Publishing startup Reedsy wants to surface the next hit indie book. It’s launching a new service today, Reedsy Discovery, aimed at promoting only independently published books. Users who join it will be able to connect with a similar-minded reading community, previewing chapters and browsing recommendations.
The service will have a huge pool to draw from: A little over one million titles were independently published in the U.S. in 2017, compared to the traditionally published 300,000 titles. Granted, the number of undiscovered winners in that million is likely pretty low. With Discovery, Reedsy is betting a mix of human curation and machine learning algorithms can pick out the biggest gems while supporting a more welcoming community than that of, say, Amazon’s automatic recommendation emails.
I talked to Emmanuel Nataf, CEO and co-founder of Reedsy, to learn more about which types of indie books have the best odds of getting past that book-marketing bottleneck – or at least which ones self-publishers hope can make it.
ALA Rebounds in Seattle
More than 9,000 librarians and vendors attended the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, held January 25–29, a welcome rebound for ALA after two straight years of lagging attendance. In all, ALA reported 9,211 total attendees, up significantly over the 8,036 attendees at the 2018 Midwinter Meeting in Denver (the least-attended Midwinter Meeting in 30 years). And with the 2019 ALA Annual Conference set for Washington, D.C.—a location that has traditionally yielded ALA’s best-attended conferences—the 13 % attendance boost in Seattle is a good start to what is setting up to be an important year for the association.
Among the conference highlights was an inspiring opening keynote by Melinda Gates, whose upcoming memoir, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, is due out from Flatiron Books in April. In her 45-minute talk, Gates spoke passionately about the fight for gender equality and challenged librarians to act. “The demand for gender equality is growing louder, and it is coming from all over the world,” she said, while warning that continued progress is not inevitable. “If we want to summon a moment of lift for women and girls, a moment that will lift up all of humanity, we all need to step up, every single one of us in this room.”
But many times book censorship still succeeds without a whimper. This kind of censorship is largely disregarded and often tacitly tolerated and self-induced among editors: corporate censorship. On the surface, there’s a logic in corporate censorship that may seem at least arguable. When corporate executives at, say, Netflix cancel your favorite shoot-em-up action show or a boy-meets-boy love story, seemingly without cause, there’s a knee-jerk feeling of dissatisfaction that eventually gives way to complacency. Just as corporate executives giveth us the stories we like, so can corporate executives taketh them away. They can do what they want; it’s their property.
But not so fast.
Is it — or should it be — a universal right for corporations to censor their so-called property in all cases, under all circumstances? One case from the 1970s may command some second thoughts on a corporate safe zone cordoned off by copyright laws and cultural misconceptions, one that calls into question the entire endeavor of corporate censorship.
With No ‘Fire,’ Print Units Fell 5% in Mid-January
Unit sales of print books fell 5% in the week ended Jan. 19, 2019, compared to the similar week in 2018, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. All the major categories had declines in the week, including adult nonfiction, where units dropped 5.1%. Last year at this time, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was hitting its sales stride and sold nearly 326,000 copies in the week ended Jan. 20, 2018. The #1 seller in the category in the most recent week was, once again, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which sold more than 82,000 copies and is closing in on four million print copies sold at outlets that report to BookScan. A big bestseller four years ago was Maria Kondo’s The Life-Saving Magic of Tidying Up, and, thanks to Kondo’s new Netflix series, the book was #3 on the most recent adult nonfiction list, with more than 23,000 copies sold. Print units dropped 6.8% in adult fiction in the week ended Jan. 19, 2019, even though the books at top of the bestseller list were selling at about the same rate as those at the top a year ago. In first place in the category in the most recent week was the new book by James Patterson and Candice Fox, Liar Liar, which sold nearly 22,000 copies, while second-place Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens sold close to 20,000 copies. Last year at this time, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn and City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston were one-two on the fiction list, with both selling just over 20,000 copies. Print units fell 5.2% in juvenile fiction compared to 2018, despite a solid showing by Dav Pilkey’s Brawl of the Wild (Dog Man #6), which sold more than 44,000 copies.
