First Word: Exploring New Publishing
Partnership Opportunities Q&A Session
BY LAURA PHILLIPS
Panelists: Dan Slater (Amazon), Sue Grimshaw (Random House), Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media
Group), Larry Norton (INscribe Digital), Jane Dystal (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management), Jen Talty
(Cool Gus Publishing), Paige Wheeler, Rachel Chou (Open Road Integrated Media), Patrick Brown
(Goodreads), Pamela Spengler-Jaffee (Avon Books, Harper Voyager, and William Morrow), Lou Aronica
(FictionStudio), Thubten Comerford (WePost Media), and NINC authors Barbara Freethy and
Attendees at the first four First Word sessions were asked to hold their questions until the two-hour
Q&A session at the end of the day. The larger issues in that question session included the future of bricks
and mortar stores, the impact on midlist authors, the value of libraries in the digital age, ebook pricing, and
speculation about what we’ll be talking about a year from now.
What is the future for bricks and mortar stores and for midlist authors?
The NINC member asking this question
noted that, as advised, she’d been trying to cultivate good relationships with bookstores but had recently
found the experience to be “pretty much a nightmare.” She said her books previously were well distributed
through Barnes & Noble and now were in just 20-25 percent of the stores, which she’s been told is typical
for mid-listers now.
Larry Norton said he is very pessimistic about bookstores. “All the retailers that still exist are putting
less and less space to books and more to other things. They’re not going to disappear tomorrow. I don’t
think you should abandon any effort there. But I do think it’s a sobering concept.”
Jane Dystel and Robert Gottlieb agreed on the declining value of the author booksigning. “The notion of
sending an author other than a celeb or big bestselling author is an old notion,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not a good
use of money or time given the fundamental changes.”
Lou Aronica noted that the decline in physical bookstore numbers doesn’t equate to the disappearance
of print books, and other panel members noted that sales of traditionally published children’s books, cookbooks
and certain other illustrated books weren’t as affected as fiction by the rise of ebooks.
The panelists seemed optimistic about the future of libraries. Patrick Brown noted libraries and librarians
are essentially handselling books, that librarians are very active on Goodreads already. Jennifer Talty said all
their books are available through Overdrive. Rachel Chou said school ebook systems are “coming up like
wildfire. Our sales have been really great.” She also mentioned Overdrive’s ads in the New York Public Library,
in Boston, and elsewhere.
What are the implications of the potential Penguin-Random House merger?
“Fewer players, fewer books published,
lower advances. It’s going to affect all of you and consumers as well,” according to Dystel. Anti-trust
concerns also were mentioned briefly but not discussed.
What about those non-compete clauses in contracts?
“Things have to be excluded in the initial negotiation,” Gottlieb said. “Otherwise you're going to have a
problem by the time the contracts are issued.” Dystel and Paige Wheeler, founding partner at Folio Literary
Management, LLC., also urged caution. “This goes to partnering with a company that knows how to handle
these things. Be very, very careful to carve out your piece.”
The impact of the novella?
A NINC member noted the tremendous popularity of novellas in Italy and asked
if the panel members foresee digital having an impact on the form or structure of the book. The consensus
seemed to be that digital provides more options in terms of length, with Indies and traditional publishers experimenting
and rethinking previous packages and series, and authors using short reads to build their brand
to keep reader appetites whetted between books.
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