Publishing Perspectives has an interesting article on the state of digital publishing in the Spanish language world. The article notes that up until now the publishers have been using a form delaying tactics, but now are beginning to embrace the changes. I had no idea that Barnes and Nobrl had a library of 40,000 titles in Spanish (of course, I would need a Nook). But I hope these developments will make it a little easier to get hold of some of the titles at a more reasonable price. Since I don’t have an e-reader, though, it may be cheaper just to buy the paper books. I hope the smaller publishers, too get in on this. I would love to have more access to some of the smaller ones. I also wonder if this will help with the phenomenon where Spanish language writers aren’t published outside their home country (see my comments on it here). It shall be an interesting few years.
Following an initial phase, known in the sector as the Libranda Era, which attempted to slow down changes in the sector by maintaining the current ecosystem in the book world, many book professionals in Spain believe that we will be entering a much more dynamic second phase, one I’ll dub the Internationalization Era. This new era is characterized by increasing interest by the main international players — Amazon, Google, Apple, Barnes & Noble, TheCopia.com, Kobo, Yudu, among other — to enhance their platforms with content in Spanish from Spain and Latin America.
Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world after English and Chinese, and the revenue potential from a market made of 500 million Spanish speakers will not be overlooked. As we all know, the Internet has no frontiers and, therefore, once the English content market consolidates, the main international players will enrich their catalogs with content from other potential markets, especially the Spanish one. Barnes & Noble has already initiated this race towards globalization by aggregating more than 40,000 Spanish titles from various Spanish and Latin American publishers and offering them for sale online — an approach that will soon be imitated by the rest of the international players.
The upcoming academic year (2011-2012) will see the gradual arrival of each of the aforementioned players in the Spanish markets, which will undoubtedly accelerate the digital race. Spanish publishers, booksellers and librarians will have their hand forced and will henceforth need to make strategic decisions in reaction to the arrival of these international competitors.
Publishing Perspectives has an overview of the Argentine e-book market which even if you don’t care much about e-books explains why Latin America can tire of Spain’s imprint in its culture. You would think it would be easy to get Spanish language books from any Spanish speaking author in Latin America, but it is far from the reality. This exists some what between the US and the UK, but no where near this level. It is over stating the issue to say the Spanish Empire still exists, but for some it can feel that way.
In spite of this sorry situation, publishers have started to realize, mainly because of the news coming from the U.S. and Europe, that e-books will eventually rule their business. That is one of the reasons why in late 2009 the Argentinean Book Chamber commissioned a piece of research with the goal of putting forward solutions for the digitization challenge. Although the final report was very inspiring, to date there has been no further collective initiatives, and the publishing sector has remained pretty much in the same spot where it was last year.
Truth be told, we could say that publishers in Argentina seem to envisage the digital age more with panic than with eagerness, which explains why no traditional company has made any real effort to take advantage of this new era. As a matter of fact, this attitude is not imprudent at all, since, in my view, migration from analog to digital in the Argentinean book market will be far from simple. Let’s first think of the typical family business, run by a senior publisher who is helped by his sons and even by his grandsons. Who will be able to talk the old man into getting rid of the warehouse, hiring programmers, buying software licenses and so on? And who, once again, will persuade him of the importance of digitizing, converting to EPUB and distributing the whole backlist online, when there are other more pressing matters, such as paying the rent, salaries and other expenses?
Apart from small and medium sized companies managed like family businesses, we also find resistance among big publishing houses. So far, their refusal to fully embrace the digital age stems from their fear against piracy: how would they protect their titles if PDFs start to wander around the web with no control whatsoever? On the other hand, big Argentinean publishing companies generally are the local branch of a much bigger corporation whose headquarters are located in the U.S. or in Europe, mainly in Spain. And because of their particular structure, major publishing houses in Argentina willing to experiment with new technologies are forced to wait until the head office abroad allows them to do so, a process that can be slow and thus discouraging. Recently, the main Spanish publishing companies decided to launch their own site together with their branches all over Latin America, a move that has fueled fierce debates and which, in my view, is not going to be successful.
The Richard Hugo House’s writers conference was tiring, like most conferences, yet a great conference for the those seeking to understand not only how to get published, a timeless question, but how to use the new tools of media. All of it was quite useful and seeing what you have to do to support a book is rather daunting. There was a talk from one PR agent and the details she went in to on just setting up bookstore readings, something that has only minimal success these days, could be a real time suck. What was interesting, too, was not only to get a chance to talk to other writers, but to talk to writers in genres I don’t even think about, and to be honest, sometimes value disparagingly. It gives you a chance to see where you are, but also what it is that drives other people who are committed to an idea that you would never otherwise think about. On the other hand, I got tired of trying to describe my novel since it is too amorphous at this point.
