Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From the Comments

Yesterday's post drew a couple of comments that deserve a front page response.

Evangeline asks,
I keep hearing that everyone is hoping for the return of historical romance. Could this be the result of the Regency glut, or was there buzz about a wider variety of settings? And good news about contemporary romance--I've been dipping into it after years of feeling I couldn't relate and am pleasantly surprised at how fun and relatable many are!

It's no secret that I love historicals, real old school stuff, meaty books with actual history in them, so I always listen for the buzz on historicals because it makes my inner fangirl happy. Honestly, though, there wasn't much historical buzz at this conference. I think the consensus opinion is that this is a genre that has seen a smallish uptick in recent years, and we would all like to see it really catch fire again.

That won't happen with a garden-variety Regency or Victorian, though. These books will continue to sell because they're "comfort reads" for many readers. Some of them will even sell in big numbers. The world is familiar and beloved, but there are rarely any surprises there. The next wave of historical frenzy will most likely come from something with a bigger feeling -- perhaps wishful thinking on my part, but the market seems to be softening up in that direction -- and my guess is that it will be in a fresh setting. That's if at comes at all. It might not, though that doesn't mean historicals are dying. (For most readers like me, we gravitated toward historical romance in the 80s and early 90s, and then shifted into mainstream historical novels after that. I would love to see romance as a whole make a play to recapture this reading segment.)

Here's my take on the state of reader interest in general. We've just come out of almost a decade of a culture of fear. The media would have had us believe that a terrorist lurked in every shadow. And what was popular during that time period? Vampires. Werewolves. Rogue villains being defeated by Navy SEALs. "Get it while you can" erotic romance story types. It all fits with that particular zeitgeist.

And which story types felt less compelling? Low-conflict contemporaries. Anything purely relationship-driven. Small-town sweethearts. Not that these particular story types went away, but they sure weren't the ones getting the big buzz.

Now we're in a serious economic situation, and families and friends are pulling together to help each other through it. We're shifting away from "fear of other" and into "we're all in it together." This might be a temporary mindset, but for now, the result is that the conference buzz was about books with weepy family plots (Jody Picoult) and warm, emotional women's fiction/romance feelings (Kristin Hannah, Susan Wiggs).

But will this perceived trend bloom? Eh. Who knows. Predictions are like assholes, you know. (Or is that, only assholes make predictions?)

Green Knight says,
A few years ago we were seeing a shift towards trade and I hate them. Won't buy them. Like hardbacks, they're expensive and unwieldy and don't fit on my paperback shelves. Unlike hardbacks, they're not durable or beautiful.

Worst of both worlds.

Hope your granny gets better - and will we get to hear a rounup of the e-publishing panel you did?

There's a good write-up of our Rogue Digital workshop here. This is from the Scorched Sheets blog, and it contains most of the numbers disclosed during the workshop.

My personal take on the panel has to start with a shout-out to the girls from Romance University, who kept me giggling in the bar the night before the rogue panel. Ah, good times. So I was fashionably late to the panel and missed the first couple of speakers.

I could not believe how packed that room was. I would describe it as standing room only, but that would be misleading. There wasn't even standing room. When I got there, bodies were spilling out into the hallway. I had to pick my way through the crowd to find a spot to stand in the back of the room, if you can believe it. Folks were sitting on the floor in the front, too. Sardine city.

Angela James was talking about the digital publishing model when I came in. She had just started. For details on her presentation, check the Scorched Sheets blog I linked above. Angela did a great job demystifying the digital publishing model and explaining how and why it differs from print. She's a terrific speaker on this topic.

To what Angela said in that panel, I would only add that there is one hybrid model used by us and one other publisher. (As far as I know -- there may be more doing it our way now, but I'm not aware of them.)

In our hybrid model, everything gets an advance. Everything. Our contracts are set up like standard print contracts with digital rights included, and the same contract is used for print and digital. There are some variances on the royalty rates to account for the different costs and distribution expenses with print and digital, but those are spelled out in the contract. Also, we don't do POD but regular print. We've never been POD. Angela didn't get into the differences between POD and print -- it wasn't the panel for that kind of discussion -- but the basic idea is that POD is more expensive to create, but you avoid some warehousing expenses. A well-made POD book is virtually indistinguishable from regular print, but there are some badly made POD books floating around out there. But those are dwindling as this technology improves.

GK, you also commented on the trade size. I hear you. But there are two other details to keep in mind about trade. The first is that in the early days, books came out in trade only if they were upmarket enough to warrant the production of the extra format in a mid-range price point. Otherwise, it was mass market for genre stuff and hard/soft for the big books.

The early perception with consumers, then, may have been that these books were better than a regular mass market paperback.

But then POD became a more widely used form of book production, and POD is always done in trade size. So cheap books that weren't expected to sell more than a couple hundred copies started coming out in POD. Public perception may be slow to change on this point -- I get the feeling that buyers still associate trade with quality -- but until there's a POD process available at the mass market size, and as long as consumers are guarding their wallets, we may see a continued decline in trade.

