Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Publishers Are Not To The Reasons For Low Sales

I hear a lot of authors complaining about the availability of their books to the consumer. They scream that their publisher is telling them their sales are not that strong, and yet, their books are not out there for people to buy. Harlequin Historicals, for example, made a decision to reduce their North American print influence. The books are available, but either through purchase on online avenues such as Amazon, or their DTC (Direct to Consumer) programs. Still, the availability is not as strong and authors blame the publisher,

But what we have to remember is that publishers are not just sitting around in a boardroom and saying, "I have an idea, let's just cut a line for the heck of it" or "I know, let's just not sell our product there." They make these decisions based on sales figures and what the consumers were doing.

Yesterday I spoke of publishers cutting authors and the reasons behind it. Many of these decisions are based on sales figures. If the sales are not there and the publisher is not making the money, then the publisher cannot pay the author. It is an issue of supply and demand.

When the recession hit, we saw a decline in brick and mortar bookstores. Many blamed it on bad marketing. Many blamed it on business models. One of the biggest realities, however, was the issue of the consumer. Buying books is a luxury and people had to make decisions. The days of hitting the bookstore and dumping $100+ on books was replaced with groceries and the essentials. This is something archaeologists and historians know. We know how well a culture worked by the amount of artwork that was produced. If we find a clay pot with artwork on it, this meant that the culture was doing well because the person who created the pot had the luxury of taking the time to paint the pot. The same goes for buying books.

It is a shame, but the consumers today are just focused on different things. They want their Netflix. They live busy lives so the days of getting up and reading the newspaper on a Sunday morning are gone. We get up and are on the road immediately with kids, business and the real world. Finding time to sit down and read it just not there. And if we are not taking the time for books, we won't be buying those books.

Going back to the Harlequin Historical line. Why is it that the big market for these books is in Europe? These consumers are reading, and when they are reading, they are buying books.

If we want to see an increase in sales, we have to push for people to read. We need to push for schools to encourage reading, not just for a grade and not to pass Accelerated Reading tests, but to read for pleasure. We have to encourage people to pick up a book and get their faces out of their phones as they binge watch The Bachelor. As a culture, we need to invest in books and literacy and not just tossing iPads and laptops to students who do nothing but play Angry Birds and watch YouTube. Tech is fine, but we have to use it as a tool, not a toy.

So, why are sales low. We as a culture are not buying the books. Don't blame the publishers. Again, it is not like they are saying they want to make decisions to lose money. They are reacting to the sales figures from the consumers like you and me who are not buying the products.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Previously Successful Authors Find Success In The Digital Market

As I said yesterday, I was reading an article about how the big publishers were just not signing some of those authors who had made them a lot of money in the past. The author of this article was really trying hard to show that the publishers were making some big mistakes but that these big name authors really didn't need the publishers anyway. As I read the article, I started to realize that this author was missing some big points.

One point that the article made was that these big name people were really finding big success in the digital market. I am not going to deny that. But we have to examine a couple of other avenues though and not just look at this one piece of data. First of all, these authors already have a following. If you get on Amazon or Barnes and Noble looking for a digital book to download, how many of you take the time to see how that established author, the one you already love , published that book. The odds are you don't. You went to that author because you knew who that author was. You had read their works. So why is it the James Patterson's of the world find that success. Because we know James Patterson. It isn't because of the technology.

The second aspect is to really examine what books are these authors putting out there digitally? In many cases, they are re-releasing their back lists. Many authors do this. After a book has run out of steam, the authors get their rights back from the publisher and then move the book on in another format. Some go digital. Some produce it as print. Some do both. In other words, these are not new books. The thing to remember though is that these authors, again, had a following

There is also a third angle that is missing, but something that the traditional publishers figured out with the rise of the e-publishing industry. They produced those books in multiple formats. Look, James Patterson is not stopping publishing his books in print format. When we look at sales figures for authors, we often see the gross sales. We see a combination of BOTH print and digital. Sure, when we look at royalty statements, we break those down, but in many cases, that breakdown doesn't always make it out to the outside world.

Now let's look at why the big publishers are "cutting" those big name people. This author seems to be implying that it is again the digital market that is making the publishers re-think who they sign. They bring it all back to money. There is a part of this that is true. The article does mention how the publishers really cut the mid-list authors. Prior to the recession, publishers took the chances. They can't anymore. But why cut the prior big money earners? There could be other variables.

The first has to do with agents like me. We push for bigger advances for our authors who have worked their butts off for the publishers. Each contract, we want to push for more money for our authors. We want to see them get the raises. But there is a tipping point though. At some point. if the advance is larger than the payout, the publishers simply will not go any further. If the author and the agent feel that they just are not getting what they want, they leave? They turn to digital publishing or self-publishing with less over-head (or so it seems) and they make up the money that way. In other words the publisher didn't necessarily cut the author... the author decided to leave.

The last variable is one that authors simply don't want to admit to. The quality of the book is simply not there anymore. They were hot at one time, but now the books are outdated, repetitive and show no advancement with the times. It is unfortunate, but I see this too often. The spark we saw early in a career for an author is just not there. The writing is just not strong. This, unfortunately will lead to less exciting reviews and that, in turn, leads to lower sales. So, why did the publisher not sign the author to a new contract? The writing is just not that strong.

