Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster are trying to merge. The government is blocking it due to concerns of the new enormous publisher monopolizing the marketplace. We’ve received several questions about the particulars of the testimony, but the ones about this quote stand out:
Is this a lie? Yes and no. Yes, a publisher can make most books into best sellers. What they can’t do is make a book profitable. Publicity costs money. However, money is very loud, and publishers certainly will try to use it to make some books profitable. This doesn’t always turn out well for the author.
Suppose a publisher purchases a book from a debut author and drops an massive chunk of money as an advance. Let’s say $1,000,000. This signals that they expect this book to be a major bestseller. The audio companies see this and rush in with their own offers. The foreign rights agents follow. German, Taiwanese, Spanish, French, Korean rights are sold. It’s a feeding frenzy. A film company jumps in and buys the rights on an off chance that the book will blow up and become a valuable commodity. ARCs, advance reader copies, are sent in the thousands to every reviewer. People talk about receiving them. They are excited. Everywhere you turn online, you see the book mentioned. It is in Waiting on Wednesday lists and Must Have lists and Buy This or Miss Out Forever lists. A controversy occurs because someone found something problematic, and the Book Tok community splits into two camps: pro-book and anti-book. This only ratchets up the book’s visibility.
Then the book comes out finally, and it’s meh. It still charts on the bestseller lists simply because enough people heard about it to buy it, but it doesn’t really make that much money in sales, certainly not enough to recoup the publisher costs. However, the publisher also received audio and foreign rights payouts. They didn’t just break even, they made a slight profit. So the publisher is fine. The author? Not so much. The author is now a failure because their sales are nowhere near to earning out their advance. Even though they are sitting on a pile of money, that pile will not last and nobody wants to buy the next book because the sales show they are a risky investment.
I have seen this happen and more than once. So they can make you an “artificial” bestseller. The question is, do you want to be?
The most profitable books to the publisher are the ones that are by unknown authors with small or average advances that unexpectedly explode. Twilight. Throne of Glass. In film terms, the best book is like the first Paranormal Activity movie. It cost $15,000 to make and earned 193 million worldwide.
We are all writers and readers here. We know how things are said is important. Colleen Hoover “does not take up most of S&S’s resources.” Authors who take up their resources. Take up. Authors are clearly a burden.
S&S takes 75% of their authors’ earnings. 75% in ebooks! I know we are about capitalism, but there have to be some ethics in business. It is their contractual and ethical obligation to devote their resources to promoting the books they purchase and to not act like we are leeches because we want basic things that would help our books succeed. Quality editing. Quality copyediting. Covers that don’t make people cringe. Advertisement online. Promotional efforts across ebook retailers. Hell, most authors would settle for being treated like they matter and they are part of a team rather than getting petted on the head and told we are pretty every time we try to have some input.
If I have to hire my own publicist, as the following tweets suggest, then I might as well go solo and keep all the money I earn.
It is exactly like that. Exactly. Magic Bites and Magic Burns were sold for $5,000 each. This is not a typo. That is the correct number of zeros. How much promotion do you think they got? That’s right, very little.
Magic Burns actually lucked out. BN was doing one of those cardboard displays and they already had two titles in there. They needed a third, so our editor suggested Magic Burns and that was amazing. Thank you, Anne!
We didn’t see that level of promotion again for a bit, even though the book series accelerated in sales. They didn’t wake up to the fact we were selling until we hit #1 on NYT. I remember when “online promotion” in your marketing and publicity summary meant the publisher mentioned your book was coming out on Twitter.
We have never gotten a publisher-provided billboard at Times Square. Those of you who are writers, have you? I bet 99.99999% of you haven’t. Here is your paper plate.
To be fair, it is questionable how much a billboard at Times Square would contribute to sales, but it is the simplest way to illustrate the disparity without going into deep and confusing detail. Also, we can buy our own ads at Times Square now. It costs an arm and a leg, but it can be done.
And this brings me to present day, which is an interesting point in publishing. We have our print run numbers for Ruby Fever. For the first time ever, our mass market print run numbers for Ruby Fever are less than our very first print run of Magic Bites.
The preorders are up across ebooks and audio, so it’s not that there is no demand or there will be a drop in sales because the readers have cooled on the series. It’s not because Avon is not promoting it. They are and they are working very hard on it. No, the print run cut is driven by the shrinking retailer space. Drug stores no longer stock books. The shelf space at BN is contracting. Do you want to know how many books BN ordered? 3,312. That’s it.
Mass market was always a bargain hunter’s format. It was the cheapest way to read a book. I feel like I am beating a dead horse here, because I’ve been saying it for literally years, but ebooks have overtaken that particular format. Yes, there are some diehards who hold on to mass market, so the need for it will never disappear, but the days of 250,000 mass market print runs are behind most of us.
However, print sales are up. They are driven by trade paperback and hardcovers. Again, I have been saying it for years, because I’m a mother of two now adults who read everything they could get their hands on when they were teenagers. Ten years ago I knew they liked to have a large pretty printed book in their hands. Printed books make for the best social media photos and videos. Teenagers also like trading books. A lot of them become more passionate about reading as they grow older. We all know it’s addicting.
Going forward, we will be looking for a publishing partner willing to experiment in that space. We want pretty printed hardcovers or trade paperbacks and a publicity and marketing package that makes sense.