Monday, November 03, 2008

Stacey Glick asks, "Will Books Survive and Thrive?"

There’s a lot of talk everywhere these days about the doomed economy and what it means for all businesses, large and small. No doubt the climate is grim, and people are worried. There have been discussions within the confines of book publishing that speak to all sides of the issue, and reports that book publishing is “recession-proof” given the relatively low price point for books and the fact that people are staying home more, and looking for inexpensive alternatives to entertain themselves. The holiday season will soon show if people will be buying more books, and less of other things, but we are all hoping for good news.

But what about outside of the consumer level – agents selling books and publishers buying them? Will there be a slowdown there, will publishers be buying fewer books and spending less money on them? That debate has been going on through the years and continues through this downward economic cycle with great concern from authors, agents, editors and publishers alike. But really, midlist and backlist books at the big houses have taken a back seat to front list titles for years already, so that’s not really new news. So far, the market seems to be cautiously conservative in some ways and grandiose and lavish in others with a mixed bag of returns. For every gloom and doom story out there, there’s another that’s equally as uplifting and encouraging.

Doubleday just announced a number of layoffs in part because of disappointments like paying over $1 million for Andrew Davidson’s first novel, The Gargolye, and recent reports like New York Magazine’s article by Boris Kachka about the end of publishing as we know it continue to spread pessimism about the future of books (see Michael Bourret’s blog from September 30). But there are still success stories both large and small that make us optimistic about the future of books. All of the recent press about a literary first novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which has sold well over 500K copies in hardcover at 576 pages is by anyone’s standards a huge hit, and would have been even before it was picked as an Oprah book. And what about the amazing little Randy Pausch book, The Last Lecture, which Hyperion spent mightily on in the hopes it might become another Tuesdays with Morrie, and it’s actually worked on that scale, resulting in a very happy publisher, not to mention a wonderful, lasting legacy for the author’s family. Then there’s Dewey, another big ticket item from Grand Central which they paid seven figures for and has been hovering near the top of the New York Times bestseller list the last few weeks reminding all of us that animal books are still working (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my upcoming The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton, which is getting very nice advance notices and response will follow the lead). And there are smaller success stories too. Like Michael Bourret’s children’s book, I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, that Scholastic paid a tiny advance for and it’s sold over a million copies.

So while there will always be disappointments and books that publishers paid too much for, they seem to keep spending aggressively on the books that their staffs and p&l statements say will break out as a “big” book and continue to make money for everyone for years to come. So far, we don’t really see that changing, and we all continue to search high and low for that next great book, the one that we can fall in love with, and that hopefully can make us all lots of money, too, whether the advance is seven figures, or just a small fraction of that.


  1. Thanks for this! It is positive as well as realistic. Long live books.

  2. Congrats on signing the Daily Coyote. My first words upon discovering the blog were 'please write a book' and I've been squeeing with delight at the thougt of it ever since. Charlie has a huge internet following, and Shreve is an extremely talented photographer; it will take a lot for the book to fail.

  3. I'm wondering how much of a role blogging plays in the whole thing - so many people I know are spending all of their reading time on their google readers, and are really cutting down on the number of books they buy and read. Then you have things like this romance novel written as a blog that are starting to gain traction in the mommysphere.

    I think there will always be a place for books, but I think a lot of the big readers are dividing their time between blogs and books. I think in the future books written by bloggers (not anthologies, but actual books) are going to become bread and butter for some publishers.

  4. I love the image of America curling up with books in lieu of more expensive entertainment. Thanks for the hopeful post, Stacey! I believe thoughts of writing the next great book should fuel every writer--otherwise, why bother?

  5. All I can say is that right now I'm working on things with my agent I never thought I'd do in a million years. Of course books will survive; just as reading will, too. They're just going to take on different physical forms in the future, because technology, Kindle and e-publishers aren't going to disappear.

  6. Thanks for sharing your balanced perspective and the success stories. It's always a boost to hear those!

  7. Great blog! Would love to follow it. Could you add an RSS feed widget so that I can add it to my NetNewsWire RSS feeder and track new posts?

    Look forward to your next post!

  8. Great post. I love books and will always read and buy them. I do beleive there will always be a place for books whether it be in bokstores, libraries, online stories, etc

  9. Just a note on two books mentioned here: The Last Lecture and Dewy. You mentioned that both had big advances and that is true, but what you did not mention is that did the books earn out. If they did, it probably was not by much. You never mentioned why publishers pay such big money for books. The reason: It is because of agents like you who bid up books and thus are real negative for the industry. An industry that has to make money, but with such large advances it is hard to do so.

  10. Well yes, they will and are! The difference is how and who we buy them from. No longer are we satisfied by going to B&N or Border's. We buy direct, from Amazon, used, and through interest-specific blogs.

    The challenge is keeping our public libraries stocked. Sadly, most have dwindling budgets that don't allow for regular buying. I think it's important not only to have the latest best sellers, but those books from small high quality publishers as well.

  11. Hi Stacey,

    Great entry! Particularly interesting to find this now after the sad publishing layoff/restructuring party has begun:( I work in television as a staff promo writer/producer and we're all in this same mental space What in the hell do viewers actually want now?

    However nervous the changing landscape might make me, I really don't believe that TV or books are dying. I just think we have to acknowledge that the viewer/reader craves a different experience and push ourselves to give it to them. I think that books and TV need to use new technology and social media to drill deep and keep their audience.

    For example, why not utilize the awesome-ness of Kindle and its ability to link to blogs? Authors could link to cool and useful sites in the same way bloggers link to enhance their content. This strengthens the author's marketing platform to sell more books, so score for the publisher. It also brings some new depth to the Kindle. I know that Kindle isn't able to link to everything just yet. But it's another opportunity for the publishing industry. How great would it be if a publisher could dictate what they want from the new technology instead of just following it? God knows no one wants to be left behind like the music industry was when it came to the iPod.

    Ok, longest comment in history. But again, thanks for the food for thought. The publishing industry is new to me. Blogs like this are super helpful.


    I wait for you stacey glick

  13. I´m a writter in Brazil i need your help stacey glick seen my novels in congratulations for your movie i never forget

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