Print sales might be rallying, but don’t get complacent | Bookseller


A very interesting article by Sam Missingham on the future of publishing:

First off, I feel the need to emphatically state that nobody wants a strong, vibrant book business more than me. I am a self-declared cheerleader for this industry. But it seems the right time to put my pom poms aside for a while to make a more cautionary point.

In many ways, the worst thing to happen to book publishing has been the persistent strength of print books and the drop in sales of ebooks. Namely, the stalling of the digital transformation of the industry.

Yeah, I did say that. Let me explain.

Some might say that book publishing has weathered the transformation very well and is in a strong position. The numbers would tend to agree with that. Print sales up a notch, new bookshops opening, children’s book sales going from strength to strength. Time to put the kettle on then, sit back and put our feet up, yes?

Well, I tend to agree with Andrew Keen, the Internet critic and author who spoke at FutureBook in December. To paraphrase, he said publishing had come through the digital transformation mostly unscathed. However, he went on to say that this was down to good luck and not by any strategic play.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Five years ago publishers had no idea that ebooks would stall or that bookshops would bounce back. Let’s not forget the many predictions that print was dead – not to mention bookshops – and that we were heading for digital obliteration. I had many a conversation with industry folk who said they thought Waterstones would last only a couple more years.

During the early stages of the transformation, publishers threw money at a variety of digital initiatives: apps, ecommerce platforms, their own community websites… even buying the odd start-up. But big publishers spent big and lost big. I could easily list 10 initiatives that were launched with much fanfare, to be left unloved for 18 months and closed with a whimper. The intent may have been there, but the commitment certainly wasn’t. And further, their structures, people and processes did not allow for successful innovation at any scale.

But what does this matter if print sales are up and ebook sales are down? We’re fine, right?

Well yes, if we anticipate no further transformation happening. Or put another way, if we hope nobody else enters the industry looking to disrupt it; if no companies come along with new business models for books; if readers do not change how or what they buy; if no new technology emerges to offer readers a different experience, and if – a big if – Amazon, Google et al don’t come up with yet more game-changing ideas. That’s a future dependent on a lot of unlikely ifs.

Instead, I would argue that this is exactly the time we should be building our own future, aggressively. Creating platforms that give us more ownership of the publishing & bookselling ecosystems. Building businesses which create new revenue streams.

The good news is that there are plenty of innovative models to draw inspiration from if we’re commited to forging ahead.

Wattpad – an online community for writers to post chapters of books, fan fic, poetry and reach engaged readers for feedback – launched in 2006 and now has 45 million users and 300 million stories uploaded.

Lost My Name – the platform for personalised picture books for kids – launched in 2012, has sold more than 2.6 million picture books, and has just signed a deal with Roald Dahl estate. – a book subscroption service – says it has over 500,000 subscribers paying $8.99/month for ebooks, audiobooks, and now news.

BookBub – a simple daily email selling cheap ebooks – launched in 2012, has 5 million+ registered readers in US and 2 million in the UK, and recently launched in India. And

NetGalley – a blogger and influencer network offering publishers a seamless book review process pre-publication – has grown since 2012 to reach 360,000 members worldwide.

What were you doing when Wattpad launched 11 years ago?

There are many other companies I could have chosen, but these five all offer value and service at different stages of the publishing ecosystem. And all of the founders came from outside of the industry.

There’s plenty to learn, too, from companies that have diversified away from their core businesses to build new revenue streams. Conde Nast, the magazine publisher behind Vogue, now runs its own fashion & design collegeoffering degrees and courses, and has also recently launched a fashion ecommerce site. Sawday’s has transitioned from a travel guide publisher to a luxury travel company (that sells books). Marie Claire, the magazine published by Time Inc, now has its own cosmetics ecommerce platform and a physical shop in London. And Johnson’s Baby products launched a website called BabyCenter in the US nearly 20 years ago offering advice through pregnancy. This has grown to become a comprehensive resource for parents and now has 45 million global monthly unique visitors and generates huge amounts of advertising revenue. Of course, the site also provides Johnson’s with real-time audience behaviour data and a huge email database to sell to as well.

It’s interesting to note that all of the consumer-facing businesses above launched with new names and did not rely on their existing brands – we don’t have Johnson’s For Babies or the Marie Claire beauty shop. They displayed the confidence to build new brands even when they already have exceptional traction and recognition with the old ones – a bold step that was central to their success.

So, are book publishers in a position to diversify in such a way? I simply refuse to believe that they can’t do so, while also maintaining their core proposition: to publish sensational books and nurture authors’ careers. And I genuinely believe we must, if we want to survive long-term. We need to get ahead of the next phase of disruption by disrupting ourselves and innovating with vision and commitment. This is not the time to sit back and hope the status quo will last. We might not weather the next wave with such good fortune.


