Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers

Why bother learning the industry you want to be part of? Why go to medical school before you do surgery?

Yeah, it makes that much sense.

To understand your options in publishing, you must know the history.

Knowing the history of publishing gives you an understanding of where publishing is today. Understanding the current status of publishing gives you information. Information helps you make intelligent decisions on how you want to publish.

Originally books could only be afforded by the rich. The general masses could not afford to buy books which is all right since most could not read. Publishing was a rich man’s hobby and publishing houses were handed down as family operations.

An industry is born

As America moved into the 20th century, schooling became mandatory and school books were required. A need arose to publish books more cheaply, so publishers became corporations and started mass production of books. This required having a corporate headquarters. New York was the designated locus.

The idea of the agent system came from Britain At first, publishers didn’t care for the agent system. Soon, however, they saw that agents could be useful for screening books. This created a Catch 22 situation: writers could not get an agent without publishing a book and proving their saleability , but couldn't publish a book without having an agent. Agents only make money when a book is acquired and they were not interested in “small potatoes.” Now came the dreaded “ slush pile.” Few books made it from the slush pile to the printed page.

Dan Poynter, an American author, consultant, publisher, speaker (and parachute designer) has written more than 125 books, reports, and more than 800 magazine articles, most of them related to book publishing.

The following stats were gathered by Poynter:

132 million manuscripts are submitted yearly. 1% will be published.

3,000 manuscripts are published daily

Of those published, only 2 % sold more than 5,000 copies.

16% sold fewer than 1,000 copies.

82% sold less than 100 copies.

IF a manuscript manages to get through the slush pile, 90% will be rejected after the first page is read.

98% will be rejected after the first chapter is read.

30-50 will get through to serious consideration.

Mass marketing of affordable books

Paperbacks were developed in 1935 over in England under a line labeled Penguin Books. In America, Simon and Schuster created Pocket Books in 1939, with the first production being Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. The new format revolutionized the publishing industry. The size was designed to fit into a man's trouser pocket.

The “Big Six”

The six largest publishing houses are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. In the early 1990's, five of the Big Six were sold to overseas publishers in Great Britain, Germany and France. The new owners quickly eliminated imprints and mid-list authors who were not big names but who had solid sales. Instead, they concentrated on mass appeal books and celebrity authors. A good example today are A Shore Thing and Gorilla Beach by Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Authors, who once had contracts, floundered. Several tried to create their own publishing houses. Even bookstores, like Poison Pen in Phoenix, stepped in to become publishers. Perseverance Press picked up authors with a series in place who suddenly found themselves with no publisher. Some of these ventures succeeded, some failed. It was a precarious time for publishing.

A new kid on the block was born, outfits like PublishAmerica and Iuniverse. These businesses appeared to be the solution to the problem, but fell short. Authors struggled to find an acceptable solution.

Enter technology!

But technology intervened. With the development of print on demand technology (POD) and computers, books could be printed cheaply and retain quality. Publishing could be done by staffs as small as one or two people and could be anywhere in the country. Large buildings, massive staffs and warehouses to hold books were outdated notions. The books, known as trade paperbacks, were a more logical size with less paper waste than cutting paper stock down to the size of paperback (which were now too large to fit in anyone's back pocket). Larger publishing houses dismissed the technology as substandard and bookstores declined to carry trade books. The reading public, unused to this new look, did not respond with sales. The books were mistakenly dumped into the region of vanity press—even though the large publishing houses began to adopt the technology without admitting to the fact.

With the development of electronic readers and a generation raised on digital toys, Amazon Kindle, Nook and Ipads quickly overtook the book market with cheaper and instantly accessible e-books. This cut sales considerably, for both publishers and agents. In addition, Amazon made it possible for authors to self-publish without the stigma of being dubbed “vanity press.” For the first time, power was taken away from large publishing houses and the slush pile sidestepped as authors took matters into their own hands. By cutting out the middle man and sharing profits only with Amazon, more money went into the authors' pockets. Amazon leveled the playing field. However, editing and marketing were on the onus of the author as well.

Experts predict that by 2020, a majority of books will be self-developed as e-books first, with publishing houses competing for titles and negotiating for rights directly with the author. Social media marketing already drives sales and will play an even larger part in marketing.

It's a brave new world and the shift of power from publishers to authors is a sign of the times to come.

For more information about Sunny Frazier, visit

Click on the link under her book covers to buy her books

Views: 35

Comment by Paul Meyers Nessly on August 25, 2015 at 1:52am

Very poignant and informative. Information every author should consider.



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