Friday, April 4, 2008

Book Future: No Advances, No Returns

Looks like HarperCollins is going to lead the way to a new future in book selling by cutting author advances and refusing book returns, according to articles in the New York Times , USA Today , and GalleyCat.  In short, long-time Hyperion President Robert S. Miller will be heading up a new experimental publishing company at HarperCollins that aims to conduct business against the norm.  Here's a summary from GalleyCat:

"According to the press release, 'Miller will publish approximately 25 popular-priced books per year in multiple physical and digital formats including those as yet unspecified, with the aim to combine the best practices of trade publishing while taking full advantage of the internet for sales, marketing and distribution.  Authors will be compensated through a profit sharing model as opposed to a traditional royalty, and books will be promoted utilizing on-line publicity, adverting, and marketing.' Translation, probably: Whatever it is Bob will be publishing will be printed on demand, or you will be able to read it on your Kindle type device, or, eventually, by using implanted technology in your eyeballs that will allow you to turn pages by blinking."

I imagine this turn of events will make agents nervous, as it may render them irrelevant or at least unprofitable.  It probably won't affect the Big Authors, though, who will still get a 50% cut of the profits for their best sellers, and of course the little authors will get nothing...or less than nothing, as the case may be. I wonder if this will make publishers in general more likely to publish untested authors?  Oh, why, be optimistic now.  In truth it will probably have no impact on my inability to get published.


Anonymous said...

I think you hit the nail on the head with this one, WR. Agents are scared, sure. Many got out while they could. Jimmy Vines? He's gone and so are most of his ilk. Did you notice nobody speculates about "the next Binky" anymore? That's because the day of big agents and building a stable of glamorous writers is past. It's all about scrounging for peanuts now, pushing out a disposable product, making money speaking at writers confs. Look at ICM for a fine example of where literary agenting is heading. They moved out of their glamorous digs, Binky went off in semi-retirement to London and as older agents left and retired they didn't hire anyone new. William Morris is about the same. They're all out of style. Surely none of them have the "zing" that Sterling Lord had in the day. Think it's a coincidence that no young agents are giving a challenge to The Wylie Agency? Nobody cares to be the next Andrew Wylie, these young agents don't have what it takes. Agents are hurting as much as you writers. Whose fault is it, anyway, when nobody knows what to do.

Anonymous said...

Profit sharing?! Come on! That's why businesses cook the books, so it never looks like there are any profits to share. The writer will definitely be screwed in the end. Who cares about the agents. It's about time, their power trip ended.

rmellis said...

Not accepting book returns?? Well, that would have killed my bookstore if Amazon hadn't.

How can any bookstore survive without returns??

Writer, Rejected said...

I suspect it means that in a few years we will no longer be buying our books in stores. I think the idea here is to kill off book stores and introduce "ownable technology," forcing us all into the future where books arrive as downloads on machines, or something.

rmellis said...

Yep, killing off the middle man.

What the publishers don't get is that eventually that will include THEM...

frustrated author said...

It's about time they stopped accepting returns. These @#!$ bookstores that kept titles around for only like 3 weeks before sending them back has always hurt me more than anything. Books I've published five years ago I still have thousands owed me but kept in reserve because of this practice. It hurts all authors because every return cuts into our profits but it hurts the midlist author worst. Amazon never returned nothing on me.

rmellis said...

Yeah, but a bookstore would only buy the books that are guaranteed to sell if they couldn't return them -- they'd never take any risks at all. It would be all Tom Clancy, all the time. And they would still lose money and go out of business.

My store kept titles for nine months, not three weeks.

mariegauthier said...

Perhaps the big box stores do lightning fast returns, but the earliest publishers will accept returns is 3 months after the invoice date, and for most independents, we keep frontlist titles around 9 months to a year--longer & it gets more difficult to return.

This helps no one--we tried the non-returnable model, and just ended up buying less after a time, because too many books I'd tried were hanging around.