Top 10 Reasons Books Are Rejected by Publishers


The following article is provided by Keller Media as a public service. It is intended to help, support, guide and inspire writers to achieve their publishing goals. Wendy Keller is a Literary Agent who wrote this list for writers of non-fiction. However, after reading it, I would say most of her points apply to fiction writers too. I would advise every writer to read it, and make sure they aren’t doing anything on this list – regardless of your genre of writing. Enjoy!

It breaks my heart when would be authors write me back after my agency has rejected their forlorn book or book proposal. They often say, “What’s wrong with all you agents? Don’t you know good work when you see it?” Those are the angry types. Or the misguided but hopeful ones tell me, “I read that Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield were rejected (fill in the blank with any number) times before ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ became a worldwide best seller…I’m going to keep sending this out until one of you…”

Jack is a client of mine and he and Mark are both friends. I know some things new writers don’t know – basically, that they improved the content AND proved the concept by selling books themselves before Health Communications even took a small chance on them. Of course, there are several dozen stories of other authors throughout history whose books went on to be hugely successful despite original rejections – e.g., Dr Seuss, William Saroyan, etc.

Here’s the big difference between those eventual successes and 99.9% of the rest of the continually rejected books: those authors DID something (other than complain) while they were being rejected. And at this point in the publishing industry, the something you should be doing includes building a platform.

My agency sees many thousands of projects per year but I sell only 25-40 books per year – because most of what we’re sent is economically worthless. Why are so many rejected? I’ve noticed that most of the books we reject are rejected by all other agents and publishers too. There are REASONS for this!

Here are the Top Ten Reasons Authors Get Repeatedly Rejected:

1. You are writing on a topic that is glutted already – and you are saying nothing that is NDBM (New, Different, Better or offers the reader something More)

2. You are offering your content to agents who do not handle books like yours. This happens when you think bulk sending is going to increase your success.

3. You are a poor writer, use poor grammar or your work is rife with errors. We are professionals, you be too please.

4. You are evidently crazy. About 20% of everything my agency sees falls into this category. “I am channeling Elvis and he has an opinion on World Peace…”

5. You have no platform. That means you came up with your book idea inside your own ivory tower. You have not taken the effort to test it against the real world by building a social media following, getting paid speeches, doing any blogging or columns, etc. on the topic. (I’d say 80% of the nonfiction most agents reject happens for this one reason.)

6. You do not have any credentials related to the topic of your book. While the fact that you are now a successful immigrant to the USA may be amazing to your friends and family back in your native country, the fact that you bought a house, a car and put two kids through college doesn’t make you an expert on how to succeed in America unless you actually have helped others to achieve similar goals. Likewise, the fact you survived a bad divorce doesn’t make you an MFT or an attorney or even an expert on the topic.

7. You believe your life story has worldwide appeal. Writing a book as a way of sorting out your own personal history is an excellent therapeutic technique. It is rarely worthy of publication, however, unless you have been able to build a platform/association/charity/group of others who are helped directly by your story and/or methodology.

8. You are vehement, negative, angry, dismissive, rude, impolite, condescending, curt, vituperative, or churlish in the way you approach agents. We work on straight commission – nobody will put up with your behavior.

9. You plead and whine. This includes the surprising number of people whose (bad) book idea we’ve rejected who write back to beg, “If you sell this, I’ll give you DOUBLE the commission.” This one makes me smile, because $0 x 2 = $0.

10. You haven’t done a speck of research. You don’t know the competing books, you don’t know how to market a book, you don’t know how agents work, you don’t know how publishing works, and/or you have no clue how to prepare a book proposal. This a profession. The lone fact that your native language is English doesn’t mean you will succeed as a published author.

Here’s the weird corollary: Agents typically scramble and even politely “fight” over projects that are salable. If no one is even interested in – much less fighting – over yours, there’s a 100% chance that one of the ten reasons above applies in your case. As salespeople in a highly competitive industry, we are always urgently seeking new inventory. Provide it, you’ll get our undivided attention and a nice offer from a good publisher.


Wendy Keller has been a literary agent since 1989. In that time, Keller Media, Inc. has been pitched on +250,000 book projects. Writers who insist that she’s “wrong” about any of the 10 reasons above are typically those who fit into one of those categories themselves – and who end up unsuccessfully self-publishing or just grumbling for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way! Adapt, learn and achieve your dreams!


The Five Stages of Publishing Your Book

It goes without saying that, first, you have to write the book. But if you are at that glorious stage where the book is actually written (and edited, and redrafted) then you might be asking – now what?

