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July 10, 2012



Good question, and my response is from the perspective of a (voracious) reader.

Preface: I don't think publishers are too far off the track. I read more books that interest me than those that don't. But...some ideas along the lines in your post:

- don't try to make a book "like" some other book or author, by putting on the cover words such as "the next X X" or "if you liked X you'll love this". Almost all of these comparisons are hopelessly out, and either annoy or disappoint readers when they find out.

- Be more imaginative in cover blurbs and images. Many pictures are generic. Many blurbs simply give away far too much of what is in the book. There are plenty of reviews online (there are many, many, excellent book blogs) -- use those!

- Publishers could consider end-matter, along the lines of the Harper Collins perennial series. Features like an interview with the author, an assessment of the author's work by a reviewer, a brief review of one or two books that readers might like to try, and so on. This should not be too expensive to produce.

- When a book is in a series, make it clear what number it is, and list the pervious titles in it, even if earlier books were not pubilshed by the same publisher! Also, where there are alternative titles, provide them both so that readers are not sold a pup or confused.

Probably I could think of more, but that's a start.

Lexi Revellian

My main advice to publishers would be to focus on selecting the best product. I think it was a huge mistake to let agents deal with the slushpile - as foolish as letting someone else choose your spouse, your clothes or your job. (In the UK, almost no publisher will look at unagented work.)

Pick the best reads, regardless of fashion or genre or author, because that's what readers want - a novel that will totally absorb them for a few hours. Agents say they need to fall in love with a novel, but in practice they pass on books they love in favour of those they think they can sell to a publisher - something they admit in rave rejections. I believe the industry would make more money if it paid less attention to the bottom line.

Ebooks offer a brand new opportunity for publishers to be adventurous with new authors, since they cost so little to produce (I've done it myself, so will not be persuaded otherwise). Offer authors a higher percentage of the profits, and a print edition if the ebooks sell over an agreed number.


There are a few non-agented imprints in the UK now - there was the (now defunct but successful at the time) Macmillan New Writers, and the current Authonomy (?) programme by one of the big publishers beginning with H (Harper-C I think). Agree, though, that it would be nice if more publishers published books they'd actually read and liked directly, rather than bought them at the equivalent of a supermarket or had to publish them as part of a tie-in deal with other parts of a media conglomorate that owns the publishing company.


There are a few non-agented imprints in the UK now - there was the (now defunct but successful at the time) Macmillan New Writers, and the current Authonomy (?) programme by one of the big publishers beginning with H (Harper-C I think). Agree, though, that it would be nice if more publishers published books they'd actually read and liked directly, rather than bought them at the equivalent of a supermarket or had to publish them as part of a tie-in deal with other parts of a media conglomorate that owns the publishing company.

Lexi Revellian

Maxine, I was the fifth member to join Authonomy in beta in May 2008, and the site did not do what Harper Collins promised. In three years they only published three books from Authonomy, only two of which were discovered on the site, none of which had made the top of the chart. Now Scott Pack is in charge they have chosen one more book for publication.

I hardly call that an unagented imprint. More of a total waste of time for all involved.

Ziv Wities

Well, I've got a lot of suggestions. I think they'd be good for me. I'm no market analyst. Mostly, I'm thinking of the major industry as I see them - standing out among a terrific glut of material, including dirt-cheap books and every classic ever written. What makes books stand out? And what wins loyalty?

**Brand yourself.**
I have lots of favorite authors. I don't have any favorite publishers, or favorite editors. But that's a shame, particularly for publishers - the author's only got so many books, and interesting me in Author A does pretty much *nothing* to spark my interest in any other product in the line.

(Unless it does - Harlequin romances and For-Dummies books are extreme cases, but I think they're doing pretty well.)

If you want current interest to encourage future interest, you've got to connect the products. Whatever connection you choose, that's a branding. Imagine, say, that an editor were to add fun afterwords to books they worked on - readers who liked one afterword would take note of other books with the same brand, with the same promise of a cool nugget at the end. (In general, anything that adds
visibility to the editor/publisher as a creative partner can be very nice - like the editor of an anthology whose presence shapes the entire collection.) Or put out unrelated mysteries with an "Extra Twisty" label; if somebody likes one for its twistiness, he'll be more eager to opt for another.

**Establish and nurture reading communities.**
Here's the thing: avid readers *love* having a steady stream of reading material. That's something a publisher might be able to cobble together, isn't it? It's really fun; it gives you something to look forward to. And instead of searching for new books all the time, you get good stuff picked for you! (Obviously, it needs to usually be good enough to keep you interested.)

Am I describing a book club? Maybe I am, yeah. For the right price, a book club could be *awesome* - particularly with e-publishing making distribution cheap, and a dedicated forum for post-read socializing quite easy. It's possible to form communities around something as simple as a shared subscription. Offer a good price, provide enough quality material, maybe give special rewards to extraordinary contributers, and you can form a whole community who'll subscribe to your printing press - and love every minute of it.