Late-Night TV Hosts Give Publicity-Starved Novelists the Star Treatment
The New York Times
In a television landscape where literature has become largely overlooked, late-night hosts like Mr. Meyers and Trevor Noah have made it their mission to put a spotlight on writers — giving them an enormous amount of influence in the publishing world.
The morning shows, which once featured interviews with acclaimed novelists like E. L. Doctorow and William Styron, have largely tilted toward lifestyle and diet books and celebrity memoirs, with occasional appearances by best-selling authors or roundups of summer fiction.
Goodreads Choice Awards: An annual reminder that critics and readers don’t often agree The Washington Post Yes, professional critics who read widely and with discernment contribute something valuable when they curate the best books of the year. But that needn’t… Read moreDecember 12, 2018
Barnes & Noble Has A Good Q2
Barnes & Noble has made several announcements in the past couple of weeks: the opening of prototype stores, its Q2 earnings statement, and the news that it will open around ten new stores next year. All bring good news to the embattled bookstore chain.
Polis Books Launches Diversity-Focused Crime Imprint
Pinter said the launch of Agora Books—agora means open forum—is an effort to “focus on crime novels that delve into the most important issues of our time.” Agora, he said, will offer a diverse roster of authors, whose books will explore “culture, gender, sexuality, society, economy, and politics.”
All of the initial three Agora titles are debut authors, Osman said. She added “crime fiction has always shined a light on society and culture and if we’re ignoring some writers, we’re losing the backbone of the genre.”
Some encouraging news…
According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores fell by approximately 40 percent between the mid-90s and 2009. They have recovered some of those closures, and this year, sales are up more than five percent over a year ago.
The localism movement has been a driving force. Customers are increasingly spending in their neighborhood stores.
The Next Black Publishing Generation Speaks
Although the book industry remains overwhelmingly white—87% of respondents to PW’s most recent annual salary survey identify as Caucasian—there is undeniably a new and passionate generation of young black professionals working inside publishing houses.
To get their perspective on the industry, PW spoke with a group of 20- and 30-somethings that included Georgia Bodnar, associate editor, Viking; Milena Brown, publicity manager, Atria; Rakia Clark, senior editor, Beacon Press; Christian Coleman, associate digital marketing manager, Beacon Press; Nicole Counts, associate editor, One World; Devin Funches, sales and marketing manager, Lion Forge Comics; Zakia Henderson-Brown, associate editor and strategic partnerships coordinator, New Press; Chelcee Johns, editorial assistant, 37 Ink; Ebony Ladelle, senior marketing manager, HarperTeen; Tolani Osan, corporate marketing associate, Simon & Schuster; and Christina “Steenz” Stewart, associate editor, Lion Forge Comics.
Out this week is Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones, the first of two volumes in George R. R. Martin’s faux-history of the dragonlords of House Targaryen, ancestors to its last survivor, young Queen Daenerys. It begins with Aegon the Conqueror and the forging of the Iron Throne, and carries through subsequent generations, and the family’s battles to keep it. It’s backstory that’s only been glimpsed before, and some of the most intriguing Westeros has to offer, set in the days when dragons ruled the skies.
It’s also a reminder that Martin’s world is a whole lot larger than the events of the book series proper, and that we may be putting too much weight on our desire to see it brought to conclusion. Yes, we’ve all been waiting seven years for book six, let alone the concluding seventh volume. Certainly, we want to know what happens. But does the ending define this particular saga? Does it matter at all who sits the Iron Throne, or whether a Stark rules in Winterfell?
How does an author turn a viral article into a published book? In the case of writer Gemma Hartley, whose September 2017 Harper’s Bazaar article on emotional labor, “Women Aren’t Nags—We’re Just Fed Up,” went viral on publication, it helped that she was prepared. “This was one of the few cases throughout my freelance career when I thought, I could write a whole book on this,” she said.
Since there were several months between filing her article and its publication, she had time to mull over the topic. When the article exploded online, with over half a million social media shares, she was contacted by literary agents. By that point, Hartley says, she already had a “rough outline” in mind for the book, which felt like “a natural, if surreal, next step.” Her expanded exploration of the topic, Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, was published by HarperOne on November 13.
