The New York publishing business model is dead, so says 32-year-publishing veteran Jerry D. Simmons.
After spending 25 years as a VP of Field Sales with both Random House and the former Time-Warner Book Group, Simmons left traditional publishing for good. In his independently published book What Writers Need to Know About Publishing (available on his Web site), he lets the positive information mix with the negative. Best-selling author Sandra Brown, credits the book as telling "the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of book publishing, told in a straight-from-the-hip manner. New writers take note!"
Technorati posed a question-and-answer session with Simmons about the emergence of e-publishing and what it means to the book business:
LV: Now that Amazon.com has reported selling more Kindle titles than hard-cover books, and mass-market paperback sales in a swoon, it's looking increasingly like best way for an author to sell his or her manuscript is to publish it electronically. However, up until now there had been a stigma against e-books with many reviewers and others refusing to take them seriously. Is this beginning to change?
Simmons: Mainstream media will begin to review and take eBooks more seriously, especially when the first original e-book title arrives on the scene and makes a big sales impact. At that point expect the major newspapers to adopt the digital publication in the same manner they do hardcover and original trade paper. As more of the major New York publishers release content in original e-book format the market will have reached the tipping point.
LV: Amazon.com recently made an offer to publish authors' manuscripts via its Kindle platform, and even sent out instructions for authors to format their copy to fit the Kindle. They would make a 70% share of the profit, according to the Amazon.com press release. This is an enormous deal compared to the tiny royalties that authors earn today. What could the downside possibly be in this scenario? How hard is it for average authors to format copy for this program?
Simmons: The only downside to the Amazon scenario is if the author is required to give up any rights to the content published by Amazon. Anyone can follow their directions and convert to Kindle as long as they have patience and understand the basics of programming. For the independent author this is a program they should consider, but only if it fits in their overall publishing strategy. For writers deciding to go it on their own the biggest problem is they have no plan for how to publish or market. Without a clear direction even for one book, it makes it very difficult to sell product.
LV: Many popular authors are going to Kindle, and you mentioned author J.A. Konrath, whom I have met. He's a great mystery writer who also has a humorous style, much like Janet Evanovich. He has plenty of fans, but I noticed that one of his books, I believe it was Cherry Bomb, did not secure a paperback contract. I wondered what had happened to him and then he showed up on my Kindle. Several of his novels were bargain priced. And there was Cherry Bomb, which I snapped up, since I never got to read that one of the series. For many of his fans, it was a relief to know we could find him again, and now on such a low-priced platform. Discuss his e-book conversion.
Simmons: J.A. Konrath made a very smart and savvy move with his content. Once he realized his earning potential was hampered with a traditional print publisher, he decided to go on his own and the result has been more income for him. The big advantage he has over other authors is a following. He has an audience that was willing to buy his writing regardless of who or how it was published. This has also been done by relatively unknown authors who have achieved a terrific level of success. The key is marketing, whether to your fans or a new pool of readers, if you cannot find ways to alert consumers to your writing you have little chance of selling copies.
LV: Jumping for a minute to iPad as well, I spoke with an author who said that being exposed to so many new, curious readers is a marketer's dream. These people who try out new technology aren't the same ones who read the New York Review of Books. They are willing to try out many new things, including new authors and new genres. Is this true? If so, e-publishing on these new devices could be the way past the barriers that have kept new authors out of New York publishing for so long.
Simmons: The iPad did not suddenly create new readers, it provided a new platform where those interested in technology could find and read content. These folks may never buy books in a bookstore but will purchase an e-book from the iTunes store. Why? The content was seen as relevant, interesting and priced in a way in which the consumer was willing to give it a chance. If they purchase then read and enjoy or find it informative, they will come back. This new method for delivering content is what Apple has created, now it’s up to the publishers to supply the demand for low cost, relevant, interesting and informative content, not to mention entertaining.
LV: Publishers Marketplace is reporting that the Andrew Wylie company is starting a literary agency called Odyssey that will deal solely with e-publishers. Now other literary agencies say they will do the same. Does this mean that they will try to set up the old system that was in place for so long—where, for good or bad, literary agents often had more power than publishers? They used to sort out the obvious garbage that came over the transom, but now they are so frightened of failure that they are rejecting almost everything. Could they bring this same dysfunctional behavior to e-publishing?
Simmons: It makes sense for a literary agency to vertically integrate their business when the cost of e-book production is so low. The traditional method of print publishing carried enormous cost built into the system, now with e-books that cost has gone away. It is inexpensive to produce a quality e-book compared to print so the economics of the business will allow more and more companies to jump in. As for the dysfunctional behavior, I believe that digital publishing will actually provide more opportunities for writers than the old print method.
LV: Finally, anyone who has every published independently knows that marketing is quite difficult. Give writers some tips on how to market e-books, because now there are no book signings anymore, and everything has to be done online. How do you personalize an e-book and ramp up interest? How are YOU ramping up interest?
Simmons: Authors need to stop concentrating on the idea of marketing their book and consider their message or themselves as the focus of their marketing. Publicity sells books and media is interested in a good story, not the fact someone has written and published a book. If an author does not know where their writing is positioned in the market and especially among all the other titles in their genre, they will find it difficult to market. My tips would be 1) decide what to market—their book, message or themselves, and 2) figure out where their title belongs on a bookshelf, between which two competing books?