Being with writers searching for readers and also being a reader/reviewer who’s been watching the publishing world struggle it was fascinating to see how those two worlds try to sink up. The new writers are shocked, the more experienced are navigating it the best they can, and we have publishers like Mathew Stadler trying to be innovative, and still there is panic. Yet on the small press front there is the DIY attitude, which is quite refreshing and gives you hope. The turmoil is just so unsettling and now there is no one way to go, and whatever you do it will take some of your precious writing time.
As a web developer who participates in social media projects, the questions that came up about social media are both eager and uncertain. Many writers have such a long way to go to get a handle on social media. I think many writers have a hard time moving beyond the work. I can sympathize, I don’t want to either, but for better or worse, you have to. I saw the same thing in the technical writing community, where you can find writers with a similar mentality. When that group was hammered by the .com bubble there was a cry for the writer to lift the head from the work and it was hard for many.
I’m certainly glad I went and it was definitely worth sacrificing the prime writing time.
Today’s session was filled with talk about how the relationship between the author and the publisher and the reader has changed radically. Mathew Stadler opened the day with a talk about changing the role of the publisher, towards a small publishers who refuse to participate in the shell game that is book sales: no more returns. Instead, he looked towards a model where the publisher sells just a copy or two to a book store and the publisher gets paid upfront. He wasn’t sure if he was going to make that work, but it was his hope to try and break the old paradigm. He also quoted Epstine in saying that “a publisher’s job is to supply the necessary readings for democracy.” As such, Stadler looks to the small publisher to remove the hierarchy and control and create a more flexible and democratic publishing. In a more practical vein, he suggested that if you take an advance you should know how that will help your publisher’s plans. Avoid the shell game and, instead, make books for readers. Taking the advance just perpetuates the ambiguities between the wasteful system, and actual valid engagement with readers. While some of Stadler’s ideas are politically motivated his ideas are interesting and do suggest a different business model for the publisher – bookstore relationship, which, ultimately, will affect the writer and reader. Only time will show if Stadler’s experiments will work.
The rest of the sessions I attended were focused on how to do the marketing work yourself even if you have some sort of book contract. It is a real mix of things you have to do, everything from having and online presence (check) to determining who you want to send galleys to, what bookstores to target, and just about everything that a publicist for a publisher would have done. It is a little annoying since you should be writing, although it wasn’t something I didn’t already know.
At one moment when a freelance editor was talking and I misunderstood him when he said you need lots of dialogue in your fiction, I had a moment of complete disappointment. What is the point if you have to fit in a formula. Turns out he was not talking about literary fiction, but, still, it was one of those moments when I don’t like thinking about writing and all the silly conventions and rules people come up with when describing what will sell.
Tomorrow more of the marketing then I can return to what actually matters.
I went down to Elliott Bay Books on the other day (1/23/10) to see a presentation from Alan Rinzler, an editor at Jossey-Bass, about getting published. Naturally, an interesting topic for any writer:
The topic of his talk today is “Why There’s Never Been a Better Time for Writers Who Want to Get Published.” He’ll speak about book publishing from the inside, dispelling myths, confronting realities, and explaining what current changes mean for writers wanting to be published in this volatile business. He will also speak about presenting proposals and manuscripts in an effective manner, finding an agent, knowing what acquiring editors are looking for.
It was quite interesting to hear the state of publishing from an insider who is more cheerleader than defeatist. As the title of his talk suggests, he believes this is the best time for writers. While there were some contradictory elements in his presentation he does have a point. He started off by noting that the number of book sales is up in certain genres, specifically young adult, graphic novel and literary fiction. Certainly encouraging news. However, as he would do throughout the presentation he then notes that publishers either don’t know what they are doing or botch the sales job. In his opinion, the only way to sell a book is have buzz via social media. Book tours are a thing of the past (I often wondered how they could make money with them when so few come to readings; it’s at best a break even proposition). Interestingly, he really didn’t see much room for the book stores. He noted that they usually send back all the copies of a book with in a few weeks of receiving them so that there is not time for the slow build, which is es specially important in fiction. only 10% of books make money. He didn’t answer how publishers can justify big advances with those odds. His final, comment of note on the publishing business was that all the job cuts were just cutting away the fat and that staff now are more lean and do more with less. The take away is if you are going to write, be social media ready.
He then went on to talk about what writer should do to get published. Most of it is common advice, but he did break it down into quick bites. Finding an agent, for example, isn’t a book length topic.
Find an agent – You need one to protect you from “people like me.”
- To find one go to writers conferences. It is relaxed atmosphere and they are on their best behavior.
- Be aggressive: go to their office and wait them out; send an email submission even though they say no because they can be tempted by something good (and they ignore query letters).
- The best if you know someone who has an agent.
- Self publish and show them the book.
- Read Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Market Place weekly emails. It will tell you the deals with the agent’s names.
Writing a Proposal
- Should be 25 pages.
- Have a 2 to 3 paragraph hook. How you are going to say this book has to be published.
- Out line of no more than 10 pages
- Platform: where are you in the public. Have you written anything else, been on TV, etc.?
- DVD of you talking.