Open Letter to the Publishing Industry

A smile never increases in price or decreases in value.

Today is Life List Club Friday again. It’s my pleasure today to host Gary Gauthier as he takes the publishing industry to task and suggests changes in how the industry does things. To see other blogs by Gary, click his name and hop over to his site. As part of the Life List Club shuffle, my post is on Sonia G. Medeiros’s. Don’t forget to come back up and click on her name to read mine after you read Gary’s.

A Modest Proposal for a Change of Fortune


More and more consumers are finding the convenience of e-readers outweighs the sensory delights of a newly-pressed hardcover. The digital marvels also provide the same opportunity for escape from the humdrum of reality as the pages of an adventure-filled paperback.

Ebook sales are exploding while revenue from print is steadily declining. It is no longer a question of stopping the bleeding. You must face and accept the inexorable march of technology and acknowledge the primacy of market forces. Paper books are on their way to becoming an indulgence, just like candlelight and the horse-drawn carriage.

A Summary of the Issues:

1) You are using antiquated methods to find and decide what to sell.

2) Your business model undervalues the talent of authors.

3) You are not tuned-in to what the market wants.

4) The prescription: Deploy, and improve upon, a business model that works.

1. Your Most Valuable Production Input: The work of talented authors is your most valuable production input.

The publishing industry uses antiquated methods to tap and develop its most basic raw material. The current system that, for many authors, begins with hundreds of one-page query letters addressed to literary agents is unacceptable in the information age. Everyone knows it’s inefficient. Many talented writers don’t get published, and many published works don’t sell. It used to be the case that publishers could just lean back and wait while agents sifted through stacks of manuscripts. You no longer have that luxury.

Talented writers are making a name for themselves on the launching platforms of your competitors. Offering the occasional contract to the proven star is not a sustainable strategy. Making educated guesses at the next sure thing is not a plan for success when your competitors make decisions based on market data.

2. Authors Are Better Off In the Open Market. Successful, established authors (Deepak Chopra, Timothy Ferriss, Barry Eisler) are walking away from your services. The market-access monopoly you once enjoyed is now history. Your printing presses and your distribution infrastructure are superfluous.

The majority of authors who sign a traditional publishing contract stand to earn $5,000 paid over a three year period. Fifteen percent of that paltry sum is owed to an agent. A growing population of indie authors earns substantially more.

While the odds of an indie author hitting it big aren’t great, the argument doesn’t work in your favor. The talent pool that hard-working literary agents select on your behalf hardly fares better. The majority of published authors from that pool don’t sell enough books to cover their advance. (See the previous link.)

3. Consumers Vote with Their Wallets. Not so long ago, readers had to follow along with your program. They only had access to what the industry printed and distributed. Now, the tables are reversed; readers have lots of choices and they rule the market. Consumers no longer have to go to a book store to browse the books that the industry selects. They are searching and browsing from the convenience of home. They have access to reviews for books that interest them and real-time market information on their popularity.

Selecting titles to publish based on your past success is a recipe for failure when indie titles are populating the top of best-seller lists. Readers want immediate access to what they like, and won’t wait for the hit or miss of what the agents are pitching.

4. A Modest Proposal for Success. A recent Forbes article nicely summarizes what’s at stake. They “need to start thinking of themselves more as publishing engines that can drive content creation, distribution and consumption in an innovative and scalable way. For many, this will be hard and challenging – if not downright impossible.”

Here is our proposal.

· Embrace existing technology and the tectonic shift in the market. Ignore these at your peril.

· Replicate, deploy and improve upon the successful systems and platforms of competitors.

· Implement a digital query system with a simple submission process.

· Encourage writers to prove themselves under the harsh glare of your own monetized, public marketplace.

· Integrate the query system into the marketplace.

· Pay authors a competitive, market-based royalty.

· Nurture, groom, empower, and promote the talent. Develop incentives that make your services an attractive proposition for writers.

· Collect data from the new platform and use it as the basis for marketing future best-sellers.

Do you support this open letter? Can the publishing industry survive if it doesn’t take up the challenge of its digital competitors?

