Until the turn of the twenty-first century, books were published primarily by publishing companies in the principal cities of the world. An author would contact the publisher, who would consider a submitted manuscript, suggest changes and either reject the submission or accept it for publication. Then at some time over the past century, as publishers were besieged by more would-be authors, the literary agent came upon the scene. Her job to screen, select and help authors prepare their manuscripts for submission to the publishers. To achieve profitability,
A bit of history: early U. S. publishers
Throughout the past couple of centuries, a book lover with an idea and a printing press , or a friend who had one, could go into the publishing business, by seeking authors, hiring the printer and selling books from a small boutique press. Individual names of their founders are still carried forth by larger companies today: Henry Holt (now Macmillan), Alfred A. Knopf (now Random House) and many others. By the nineteenth and twentieth century, these small presses have multiplied and developed their own specialties. In fiction, there were adventure, mystery, romance, poetry children’s fantasy and many others. In nonfiction biography, history popular science, and textbooks in every university discipline led the way, eventually followed by specialty books in business topics, cookbooks, Do-It-Yourself books, poetry, art books self-help, amateur psychology and a host of others. such as, business books and many others. The most recent stage in this development in the late twentieth century was the consolidation in the industry, which has resulted in five major houses: Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster. These have subsumed and carry forward many of the famous boutique companies, which still publish their original genres under the umbrella of the Big Five firms.
Until the turn of the twenty-first century, books were published primarily by publishing companies in the principal cities of the world. An author would contact the publisher, who would consider a submitted manuscript, suggest changes and either reject the submission or accept it for publication. Then at some time over the past century, as publishers were besieged by ever-more would-be authors, the literary agent came upon the scene to screen, select and help authors prepare their manuscripts for submission to the publishers.
Indie Publishers to the rescue
To relieve new authors from this predicament, however, many small, independent presses have sprung up over the last generation, dedicated to discovering and presenting new talent. Since their investment in production, marketing and sales effort is small, these “indie” publishers will often take a chance on a new, unpublished author. They benefit from new developments such as print-on-demand methods of limiting production to the number of books that can be immediately sold offered by online publishers.
Emergence of the internet
When the Internet came into its own in the mid-1980s, yet another option was created: authors may now publish books themselves! Through companies like Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Ingram Spark (a branch of professional online book publisher Lightning Source) and others like Smashwords and Book Baby, authors may submit their own manuscripts and have them converted directly either into re-flowable electronic books or high-quality printed volumes.
Forbes Magazine’s Nick Bercovici reported in 2014 that online behemoth Amazon’s current annual revenue from book sales was $5.25 billion, according to one of his sources. That means books accounted for 7% of the company’s $75 billion in that year’s revenue. (By the way, this means that despite their key role in creating Amazon’s online brand, books are now small potatoes for the huge online retailer, another topic we shall eventually visit.) He also notes E-books now make up 19.5% of all books sold in the U.S., while Amazon has a 65% share that are Kindle titles within that category, with Apple and Barnes & Noble accounting for most of the rest. These online retailers have caused a 50% reduction in the number of bricks and mortar bookstores in this country.
By 2016 these ratios had skyrocketed to 61% digital and 39% print (in units sold), according to the Author Earnings website. In addition, they asked: How much money is being spent on print overall and how much on Amazon’s digital storefront? While the hard copy numbers were much higher, accounting for printing, distribution and selling costs, the percentage authors made from each sale was startlingly higher with digital. The article concludes: “It turns out that traditionally published authors give up more pie for their crust than indie authors give up for their crumbs.”
Sounds like a no brainer, right? Let’s go for the digital gold. WRONG. The pendulum swings, and demand for e-books has leveled off. Many readers prefer the ease and comfort of holding a traditional print book. And there are new ways of earning more on each book sold than through the traditional process. Digital has its role, of course. But is more for communication htan for contemplative absorption of digital material.
Remember, in this brave, new digital world, most of us are beginners. First, we have to learn how to write and present a readable, marketable print or digital book. When we face the next challenge, getting noticed, we soon discover we’re on the open ocean in a rowboat.
Once you identify your genre and understand where your book fits within the vast canon of literature, you’ll find writing easier, identify your audience more easily and maybe even discover a quicker path to publication. I’d be delighted to learn your stories on these issues and share them and your comments with the other readers of this column.
There are a number of factors influencing how you can publish and what type of publisher you can choose. Or become: the following and professional standing –that is, the “platform”—of the author. the type or genre of the book, the number of books you have to offer in the excitement you can generate over the appearance of your new book, whether it be a novel, biography, cookbook or self-improvement strategy. In the Posts under this heading, we’ll take advantage of some expert advice and I’ll share some insights I’ve learned.
Let’s figure out how to walk before we can run! Next time we’ll talk about first steps in entering the publishing world.