Publisher’s Weekly Article Has It All Backwards

Filed in Gather Books Essential by on November 23, 2009 0 Comments


Publisher’s Weekly Article Has It All Backwards

Going back to book marketing theway it was is way wrong.

Counterpoint to Jesse Kornbluth article of 11/23/09: “Time to Change.”


by David A. Rozansky, Publisher, Flying Pen Press

Readers, Writers & Royalties columnist

November 23, 2009

Copyright 2009 David A. Rozansky

Again, I find that Publisher’s Weekly does not have a clue about how the publishing industry is changing. Is it because they are too focused on New York City lifestyles? Or is it because they still get all of their news from the publishing world’s dinosaurs that are slowly dying out?

This latest rant against Publisher’s Weekly is based on an article that appeared on their site, titled “Time to Change” by Jesse Kornbluth. You can read his article through his link: Time to Change by Jesse Kornbluth.

Articles like this in what is supposed to be the industry’s magazine of record can be very damaging to our industry. I believe this wholeheartedly. And whenever an article like this appears, I feel I must debunk the statements quickly. So, to that end, I am going to address Kornbluth’s litany of “suggestions” for the industry, point for point.

Here is the first set of “suggestions” from Kornbluth that irks me something awful:

“Meanwhile, like everyone else, I have a laundry list of changes that publishers might make in the interest of their survival. Some of my thoughts are obvious and universal: a massive scaling-down of the number of books published, more aggressive editing of what does get released, and a shattering of the template that says a new book must be bound between hard covers.”

Right. Reduce the number of books published? Perhaps the internet would be more profitable if we reduced the number of websites being published. But it won’t happen. It can’t. It is too easy for authors to self publish and we are seeing a revolution in their thinking process. Most of the new wave of small presses are exasperated writers who see how the new market is really working. If the large publishers don’t keep up and grab as many publishing rights as possible, they will become obsolete.

The flow of books will only grow exponentially, as an author that is not published my a major house will still be published. More often than not, as of 2008, authors are turning to self-publication before considering submission of publication rights to a third party. To say we need to restrict the flow of books is tantamount to saying government must rescind the First Amendment’s protection of the Freedom of Press.

I agree that books need to be aggressively edited, always. And certainly, the idea that a book must be bound between hard covers, or even paperback bound, is long gone. The ebook revolution is over, and the ebooks have won.

Now here is the statement in Kornbluth’s article that made me jump out of my chair:

“I believe publishers should immediately abandon their efforts at digital marketing and limit their publicity and marketing efforts to the traditional media that is their first and truest love.”

Right. Abandon digital marketing? Limit publicity and marketing efforts to traditional media? The same traditional media that is dying out because of the pressure of the digital media?

Kornbluth’s point seems to be that the marketers at publishing houses don’t understand how to market on the Internet, but that’s not the problem. The problem we publishers face is that readers don’t want to hear from marketers, PR reps, or even the editors about how good a book is. They want only to hear from the author and from their friends (even if the friend is a distant blogger). Bloggers are inundated with PR people but respond favorably to authors. Heck, most bloggers are aspiring authors to some extent, while others consider their online publishing to be the work of an established author.

Kornbluth’s solution is as silly as his expectation that the flow of books can be restricted. He thinks that publisher’s ought to include a $5,000 to $10,000 allowance alongside advances, an allowance that is tied to paying for “digital marketing expenses and Web site enhancement.” The idea there is that the publisher is helping the writer build her career online.

But here’s the rub. Writers build their careers by building their platform. Having a slick website or buying online banner ads won’t do that, it never has. It takes a lot of social networking and publishing, blogging and reporting, expertise and entertaining. While this is a lot of work that does not involve actually pounding out a novel, it does not require any money at all. Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, Amazon reviews, conferences and e-newsletters are free to use. If a writer needs $10,000, $5,000, or even $100 to promote herself, then she is doing it all wrong. It’s all free, I assure you. It takes a lot of time and social skills, but money is not really going to help one bit.

And when I finished the article and thought about it for a few minutes, I realzed what is wrong here. Kornbluth is stuck in the same rut he accuses the publishing industry to be in. He sees a publishing house’s main objective as acquiring rights to publsh a manuscript and then turning that manuscript into a book for sale ot the public. That is no longer the business model that applies.

Because authors can turn their manuscripts into books with a few clicks of a mouse, delivered in dozens physical and digital formats, without nary a cent, publishers no longer add value to that equation. Publishers that still try to eek out a profit by buying the now worthless publication rights and paying the author a mere seven percent royalties is doomed to bankruptcy. The emperor has no clothes.

Yes, authors have to spend time and effort to build their own platform. But the idea that this is somehow a new thing in the digital age is a myth. Successful novelists have always had to build their own platform of their own accord. Mark Twain clearly outlined this process. Benjamin Franklin said as much in his letters to writers. I have no doubt that Chaucer, Homer and the long-forgotten author of Gilgamesh had to build their platforms. It is not qa new concept.

I would even go as far as to say that the digital age and the Internet make building a platform easy, nearly effortless, and certainly a lot cheaper.

I agree that writers and publishers have to rethink the way they do business. But not as Kornbluth suggests, simply trying to find a better way to engage the digital tools. It’s not about the tools, it about the business model.