So, here is some handy info to help you answer that question:

Stage 1: Submission

  1. Read the subs guidelines! I know they’re annoying and it’s a pain to have to format (I submit too, so I have a lot of sympathy for the never-ending task of re-formatting things) but it really does make reading easier.
  2. And on the same note, please send the amount asked. If the guidelines wants 10,000 words, a little under or over is fine…but don’t send your entire manuscript.
  3. Having a synopsis is nice; it gives the reader some idea of how the story unfolds. They often won’t have time to read the entire thing, so the first 30 pages and a synopsis is excellent.
  4. Tell them something about you; you don’t have to seem quirky, but just some insight into who you are is nice. However, your work will speak for itself, so if (like me) you’re fairly self-conscious when it comes to showing off, you won’t miss out by not giving a huge bio.
  5. And lastly (again) – read the guidelines! You want to make the publisher’s job as easy as possible – and that means sending what they’ve asked for. Yes, it sucks when every single submission wants a different style and set of information, but them’s the breaks. Just do it.

Stage 2: Waiting. And waiting. And more waiting.

However, there is quite a lot going on behind the scenes…

  1. Slush-pile read; this is simply someone working through the submissions. At this stage, if you get rejected then you’re likely to get a form rejection. It sucks, but take it as a learning opportunity. Was there anything you could have done better? Did you submit to a publisher who might not want your genre or type of story? Are there better forums for your work? Or, put bluntly, does your work stink? (Most awful writers seem to believe they’re amazing, so if you’ve got a healthy dose of self-doubt then you’re probably fine.)
  2. The deafening silence. If you don’t get an immediate rejection, take heart; they’re considering your work. Most publishers will have guidelines for when you can bug them; please do remember that reading takes time, and the publisher might have 50 or 100 things to read!
  3. Request for a full manuscript. Yay! They liked it!
  4. Acceptance or rejection! You may get more feedback at this stage; most publishers are too busy to go into much detail, but they won’t lie – so if they say they liked it, then they liked it. Usually the choice simply comes down to tone or style. Again, treat it as a learning opportunity; was there anything you could have done better? What could you improve?

Stage 3: Editor’s read

Your story will get read by The People Who Matter – usually the editor(s). The manuscript may come back to you with comments; you might need to change a lot or a little, and then it goes back to the editor. This could be repeated multiple times, and you might find that it’s a repeat of your alpha- and beta- process…but this is up to the individual editors, and up to you how much you want to change your story. Again; you are the author, and you have the final decisions on changes. Take their comments into consideration, and weigh up how much you want to be published against how much your story is changing. Hopefully, your story is good enough that the edits will be minor!

Stage 4: Book creation

This involves quite a lot of administration, usually involving external services. The big publishing houses will have in-house copy-editors and cover-artists, and it’s rare that the author is involved here. With a smaller indie press, more of this work is done externally, and there’s more chance for the author to be involved.

  • Copyedit & proofread (again!).
  • Typeset – and you’ll usually get a PDF proof at this point to check on the typesetting.
  • Cover produced.
  • Manuscript sent to printers, and – if you’re doing hard copy – a proof is produced.

Stage 5: Publication!

Hard copies get distributed to shops, and records get created in electronic stores. You’ll be given a release date and whatever copies you’re entitled to; you may get paid at this stage if it’s a flat fee, or if you’re getting royalties then they will trickle in. And you get the wonderful satisfaction of seeing your book in print or on the screen; it’s out there for everyone to read.

And if you’ve got this far, congratulations! You’ve got a piece of your writing published.


10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing


So you want to write a book and have it published. That’s great. But before you give up the day job, here are 10 awful truths about book publishing that you should be aware of:

1. The number of books being published every year has exploded.
According to the Bowker Report (September 7, 2016), more than 700,000 books were self-published in the U.S. in 2015, which is an incredible increase of 375% since 2010. And the number of traditionally published books had climbed to over 300,000 by 2013 according to Bowker figures (August 5, 2014). The net effect is that the number of new books published each year in the U.S. has exploded by more than 600,000 since 2007, to well over 1 million annually. At the same time, more than 13 million previously published books are still available through many sources. Unfortunately, the marketplace is not able to absorb all these books and is hugely oversaturated.

2. Book industry sales are stagnant, despite the explosion of books published.
U.S. publishing industry sales peaked in 2007 and have either fallen or been flat in subsequent years, according to reports of the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Similarly, despite a 2.5% increase in 2015, U.S. bookstore sales are down 37% from their peak in 2007, according to the Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2016).

3. Despite the growth of e-book sales, overall book sales are still shrinking.
After skyrocketing from 2008 to 2012, e-book sales leveled off in 2013 and have fallen more than 10% since then, according to the AAP StatShot Annual 2015. Unfortunately, the decline of print sales outpaced the growth of e-book sales, even from 2008 to 2012. The total book publishing pie is not growing – the peak sales year was in 2007 – yet it is being divided among ever more hundreds of thousands of print and digital books.

4. Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast.
Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to BookScan – which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including – only 256 million print copies were sold in 2013 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 1, 2016). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 2,000 copies over its lifetime.

5. A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to up to 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are several hundred thousand business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.

6. It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books.
Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with a surplus of books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. Each book is competing with more than thirteen million other books available for sale, while other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a far smaller sales return today.

7. Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities.
Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

8. Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers.
Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the authors’ marketing platform and what the authors will do to publicise and market the books. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.

9. No other industry has so many new product introductions.
Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $50,000 to $150,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these new product introduction expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.

10. The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil.
The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition, churning of new technologies, and rapid growth of other media lead to constant turmoil in bookselling and publishing (such as the disappearance over the past decade of over 500 independent bookstores and the Borders bookstore chain). Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

So there you have it. If like me, you are now feeling thoroughly depressed, go pour yourself a drink or eat a bar of chocolate, pull yourself together and then get back to writing that damn book! After all, yours just might be the one to break through…


Do You Know Your Book Genre?

There can be many reasons why a book fails to grab readers, and while this post concentrates mostly on the technical aspects and marketing side of publishing rather than the actual writing process, the choice of book genre can have major implications on both writing and marketing.

Writers often start writing a novel without giving their end product much thought, so when finished, it may sometimes be difficult to find a precise category or book genre for the book when it comes time to publish.

So here is a useful guide which explains with absolute clarity what the major genres represent, and what readers expect from each genre:


Often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle, the unveiling of the real culprit.

Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.


Generally involves trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails i.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C.

Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. i.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the Lambs. A murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are because it would ruin the book… 😀

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.


Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your Big Boss Trouble Maker. Yes, the guy will likely be a scene antagonist, but that is different.

Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance because there are SO many categories of romance that it could make a book.

Literary Fiction

Is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Note: Literary fiction is not a free pass to avoid plotting. There still needs to be an overall plot problem that forces the change. People generally don’t wake up one day and just decide to change. There needs to be an outside driving force, a Big Boss Troublemaker, and a tangible physical goal. Again, in The Road, the man and boy have a tangible goal of getting to the ocean.

The only difference in literary fiction and genre fiction is that plot arc is now subordinate to character arc. In commercial genre fiction the plot generally takes precedence. In Silence of the Lambs catching Buffalo Bill is top on the priority list. Character evolution is secondary. In literary fiction these two arcs reverse. The character growth and change is of primary importance and plot is merely the vehicle to get them to change.

For instance, in Joy Luck Club, June’s impending trip to China is what brings the women together and what forces each of them to change the patterns of the past. The trip is irrelevant save for two purposes: 1) bringing the women together to face their demons and 2) when June actually makes the trip to China to meet her mother’s twin sisters (the lost babies) we know the change has occurred and the chains of the past have been loosed.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialised.

In regular fantasy, we will generally have a singular protagonist. In high fantasy, the various parties each become protagonists. Think Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.


This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protagonist has only one goal: survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association

Young Adult

I won’t talk long about YA, since YA beaks into so many subcategories. Often YA will follow the rules of the parent genre (i.e. YA thrillers still have a ticking clock, fast pacing and high stakes just like regular thrillers). The differences, however, is that YA generally will have a younger protagonist (most often a teenager) and will address special challenges particular to a younger age group.

For instance, in Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Tris is taking on a very real political battle between factions. But the plot also involves her evolving from child to adult, how she defines her identity aside from Mom and Dad and forging a new romantic relationship with Four. These are all prototypical struggles for someone in that age group.

So there you have it. A quick guide to book genre’s, which I hope has made things a little clearer for you. Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place – ticking clock, inner arc, world-building – before you begin. This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. I hope you found it useful.

Best of luck x


Book Production & Marketing | What You Need to Know


Over the last few decades, major changes in technology, the way we read and the ephemeral nature of our economies have impacted the way we produce and publish books.

The polarisation of the book industry has become an accepted idea: multinational corporations dominate while small and micro-publishers do well on their own terms as well, with little room for success in the middle space.

This special feature will examine what defines large and small publishers, and will analyse the different approaches they take when it comes to signing authors, book production, printing and distribution as well as their approach to marketing and publicity.

We’ll aim to explore the diverse environment of book production and bookselling in specific reference to trade publishing.

Defining Big and Small Publishers

In order to examine the different approaches to book production both large and small publishers have, we must first define what ‘large’ and ‘small’ refer to.

Our idea of ‘large’ publishers will be modelled on what are known as the “big six” – Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster.

These large publishers are major international corporations with multimillion-dollar parent companies such as Bertelsmann, Pearson, News Corp and Lagardère. Small publishers will be defined as those who publish fewer than 30 titles a year and/or earn no more than £30,000 in revenue (Freeth, 2007).