**Make books more distinct, particularly the ones that ARE.**
I go into a bookstore; I'm looking for a book. How do I chose one? Heck, I don't know - there's no telling them apart. Here's a dozen books from Genre Of Your Choice - are they any good? Maybe. Can I tell in the first few pages if I like it? Maybe. What would convince me to pick up a book I've never heard of before and be willing to pay for it? Well, if it really interested me, I'd probably look up reviews, and maybe maybe consider actually buying.

That's all because I really have no way of telling what book I'm likely to enjoy and what I'm not. Making books more distinct would be a huge help. They wouldn't seem interchangeable; I could more easily key in on the ones that interested me most. I'm mostly thinking here about cover art and maybe even illustrations inside, to give a quick visual hook to the book - something visceral, yet representative. (Obviously, adding more art that's better tailored is... not cheap). I'd certainly remember art better than a title, an author name, a blurb on the back.

This type of distinction is better for some types of books than others; some books thrive on being "light reads" in the right style, and those don't need to be set apart. On the other hand, when you've got a book that "looks" like it's just too damn average and familiar, you're doing something wrong. Even if it *is* a fairly usual book, if you're trying to promote it as anything other than "light formula fiction," then you can still find its heart and put it on display.

Last but not least:
**Publish less bad stuff.**
It makes it hard to find the good stuff, and it makes it less fun for me to take a chance on something unfamiliar.

That's what I've got at the moment. I like 'em, anyway :P

Lance C.

What Maxine said about series: a lot of us like to read series in order. It's frustrating to find the latest book in a series you haven't read before and have to go to Wikipedia to figure out what the other entries are and what order they come in the series (which isn't always the order in which they're published). Make it easy for us to buy lots more books from you.

What Ziv said about branding: think of the automobile industry in the 1910s and 1920s. There were dozens of car manufacturers, and each marque was known for filling some particular market niche (luxury, speed, beauty, cheap sturdiness, etcetera). When you bought a Ford or Packard, you knew what you were going to get. Why not make imprints that way? We could then go to Imprint A for hard-boiled crime, Imprint B for cozies, Imprint C for spy thrillers, and so on. If I like a book from Imprint C, chances would be very good that I'd like another author from that imprint, even if I haven't heard of him/her. Harlequin has this down to a science -- steal shamelessly from their strategy. Make it easy for us to discover new authors.

Monitor what readers say about the books you publish. This may give you a clue when it's time to put a series out to pasture or when one of your authors isn't trying anymore. If a reader discovers a series after it's jumped the shark, chances are he/she isn't going to go back and buy any of the earlier installments. Consider the review websites and Goodreads-like social networks to be your early-warning system.


Open the doors and turn on the lights. I've bought 50-100 books a year for decades. I have my favorites. I can see them on my library shelf as I type this comment. ** I have NO idea what publisher produced any of them **

Who are you guys? What do you do? Why should I care? I care about GM because I know what they do. Same for Microsoft and Bank of America. I have no idea what HarperCollins does. Random House, Penguin, Simon & someone -- I know they exist.

3 weeks ago I saw a webcast with Steve Berry. In it, a reader asked, "If you and James Rollins are such good friends, why not write a book together like Preston & Child?" He responded by saying they write for different publishers. So? Don't those two publishers know the sum would be greater than the parts for all parties involved?

Open the doors. Seek out writing partnerships that will create a buzz. Amaze people.

Publishers should stop trying to fix the publishing model of 1999. They should be looking for a way to excite readers of 2012.

Nick Campbell

Who is the reader?
Are they fans of the author or of the genre? It would be nice if books had a system that worked like Pandora for recommendations when I finish a book. Say I finished a very enjoyable literary fantasy novel about the question of human morality. A recommendation based on theme, genre, or author would all suffice me so that I could look into it further. It seems sometimes that publishers are less aware of who their readers are, but know more about how they purchase. There should be a distinction made. I personally get the feeling that a lot of small genre specific fiction houses are doing well with using ebooks and social media to get authors off the ground because they get to know the fan base of that genre and cultivate it for their authors.

Give me a reason to know your name.
I have no idea why I should care about what a publisher provides me as an option for the fiction I read. There isn't a distinction being made that separates what an author can do from what a publisher can do beyond the writing. If an author can completely circumvent the process, what is the publisher providing? Gatekeeping? I'm not sure that applies anymore because the market seems more fragmented and the marketing less so. It's sorely needed, but I think publishers need to figure out their role more. I look at movie studios in the 50s I think when they switched from doing everything on the movie to just financing them.

Books are the souvenir of the experience of reading.
So why don't they feel like it? I love the books I own. Many of them I won't sell. I have Kindle copies of some of the books on my shelf as well. When I see Kindle copies that look as good as the paperback or hardcover, why should I invest in the paper version beyond my own desire to have it? Especially when the cover photographs are hideous like some 80s trashy romance novel. Make it worth owning. For instance, if you look at early John Le Carre books, they look so awful. I wouldn't even have the spine showing on my shelf. But the newest paperbacks have illustrations that are beautiful. Something I'd want to proudly display. An author takes years to put together his manuscript. I think an artist should be at least given months to generate something as good.

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