Gary Gauthier is working on his first novel, a crime thriller set in New Orleans just clip_image004before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. His blog, Literary Snippets, gives him an opportunity to express and share his appreciation for art and literature. He occasionally posts articles as well. Some of his favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. But this changes from time to time. Stay tuned! Follow him on Facebook and Google Plus.


About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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20 Responses to Open Letter to the Publishing Industry

  1. I would respectfully submit, that my company is doing exactly what you suggest. We are not traditional publishing, nor are we a self-pub house, we are something in between. That said, I won’t spam your blog with my pitch, but will just say – well said! Too bad the large houses can’t listen without, gasp, changing their opinions.


  2. I’m grateful that the publishing industry is embracing the ever evolving digital world. If there’s one thing writers are accustomed to, its facing challenge and adversity. You make some spectacular points…. Love your suggestions of empowering talent and maximizing on all that’s available.

    Exciting time, right? Like the Wild West…with computers. 😉


  3. Powerful post, Gary!

    “Selecting titles to publish based on your past success is a recipe for failure when indie titles are populating the top of best-seller lists.”

    In a successful business, there is one rule: follow the money.


  4. Jess Witkins says:

    I’m still trying to remain optimistic that there are enough people out there who will still buy books as well as ereaders that bookstores will remain in business. I-tunes hasn’t completely wiped out cds. Only time will tell. Hope your ideas go forward.


  5. Great points! It’s strange to watch a huge business not be savvy about the changes in the market. It definitely warns us to be careful about getting narrow minded about any of this stuff. We have to be on the lookout for changes. Ready to adapt. Doesn’t mean we have to toss the old ways out but that we have to be ready to grow as the world does.


  6. What a fabulous post! I hope you actually do something with this letter; I’d been really sad to say: “Once upon a time there were these things called bookstores…”


    • Thanks for visiting Renee. I too love bookstores and love to browse paper books in bookstores. I don’t think bookstores will go away completely–they’ll be a niche business. They’ll all have cafes in them. (Didn’t that happen already?)


  7. Marcia says:

    I think you’re right on target with your post, Gary. If publishers have not begun to take notice and make changes before long, with the exodus of proved best-selling authors from the arms of the the traditional publisher and other changes in the world of publishing and self-pubbing, it may be too late for them to react and save their behinds. As it has been said, “The consumer is not the gatekeeper”. While the consumer loved bookstores and print books, they are learning to adapt to the new technology and are loving the cost savings.


  8. Thanks for visiting Angela. I don’t think anyone knows how the chips will eventually settle. One thing for sure, the consumer comes out way ahead. They have more choice and books are more affordable. The big bucks went to a few authors, wasteful printing (see response to Susie below), and industry profits. The playing field is leveled a bit for authors and is now less of a lottery.


  9. This was a great article. I hope the industry pays attention.


    • Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth. I’m sure they’re paying attention and are already aware of everything I’ve pointed out. But they have short-term shareholder returns to worry about.

      Plus all that stuff takes a lot of time-consuming, hard work. If it was easy, they would have done it already. Meanwhile the innovators (Amazon, Apple) get to collect their lunch money.


  10. hawleywood40 says:

    Gary, this is wonderfully well thought-out and support advice! I hope this post makes is seen by some of those in the industry!


    • Thanks for commenting Pamela. Everybody thought the industry was in the book business until the tech companies showed that it could be run more efficiently if it’s treated like a digital business.

      Having been an indispensable monopoly for five centuries, everybody gives the publishing industry more authority and legitimacy than they deserve. Most folks still don’t get it and are waiting for them to “make a come back”.


  11. susielindau says:

    i gotta believe that the industry is sitting up a little straighter and have taken their feet off their desks!


    • Hi Susie, I have to agree with you. I don’t think they’re leaning back very much these days. The industry will have to consolidate. A lot of energy and man-power will be redeployed for more useful purposes.

      Approximately forty percent of books printed are never sold. Just think of all the millions and millions of books that over the years, were printed, shipped to retailers, returned to warehouses and eventually destroyed.

      Imagine a little less than half the stock at a B&N bookstore disappearing and you have an idea.

      For the numbers, see


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