In the Twentieth Century, publishers were brokers of publication and subsidiary rights. They alone could print books, because of the costs involved, and through that, they controlled the sale of other rights such as dramatic rights, translation rights and foreign distribution rights.

But in the Twenty-First Century, the control over printing has dissolved, and authors have direct access to those who would buy the subsidiary rights. Publishers can no longer survive as brokers of publishing and subsidiary rights.

However, there is a silver lining for publishers, a new beginning that is arising like a phoenix amid the Freedom of Press Revolution. Because it is free to publish and free to build a platrfom, there are now millions of authors doing just these things, and the basic tenets of marketing still apply, that the platform with the most publicity gets the bucks. This is daunting for even the most successful of authors, and the amount of time needed o create a platform robs time from the actual writing, to the point that there is no time left for writing at all. But a fanbase needs a steady supply of reading material to stay interested, and the nature of free publishing means that an author must publish several novels a year to be successful, daunting even without the effort of platform building.

Time is one thing that publishers can leverage. Marketers and PR reps know how to build platforms. Publishers can create a brand or series that authors can write for. In fiction, the publisher can create the settings, the characters, the general style of a line of books, and through writer guidelines and careful editing, provide work for authors who now don’t need to spend their worried time on platform building.

In this way, publishers become platform brokers, to replace their old position of rights brokers.

Here are three examples of how this works:

  1. Harlequin is a publisher that is synonymous with “Romance Novels.” It is a platform they have developed carefully over many years. If you look at Harlequin’s Website (, you will see that the publisher has en entire social network with a very large continegent that talks about the Harlequin experience and little else. Harlequin readers rush to the bookstore each month to buy the entire line of Harlequin books, and read—no, ravage—the novels at a truly ravenous pace. Harlequin runs a new frontlist monthly. These readers are fans of Harlequin, not the authors; that is, they won’t follow the authors to another publisher, per se. Likewise, the Harlequin authors don’t have to waste time trying to build a reader base. As long as their books have Harlequin on the cover, they know they can earn a living at writing.
  2. Consider franchises like Star Trekâ„¢ and Star Warsâ„¢. These immensely popular trademarks represent deep, rich settings for science fiction novels. Publishers license a trademarked franchised, then contract authors to write for hire to create novels. Again, the authors know that readers will be attracted to the franchise settings and characters, without a moment lost to blogging or tweeting. Many authors, like Diane Duane, Kevin J. Anderson and Dayton Ward have managed to launch their own platforms off the established platforms of popular franchises.
  3. The most likely scenario for publishers is that of platform creator. TSR (now Wizards of the Coast) created the world of “Forgotten Realms®” for its Dungeons & Dragons® role-playing game, based on settings and stories created by Ed Greenwood. With the setting and main characters completely developed for the game, TSR turned to publishing fantasy novels based on Forgotten Realms. Writers were commissioned to write the novels that would promote the game. Now, Forgotten Realms novels make the New York Times Bestseller list consistently. Again, authors know they will have readers without the mess of building an individual platform. The company also publishes the Greyhawk® line of novels. Other role-playing-game publishers have followed this model of publishing associated novels.

Soon, publishers will be forced to publish their own series lines, the way television networks air episodic and serial shows. They may borrow from platforms already created, or they may establish and editorial team to create a new one.

Authors have become publishers, and most big names with their own platforms will not need corporate publishers, But at the same time, publishers will become authors of corporate size, with far-ranging platforms.

Because a publisher can hire several authors, it can publish books for its platforms much more prolifically than a single author can. Watch for weekly publication of series novels. And because a publisher can bring more editors to bear, look for much more complex and detailed plots, characters and settings. And these editors will be tasked with more of the platform-building.

Editors have long been the silent partners in publishing, but soon, like Joss Whedon and Gene Roddenberry, they will become popular in their own right, with their own extensive fan bases. Many authors will no longer aspire to be bestselling authors, but rather, bestselling franchise owners.

Some publishers that are not engineered to create or license franchises will become more service oriented, treating the author as a client. The publisher will work with a small cadre of writers to help develop author-centric platforms. In this way, publishers will start to do some of the work once reserved for literary agents. And to survive, many literary agencies are going to have to become publishing firms of their own.

But asking publishers to simply continue brokering rights and give writers money to spend more time developing their online platform—as Kornbluth suggests—is counterproductive. Having writers spend yet additional time calling bloggers and tweeting daily is not going to help those writers to write better or faster or more successfully. It will only impede their writing.

This is just one article in David A. Rozansky’s column, Readers, Writers & Royalties, a blog column about the book trade, from writing and publishing, to selling and reading.

Readers may find archived articles or subscribe to Readers, Writers & Royalties at Subscribe to all of Mr. Rozansky’s articles at

David A. Rozansky is the publisher of Flying Pen Press. He has been in publishing since 1987, and has more than one million published words under his byline. Flying Pen Press is at He is available for speaking on the subject of writing magazine articles, public relations, marketing and book-length material.

TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dungeons and Dragons are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., for its brands of role-playing-game and book products. Star Trek is a trademark of CBS Studios Inc. for its brand of science-fiction products. Star Wars is a trademark of Lucasfilm, Ltd. for its bqand of science-fiction products.

About the Author ()

I am the publisher of Flying Pen Press. I have been a bush pilot, an air traffic controller, a bookseller, a cabdriver, a journalist, a magazine editor, a magazine publisher, and, I hope, a good husband.

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