Other significant differences that define these publishers are the number of staff they employ. Large publishers employ hundreds of people from in-house editors, publicists, marketers, and designers to freelancers, while small publishers can operate from someone’s home, with just one or two people at the helm, using largely freelancers and unpaid volunteers.

These details alone portray the vast difference in scale between large and small publishers.

Approaches to Book Production

For the big publishers, the sheer scale of their operations can be immensely beneficial in terms of rationalising and consolidating their economies.

John B. Thompson refers to the “the reduction of overheads and the consolidation of sales forces, warehouses, distribution and other publishing services…” For example, take the results of the recent Penguin Random House merger.

Two initially separate entities, with separate offices, staff and lists are now combining, with the staff from Penguin having just moved into the Random House Head Office in North Sydney.

In addition to tens of thousands of pounds in savings in rental agreements, each department “will be scrutinised for unnecessary duplications. The redundancies will be earmarked for elimination or consolidation” (Curtis, 2012). This is just one example of large-scale consolidation.

Big publishers use one team of experts to produce and sell more books than the small publishing houses, increasing their profit margins considerably. While for small presses producing far less titles, often the owner/founders work ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, or:

Costs are often kept to a minimum by working from home or renting offices in low-rent premises such as disused factories. If there are paid employees, they often work long hours for modest salaries and much of the routine work is done by unpaid interns (Thompson, 2012).

Although small publishers have less revenue, they can take advantage of the low entry cost into the industry, as well as the virtual office. They have the ability to order, edit and correspond remotely, without the high costs of renting an office space.

One of the most significant factors to identify when considering different approaches to book production is the reputation or ‘brand’ of the publisher. This can affect their approach to book production three-fold: 1. In the quality of staff they can entice and hire, 2. In the prestige of the authors they sign, and 3. In the number of readers and retailers they attract.

When it comes to reputation in book production, big publishers certainly have the advantage. For example, Penguin Random House is a household name in the book world, making it a smart career choice for production professionals and authors.

A certain degree of prestige is associated with big publishers, which is why authors and staff are inclined to work with them over a small publisher. Both staff and authors can expect decent salaries/royalty rates, and may also see a positive effect on their own reputation due to their affiliation with a big publisher.

Readers and retailers must also be considered. As multinational companies tend to dominate the bestseller lists, it’s only natural that both readers and retailers come to associate these companies with books of quality.

Big publishers’ histories are steeped with success stories, and so retailers and readers come to trust their brands. This tells us that big publishers often have the first option when acquiring new titles due to their reputations alone.

Small publishers, however, often don’t have the same level of reputation, which can sometimes work against them in terms of acquisition of titles, and indeed, staff.

They don’t have competitive budgets to work with, and so often cannot afford the same services a big publisher can. However, size can work to their advantage when it comes to the economy of favours (Thompson, 2012).

This works in numerous ways, the most common being that small presses share their contacts, resources and knowledge with each other, and that freelancers charge small presses far less than they do to a big publisher.

For example, the cover designer for Kindling worked according to the economy of favours rather than her usual rate. By day, Alissa Dinallo designs covers for Penguin Random House however, she took on the brief from Writer’s Edit Press at just a fraction of the cost.

Working for emerging writers is a nice change of pace to working in trade publishing. Even though I love the fast-paced nature and commercial aspects of my job, it’s nice to sit back and get a little more artistic, as well as at the same time, support talented writers who are making a name for themselves (Dinallo, 2014).

Dinallo is in the group of freelancers who, according to Thompson “share the ethos of the indie presses and/or they find it rewarding to do so”. While small publishers can’t throw their weight around when it comes to scale, they can take advantage of the sense of community within the smaller field.

For the most part, large and small publishers use different approaches when it comes to the printing and distributing of books. Large publishers have longstanding relationships with offset printers, warehouses and third party distributors.

Given the sheer volume of business big publishers do with these selected suppliers, the terms are significantly better for them. “Large publishing corporations can put pressure on their key printers to turn around an urgent reprint in three days, whereas a small publisher might have to wait several weeks” (Thompson, 2012).

This means initial quantities of titles can be small, with the flexibility to reprint quickly if necessary. Small publishers cannot afford to operate on this scale.

Small presses feel the pressure of distribution and publicity difficulties far more acutely than publishers in the broader industry because of their lack of resources, both financial and human, and these are usually the make-or-break issues that will decide a small press’s fate (Freeth, 2007).

However, the rise in digital technologies has seen these smaller publishers able to compete without the upfront costs the bigger publishers face. Print-on-Demand (POD) has provided small houses with a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Print on demand is a book distribution method made possible by, and inseparable from, digital printing. It prints books only in response to orders… Due to the capabilities of digital printing, print on demand is capable of filling an order for one book profitably (Friedlander, 2009).

