It is believed that book publishing, like any other business, needs to be shaken by a revolution from time to time. The five most momentous revolutions in the history of human communication are the invention of speech, the invention of writing, Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the fifteenth century, the creation of computers in the twentieth century, and the introduction of the entrepreneurial publishing model in the twenty-first century.
You are writing books, getting them published, and promoting them while publishing is in the throes of the most profound yet promising upheaval in its two-hundred-year history. Experts predict that business will change more in the next five years than it has in the last five hundred.
Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book; indeed, the end of the world is approaching.
—AN ASSYRIAN INSCRIPTION, 500 bc
Humanity now publishes as many words every week as it did in all human history up to 1800.
—NEW YORK TIMES, 1993
TRANSFORMING ONES AND ZEROS INTO DOLLARS
The New Yorker once ran a cartoon showing a computer talking to its owner and saying, “I can be upgraded. Can you?”
Now is an amazing time to be alive. Capitalism, competition, consolidation, technology, and the globalization of culture and commerce are accelerating the transformation of civilization.
We are on a wildly exhilarating ride into an impossible-to-predict future. Nobody’s in charge of the vessel, and no one knows where it’s going, so hang on tight and enjoy the ride.
Here’s part of the significance of technology to you:
• Technology is reinventing publishing. It:
— Has all but ended the physical drudgery of writing—voice-recognition software enables you to dictate your books into your computer or a digital recorder, which then stores them on your computer them into your computer.
— Offers new ways for you to generate income and publicity for you and your books.
— Is creating new options for publishers, booksellers, and you to sell your books by downloading them into e-books and other handheld devices, and by making them available online and through print-on-demand technology.
— Can multiply your productivity and effectiveness as a writer and a guerrilla. (You can use your computer for teaching, communicating with your readers and the rest of your networks, researching your books and the competition, checking on your books’ sales, selling them yourself, and of course, promotion.)
— Enables you to collaborate with other writers and your editor as well as connect you with your fans around the world; connections beget profits.
— Is vastly enlarging the possibilities for using an essential weapon that only you possess: your creativity.
— Is moving books off bookstore shelves, where they often languish, and onto digital shelves, where they can remain indefinitely until they are needed.
• Technology has collapsed time and distance. Business goes nonstop around the clock in 180 countries. This globalization is opening new markets for your books and services.
• Technology is creating a growing army of powerful marketing weapons, some of which are discussed in chapters 8 and 10.
Two more points:
• At some point in the first half of this century, it will be possible to put the 20 million documents in the Library of Congress on a disk the size of a sugar cube.
• You are lucky to be writing in English, the principal language of culture and commerce on the Net.
In addition to the bounty that technology promises, here are three bottom-line reasons for you to be excited about the changes in the industry:
• The continuing consolidation of the business has triggered an outburst of small new publishers who may offer you the best option for getting your books published.
• The end of the cold war warmed up China and Eastern Europe as markets for your work. Next up: the Middle East.
• The upside for your books can be far greater than ever. Between royalties and sub rights income, if even one of your books wins the best-seller lottery, your share of the profits can reach eight figures.
THE BLADES, NOT THE RAZOR
As technology keeps getting more powerful, it keeps getting less expensive and more accessible to frugal guerrillas. Technology companies understand that the biggest long-term profit is in the blades, not the razor; in using technology, not selling hardware; in the content, not the pipes it goes through.
WHY PUBLISHERS PROMOTE BOOKS
HarperCollins has been known to publish twelve hundred books a year. That’s more than three books every day of the year. Can HarperCollins promote all of these books?
Can cows fly?
New writers assume that if publishers buy books, they’ll promote them, a reasonable assumption that is usually wrong. Publishers will promote a book if:
• They have paid a greater advance than they can afford to lose
• The author’s previous book does well enough to convince the house that promotion will enable the next book to do even better
• The agent was able to negotiate a promotion budget
• It has to pump up a book as a lead title to help sell the rest of the season’s list
• Everyone in the house who reads the book loves it
• Editors are passionate enough about it and have enough seniority or a solid enough track record to sway the judgment of the powers that be
• It generates enough subsidiary rights income to prove its commercial potential
• The book has already been a best-seller in Europe
• The reps go crazy over the book when they read it before the sales conference, where they voice their unbridled enthusiasm
• The reps sell so many more copies than expected that the publisher is convinced the book will be a hit
• The book receives a starred review in Kirkus Reviews and a starred, boxed review in Publishers Weekly before publication
• Amazon.com sells enough copies before publication to propel the book high enough on its best-seller list to persuade the publisher that the book is worth promoting
• It receives glowing reviews in major markets when it is published
• The timing makes it a potential winner
• A competitive book has done well
• The book hits regional best-seller lists (San Francisco’s list is known for being prophetic)
• New management or a dry spell induces the house to prove it’s alive and kicking
It usually takes several of these justifications to prod publishers to promote a book. For more than 95 percent of trade books, none of them happens. The reality is that no matter who publishes your book and how it is promoted, the responsibility lies with the writer to move the books off the shelves.
So, where does that leave writers?
In need of guerrilla marketing.