Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Alan Elsner on Publishing

The Joys and Pain of Publishing
by Alan Elsner
Author of Romance Language

            I have published four books – one non-fiction, one memoir, one thriller and one love story. In each case, I loved the writing process and tolerated the editing with fairly good humor.
            The pain begins once the book is actually published.
            Each of my books has been well received by critics and readers and each has sold respectably, if not spectacularly. But any success I have achieved is due entirely to my own efforts. I have received no help from publishers.
            I believe most authors experience the same indifference from their publishers. Once the book is out, if it does not achieve “bestseller” status within a month, it is dead.
            A generation ago, there used to be a category of “mid-list” books which sold well without becoming bestsellers, and earned a moderate profit for publisher and author alike. This category has now almost entirely disappeared.
            Publishing now is dominated by a few multinational conglomerates which own multiple imprints. They are interested in one thing and one thing only – finding the next blockbuster.
            Look at it from their viewpoint. A book like The Da Vinci Code can sell tens of millions of copies. With movie tie-ins, it could earn half a billion dollars or more. With that kind of money at stake, publishers don’t care if a book earns them $25,000 or loses them $25,000. It has almost no relevance to their bottom line. When book that goes “viral” can sell 60 million dollars, why bother with one that sells 20,000 or 30,000?
            While this has been happening on the publishing side, the same has been going on among booksellers. Today, there are only two or three outlets that count for anything – Amazon of course, Barnes & Noble and perhaps some of the discount stores like Walmart. Independent booksellers, which used to push great books and pride themselves on finding promising new authors, have disappeared from most cities. The big outlets are interested in volume – get as many books out of the door as possible. That means pushing proven names – Dan Brown, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts – and ignoring the rest. A huge proportion of sales at Barnes & Noble go to books on the front tables, which publishers have to pay for. If you’re lucky, you’ll get two or three weeks on the table. If your book isn’t flying out of the store by then, you’re history. Forget about slowly building a readership. In this age, no one has the patience to wait.
            Despite all this, the advent of the Internet has given authors a way of reaching potential readers through their own efforts-- if they are persistent and inventive enough. It means identifying the target audience and plying it with information. It means using blogs, social media and contacts and milking them for all you’re worth. It means sending out scores of emails and press releases a day and plenty of free books.
            It’s frustrating. Some people promise to review your book and never do. Others request a free book and then sell it on eBay. You have to accept this.
            And then, you pray for the miracle that sometimes happens when a magic ingredient called “word of mouth” takes over. It’s tough and the odds of success are slim – but it’s not impossible.

Tomorrow: The Language of Romance Language 


Susan Macatee said...

Great post! With four new releases all out in a four month period and one still upcoming next month, I've had to learn how to network to let readers know my books are out there. Fortunately, I've been blessed with a number of great reviews that help, but it's still a lot of work getting the word out on all these new releases. And I won't know until my first royalty statement appears if it's doing any good.

Mary Ricksen said...

Very true. Marketing is now our job and it is time consuming and costly,
What can you do?

K9friend said...

A writer must wear many hats these days. Producer, marketer, and seller!

Jana Richards said...

Most authors despise promotion and would rather be writing. But that's not an option in today's publishing world. I guess the key is trying to balance writing time with promotion time, and finding promotions that drive traffic to your blog and website. Unfortunately, I haven't found either the balance or the magic promotions yet!


Melinda said...


Great post. Marketing never ends
I really enjoyed the post


nlindabrit said...

Thank you for another fascinating post, Mr. Elsner. What you say about the current publishing situation is true and it leaves the vast majority of authors with no choice but to market their own work for all they are worth.

I think one promising new trend for the future could be the rise of the book club. I know Oprah Winfrey has one in the U.S. and here in Britain, one of the newspapers has founded one. They have managed to generate huge sales on some of their recommended books and made new stars out of several previously unknown authors.

KatieBee said...

I think it's sad that so much goes into marketing other things---video games, etc, and literature seems so unimportant in today's society. That says a lot about what we've become as people---books get less attention because people want instant gratification and they don't have the attention span to sit through reading a book. Compare the furor caused by Gone With the Wind in 1936---that was THE thing---everyone was reading it and talking about it and it was a national phenomenon. Of course that can still happen with things like Harry Potter---but it is increasingly rare that a book gets the mass media behind it and gets marketed to that extent anymore.