books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, November 18, 2012

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.

THE PAST:

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.

THE PRESENT:

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.


THE FUTURE:

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?


  • I’m still holding out for Amazon to buy its way onto brick and mortar bookshelves through the credibility of an established publisher. Buying Marshall Cavendish’s and Dorchester’s backlist was a solid start. But let’s face it…they’re not HarperCollins. I think Amazon is not done buying publishers.
  • Next up: Mobile Publishing. There are six billion, yes, billion, mobile phones worldwide, with China, America, and India as the biggest markets with the most growth potential. Smart phones also make nifty eReaders and most people carry their smart phones with them everywhere. Some even keep them by their beds while they sleep (you know who you are). So watch for short content, serialized stories, cliffhanger endings, flash fiction, articles, novelettes, and more experiments in publishing designed specifically for mobile computers. Text walking (and crashing) could be minor compared to being lost in the virtual world of a novel and ending up lost somewhere in the city!
  • Publishing in the Cloud. Ah, yes, the cloud. It’s where data is going to be stored from here on out. It just makes too much sense not to do it that way. Regardless of your device, wouldn’t it be nice to have a ubiquitous library available to you anywhere? Google Play, the Kindle Cloud Reader, and iCloudBooks would be instantly available to you no matter what tablet/laptop/Kindle/Kobo/ iPhone/Android you have handy. Seamless bookmarking anyone? I’m in!
  • Digital Paper/Folding Screens: We’ve just shaved off the tip of the iceberg with cool reading devices. How about digital paper that you can shove into your briefcase and unroll to read a full-page article or book page or app? Or a folding screen that fits in your pocket for quick reads or unfolds for larger types of applications? This technology is already here, they just have to bring the price down so it’s affordable.
  • And talk about being affordable. How about the $13 eReader. Yes, you read that right. A German company has created the TXTR Beagle and is pricing it at $13 US, available worldwide. It is subsidized by the cell phone companies and it is bare bones basic. Works on AAA batteries. But for people who cannot afford even a $70 Kindle, this is inching us towards the razor and the blade with the eReader being the razor and content being the blades. I know what’s on my Christmas list.
  • And finally, an easy one. Apps and enhanced eBooks are going to explode in 2013. They’re already phenomenal for children’s picture books. To me picture book apps are the modern equivalent of the Fisher-Price baby dashboard with the cranking handle, clicking steering wheel, beeper button, etc. And that’s just scraping the surface in creativity. I predict apps are going to start popping up for all kinds of books in all kinds of genres. I can’t wait. I mean you can already turn your book into a basic app using Smashwords. For free. What are you waiting for?

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.

And remember that Anne's comic mystery SHERWOOD, LTD is FREE at Smashwords and KOBO.

26 comments:

  1. A $13 dollar eReader? That is cheap.
    And I know people have been reading those short stories on their mobile phones in Japan for years. It catches with the rest of the world, it could be huge.

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  2. Note that a Kindle app for the iPhone already exists. Since I don't own a Kindle (although I'm holding out for Christmas), my phone is how I read my ebooks.

    It might not be widespread, but I bet a lot of people read ebooks that way.

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  3. Thanks, Laurie, for a fabulous wrap up of publishing past/present/future. The $13 ereader would certainly be a transformative device!

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  4. Thanks so much, Laurie. Your cutting edge news mirrors what we have been hearing for a couple of years now. I read Porter Anderson and a few others weekly to keep up with the fast pace of these changes.

    The Penguin/Random House merger adds many layers. Penguin purchased Author House, who had already eaten up iUniverse and xLibris. Random House had already started an indie imprint. Isn't this like the little fish eatiing the big fish and the bigger fish ... Who amont the Bix Six will be come the Great White Whale?

    No matter what people think of all this, I believe it will benefit both the writer and the reader.

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  5. So much going on with technology it's boggling. $13 reader? Wow, I love anything that makes reading more accessible. Thanks for the intriguing predictions.

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  6. Great comments everyone. It is so difficult to make any predictions since we're in the eye of the hurricane (well, perhaps that's a poor choice of analogies given what Sandy did to NYC publishing recently). But it is so much fun to make an educated guess as to how things are going to roll out. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
    -Laurie

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  7. Laurie, thank you for your optimism and thoughts on where publishing is heading. I've always been leery of monopolies, so it's heartwarming to think that not all is lost with Amazon in the lead today. I love your example of IBM and how its journey changed. The Blackberry is another example.

    As for more books on smartphones, I can see that. My husband read Ulysses on his itouch. Shocking, huh? The book's hard enough to read as it is, but he did it. It's a brave new world, for sure.

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  8. As a self-published author this was a very refreshing read. I am now actually considering finding an agent just for my ebooks. I have read that agents, like mentioned above, are turning agent/publisher and getting into the ebook boom.

    Wonderful article!

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  9. A $13 e reader--wow. Exciting news as it makes reading even more accessible. Love it. Thanks for the info!

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  10. Alex—I have heard the Japanese have been reading on their phones forever. We're finally catching up.

    Chihuahua—Yes, reading on phones has become a big thing in the last year. That's why, as Laurie says, specifically phone-targeted content like flash fiction is going to get much bigger.

    Ruth—You and I are old enough to remember when a calculator cost $100 or more. They got really cheap really fast. Laurie's prediction makes it sound as if e-readers may go the same route.