Numerous companies now offer POD services. However, along with new developments in printing and distribution come changes to book production that affect both big and small publishers: the age of self-publishing and the indie author.

Publishers had the power of the purse and the press… In the world of print, few authors could afford to self-publish… The Internet has changed all that, allowing writers to sell their works directly to readers, bypassing agents and publishers who once were the gatekeepers (Pham, 2010).

This impacts the publishing game in two ways: competition and acquisition. Self-publishing has certainly contributed to the overall sense of ‘doom’ that is currently circulating the publishing world.

According to Fowler and Trachtenberg, “some publishers say that online self-publishing and the entry of newcomers such as Amazon into the market could mark a sea change in publishing” (2010). However, big publishers are now looking to the sales figures of self-published authors to acquire their next titles.

Take the originally self-published author Hugh Howey. Howey published his post-apocalyptic novel Wool through Amazon’s self-publishing services Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Createspace. After dominating the bestseller list with his self-published versions:

Howey inked a print-only contract with Simon & Schuster in the US for Wool — released in stores on March 12 of this year — and with Random House in the UK for the trilogy (Anderson, 2013).

This originally self-published author is now set to make both Simon & Schuster, and Random House UK a lot of money. However, the varied approaches to book production don’t end here.

Note Howey’s ‘print-only’ contract. Howey controls and maintains the e-book rights to all his books, ensuring that he still brings in revenue independent from the big publishers he’s signed with, and he’s not the only one:

Earlier this year, suspense master Stephen King, Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho and Stephen Covey, the author of bestselling self-help books, self-published some of their works exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle bookstore (Pham, 2010).

Although hybrid authors like Howey tend to go with the big publishers when they cross over into traditional publishing, the benefits of POD and digital technologies have made a positive impact on small publishers.

According to Thompson, “the rise of the internet also made it much easier for publishers to work with suppliers in India and the Far East, which reduced costs still further” (Thompson, 2012). Furthermore, as the SPUNC report states: “Several publishers have moved to a Print on Demand (PoD) model to reduce costs and keep titles in print” (Freeth, 2007).

Financial risk is something that influences the editorial choices of both big and small publishers alike. However, big publishers have far more pressure on them to bring in revenue in order to pay their many staff, authors and printers.

This means they are far more unlikely to risk taking on unsolicited manuscripts. To combat this however, both Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan run special programs for sifting through the unsolicited slush pile and acquiring titles by new authors: the Friday Pitch and Manuscript Mondays.

Nevertheless, big publishers must still meet the demands and expectations of their loyal readers. This means producing the regular bestseller titles per year, generally in time for the big three calendar events: Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The bestsellers on the New York Times Christmas list for 2013 were Stephen King, James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks; names that reoccur every year, meaning there is less diversity in the big publishers’ output. They must also find answers to the latest trends, for example: The Hunger Games trilogy called for the Divergent trilogy and The Maze Runner.

Unlike the big fish, small publishers have more freedom. According to Thompson:

Most small presses tend to be strongly editorially driven and to publish books about which the founder-owner(s) feel passionate… commercial success is generally a secondary concern [that] gives the small presses a leeway to experiment with… in a way that the large houses are less likely to do (Thompson, 2012).

Freeth (2007) notes the value of small publishers:

In general we believe that small press is flexible and has the opportunity to present new or under-represented kinds of writing to audiences… With big publishers being more cautious, there’s a huge role for small and independent publishers, who can use events, use the community, use launches and small publisher models.

Where big publishers churn out similar titles every year at number one on the bestseller charts, small publishers take more risk with the titles they acquire as they run on passion over profit. It is with these risks that small publishers can compete alongside large publishers for literary awards.

Approaches to Marketing and Publicity

Traditional marketing has changed immensely in recent years due to the rise of the Internet and the digital-savvy consumer.

The birth of the EDM (electronic direct mail), banner ads on websites and of course, social media have meant that marketing and publicity operate on a whole new level for both big and small publishers.

However, alongside these developments, one change is quite clear: much of the book marketing grunt work now falls to the author, as budgets for promotion are increasingly limited.

Authors are expected to build an author platform (website) where they can share and promote their work with a target readership they’ve built online. They are also expected to manage social media pages and attend promotional events.

Another change to the marketing and publicity of books is the decline of book coverage in traditional print media. Traditionally in newspapers and magazines, there was quite extensive coverage on books, however:

Even the New York Times, which is one of the few metropolitan newspapers in the US to have retained a stand-alone Book Review section, has shrunk the size by nearly half, from the 44 pages it averaged in the mid-1980s to the 24-28 pages it typically has today (Thompson, 2012).

Because of this decline in traditional coverage, many marketing managers are turning their attention to the online space. According to Coronel, “Books will be made successful by appealing directly to communities of readers online” (2013).

Email subscriber lists and EDMs are a major part of this strategy. This unfortunately works in favour of the large publishing houses.

