Why don’t men read more?

This might explain it.

This might explain it.

I hear from a lot of male readers, both young and old(er).  As a result, I may have a distorted view of the readership in the U-S of A – America (can you tell I get a lot of spam?).  I am told by publishing industry pundits that men don’t read as much as women.  Therefore, the female reader is highly coveted.  I look at bestseller lists these days, and I do see a lot of romance themed novels flooding the top of any given list.    Further solidifying the point that more women buy books than men, agents and editors have taken to the Twittershere with the hashtag MSWL (Manuscript Wish List).  A quick survey of the list reveals a large number of references to themes that would appeal to female readers: strong female protagonist, romance, heroine, mother/daughter, female pirate, etc.

So my question is why don’t more men read?  Is it a cultural construct or do they not read because the publishing industry doesn’t seem to produce material that appeals to them as much?  Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions.  Why don’t men read books with strong female protagonists, and why are we, the male of the species, so opposed to romance novels?

As an indie author, I may be more concerned about these issues than most people, but I find the topic interesting in a perplexing kind of a way.  So I guess the real question is are men the problem or is the publishing industry the problem?

BTW – The ‘s’ only looks unnecessary in the hashtag MSWL.  MS is the accepted abbreviation for manuscript.

BTW2 – I would totally read a book about a female pirate.

The Snookification of the Publishing Industry

Actual tweet from Snooki the author - “I have mind blowing news! I am officially reading my first bo! Lmao! Nicholas Sparks “dear John!” … I‛m proud of myself!”

Warning: This is a good old fashioned rant!

I hereby revoke those involved in the traditional publishing industry’s  right to look down your noses at self-published authors.  You can thank Simon & Schuster for finally crushing the beating heart of your self-perceived ironclad credibility.  You, my contracted friends, can now count Snooki Polizzi as one of your peers.   That’s Snooki of Jersey Shore fame, the bouncy big-haired queen of quotes like; “That’s why I don’t eat friggin’ lobster or anything like that.  Because they’re alive when you kill it.” And, “I think my crotch is sticking out.”

I’m not stupid.  I know why S&S thinks this is a good deal.  Snooki is a celebrity that has brand recognition, and celebrity memoirs do well among their fans, but this is not a memoir.  She’s been signed to publish a novel.  A novel!  Are you kidding me?  Not only is Snooki not a writer, she’s admitted to only reading two books, Twilight and Dear John.  Sadly, I guarantee that’s two more books than 90% of her fans have read.

Now, it’s doubtful that Snooki is actually going to write the book.  S&S will likely hire a ghost writer and stick Snooki’s name and chubby little face on the book, but the deal is a clear indication of what is wrong with the publishing industry.  Publishers are not interested in books.  They want authors… well, that’s not entirely accurate. They want names and faces that come with built-in media coverage, whether the individual can write or not is secondary to their purposes.  They want to sell books, and you can’t blame them. That’s how they keep the lights on, but the problem is they aren’t publicizing books.

Publishing companies are publicizing authors.  They’re treating the author as the product.  And again, I can understand that to a certain degree.  Stephen King is the product.  John Grisham is the product.  Cormac McCarthy is the product.  Philip Roth is the product. But, they’re products built around writing talent. Snooki is a product built around public drunkenness and disturbingly revealing outfits (seriously, doesn’t she have friends that are willing to say, “You’re wearing that in public?”), and somehow this merits a publishing deal with a major publishing company.  For some reason, S&S thinks that fans of Snooki will buy her book just because she has the ability to do a half dozen Gangsta Bull Shots.   There’s no doubt they’ll show up for her public appearances and buy books to throw away when they get home, but that’s it.  The book won’t even sell enough to cover the cost of publicity.

My plea to publishing companies is to start caring more about the material.  Start publishing books that will have a shelf-life longer than a carton of milk.  Make the story your priority. Give us memorable characters.  And please, please sign authors that don’t say things like, “Sympathetic. Word of the day… that’s a big word!”

Before you ask – Yes, I’m slightly bitter, but not because of what I’ve gone through.  I don’t mind being judged by my talent.  I am bitter because of what people like Snooki don’t have to go through.  There’s only so much money in the publishing industry, and when they waste it on crap like this, I get a little ranty.

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Things to do today: 1.) Take out the trash. 2.) Pick up dry cleaning. 3.) Fix the publishing industry

a pile of books

Is the publishing industry in a mess?