Do Horror and Crime Go Together?
In other cases, though, the genre crossover creates as many problems as it does opportunities. I’m thinking of horror and supernatural fiction, in particular. Having such a strong flavor and inflexible set of conventions of its own, horror isn’t known for playing well with other genres. The horror formula calls for last-act reversals, defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, where almost every other genre formula ends with the protagonists living some version of happily ever after. In fact, in horror, the very notion of a protagonist can become fluid, the baton passing from one character to another as their individual arcs are violently truncated.
And when horror is paired with mystery, it sometimes seems as though the two genre strands are pulling in precisely opposite directions.
For readers of mystery, a large part of the pleasure they derive from a story comes from the moment or moments when the mystery is explained and a solution presents itself. This means there’s an implicit bargain between writer and reader: the reader suspends disbelief and engages with the story, while the writer guarantees that an explanation will eventually be given, using information already made available and staying within the rules that have been established.
Imprint consolidation at big houses is a sign of changed times
The Idea Logical Company
On Monday morning, Simon & Schuster became the second major house in a week to announce that it was consolidating two imprints, effectively reducing by one the number of discrete publishing units within the conglomerate empowered to decide what to publish and how to promote it. They folded the Touchstone imprint into Atria and Gallery; last week Penguin Random House collapsed their Crown imprint into Random House (sometimes referred to as “Little Random”.)
The title explosion is part of a sea change in the world of book publishing that has taken place over the past quarter century. At the same time, sales have shifted in two dimensions: a big chunk of the books now bought and consumed are digital, not printed, and more than half the books consumers buy are not bought in brick-and-mortar stores. And the share for physical stores continues to shrink. Indeed, these trends are linked. The fact that books can now be delivered without inventory, without a sales force, and without a warehouse has made it possible for just about anybody to publish a book.
Can Diverse Books Save Us? In a divided world, librarians are on a mission
School Library Journal
That research, fielded in April 2018, revealed that the majority of librarians, 81 percent, consider it “very important” to have a diverse book collection for kids and teens. (Diverse collections, in this context, were defined as books with protagonists and experiences that feature underrepresented ethnicities, disabilities, cultural or religious backgrounds, gender nonconformity, or LGBTQIA+ orientations.)
Some libraries have adopted diverse content as part of the institutional mission. About half of all respondents (54 percent of public libraries and 50 percent of school libraries) have inclusive collection development goals stemming from their administration or district. This rises to 68 percent in urban communities and 65 percent in private schools.
But a significant driver here is individual conviction—of the 1,156 survey respondents (school and public librarians serving children and teens in the United States and Canada), 72 percent told SLJ they consider it a personal goal to create a diverse collection.
How to Write Consent in Romance Novels
Guillory says one of the best compliments she received about The Wedding Date was that the book could serve as a model for young people who want to better understand romantic boundaries. A friend from law school read the book with her book club, which comprised several mothers of young children. “One of the women told me that she wanted her little girl, when she got old enough, to read my book to know what consent was and how a man should treat her,” Guillory said of the meeting, which she Skyped into. “It just really made me feel emotional, because I want girls to grow up thinking that they deserve to be heard, that their voices matter, that men should listen to them by default.”
The Proposal and The Wedding Date both depict consent as necessary and sexy, but they’re hardly the first books to do so. Guillory credits the world of romance with addressing the importance of uncoerced interest well before other genres or mediums were paying attention to the dynamics inherent in how people relate to one another.
“Romance writers have been thinking about this stuff for a long time and people haven’t really paid attention, and now people are paying attention, which I think is great,” she said. “I’m not going to pretend that all romance novels are perfect on this. There have certainly been books that I’ve read that I’ve been like, Ahh, I’m not sure about that. But I think they’re good examples of both what to do and what not to do.
“I think they’re good things for people to look towards to see how can we teach our daughters and how can we teach our sons to change their behavior to pay attention to women,” she added. “To know that you have a voice and that you matter. And I think romance can play a really big role in that.”