    Fois—You bring up an intriguing point. Big 6-ers aren't just merging, they're also targeting the self-publishing market. Buying the scammy AuthorHouse imprints seemed kind of clueless, but maybe they have something big planned.

    Julie—Me too! The more readers the better. And e-reading IS getting more people to read.

    Laurie—Thanks so much for sharing your predictions with us! I have a feeling a lot more of these are going to come true than those astrology/psychic predictions we always see in the last week of December. It does feel like a hurricane has hit this business, doesn't it? Or maybe more like an earthquake. And we keep getting those aftershocks…

    Diana—I LOVE it that your husband has read Ulysses on his phone. There ought to be some "first person to…" award for him.

    I liked Laurie's comment about IBM, too. Everybody fears the great Zon, but maybe new e-reader companies will catch up and keep it from eating such a big chunk of the market.

    Bonnie—A number of agents are now working with indie publishers. An agent is supposed to be an author advocate, and that means finding the best publication route for the client--whatever that may be. Sometimes it can be self-publishing. Laurie figured that out early on.

    Coleen—Isn't it exciting? We'll be able to have an e-reader for every purse. ;-)

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  11. Exciting times and uplifting predictions, Laurie, and thanks to Anne for sharing them with us!

    A $13 e-reader is amazing but what about POD machines like snappy espresso machines? Won't that happen too? For the time being, they're a little clunky and slow but surely that's destined to change. Technological advances can't be stopped!

    And when every big publisher will install a POD machine in every brick and mortar bookstores, that's when Amazon's model will become really endangered (it's strictly online for now).

    You think I'm kidding?

    Consider the problem of the consignment/returns model of traditional publishing: that's what's eating into the profits of the Big Six (soon to be the Big Five). But with a POD machine in every bookstore, problem solved! It looks like a small techie sort of gimmick, but it isn't. It could really change the name of the game...

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  12. What Alex said, and oh my goodness why didn't I think of publishing in the cloud before? Yes.

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  13. Thank you, Laurie, for sharing your look at the past and prediction for our future. Things sure are changing like lightening in the publishing world!

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  14. Wow, thanks so much Laurie! The publishing world is shifting fast, and i really wouldn't be surprised if one or more of those predictions came true!

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  15. I don't know what else is going to happen in 2013, but I think I can confidently predict I won't make a million from by e-book mystery Tainted Souls, particularly as I'm giving it away!

    I just hope that by the time I finish nmy current project there will still be a publishing industry.

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  16. Claude--I've been looking forward to that new POD technology, too. Last year the company that invented the instant-book machine did a deal that's supposed to bring them into a store near you--as ubiquitous as photo-developing kiosks. Personally, I can't wait!

    Deb--I think the cloud publishing stuff is exciting, too.

    Patricia--Being in publishing right now does feel like being in the midst of an earthquake.

    Charlie--I think it's quite possible they will ALL come true.

    Steven--Yeah, I don't think Sherwood, Ltd is going to be making much $$ either. But we have to hope our free books will entice readers to buy a few more of our titles. And that the indie movement won't be squelched by the Big 3/Amazon axis.

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  17. A $13 eReader coupled with a Japanese-like fad of reading short fiction and cliff-hangers could jolt the market. Like you, I really look to enhanced eBooks starting to make an impact. Now, if only I were high-tech enough to enhance my ebooks! :-)

    Fascinating article, Roland

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  18. Thanks Laurie and Anne. So much to know. I read on my iPad, my kindle and good ol' paper books. I have a novel available as an ebook and work in a brick and mortar bookstore. I am always torn and much of the time overwhelmed by all of the changes. Thanks for the clear wrap-up. It helps to hear a literary agent being so optimistic!

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  19. Roland--Great to see you here, fellow Ghostwriter in the Sky! (We both published books with the same title within months of each other. His is nonfic, though.) I sure hope the new tech does jolt the market. We could use a few more jolts.

    Christine--You do kind of personify the schizophrenic world of the bibliophile these days, don't you? It is overwhelming. And being overwhelmed can feel depressing. That's why it's so great to have a positive person like Laurie to tell us about the good stuff!

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  20. The ghost of Ernest Hemingway made me use the title. He insisted that FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS wasn't available ... not unless I wanted him flicking ghost cigar ashes in my face while I slept!

    If I understood the new tech it would be helpful! Thanks for having such an upbeat attitude to the publishing world. :-)

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  21. Roland--LOL. Definitely do not want those Hemingway ghost-ashes. I'm not pretending things are all rosy in publishing. Change is terrifying. But I figure it makes more sense to look for opportunity in the changes than lament what's gone. Lamenting is not my best look :-).

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  22. $13 e-readers and digital paper! So much could change in the next few years. And I didn't know Smashwords had an app to change your book into an app. I'll have to check that out. Thanks for a great post, Laurie and Anne!

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  23. Meghan--I'm afraid I don't even understand how a book can be an app. All of this is happening too fast for my creaky brain. But I bet it's cool. :-)

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  25. It's so hard to take in. Best to concentrate on the present moment and see what develops.

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  26. Francene--I'll be talking more about the changes in the industry in my Dec 2 post. There have been some wild changes just in the two weeks since Laurie wrote this post. We're all going to be getting whiplash trying to keep up.:-)

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