And no advances? That'll only apply to the midlist authors--you can bet Patricia Cornwell will get her fat advances.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think the experiment means fewer books ordered and fewer books sold via traditional venues. The death of the bookstore, at long last?

Mid-listers like myself (with three novels and a short story collection), who count on the advances that never pay out, will be forced to publish for free. And then will be considered a lose-lose and won't be able to get published at all.

If you think we can't make a decent living now, just wait.

Bernice L. McFadden said...

Great blog! I will keep visiting!

Anonymous said...

If the following three changes were made, literary fiction could be rescued:
1. The general public would get a craving to read good writing and would be willing to pay money for it.
2. Editors would be endowed with the ability to recognize quality, and quality would be the only criteria for publication.
3. Those without talent would STOP submitting their work.
Of course, divine intervention will be needed to implement these changes.

Anonymous said...

Let's focus on 1.

We can forget endowing the in-school editors, the ones who are part of "the clique" and whose main focus in life isn't recognizing quality but is promoting pals (and agendas) and having a good time. Great writing isn't just the combination of the words; it's the meaning of those combined, and for some of us not getting fair play out there, we contend that it's what our work is saying that's keeping us from being accepted. Why forget 2. then? Because we can assume that editors in these posts (the majority of those in high positions in mass media now) will not change their views, nor will they ever accede to demands that literature stop following its current path. Why, that's the whole point of it, that certain things are said over and over again while others are not. What must be done is that we have to focus on getting our own editors -- those who share this view -- and get them in power, probably in our own media outlets. Probably online.

There still are people out there and they'll find it when it happens. And good things will go from there.

Anonymous said...

here's some thoughts:

1. and monkeys might fly out of my arse.
2. rinse and repeat.
3. if a problem with literary fiction and/or journals continues, see #1 and #2.

Anonymous said...

a bit threatened are we?

well, we're not going to let up. as googling your journal's name is now revealing.

jonathan said...

Fabulous, fabulous site.

I've spent seven long years in trade publishing. Easy work, but not attached to it. Had ambitions for what you might call "literary" - but I just couldn't find the (paying) outlet for what I had in mind to do.

I had steered away from MFA, just feeling instinctively that it wasn't the way to go, and your comments on the MFA culture make me feel SO good about that decision. (For years I have been second guessing myself. A feeling that's strongest usually when I rise on a weekday morning.) Also your manifesto seems about right - that's why when 9/11 broke and the dust cleared I found myself interviewing for an IT position at a trade publication, and putting my dreams aside. It keeps the bills paid but it never was good for misery, even though I constantly told myself I was doing the best I could. Now your blog kind of tells me that I was right. Wish something big could happen out there to change all this. I still have my dreams after all, though at this point I wonder if I could do it, even if the market arrived.

Keep up the good work.


bookfraud said...

you have a rare talent for bringing out feisty, anonymous comments. bully for you.

agents might be dying a slow death, but they'll try to fight the virtual book trend tooth-and-nail, just like real estate brokers have fought the internet revolution in real estate. if they were smarter, they would expand their footprint, incorporating (widescale) marketing, editing, and other services that publishing houses have traditionally done but now have largely jettisoned. at the least, agents would attract the best writers.

i'm afraid this experimental company isn't going to help new writers get published, however. with only 25 books a year, they've got to go for the home runs.

Writer, Rejected said...

I think the fear here is that if the company proves profitable, the whole industry will follow suit.

Anonymous said...

I'm unpublished and agent hunting and after spending the first 3 months of the year at it, full Publishers Marketplace feed etc, I gotta say that first comment rings true. "The Next Binky"? No way is there an agent trying to do that. It's the No-Ambition Generation. It's like the whole concept of wanting to be ringleader of the best literary "stars" is antiquated. And if that's true, then is trying to be a literary star an antiquated idea, too?

I hadn't thought of the Andrew Wylie thing but you're right, someone should be trying to take that role for our generation. Not trying to negotiate like The Jackal per se, but some guy/gal who's after all the top literary talent, the best writers in the world. The fact that no one has bothered to even try bodes quite ill for us, I think.