The future of publishing

Lesbian short story and novel publishers.

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The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 15 Jun 2010, 13:34

I don't think anyone will argue that publishing is changing. With the consolidation of bookstores from lots o' indies to a few big chains over the last several decades, and with the consolidation of distributors ditto, the publisher's share of the profit has dwindled as others take a bigger and bigger cut. Indie publishers have been bought up by giant conglomerates, who focus only on the bottom line. Midlisters are being squeezed out, with blockbuster books getting all the attention and marketing dollars. Online bookstores compete with physical bookstores.

Meanwhile, the computer/keyboard has allowed anyone and everyone to write a book -- and it seems like they all do. Submissions to publishers have gone up by several degrees of magnitude. Self published and vanity published books compete with commercialy published fiction. E-books compete with print books. Free online fiction competes with for-sale fiction. Where's it going to go?

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has an interesting blog post on the question -- and I reckon he's probably right. Whether or not an author is successful is, ultimately, in the hands of the readers, and it'll remain there -- perhaps with readers being the first, rather than the last, judges of a book's worthiness.

What's changing is that the funnel is in the process of inverting - from a top down publishing process to one that's bottom up. We're moving from an era where we filtered and then published to one where we'll publish and then filter. Yes, many (if not most) of the books that will see publication in the new era will only be read by a handful of people. Rather than a rejection letter from an agent, authors will be met with the silence of a handful of sales. And that's okay!! Even if a book is only purchased by a few friends and family members -- what's the harm?

Meanwhile, the public will have the ultimate ability to find the books they want to read, will be unconstrained by the tastes of the publishing industry, and whether you want to read experimental literary fiction or a potboiler mystery: you'll be able to find it. Out of the vastness of books published the best books will emerge, driven to popularity by passionate readers.

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/06 ... ll-be.html

A fascinating read.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby audre » 15 Jun 2010, 14:33

That is the $64,000 question. I have noticed that the fastest growing lesbian publisher has developed something of a formula for their books. Based on their sales formulaic writing is popular. Success tends to encourage copycats whether the vehicle is through print, website, or e-books. While there may be more points of access, if authors are encouraged to write in a particular manner what is really gained. The harder question is how does the author who writes beautiful prose but not steamy sex scenes going to compete for access. How does a complex love story find an audience when the characters are not always likable and the endings are not always happy. Emily Bronte or even Radclyffe Hall would have a tough time in todays environment. All that said, now is a great time to be writing.

The market will ultimately decide which access points will prevail, but until that time keep writing. I hope Bransford is right about the best books emerging. History as shown that sometimes what is good and what is popular are not necessarily the same.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 15 Jun 2010, 15:06

Well, we're living the future to some degree already, as it's pretty common for a lesbian fanfic writer whose work gets favourable attention from readers to be offered a commercial publishing contract by one or more of the lesfic presses. So in this sense, readers are choosing the books that make it to print.

Lesfic has concentrated on romance/romantica/erotica, I think, because no one else publishes it. It's the niche they've found profitable because there's no competition. In contrast, a book with beautiful prose and flawed characters that follows a complex love story to a bittersweet ending has endless markets available to it, from the Big Six to indies to small presses to e-presses, from Forge to Random House to Riverhead to Algonquin to Soho to Gival to Samhain to Paris to Anansi. This kind of book doesn't compete with lesfic romance: it competes with general literature. And yeah, the competition is a lot tougher (e.g., PD said a few years ago that they accept about 20 of the 150 to 200 submissions they receive per year; Nathan B in his blog post above says he accepts 3 to 5 of the 15,000 to 20,000 query letters he receives per year).
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 15 Jun 2010, 15:26

audre wrote: if authors are encouraged to write in a particular manner what is really gained.

Um -- $$$? It's a strategy that's worked pretty well for Harlequin/Mills and Boon for decades.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby audre » 15 Jun 2010, 23:45

I agree.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 16 Jun 2010, 09:24

I think -- though I could be remembering wrong on this -- that most big name romance writers like J Cruisie and N Roberts got their starts in category romance. Those whose work is pedestrian publish a few books and then fade away; those who are really stellar sell well and get wooed to write single-title romances, and from there they break away from category and become Names. Of course, that's not likely to happen in lesbian romance, but I would imagine that lesfic authors who write other genre fiction could, if they sell well and become popular, break out and sell to mainstream genre.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby audre » 17 Jun 2010, 11:10

Please forgive my lack of knowledge. What is the significance of a single title romance? Also, within the lesbian owned publishing community how is this dynamic playing out? Again, forgive my lack of knowledge but I am terminally curious.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 17 Jun 2010, 12:12

Lesfic only has single-title romances -- that is, each book is fairly individual.

In mainstream, Harlequin etc have category romances which are books that fall into a cookie-cutter type: "Tender Romance" or "Doctor and Nurse romance". A book within a category will follow a pretty closely scripted style, length, and format (e.g., characters must meet by page X, characters must have X characteristics, etc). The covers will all have a set theme and the the category name will be prominently displayed on the cover: you can see at a glance if a book is in "your"category or not. Readers who like to read the same type of book consistently will stay loyal to a particular category, buying them regularly and gobbling them down like popcorn.

For example, here's a couple of Harlequin Tender Romance novels:
Image Image
and here's a couple of of Steeple Hill Inspired Suspense novels:
Image Image

Novels within a category romance are put out like clockwork -- say, five a month -- and get replaced by the bookstores by the new titles in that category each month. A single print run is done; maybe five or ten thousand. The books get a month of shelf life, get sold (or not, and those get sent back to the publisher) and that's the end. Books in these categories are like fireworks -- they go off once, and then die.

Single-title romances aren't meant to fit within the stringent guidelines of a given category. They're usually longer, the author has complete freedom, they will have more funding committed to them, they'll have a bigger print run, and they'll have a longer shelf life. They're more likely to either a) tank or b) be a spectacular success. They're a bigger gamble for the publisher, but also a potentially much bigger money-maker.

The closest I've seen in lesfic to the category romance is BSB's "matinee" romances.
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby audre » 17 Jun 2010, 12:29

So, from a business standpoint is it better for the author or the publisher to have the single title romance. Does the same theory apply if you self publish or e publish?
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Re: The future of publishing

Postby FranW » 17 Jun 2010, 13:11

For the publisher, category romances are a steady low-risk source of a small amount of income. Single titles are an irregular high-risk source of varying amounts of income. For an author, given the submission/acceptance rate, it's about 10 times easier to get a category romance manuscript accepted than a single-title romance. I think the authors get paid a flat fee for a category romance rather than royalties, so their income, like the publisher's, is steady but low.

You can't self publish a category romance unless you invent your own line; there would be little point to that, as it's a multibillion dollar business to establish such a system and a set of readers. E-publishing is a different kettle of fish, in which erotica has to date really been the only profitable genre, and readers seem to appreciate individuality and innovation rather than a predictable category-type novel.
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