What's Next in Publishing? Literary Agent Laurie McLean Looks in Her Crystal Ball

This week, we're honored to host Laurie McLean, a senior agent at the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency who is also a pioneer in the indie revolution. Since she's been pretty good at predicting the big changes in the publishing industry in recent years, I asked her to look into her crystal ball and tell us what she sees coming up in 2013.

Laurie is one of the driving forces behind the San Francisco Writers Conference and San Francisco Writers' University. For more than 20 years she ran a public relations agency in California’s Silicon Valley, so she is wise in the ways of marketing and business. She is also a novelist herself, so she can empathize with what we're all going through in these wild and crazy times in the publishing business.

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball
by  Literary Agent Laurie McLean

I am really taking a risk by making any kind of prediction here, since there are startling developments in publishing every single day. But what Anne demands, Anne receives. She’s got that kind of blogging power! So here are my predictions (with a little perspective) on the next steps for the book publishing industry.


Before we get to the future of publishing, let’s all think back to 2008. A mere four years ago. The Amazon Kindle debuted. So did Smashwords. So did Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. This made it easy and profitable for authors to self-publish all kinds of writing. No more gatekeepers and hurdles. Just write and publish. Score a big one for our side!

In 2010 the first Kindle Millionaires were born, and vanity publishing was swept away in a tsunami of respectability once and for all. Sure, some assisted self-publishing options are still out there fleecing the unsuspecting. But for the most part, most writers know how to create an eBook and get wide retail distribution for free, and create a Print On Demand book for nearly nothing.


This year, traditional publishing fought back with eBook originals, higher royalty rates that even escalated the more eBooks you sold, a ramp up in work for hire projects, eSerials, price wars, free novellas as marketing vehicles, and a price drop for book one in a series when book two was about to pop. Whoa!

We also saw the agent’s role changing (I am an agent, so my views are both informed and tainted).

Agents became publishers, self-publishing guides, freelance editors and specialists. I love it because while each agent knows the business of publishing, they also each have special skills and now they can come to the fore. Plus it means we probably won’t become obsolete in this brave new frontier.

I started two ePublishing companies this year with two of my award winning clients: Joyride Books for out-of-print backlist romance titles; and Ambush Books for out-of-print classic tween and teen titles. Bringing classics back so today’s reader can enjoy them makes me feel great. I think we’ll see the trend of agent-hybrids, or what I call author managers, accelerating in 2013.

Also this year the Department of Justice dropped the hammer on big publishers. Some settled (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins) and some are fighting the government’s charge of price fixing (Apple, Penguin, Macmillan). What this will ultimately mean for the future of eBook pricing (and author royalties) remains unknown. Will this benefit the reader or create a monopoly…or both? The jury’s still out. Literally! Most feel that Amazon has already won the day. But my high tech background taught me to never count on the dominance of a clear leader. Remember how IBM owned the PC market? That is until Dell and Microsoft pulled the rug out from under them. Then there was Apple. And Google. So Amazon, watch your back for the smaller, faster, more nimble tech innovators in publishing.


Okay, here’s where the big risk taking happens. What will happen in 2013?

I have been predicting for six months that one of the Big Six would be acquired. But I guessed that Amazon, who is the only publisher with beaucoup bucks, would buy HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster.

I was totally blindsided by the Penguin/Random House merger.

Will this open the floodgates for further mergers?

Will we have the Big Three instead of the Big Six?

So tell me…

What do you think is going to happen in publishing in 2013?

Laurie McLean is the Senior Agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco. She represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, thrillers, etc.) as well as children’s middle grade and young adult books. To query Laurie, please follow the the submission guidelines on her submissions page.

Laurie is also the Dean of San Francisco Writers University,  which offers classes on the craft of writing, the business of publishing and technological advances in both. In 2012 Laurie co-founded two ePublishing companies with two of her client partners: JoyrideBooks.com for vintage out-of-print romance books with her client Linda Wisdom; and AmbushBooks.com for out-of-print classic tween and teen books with her client Douglas Rees. 

Many thanks to all the bloggers who hosted and mentioned Anne and this blog this week, including Porter Anderson, who gave us some nice cyberink at Writing on the Ether and Debra Eve, who spotlighted Anne's books at Later Bloomer and Write it Sideways. A big thank you to D.D. Scott at the Reader's Guide to E-Publishing for posting my travelogue/love letter to Lincolnshire, the setting of SHERWOOD, LTD. And I much appreciate the Golden Review of THE GATSBY GAME at Indie Authors Anonymous.

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