In recent weeks, the interwebs has been burning up with articles and blog posts about the demise of the traditional publishing industry.   I’m not sure what sparked the current crop of death notices, but I find it fascinating that so many people now find it newsworthy.   The truth is the publishing industry hasn’t been very proficient at selling books for decades now.    To give you an example of this, according to bookstatistics.com, “Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Penguin Putnam wrote off at least $100 million in unearned advances in 1996.”  And from the same website, “Harper-Collins lost more than $250 million in a single year just on returns.” (This is actually pulled from a March/April 2002 New York Times article).

Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional publishers.  They can design the hell out of books, and the editing is as close to flawless as you can get in most traditionally published books.  They even have an eye for talent (keep in mind; they’ve repeatedly turned me down).   Granted, they do make a lot of bonehead moves, like signing, Jay Leno, Johnnie Cochran, Dick Morris, etc to book deals with advances so large they couldn’t possibly earn them back in sales.  Statistically, traditional publishers only earn back the advances on 30% of the titles they publish.  There is a Hail Mary pass mentality in traditional publishing.  Meaning, they publish every book with the mentality that they only have one chance to score and win.  If the Hail Mary fails, they move onto the next book.  If the Hail Mary succeeds, they celebrate and get the book ready for the next phase of the marketing strategy.  They invest in books that succeed.  They do not invest in books to help them succeed.

In my humble opinion, in order for traditional publishing companies to survive in a time when it is increasingly easier for authors to get books to market without them, they are going to have to make the following changes:

1. Abandon mainstream media advertising now.  Stop spending money on print, television, and radio.  It costs too much money, and gets little to no results.  I don’t care who the author is.

2 Do not sign one more author who has never had a book on the market.  Whether the author has been previously traditionally published or self-published, the experience and devotion they bring to the table will far outweigh the current risk you take on writers who just have a manuscript.  Let’s face it; you don’t do a very good job of developing talent.  You can spot it.  You just don’t know what to do with it once you have it.  A publishing deal for a first time author really amounts to nothing more than on the job training that they can put to good use for their second book.  It’s not a great business practice for you.

3. Hire all the editors back you’ve laid off lately.  They are your greatest asset.  Letting them go is kind of like an army deciding to give their soldiers guns without bullets in order to save money.

4. Stop printing large quantities of books.  Forty percent of all books never sell.  That’s a lot of money wasted, not to mention a lot of trees sacrificed for nothing.  Here’s an idea, try cutting initial production by 40% and then shift the titles to a print-on-demand rotation.

5. End the returns program.  The publishing industry adopted a strategy of taking books back from retailers no matter what during the depression in order to survive miserable economic times.  The problem is they never ended the program.  Retailers can send books back for a full refund or credit.  It’s a policy that costs the publisher more than the cost of the book; man hours, storage, and management of the returns program all cost real dollars.  In addition, it costs retailers money to send books back.  No one wins in this scenario.

6.  Stop trying to create news with outrageous deals.  When you sign an author to a seven figure deal, you make a big deal out of it by drowning the media in press releases.  And it is news for about a week.  The problem is it takes you 18 months to get the book to market.   The size of the advance is no longer news.  The marketing value of the big paycheck is gone.

7. Decrease the size of advances on the top end, and stop paying your authors a measly 7.5% to 15% royalty.  Give your authors “benchmark” royalty contracts.  That’s right, reward them based on performance.  Start them off at a 20% royalty for the first 10,000 books.  From there, bump them up to 25% for the next 10,000 and so forth and so on until the author earns 50%.  Instead of the big advance, give them a large post market bonus.  When they sell 1 million books, give them a newsworthy 6 or 7 figure payment against future sales.  Send out your press-releases, get your coverage and sell more books immediately.

8. Your authors should be at the forefront of the marketing efforts for their books, but they should not be the only one marketing their books.  Using my plan, you’ve cut your production by 40% so that means you can cut the number of people on your sales team.  I’ve also cut your advertising budget by totally eliminating mainstream media advertising.  Shift some of these people and resources to create a web 2.0 branding team.  Instead of begging (and paying) for space in brick & mortar stores, their job will be to manage volunteer sales forces (what used to be called fan clubs).  Their sole job will be to ignite word of mouth campaigns through blogging, social media and online video.  They will help the author create and maintain their brand.

9. Don’t just publish books.  Produce films based on your books.  Manage a speaker’s bureau for your authors.  Develop video games based on your books. Create workshops and seminars for your authors.  Become a packaging company.  Negotiate various rights as needed with authors.

10. Make books available for sale quicker.  There is no reason it should take 18 months for a book to make it to market.  You can get it done in 6 months at the latest in most cases.

11.  For books that don’t have time sensitive material, there is no reason to give up on them so quickly.  Be in it for the long haul.  Let the accumulative effect of branding take hold.   Look at books as a long term investments.

