Tag Archives: publishing industry

Book Review: “The Beginner’s Goodbye,” by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s 19th novel, The Beginner’s Goodbye, is about holding on and letting go. Aaron Woolcott and his wife, Dorothy, have a typical marriage, with ups and downs, love and pain, and unspoken grudges. One day, after a minor spat, a tree topples over on the sun room of their home, killing Dorothy.

Set in Baltimore, where many of her novels take place, the story centers on the months following Dorothy’s death. After 11 years of marriage, Aaron cannot let go. He doggedly goes about his business, rejecting the sympathies and kindness extended by friends, until one day Dorothy’s ghost appears. In the hands of a lesser writer, this device might seem like a cheap ploy. Tyler uses the ghost of Dorothy to delve into the unresolved issues that haunt Aaron. Through his unexpected meetings with Dorothy, Aaron probes the small hurts that festered during their marriage as he yearns for resolution.

Aaron is a sympathetic main character. He is an unremarkable every-man, who has a crippled arm and leg and speaks with an occasional stutter. He was initially attracted to Dorothy, a doctor, because she took no notice of his handicap.

Although this is one of Tyler’s shortest books, at roughly 200 pages, it has a lot to say about love, marriage, and the fragility of intimate relationships. When his marriage is cut short, Aaron struggles to find normalcy in his life. He drags his feet on repairing his home until his take-charge sister, Nandina (a sharply drawn character) nudges him into action. His friends try to cheer him up. There is one hilarious scene where two of his male friends invite him to a restaurant for dinner and spend the entire evening not talking about their wives because they don’t want to bring up the memory of Aaron’s loss.

Tyler finds the most interesting occupations for her main characters. In this case, Aaron works in the family business, a boutique publishing company in which the authors pay to have their work published. This is perhaps a wry observation and commentary by Tyler of the current state of the publishing industry. The publishing house’s speciality are “how to” books called “The Beginners” series, which explains the title of the novel. In one scene, Aaron struggles as he slogs through a deadly memoir of an old man’s experiences in World War II in which the writer described every boring detail of his life as a soldier, and none of the terror of war.

This story ultimately is about love, loss, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Like all of Tyler’s work, The Beginner’s Goodbye is a masterfully prepared and satisfying entre, spiced with quirky, loveable characters.

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E-books Outsold Hard Covers in Adult Fiction: What Does It Mean?

It was both stunning and expected—the recent news that e-books outsold hard covers in the adult fiction category in 2011, according to a report co-produced by the Association of American Publishers (AAR) and the Book Industry Study Group, based on sales figures provided by 2,000 publishers.

It was stunning because it was one of those watershed statistics, never before achieved and unimaginable just ten years ago. It was expected because publishing industry observers knew the day would come when e-books became the preferred mode for the majority of consumers, even if it is happening in just one category at the moment.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Net sales of e-books jumped to 15 percent of the market in 2011, up from six percent in 2010
  • Overall, U.S. book market sales declined by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, down from $2.79 billion in 2010.
  • Majority of publishers’ revenues still come from print books at $11 billion, compared to $2 billion from e-books.
  • In the adult fiction category, e-books accounted for 30 percent of total net publishers’ sales, compared to a 13 percent share the year before.
  • Online retailers represented 13 percent of total net dollars, but grew by 35 percent from the year before.

Read a summary of the report on the AAR site

Read more about the report on the BookStats site

Here’s a good analysis of the report by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World site.

Greenfield noted two interesting facts in his story. For the first quarter of 2012, e-books represented 25 percent of all sales in trade fiction. He also pointed out the BookStats report found that publishers made over $1 billion selling directly to consumers in 2011, up from $702 million in 2010.