Consumers recognise their brand far more easily than a small publisher, and are far more likely to offer up their personal data (email addresses) to a widely trusted brand than a newcomer.

Big publishers have had the budget to build up their subscriber lists for years, and so now when they release a new title, or an event approaches, they have an instant target market/audience of thousands.

EDMs, along with online ads placed on their high traffic websites also provide the big publishers with insightful analytics that print never offered. Through these purchased third party services, the marketers from big publishers can determine things like unique visits, impressions, page views, click through rates (CTRs) and bounce rates.

This allows them to analyse what aspects of their marketing strategies work, and what don’t, meaning that their next campaign can be better informed and more effective.

Similarly, big publishers generally have a significant following on social media. For example, Penguin Random House UK has 667,683 likes on Facebook and over 52,600 followers on Twitter according to their official Facebook & Twitter pages.

This means that on just two social media pages alone, Penguin Random House has a potential reach of over 720,000 consumers. Unfortunately, small publishers simply cannot compete in this numbers game.

Freeth (2007) reports:

A lack of resources (both financial and human) mean they often cannot put the necessary time and energy into publicity and marketing that a successful campaign requires.

In regards to publicity in retail, big publishers have to purchase store space and high visibility spots with leading retailers like Dymocks in Australia and Barnes and Noble (US). According to Thompson:

The large publishers also have the resources you need to achieve high levels of visibility within the key retail chains… the larger the publisher is, the more easily they will be able to absorb these promotional costs (2012).

Alternatively, small publishers rely on the economy of favours, hoping that both independent bookstores and the larger retail chains will support independent presses with decent in store positioning.

Finally, a big aspect of marketing and publicity strategies for both big and small publishers is participating in numerous writers’ festivals, literary festivals and book fairs that occur throughout each year.

Publishers attempt to get their authors on discussion panels, at book signings and interviews to gain exposure for their titles. However, one recent strategy combined both online efforts and the buzz of this year’s Sydney Writers Festival.

This event was the first National Book Bloggers Forum hosted by Penguin Random House. Marketing and Publicity Director, Brett Osmond said:

The National Book Bloggers Forum will be a collaboration between the growing book blogging community and Penguin Random House – we want to share news about our books and authors with leading bloggers (Random House Australia, 2014).

Random House invited approximately 50 book bloggers from all over Australia to their head office in North Sydney to hear about their upcoming titles.

This was the first event of its kind, and wasn’t without agenda. Bloggers were encouraged to use social media throughout the day, hashtagging ‘#NBBF14’ and tweeting ‘@RandomHouseAus’.

The result of this was a free social media campaign that lasted over two days. Each blogger was also given a goodie bag containing numerous Penguin Random House titles, which meant numerous book reviews on new release titles circulating online.

Combined, these tactics created much-needed buzz surrounding the PRH brand, and their authors. Valuable connections were also made with Australia’s most prominent book bloggers.

In Conclusion

The polarisation of the book industry is now a widely accepted concept and has led to major changes to the industry that affect both large and small publishers. While this article is by no means inclusive of all the approaches to book production and marketing, various approaches have been analysed – from acquisition to promotion.

With the support of numerous sources, this special feature has also examined the differences in approach to printing and distribution between large and small publishers, explored developments in digital technology and what this means for the industry, as well as delved into the various approaches to marketing and publicity.

Book production and bookselling worldwide will continue to change as our technologies develop, and our reading habits adapt.

While there is much speculation regarding the future of publishing, the rise in book producing technologies can only mean one thing: whether the publisher is large or small, the passion for great books is still well and truly alive.

For references please go here:

Should I Self Publish And Give Up My Day Job?

A recent report from Author Earnings confirms that self-published titles are gaining enormous traction in the book market, and in particular, e-book sales. From humble and amateur beginnings only a few short years ago, Indie publishing has reduced the Big Five publishers to only 16% of the Amazon e-book market. While the data is only drawn from Amazon sales, their market dominance is so large that one can easily believe that it represents a trend across the whole publishing industry. But does this mean you can write a book, get rich and say, ‘I’ll give up my day job?’

With this information, it might be easy to conclude that self-publishing, or Indie publishing as it is often called now, is turning into a gold mine for authors. So should you give up your day job, write a book, and instantly become a rich Indie author? Well, no, yes and no.

Self-publishing isn’t easy to define

Self-publishing is not a singular definition. There are many so facets to it and while there are certainly a number authors who work all day and write all night and make a decent side income from self-publishing, there are also those who have tried to make it a full-time career, but failed to make more than a few dollars a month in their first year, so gave up. There are the hobby authors who appreciate the opportunity to publish, but are not dreaming of making a lot of money from their passion but do make a little money each month. Then there are those who think that by tapping out a few words and loading it up onto Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will make them a killing. Within this group are scammers, Internet marketers and dreamers, and without being unkind, writers who have trouble even spelling the word, writer. Yet they are a very real and important component of self-publishing, as it is the freedom to publish that is at the very heart of this new form of publishing.

