Episode 17

The Future of Publishing

In this episode we’re discussing the future of publishing, an author who declined a literary award, and tips for selling books in person.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Harmony” by Gushito

"Bay Area Bop" by Q-Rock

“Daredevil” by Amber Waldron

"The Revolution" by Nite Owl

"Person to Person 30" by Bruce Zimmerman

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Thanks for joining me for another writing break. Today we’re discussing the future of publishing, an author who declined a literary award, and selling books in person.

First, an update on listenership. The show keeps growing, thanks to you, and the largest jump in listenership by country this week was in Vietnam. Xin chao to those new listeners.

Each week we visit a country in which there are Writing Break listeners. If we haven’t visited your country yet, please send me an email to podcast@writingbreak.com and let me know what independent bookstore we should visit in your neighborhood and why.

The bookstore we’re visiting today has quite a cafe, so let’s head there first for refreshments, desserts, and to discuss some publishing news.

Today we are at Nhà Sách Cá Chép in Ho Chi Minh City. This bookstore is 5 floors of pure bliss. They have one floor dedicated to pens, notebooks, stationery, craft supplies, backpacks, stuffed animals, and so much more. One floor is just for kids with childrens books, including educational books for kids and coloring books for the kid in you. There are two full floors of books for everyone else, and there is art on display on these floors and in the stairways. Our first stop will be the top floor, which is where the cafe is located.

Let’s get some goodies and snag a table for our weekly publishing news update.

ABC Audio has launched a weekly book podcast called The Book Case, which will be hosted by ABC News journalist Charlie Gibson and his daughter Kate Gibson. The first episode features Oprah Winfrey. The show will have book recommendations from independent bookstore owners as well as discussions with authors. Keep in mind that Disney owns ABC and Disney books are distributed by Hachette Book Group, and there are a million little imprints in between.

You understand what I’m saying. The Book Case might not be as independent as it sounds, but we’ll get to listen to authors talk about their books, so that’s a plus.

The literary agency Greenburger Associates has launched a new division called Greenburger Kids, which will specialize in the representation of authors and illustrators of children’s books.

At long last, Kindle will support EPUB files. Can you believe it?

There is also a new book category on Amazon called disability fiction for adults. This was a requested change by authors who feature characters with disabilities in their books.

The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival took place last week, and a whole 30 minutes was dedicated to the future of publishing. I attended that panel discussion, so get ready for the rundown.

The panel included Reagan Arthur, publisher at Alfred A. Knopf, Sarah Gelman, editorial director at Amazon Books, Troy Johnson, president and founder of the African American Literature Book Club, and Molly Stern, Founder and CEO of Zando.

Here are the top 10 things they said that I thought you would want to know:

Great writers will always get discovered, and if that sounds optimistic, well, they did say they were optimists and that you don't get into publishing if you're not an optimist.

Technology can improve the reading experience, but it cannot improve a story. The future of publishing isn’t about ebooks vs print books vs audiobooks. It's about having all of these choices available to readers.

The merging of bigger publishers could lead to more opportunities by smaller platforms.

They are seeing authors supporting other authors, and they think there will be more of that in the future.

Readers want book recommendations from people they trust.

Discoverability is the biggest problem facing all publishers, not just self-publishers.

Most authors dedicate their resources to just getting their book produced, and that's not gonna cut it. But they also acknowledged that they’re asking for a lot when they ask authors to get out and peddle their books. Still, they agreed that those authors with the ability to hustle and sell do get the most sales even if they don't have the best product.

Video is important, especially short-form video if you’re looking to speak to younger generations.

Authors, publishers, and booksellers should take advantage of data but infuse it with a personal touch.

We all crave a story, and if anything was gonna kill books, publishing would've been dead long ago.

Links to these articles can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.

I think it’s time to discuss a local author. If you are listening to this in Vietnam at the moment, you might want to make sure you have your headphones plugged in for this next segment.

Today we’re spotlighting “Dare to Look Back” by Vietnamese author Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy. And I apologize if I mispronounced that.

“Dare to Look Back” won for the category of research-criticism at the 7th Van Viet Literature Awards. Van Viet is a forum created by authors who support free literature and the Vietnam Independent Writers’ Association.

The author declined to accept the award after receiving threats from the Vietnamese government, which is communist, you know, because that always works out.

Threatening and assaulting writers is par for the course in this confederacy of dunces. Thai Hao, another Van Viet Literature Awards recipient, was beaten by plainclothes security officers in March.

One member of the courageous independent writers association said that threatening Ms. Tinh Thy, is “among a series of government reactions to Van Viet in particular and non-mainstream literature in general. They are always afraid. They see enemies everywhere.”

As if all of this wasn’t enough to think about, especially in relation to the growing book bans in America, let’s find a comfortable spot to sink into for today’s Overthinking Couch.

One thing discussed during last week’s Future of Publishing session was the low wages in publishing, especially for those newly arrived in publishing. The panel said that it had always been this way in publishing, and that, sure, it’s a concern. And then they changed the subject.

The first thought I had was cynical. Publishers pay low wages to attract people with family wealth or personal wealth who can afford to supplement their meager income with their own money. These Richy Riches are who the gatekeepers want in publishing. The bluebloods, the elites, whatever you want to call them, they’re the ones who want the job for the prestige and they’re the ones who consider their paycheck a novelty rather than a necessity.

My second thought was, if we’re discussing the future of publishing, why does publishing have to stay locked in New York City? The editorial salaries would go much further in other states. The pay is low for the tri-state area and especially low for New York City, but it’s sufficient if you’re living in a state where the cost of living is much lower.

We know books can be put together remotely. The pandemic certainly proved that. Do we really have to go back to pretending that location and proximity is foremost in the workplace?

My final thought was, the real future of publishing is self-publishing.

And with that, let’s talk about one self-publisher’s tips for selling books.

At this year's Pikes Peak Writers Conference, fantasy author Todd Fahnestock explained how he successfully markets his books at conventions. Over his 35-year career, Fahnestock moved away from traditional publishing and toward self-publishing. He says that 88 percent of his book sales are now through cons.

Fahnestock is one of a special breed of writers who can write well and sell well. Here are some of his tips, which might help you at cons, book signings, or anytime you're face-to-face with a reader:

Let’s begin with logistics:

The first thing you need is a good book. Preferably, a few good books. Fahnestock uses a scrapbooker’s cart to transport his gear, which includes pens, sharpies, giveaways, book stands, and so on. Wear something appropriate for the con. You want to make sure you grab people's attention through signage that clearly represents your books and genre. Displaying books upright helps with maximum visibility.

And now, your pitch:

Once you have people standing at your table, you need to be able to talk about your books in an engaging way. That means, put your phone down, stand up, smile, and be genuine. Fahnestock says that selling at cons is a performance, and you have to get people to like you. Prepare a mini-story without spoilers to use when you talk about your books. You can't appear desperate. Don't show that you're nervous. Talk enthusiastically but not too quickly. People have to believe that what you're selling is something they would like. You're not just there to make money; you're also there to create superfans. Superfans spread your name far and wide, even beyond the confines of the con.

His best conversation starters are: Wanna hear about a book? Are you a fantasy reader? and Do you read for fun?

This kind of selling is not for everyone, but if you think you have what it takes, start small and work your way up.

That’s the end of our time together today. I encourage you to write something every day this week. Until next time, please remember that you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.