagreeing with this post (Though I have nothing published so I shouldn’t be thinking that way) However I was thinking about that publishing line. Wouldn’t it be easier if an author just put a review on a new book?
#37 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 8, 2011 - 1:22 am
They do now. It’s called a “blurb” but that isn’t searchable. A distinctive line would be and would help guide the reader to quality material that had meda a certain standard. NY Timse Best Selling Author Bob Mayer wrote my foreward, but no one knows that unless they open the book. What is I was part of the Bob Mayer Elite NF Line? Easier to see and looks impressive enough to get a second glance. The biggest complaint is that poor readers are left to try and sort through the deluge of crap now that everyone can be published. Also a lot of indie authors have to work extra hard to gain some credibility. This solves that problem. But, hey, thanks for commenting. I love the debate. I hope someone listens and can use part or even the whole idea, but the debate is still wicked fun :D.
#38 by jesswords10 on February 8, 2011 - 4:47 am
I love the line “Be architects. Not artifacts.” Very sound argument. I’m going to reread this and mark it as a great topic for discussion with my misfit book discussion/writer’s group. Thank you for shedding some light on our quickly changing industry. I really wish I was still in school and learning more on hand about this. I feel really out of touch and I think much of it was due to my own resistance. I was a Paperback Forever person, but I see the value in both and now the marketability too. Thank you!
#39 by Jennifer McFadden on February 8, 2011 - 3:24 pm
I agree with your plan, it would be a win-win for everyone. I thought about the fact that mega-authors write blurbs on an author’s new book, but unless the reader finds the book, how would they know that the mega-author read and liked it?
#40 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 8, 2011 - 3:26 pm
YES! That is my point. By giving a designer line or an imprint, it renders that blurb a searchable factor. If the author likes the book enough to give a blurb, what is so drastic about putting that book in a line? It makes life easier on the writer and tethers the new writer’s brand to the established author. Blurbs already do this, but the WANA Plan just takes it the next logical step and redefines brand to help all concerned. Thanks for the comment. I am glad you agree :D.
#41 by Cathy Yardley on February 8, 2011 - 10:37 pm
I think that teaming up is an excellent idea. Established authors helping new authors build their brands is something that should definitely happen. However, I don’t necessarily agree with this post.
If I’m understanding this right, you’re suggesting that bigger named, “established” brand authors should start imprints. There are two ways they could do this: become publishers themselves, or hook up with an established publisher and allow their brand to be licensed… sort of a “brand approval” stamp on newer authors.
If they become publishers themselves, this totally makes sense.
If they allow traditional publishers to do this… well, how does the money shake out? Is a newer author going to sacrifice royalty, giving a cut to the newer author for the brand recognition? That might be worthwhile, especially if you’re having trouble gaining traction, but how long would you pay that? For a first book? For as long as the imprint publishes your work? Is there an option clause?
Further, you’d want to ensure that, as an established author, you were only endorsing books you believed in… or else your readers would suddenly start feeling burned, which would probably reflect on your book sales. So it’s sort of like the way the traditional system is set up now: you’d still be submitting your book for approval and hopeful publication.
Right now, I think that we’re seeing a lot of grassroots indie published people are building names through true use of social media and networking: they’re becoming friends with readers, they’re connecting with like minded booklovers. And they’re succeeding even without big-name blurbs.
This is just my opinion, but I think that grassroots connection, done systematically and with a true interest in tribe building, is more the way to go.
#42 by Author Kristen Lamb on February 9, 2011 - 1:18 am
The lawyers would have to work out the details. I wanted a plan that helped all types of publishers…including traditional publishing. I know indie is popular and self-publishing is getting some better authors and improving its tarnished reputation. I also grant that they will make up a growing share of the market. But traditional publishing is still a force, and if it can use its assets (star power) it can remain in the game and still be a force. I am for all kinds of publishing.
Why wouldn’t star authors trust the judgement of seasoned agents that such-and-such book would be good for their line? I would trust if Donald Maass or Kristin Nelson said something was good. I think there is far less risk to the brand than people believe. I actually think the mega-authors hurt their brand more by trying to churn out book after book after book they don’t, themselves write. What if they could keep that 1-2 book a year pace? Wouldn’t we get better quality? Now the publisher can still make money off this author’s brand (and the author makes money, too) but now they are using that name to groom and build new authors instead of just throwing us against the wall like spaghetti noodles to see what sticks.
A seasoned author would be particular about who made the mark to bear their label. This isn’t like some singer pushing fashion. An author is in her field and knows what is good and what should bear their label.
As for everyone else (and to an extent trad pub), grassroots is the way to go. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment :D.
#43 by Maureen Crisp on February 9, 2011 - 7:17 am
i have been mulling over the ‘filter’ problem for ebooks for a while. How do you know that the book is worth downloading/buying? Who will be the reputable reviewers who can wade through the thousands of ebooks uploaded every day?
Your idea has merit and I see it as helping to filter books so that readers can find what they want. I have been watching the moves Bob has been making and commenting about them in my blog to writers in my country, because I think he is onto something. Publishing is changing so fast authors must keep an eye open on what is happening…sometimes I think we are ahead of the publishers in thinking of the wider possibilities. i will link to this on my blog. We have a National Children’s Literature Conference coming up and I would love to hear what my peers think of this idea….
#44 by Jami Gold on February 9, 2011 - 11:48 pm
I think this is brilliant. And as others have mentioned, while I was reading your article, I found myself thinking that this is the step beyond cover blurbs. But as you replied to others, those aren’t searchable. There’s no database beyond Amazon’s “if you liked A, you might like “B” suggestions. This is merely taking it to the next level. Great ideas!
I think you’re right that we can reach a lot of this within 5 years, from the imprints to the point-of-sale print-on-demand options. *looks around for my shades from that bright future*
#45 by Jenny Hansen on February 10, 2011 - 5:46 am
This is a tremendous post, Kristen. I’ve been hearing rumblings for a while but not a FABULOUS PLAN like you’ve laid it out. I have an author friend that I am going to send to you as I immediately thought of her when you spoke of author mentors.
Thank you for taking the time to get this all down into the blogosphere. I’m reading Warrior Writer right now so this was a great time for me to read this!
#46 by Robin Sullivan on March 13, 2011 - 11:47 am
Great post. It seems like there is so much “us” vs “them” in the “traditional” vs “self-publshed” world that its nice to see someone who belives in coming together to solve a problem that effects us all.
I think the biggest thing that traditional publishers have to change is the 25%/75% ebook distribution. Considering the incremental costs of ebooks is minimal (only formatting – book cover and editing have already been absorbed by print) there is no reason for the distribution to be so inequitable.
For the first time there are a lot of authors who can make more with 100% of their digital books then they can with the small %’s of their traditional books and this will lead to an exodus of authors that will turn the tables on the industry (publishers waiting for the “acceptance” of writers).
In any case – a very good post – thanks for writing it.
Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan’s Writings