What do all these statistics mean for authors? Clearly, e-books will continue to grow in market share, as some analysts predict they will eventually dwarf sales of print books. The report also shows publishers are still making a heck of a lot of money. The industry is healthy, but undergoing change. Though revenues dipped by 2.5 percent to $2.72 billion in 2011, much of that could be attributed to the demise of Borders, as well as a slew of independent bookstores. Traditional publishing remains the most viable option for authors to achieve success. However, readers are flocking to e-books and that bodes well for authors whose only route to publication is self-publishing. Of course the self-published writer must shoulder all of the editorial, platform building and marketing burden.

It behooves writers to pay attention to what’s going on in the publishing industry. Writers should also watch what goes on around them. More and more of my friends are buying Kindles, Nooks and iPads. Lovers of traditional books (like me) have a dual mindset. I still read printed books, but I also read many books on my Kindle. When I travel, I carry a paperback and my Kindle.

The publishing world continues to change at a rapid pace. The good news is there is so much diversity of content available and that bodes well for reader and writers.

What’s your opinion of the changes taking place within the publishing industry?

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The Role of an Agent

At a recent conference, an author and an agent presented a case study about how they met at a writer’s conference, signed an agreement and the agent then shepherded the writer through the publication process. At one point, the writer made an offhand comment advising authors not to expect much in terms of marketing support from their publisher.

The comment set off an audience member, who began questioning the agent. He wanted to know why she didn’t help with marketing. Wasn’t that her job? The questioner became increasingly belligerent as the agent tried calmly to explain that marketing is not the agent’s job. I felt bad for the agent, though she handled the questions in a professional manner without getting ruffled.

The exchange reflected false perceptions some unpublished writers may harbor about the role of an agent. The agent explained her role was to advocate for the author. She championed the author’s work by contacting publishers and pitching the author’s manuscript. She negotiated the contract with the publisher and pushed for the most favorable terms for the author.

In this case, the author’s editor left the publishing house in the middle of the project and it stalled. The agent used her knowledge to locate the person at the publishing house who had the authority to assign a new editor and got the project back on track.

So what is the role of an agent? Here’s a simplified version:

  • Represent the writer.
  • Shop the writer’s manuscript to editors at publishing houses.
  • Secure and negotiate a contract with a publisher on behalf of the writer
  • Track the publication process with the writer
  • Troubleshoot any problems that arise
  • Negotiate subsidiary rights to the writer’s work.

Many agents will offer strategic advice to the writer. Some will sit down with the writer at the outset of the relationship and discuss the author’s long-term goals and then work to help the author achieve these goals.

For a more detailed description of what agents do, read this blog post by former agent and author Nathan Bransford.

Another great resource is literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Rachelle blogs daily about agenting, writing, and publishing, and never fails to give mature, sensible advice.

In this super-competitive field, where publishing contracts are hard to come by, a lot of frustrated writers vent their fury at agents. I don’t doubt there are rude agents, just as there are bad apples in every profession. I have to say I have had nothing but positive experiences with agents, and this is coming from a writer who has been rejected every time. Agents know good writing. They know writing that sells. They appreciate writers who take the time to read their submission guidelines, submit appropriate work and take the time to write a decent query letter.

I’ve had one-on-one interviews with agents. One resulted in a submission. Though it was rejected, the agent gave me some advice on the opening chapter that resulted in revisions that saved the manuscript. I thanked her when I saw her the next year at the same conference.

It’s easy to blame an agent for a writer’s lack of success. They’re the gatekeepers. Do they make mistakes? Do they reject bestsellers? Sure they do, but we all make mistakes. I’ve got a couple of manuscripts somewhere that I hope never see the light of day.

Some critics say agents are tied too closely to the publishing industry and are quick to defend everything publishers do. That’s valid, but it’s a little like saying lawyers are tied too closely to the court system. That’s their bread-and-butter.

At the same writer’s conference, I had the good fortune at lunch to sit next to a New York-based agent. I had nothing to pitch, so I was relaxed and we had a nice chat about writing, publishing and the changes in the industry.

Let’s remember agents have a job to do and play an important role in the publishing process.

What are your experiences with agents?

 

 

 

 

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