Any other questions? Now is the time to ask, while this information is all still fresh in my mind.



Riley Murphy said...

I have a question, Theresa. And, sorry but you're going to have follow my line of thinking for a moment to get where I'm going with this. The way I see it, the publishing industry is fractured. Digital is on one side with print on the other. Recognizing this, as an unfortunate reality, I can't help wondering which one is currently driving the market trends that you guys (acquisition editors) speak of? You say a 'Susan Wiggs' type story - but is that really true across the board or just for those readers/writers who want the traditional print experience? Do you see that print trends (that take much longer from acquisition to public consumption) drive what the public wants to read? I mean, how many 'traditional publishers' are in control of book print publishing? Eight or maybe even ten? If they are the ones deciding (guessing, really), where the next trend is heading and it takes them three times as long, than it does an epublisher to get their product out for consumption - don't you think that the time will come that epublishing will drive the market and not the other way around? Especially when their next generation of consumer will not be learning and growing with them, as my generation has, but rather they will be facing a technological weaned consumer who, is internet savvy and trusting of the information they receive by this type of media?

Hmm..? And, with the overall decline in the traditional publishing industry - cutbacks, lines being switched, combined or dropped, doesn’t that mean - for me, that there will be fewer choices, in those types of products, out there to consume? What about for the writers wanting to enter the publishing industry or continue in it? Print houses turning down even moderately (proven) successful talent because of their thin budgets. Won’t these authors eventually turn to epublishing as an option?

Man, I think this is one time I would say that the ‘old school’ is full of fools - who forgot to get on the train when it left the station. Hey, do you know how fast those suckers run now a days? Too fast to run beside the rail and hop on in mid-journey- doesn’t the RWA know this?

So, um, what was my question? Oh yeah, did you have a drink for me while you were in DC?:D


John Harper said...

I have a comment too, but nothing to do with what you're talking about. (don't you just love that?)

But I read somewhere it was the best place to ask you questions:

Not too long ago you were talking about simultaneous actions. (I think, maybe you weren't and i'm losing the plot) and the word 'as' was shown as a bit of a badguy.

So i went through and highlighted all the 'as' i could find. All of them are used like this:

"She sighed, as if tired by the game" so i'm using them to explain something instead of simulatenous action. Is that ok?

Wes said...

Murph, you raise some interesting points. There are many great advantages to epublishing such as shorter time to market, lower production costs, lower breakeven points, addressing niche markets, no return costs, adding snappy graphics, etc. that its day will come. But major segments of the market won't adopt it for various reasons; one being they like the look and feel of print books. I envision the market evolving as it has in telecom. It won't be "either or", but both. Most people (slightly over 50%) have both cell phone and landlines. I imagine that a major segment will buy some titles in electronic format and other titles in print format. I imagine a few epublishers are going to need major blockbusters for the market to expand beyond early adopters.

Edittorrent said...

Print is no more fractured than music, which generates both CDs and MP3s without a trace of schizophrenia. Different formats for different consumers. That part of it really isn't a big deal -- no industry person has ever scoffed at e-books in my presence. Most of us see it as a growing sector, though overall sales are still low. That legitimacy debate rages mainly on the other side of the desk.

I'm not sure I agree that print is in decline, either. Certain sectors like YA are on the upswing. Have you made a lap through a Borders lately? My local Borders has cleaned out most of the music section and replaced it with YA. And those are some big, fat, meaty, doorstopper books, too. So even as print publishers scale back on things like erotic romance (which, fwiw, was a trend driven by e-publishing), they're pumping up in YA.


Riley Murphy said...


You say:
Different formats for different consumers

Right now I see this as being true as the current market of different consumers is big enough to sustain these varying formats. But like the cell phone versus land line phones example - I think, as the technology increases and improves and becomes more trusted, the thrust will be driven in that growing and expanding direction. Especially with the up and coming generation moving into the market.

Do I think that print books will be obsolete in the future? Nope, traditional books will always be a staple. What I see though, is that there are a lot of good writers, up and coming, and some already there that are forming opinions and making career decisions based on current policies that cater more towards the traditional end of the publishing industry. And, I just don't see those big publishers doing what they should be doing to safely expand and cultivate the talent that drives their product in the current marketplace. I also think that like the music industry, when the rapid changes in technology came, and the ones who had always worked to drive that industry, lagged back and refused to make the necessary adjustments, they lost the support of creative artists who would later rise to command the consumer's loyalty - and you know sometimes? You just never get a second chance. That's only my opinion, of course, and for those of you who were kind enough to email me your thoughts (only one out of the five of you was brave enough to put a comment on the blog - you know who you are right, Wes? - to um, the rest of you -I say: bock, bock, bock! You chickens;)).


Leona said...

LOL Murphy, I'd be more than willing to send you email. Mines leona.bushman at gmail. All of you are welcome to email me about anything I say here... BTW I haven't written since last friday and I still haven't fixed the scene. By the time I do, I'll be crazy. :) I'm having fun packing for texas, opening a live theatre show, and having our car overheat (insert a slightly sarcastic tone here)!