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Jonathan Karp on the State of Publishing (look dire)

Jonathan Karp’s* piece in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday confirms many of the feelings I have about the state of publishing today. It’s overcrowded and publishers are driven to almost gimmick like lengths to make money. (No. 5 on his list of ways to produce growth was “Cut costs, pray to the gods of movie tie-in paperback editions, or hope that one of your authors gets his or her own talk show.“)

Karp also addresses the frenzy to increase output noting that his favorite books were years in the making but that popular fiction writers have to produce at least one a year now or maybe even more.

Karp ends with noting that the barriers to entry into the publishing are declining with the rise of POD. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Thanks Kay for the link.

*Jonathan Karp is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

10 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 11:23:26

    Interesting article. I was amused by his observation that “There are more novels about serial killers than there are actual serial killers.”

  2. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 12:55:14

    I was amused by his observation that “There are more novels about serial killers than there are actual serial killers.”

    Ha. The romance equivalent would be “There are more novels about dukes than there are, or have ever been, actual dukes.”

    Course I’m guilty of writing about a ducal heir. But in defense of myself, that identity was set 10 years ago, before I realized there was such a surfeit of dukes in romancedom. :-)

  3. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 13:03:36

    And Jane, why didn’t you say that the piece names names and pulls no punch? I mean look at this:

    (For the record, Mr. Noriega was a lot more pleasant to deal with than Mr. Aiken.)

    As in Manuel Noriega, ex Panamanian dictator, and Clay Aiken. I predict Mr. Karp will soon regret his candid statement once the Claymates get hold of him. :-)

  4. Jane
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 13:06:08

    I forgot about that, Sherry. Yes, those “insights” were pretty amusing.

  5. Michelle
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 13:39:51

    This article ran in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago. One could ask what does that have to say about the newspaper business.

    The part that got to me was the following:

    Readers of old-fashioned genre fiction will die off, and the next generation will have so many different entertainment options that it’s hard to envision the same level of loyalty to brand-name formula fiction coming off the conveyor belt every year. The novelists who are truly novel will thrive; the rest will struggle.

    I wonder how much those remarks truly reflect the genre-fiction market. I’m in my 30′s, read tons of genre fiction and hopefully am years away from “dying off”. Is it his take that genre novelists by definition can not be truly novel? Or, only the best voices in genre fiction will survive?

  6. Jane
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 13:42:45

    I took it to mean this (and I could be inserting alot of my own worldview at this point and he didn’t really mean this):

    With the increasing presence of POD books, the market will be flooded to such an extent that it is not feasible for the genre fiction reader to be able to fight its way through the thousands of new books released every month and thus only a few will survive. Whether the few will be “truly novel” or simply big names, I am not sure.

  7. Laura Vivanco
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 14:09:41

    the market will be flooded to such an extent that it is not feasible for the genre fiction reader to be able to fight its way through the thousands of new books released every month and thus only a few will survive. Whether the few will be “truly novel” or simply big names, I am not sure.

    The other alternative is that the big names will belong to publishers or book clubs e.g. readers will trust the Harlequin/Mills & Boon brand or trust Oprah to pick interesting, enjoyable books for them. I think that’s probably how quite a lot of people choose their books now, and certainly it’s true for Harlequin that quite a lot of their readers sign up to buy the entire month’s output in at least one line. These readers trust that publisher to consistently find and print the books that those readers want to read. Obviously the reader has to like whichever line it is that they subscribe to, but if they do, then they’re in luck, because the publisher is selecting stories that reader will like from among all the thousands of offerings in the slush pile and on the market.

    Of course, there is a risk to that strategy, because they’re not likely to become known as a company that publishes “truly novel” books, and if large numbers of readers decide they’ve no interest in what Harlequin’s offering, all their authors will suffer, but Harlequin do seem to take risks with new lines and new formats.

  8. Michelle
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 14:15:48

    I suppose “the novelists who are truly novel” can be translated to the writers with the best voices will survive/thrive – which is what I’ve heard tons of times from publishing professionals. I do like to think that the best storytellers will always find a way to rise to the top. Perhaps I was seeing a literary vs. genre slight when I should not have.

    I haven’t paid that much attention to POD. Do books that are sold POD still get edited? I’ve worked in the cable/media industry for about 9 years now, and I’ve heard lots of debates about the different quality levels between user-generated content and professionally-produced content – with lots in the industry (naturally) arguing that professionally-produced content is better and not to worry about the “threat” from user-generated quantity.

    In books, I do think there is a quality argument somewhere – though who is the arbitrer of what is quality obviously is tough. Case in point – I got offended by Karp saying genre-fiction readers were dying out – so we would probably disagree on what is quality at times.

  9. Janine
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 14:42:21

    IMO the ultimate arbiter of what is quality is the passage of time. Often what endures is quality. Of course, there are exceptions to that too, and with newer books, we simply can’t know what will survive the passage of time. All we can do in the meantime is debate it and try to share our love of our favorite books with others. I like to think that that kind of conversation that brings books to people’s attention may help at least some genre fiction endure until someday (when people are less prejudiced against it) it may get more of the attention it deserves.

  10. Michelle
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 15:00:38

    Laura wrote:

    The other alternative is that the big names will belong to publishers or book clubs e.g. readers will trust the Harlequin/Mills & Boon brand or trust Oprah to pick interesting, enjoyable books for them.

    Branding does seem to work, and there’s tons of respect for it in the business corridors of the media/entertainment world. I’ve heard publishing types say that most book purchases are impulse purchases and perhaps that makes branding more important.

    I do think that the big names in publishing are their own brands as opposed to being a sub-brand of a bigger brand such as harlequin/ silhouette. H/S promotes itself and not so much authors. The Oprah brand promotes herself ultimately and not the authors of Oprah books. The big names being their own brands may give them more freedom in terms of which house they write for, but it may also hinder them creatively.

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