So, what is the point of all this? It is something I am constantly pounding with people. We are living in a data driven world. The numbers tell us what we should be doing. But we have to remember that those numbers, may have more variables than we are considering. While this article I read sparked some interesting points, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, September 18, 2017

If Tech Doesn't Change, Digital Market Won't Stand A Chance

I am going to spend the next couple of days taking a look at the current state of publishing and really trying examine what is REALLY happening. I started thinking about this after reading an article that came to me over social media about publishers deciding to cut their major money making writers and the reasons why this particular author thought it was happening. That will actually be for a later post. Today, however, I want to talk about tech.

When the e-publishing world took off about 10 years ago, publishers were screaming about how amazing this was going to be and proclaimed that everyone would have e-readers eventually. I always found that interesting because I remember hearing the same thing back in the 80's when people were proclaiming that everyone would have a computer in their home. Of course, today we can see that prediction is not true. Just go into any school and you will find that in some cases, only 50% of the students have computers in their home.

But what about the digital publishing. Didn't those numbers go through the roof? Sure they did. There was a huge rise in actual e-readers (computer devices designed strictly for e-reading) AND the traditional publishers were releasing their books BOTH as print and e-pubs. It was a hot new trend and everyone got on board with it.

In recent years, however, we have seen a plateau and even a decline in e-readers. Print sales were starting to outsell those in the digital market. So what happened?

I would argue three things. The first two are easy. The fascination over the digital book was just not there anymore. It is like the toys we give to kids at Christmas. Hot toys through January, and not so hot when the novelty runs out.

The second has to do with the price. When the digital books came out, these were less expensive options for the readers. Think of it: Buy a print book for $14.99 or a digital book for $5.99? No logic needed here. But then there was the push to not short change the authors so the prices leveled out and... again, no logic needed here.

It is the third point that I want to look at that I believe is really the big issue. I was at my local Target yesterday looking for a few things and, like usual, I like to make a quick trip through the book and tech departments. As I walked through, the sales clerks were hyping up all of the latest gadgets and telling people the great characteristics. This told me everything...

First of all, the hype was on the quality of the screen. This allowed the user better quality as they streamed Netflix and Hulu to binge watch the last season of their favorite shows. The hype was on the sound so they could better listen to their Spotify and Pandora. Nothing about the e-reader capability. In other words, we are not using this technology like we did with the e-readers.

The second thing they hyped was really the nail in the coffin for the e-reader industry. These phones were not as large or as "clunky" as their predecessors. We are living in a world where we want things compact. Not good for reading.

This, my friends, will be the death of the digital e-reader market. Look at the iPads and other tablets. These too are shrinking in size because people don't want to carry around large clunky devices. And for the e-reading population, this means that those novels will now be harder to read.

I don't know if you have ever tried to read a novel on your phone, but it is pretty damn difficult. No, this is not an issue of my eyesight going downhill in my old age. It is the simple truth that reading a story in  really tiny font is hard on the eyes. Why do you think we hype up using a 12 point font when we type documents? It is the ease on the eyes.

 (I re-typed this for you to show you what I mean) I don't know if you have ever tried to read a novel on your phone, but it is pretty damn difficult. No, this is not an issue of my eyesight going downhill in my old age. It is the simple truth that reading a story in  really tiny font is hard on the eyes. Why do you think we hype up using a 12 point font when we type documents? It is the ease on the eyes.

Look, don't get me wrong. I love tech, but it will be the tech that is going to destroy the digital world. Until we decide to create a product that will work for reading books in a relaxed setting, to really enjoy that summer read by the pool, then I am sorry, but that market is just not going to last. We also have to get away from using these as nothing more than portable televisions.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What It Takes To Be A Published Author

To be a published author requires a lot more than simply having a book printed and available or someone to buy. Being a published author requires a level of professionalism and a dedication to the craft and the industry. Unfortunately, with the rise of "self-publishing" avenues that allow people to just post books, that commitment to the craft and industry is often missed.

Let me say, before going any further, that I am not against the self-publishing model. There are a lot of cases where this is the best approach for an author, due to the nature of the book he or she is writing, or the genre. However, there are still far too many people that I see out there at conferences who proclaim being a published author and really are only people who have written "something", "printed" something and are now "selling" something.

The industry of publishing and writing is unique in that people can certainly be writers and enjoy telling stories or just writing something. This is creative writing. This is a chance to explore personal emotions and feelings. However, this is also an industry where people can turn that hobby into a business. It is that shift that, if done properly can turn that hobby writer into a professional writer.

As I said, being a professional writer requires thinking of this as not just a hobby. Think of how you approach any other job. You show up to work on time. You dress the part. You act the part. Being in a job is not just a matter of saying that you are. It isn't like those commercials that say "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV."

I bring this up because I see far too many authors at conferences, or get submissions from people who seem to forget that the editors and agents out there are doing this for a living. They seem to forget that when they show up at a conference and are not being "professional" it is a reflection on the whole industry.

So, if you are a hobby writer, I applaud you and please, continue that way if you wish to. But, if you are ready to make the jump to being a professional writer, or you are one, consider the fact that you are now in a writing career. This is a job.