Over the last few months I’ve heard the phrase “collapse of the paper book market” thrown about by editors, writers and best of all financial analysts. The lower volume of sales (so much as they are tracked accurately) is undeniable. You can’t make up the collapse of one of the two largest chain retailers over night, certainly not without adding additional doorways.  But, really, how much of the decline is due to either major series ending, authors dying, or simple stagnation causing readers to abandon series?

In the last few years we’ve seen Robert Jordan pass away. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series end.Twilight and it’s sequels have run their course as well. Just within science fiction and fantasy, of living authors who were or are major names, I can point out a half dozen I no longer read or recommend. A scan of these authors book reviews on places like Amazon, Goodreads, BN.com and others show’s I’m not alone in noticing the work they put out ten or fifteen years ago was markedly superior to the novels disgorged in the last half decade. For others, they simply don’t write at the pace they did a decade and a half ago. We can all name a major award winner or two who used to crank out book at twice the pace they do today.

When crunching the numbers on this type of impact it is important to remember not just that these authors sales may have or likely have slumped or ended, but that people rarely go to the bookstore for just one book. As a reader if I go in to pick up the steampunk by my favorite writer, I’m probably going to pick up an urban fantasy by someone else I read, and if there is a new space opera or milsf on the shelf I’m all over it.

Death is unavoidable (it even got Dick Clark after two or three centuries), stagnation particularly with an open ended series is almost equally so. So publishers need to learn to market genres and archetype characters over writers? Maybe not over but equally. If you take the current run of Marvel movies or the Game of Thrones series as a benchmark for Hollywood getting things right (for a change) they’ve gone with ability and marketing over pure name value. Peter Dinklage is almost certainly the best known name in Game of Thrones, and it is successful. There are no current A-listers in the Marvel universe. You can make a case for Denis Leary in the most recent Spiderman or maybe Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man but honestly that’s it.

Marketing works. Quality works. Know your market, satisfy your market, remind them of new stuff. That seems to be the formula that works.

  • For shame! And you an agent!

    While publishers certainly could learn from Baen, where the house has a distinctive *style*, the publishers need to figure out how to find *and nurture* the next generation of Name Authors To Be. Of course, the problem of nurture is that it requires being nurturing and potentially tolerating some mid-list numbers for a while, so it’s just easier to trawl Amazon and look for the hot sellers like Hocking and James, and hope they can lure the authors away from their higher royalties.

    They should be setting up their *own* high-royalty quasi-slushpile, starting ebook-only and graduating to things like “Nice Cover” and “Print Version” when sales prove something’s got legs. (Carina Press does something like this, I gather, but I haven’t heard excellent things about their royalties.)

    But then, it’s cheaper to use Amazon like this. And hope they can lure authors away.

    (Disclamer: Baen (especially) and DAW (from inference) both seem to be avoiding this sort of nonsense-think, and are hopefully profiting by it.)

    [Edited to remove HTML that seemed to be causing Weird Formatting Bugs.]

    • Onyxhawke

      Brilliant Beth! Bravisimo!

  • I’ve certainly seen worse ideas than having a series of stages for authors to work up – like level-ups in RPGs.

    “You are a level 1 Author. We will publish you with e-books”
    “You are a level 2 Author. We will publish you with e-books with nice covers”
    “You are a level 3 Author. You get a paperback”

    and so on and so forth.

    Certainly as an author trying to break in, I’d almost prefer that – it gets more people’s feet inside the door, even if most of them never level up.