12. Publish fewer books for the brick and mortar market.  Physical stores are having a tough time with the inventory they have now.  They don’t need more books.  Reserve the brick and mortar sales channel for those authors who have proven themselves online.  Go ahead and make this a benchmark, too.  If they sell 30,000 books, open up the brick & mortar channel to them.

13. Train your authors in marketing, public speaking, online video production, the market place, their genre, etc.  Help them help you.  Distance learning is a wonderful thing.  Use it to get your author’s up to speed.

There is plenty more that could be done and should be done, but this is the kind of thing that will take baby steps.  Work on these 13 things, and get back to me.

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Top This! The Worst Christopher Walken Impression Ever!

I’m in a mood today.  What mood?  One of those moods you can’t really describe, so I won’t even try.    Instead, allow me to pull out an old video in an attempt to totally humiliate myself.  First, some back story. I once had a job that required a lot of travel.  I spent hours in my car, and in those lonely hours, I became the world’s worst impressionist.  I actually developed a pathetic Jerry Seinfeld, a horrendous Woody Allen, and a ghastly Christopher Walken.   Not only that, for some odd reason that I can’t quite explain, I created a scenario where they were quarterbacks for a football team.  They’re down by 4 with time for just one more play.  As Walken says in the huddle, “A field goal won’t do!”

In the video below, I had this brilliant idea to pretend that Walken is my publisher, and he’s not happy with book sales.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my publisher, Christopher Walken.  BTW – If you’ve got any stones, you’ll post a video of your own Christopher Walken Impression.  C’mon you know you have one.  Everyone does.

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James Patterson signs a 17-book deal!

Patterson commits to writing more books in three years than most people read in three years!

Patterson commits to writing more books in three years than most people read in three years!

In an era where most authors struggle to get a one book deal (me being one of them), James Patterson has inked a 17 book deal with Hachette Book Group.  The last book is to be delivered by 2012.  That’s 5.7 books a year or assuming each book has an average word count of 80,000 words that’s a total of 1,360,000 words in three years or 453,333 words a years.  Let’s assume he can write for a solid eight hours a day without interruption.  That means he has 2,920 hours a year of writing time.  I’m not allowing for any time off in this scenario.  That’s a little over 155 words an hour.  In other words, carpal tunnel meet James Patterson.  Notice that I didn’t included any time for rewrites.

Congratulations, James.  You really needed the break.  Where is that damn sarcasm key?  In a related story, scientists prove that life truly is unfair.

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A book is not enough!

The Oz Chronicles Project - Coming Soon!

The Oz Chronicles Project - Coming Soon!

So, one of my favorite hobbies is to kvetch about the publishing industry… not so much the publishing industry, but my inability to find the magic formula to become master of the publishing industry universe. Rapidly advancing technology is changing publishing at an equally rapid rate. Publishing companies are redefining themselves along the way in order to find ways to make money. In short, publishing doesn’t mean what publishing meant 10 years ago… or 5 years ago for that matter. Publishing companies don’t want books anymore. They want multimedia projects, intellectual properties that translate from book to video to website to blog to audio to video game to social networks to film. The Amanda Project is the best example of this. This new publishing philosophy has a lot of people plotzing all over the place. They believe books are books and that’s what the publishing industry should stick to doing.

I couldn’t disagree more. I’m of the belief that this could very well be the best thing to ever happen to the publishing industry. It’s not about the book. It’s about the story. That’s what I do. I tell stories. I want the story to exist in every form possible. I think this is beyond cool. Bring on the The Oz Chronicles role playing game where the kids are in control. The video game, the viral videos, the Oztweets, video study guides, I’m into all of it, and I know why the publishing industry is doing it. I applaud them. It really has inspired me to think in broader dimensions.

I suddenly find myself moving from kvetching to celebrating. Change is good. Looks like I’ll have to find a new hobby.

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POD, Self-Publishing, Starting Your Own Publishing Company, Signing with a Major Publishing House – Jeremy Robinson has done it all!

I’ve talked about Jeremy Robinson before on this blog. He’s a writer to be admired for more than just his talent. He is an extremely resourceful guy who had a dream he refused to give up on. He started in the POD world, and graduated to owning his own small publishing house, and eventually even signed a publishing multi-book deal with a major publishing house (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press). He’s a guy to watch and learn from. Luckily he’s made that easy for you. He has a bi-weekly video blog on Youtube that is worth subscribing to if you’re a writer, author, or a member of the publishing community. Here’s one of my favorite installments. Watch, learn, and pass along the link to everyone on your list that’s ever talked about publishing a book.