At the top of the list, though, are the professional self-publishers, who are a different breed of author to those I listed before. They treat it as a business and invest heavily in book launches, promotion, advertising and media placement. They are often authors who have been published traditionally in the past but have grasped the opportunity to earn far more than was being offered by their agents and publishers, by using their established author brand to self-publish and self-promote their new titles.

Then there is the new grey area, which is Small Press. These can range from well-established specialist traditional publishers, down to one self-published author who uses his or her knowledge and experience of publishing a few books on KDP to help other authors to self-publish. This is becoming more and more common, as those who often have little or no computer knowledge seek free or inexpensive help in getting their book published.

While the report by Author Earnings paints a very rosy unit sales picture of self-publishing against traditional publishing, it doesn’t offer any real information regarding Vanity Publishing.

As the Big Five all have vanity publishing wings now, are these books classed as self-published? There is also no breakdown of the sales data to know which segment of self-publishing is making the most inroads. My instinctive gut guess would be that those who have considerable publishing industry knowledge and acumen would stand the best chance of success. Self-publishing may be new, but publishing is not. The basics remain the same.

So by all means, take the opportunity to use self-publishing to express yourself, get that manuscript that has been gathering dust for years out into the marketplace, and when you have finished, write another book. But give up your day job? No. Not if you only plan to open a Twitter account, a Facebook Page and then believe that your book will sell like hot cakes, without a pound of investment.

Self-publishing is now a very big business with huge potential market. Don’t get too carried away by the suffix in front of the word publishing. Self-publishing is still publishing and that has always been a tough business, even when you know what you’re doing. Just ask the Big Five.


5 Simple Ways to Make Your Manuscript Solicited


You may be familiar with the phrase “we don’t take unsolicited manuscripts” on publishers’ websites. It can be a disappointing sight for an aspiring writer yearning to be published. Fortunately, publishers are always soliciting; you just need to know how to get your work into that category.


While many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, some literary agents do. Literary Agents are there to connect writers with publishers and to help handle the legal documents regarding copyright (including print, film and radio) and royalties.


Entering writing competitions is a great way to get your name and work in front of publishers. Winners and those short-listed are often named in literary media—the same media that publishers read.

In addition to the publicity, some competitions also offer publication as a prize. The publication could be in media such as a magazine or newspaper, or it could be as a printed anthology or book. Manuscript competitions and awards have also helped many first-time writers publish.


Publishers and editors may not have time to read manuscripts, but they do have time to listen to pitches. A pitch is a short, sweet and powerful way of sharing your manuscript. If you can capture the essence and selling points of your story in a quick and compelling way, you could get someone willing to read your whole manuscript.


A portfolio is a collection or sample of your work. If you are a long-prose writer it might be beneficial to work on your short-prose skills, as portfolios usually aren’t made of novels. Portfolios can be attached to your resume, but if you want a publisher to notice you, you want it out in the world.


Lastly, but certainly not least, you need to know the right people. If you want a publisher to hear about your manuscript, you want to tap into that publishing network. Pitch your manuscript to the right people, and they might know a publisher who could be interested and pass it along.

For more tips and tricks on how to get your foot through that door, visit the rest of the article here:

Book Rights And Wrongs And Traps To Avoid


Never give away your book rights for nothing

There are so many avenues available now for authors to publish a book.

At the top of the list, of course, are the five big publishers and their myriad of imprints, followed by medium and small press publishers.

Then there is a long list of hybrid publishers, micro-publishers, vanity publishers and lastly, untrustworthy charlatans.

For a new author, it can be daunting to know which is the best avenue to take, especially for those not confident in taking the self-publishing route.

Whenever an author considers using a publisher, the most critical element is making a decision will be in regard to the author’s book rights. Whether in part or in total, publishers will always want the rights to a book before they publish.

Generally, if a publisher is offering an advance, then it is logical to expect that an author would agree to sign over the rights to a book. But advances are a rarity in today’s publishing world.

For new authors, the far more common occurrence is that a publisher will demand the rights, but offer no money in return. In an increasing number, due to a lack of financial resources, small publishers ask for money from the author, to cover a part or even all of the publishing costs. This is definitely a danger signal.

Signing up with a publisher might sound exciting, but signing away the rights to your book without knowing how financially sound a publisher is, or checking on how successful they have been, can lead to serious problems.

Almost every day there is news of publishers going out of business, and this is when trouble can really strike. Getting your book rights back could take years, and that may even be optimistic.

So what can a new author do to avoid making a huge mistake? Find out here: