Saturday, December 12, 2009

Recently, I came upon a list of the No.1-audience-rated tv shows over 60 years of U. S. viewing Among the shows were Wagon Train, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Laverne and Shirley. Nowhere was there a sign of M.A.S.H, NYPDBlue or Mad Men, all smart, edgy, sophisticated shows highly rated by television critics. This made me realize that there is a parallel in literature. Best sellers, those books that fly out of bookstores and online, like Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Cups of Tea and Eat, Pray, Love,have ranked right up there at the top of the best seller lists, bringing their authors buckets of change and fabulous homes. The writing in each of these blockbusters is often clumsy and awash with dubious premises. However, their messages or moral points are clear to the point of being simplistic: be kind, do good works, get religion. These titles are the No.1 audience-rated books of their times. It makes me think of the oft-stated phrase "Heaven is boring".
Literary buffs prize Don de Lillo, Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore. Any one of those might win a Pulitzer Prize for literature or, sometimes, a McArthur genius grant and if obscure enough, a Nobel prize, but never will their works bring in enough money for the author to buy a house in Palm Beach or Malibu or Bali. And yet, to read any one of them is to be transported to a place where you've never been, never even knew existed, and peopled by characters you've always wanted to know.
And speaking of immortals, the creator of Holden Caulfield might have died last week, but Holden never will.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Back in the day, a "platform" meant the tall structure where the high diver stood before racing out on the board. But somewhere in biz school lingo, "platform" came to mean a product springboard, a way to distribute content (what we mossbacks called putting information or thoughts in writing). For 500 years, the platform of the book business was type on paper, bound and covered in cardboard. Now, we book publishers are saluting our new platforms--electronic books like Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook. These ebooks are more than mere gadgets, their inventors tell us. Instead, they are new platforms for the book business, the first in hundreds of years, finally giving the finger to old-style paper pages. Fine, I say: anything, including hand-helds, are grand platforms if they encourage more reading. But a startling statistic has recently come to the fore: there has been an increase of about 350 percent in American data consumption in the last 30 years, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Sounds good, right? Most of this data is channeled into our brains by what is called "TV-related" content, which amounts to almost five hours per day. Then comes radio, then the computer, then Internet games and finally, at 36 minutes per day, reading. (I presume this means book-type material on any platform). Apparently, even the new book platforms, which now include hand-helds and computers, have not increased the low level of interest in longer content. We book lovers think we know the reason--that the young don't like sustained reading of any kind, that two pages is about their limit. But we don't know the answer to the problem. Since writers like Dan Brown and John Grisham corner the market on numbers of books sold, perhaps they could clone themselves! You can comment directly to my blog now, so speak up... Barbara Phillips

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


--Recent quotation from Alice Sebold

Yes, but exactly what IS "good" fiction, anyway?

Fair-minded editors and publishers can disagree on this topic for a year and a day. To this E&P, the definition goes like this:

NOT Experimental Fiction. Apart from academics and other eggheads and writers who are more interested in form than function, the majority of fiction writers throughout history have tried to please an audience. We can all be enlightened (maybe) by Joyce, Proust and Pynchon, but at the end of the day, most of us prefer a long text to have readability, fascinating characters and an intelligent style. After we have finished an experimental work, we breathe a sigh of relief. After finishing a work we admire, we say, "I want to read this again."
MAYBE to massmarket and bestsellers. There is no doubt about saleability here.
Stephen King and John Grisham outsell Philip Roth any day. Some readers have
pronounced THE DA VINCI CODE the best book they've ever read! Fun and easy, these works produce suspense, horror and along the way, some facts. My publishing house has put out several of this type of work. One in particular has kept us afloat over many years.
A BIG YES TO THE REST!!!. Often referred to in put-down fashion as "mid-list" books, lying uncomfortably between mass market and experimental , many publishers refer to this genre as "quality" fiction, "serious" fiction and (quietly, please!)" literature". Often taught in college courses and regarded by a smallish group of discriminating readers as packing in the right amount of quietly questioning stories about our fellow human beings and how they rise in , fall from, and learn about (or not) that situation we're all in together--life. These works become our classics. But sometimes it is so hard to identify the genre we publishers don't even try. We leave that to the critics. This genre receives prizes instead of buckets of cash. The works give publishing houses prestige, writers fame. To me, they deserve the "Good book" label most.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Questions and Answers:

1) Is the book business as we know it over? The outlook for conventional paper books is dire, but not yet dead. As more and more people switch to e-readers like Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, Barnes and Noble's new gadget, fewer are left to read conventional paper. That, however, does not help the book business in general, as those switching are not making up for those not buying books. To solve this issue, publishers must not only have e-reading capacity, they must rethink old paradigms. The disgraceful practice of "returns", where booksellers return to the publisher any unsold books, must go the way of the buggy whip . The author-publisher relationship needs updating, too. Will books cease to exist, though? To me, as long as civilization exists, so too will books, whatever their forms.

2) Will the new "Vooks" take hold and change the way we read books? The "vook", a combination of video and e-book is the latest techno gadget to burst upon the scene. Videos are interspersed throughout electronic text. So far, these vooks seem to be genre types like fitness, diet, beauty, and romance. One reader said he liked the idea of presenting a picture of the protagonist (in novels) as it "makes the story more real". What ever happened to the imagination?

3) What exactly is the meaning of a "good" book? To me, books mean new ideas, new ways to get a handle on humanity. If all the cookbooks, how-to books and pardon me, Michael Chabon, sci-fi works disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't despair. What I want in a book is a chance to change my often-narrow opinions of certain people, actions and concepts.

4) Will authors go for new-type contracts in this digital age? It's going to be a gamble, but I think a smart one. For instance, even though the number of books sold is down and some large publishers are reading fewer manuscripts, my house, Bridge Works, is receiving more mss than ever. That means more writers who want to be heard. To me, that suggests some compromises on contracts will be open to discussion. I have not heard from any writers (or agents) who feel otherwise. Do you?

5) Is the independent book business threatened? Not as long as enough adults really value reading. As I say, Bridge Works receives more manuscripts than ever. That said, I should also make full disclosure. Small publishers, dedicated to quality books above all, will never have the assets of larger publishers, most of whom are now owned by multinational corporations. Conventional book reviewers, with less space and fewer ads in their review pages, generally won't review the independents. However, online reviewers are swarming out there in cyber space. So, that's a good thing. Moreover, I feel confident that once two-page UTube posters age, they too will appreciate the value of a nice, long story, well-developed and well-told. With characters you can dream about and learn from.

Barbara Phillips
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

FROM MIKE BIEHL, author of "Doctored Evidence" and "Lawyered to Death": My thoughts on the issue of author financial participation with the publisher (of the title): if the author and publisher are consenting adults, why not? Some might suggest it carries the taint of vanity press for the author, but I think that would only be a problem if the publisher didn't have a track record. If an established publisher of good reputation varies the usual contract in this manner for an unagented author, I don't see why that arrangement can't result in a meritorious and successful book. It's harder to see it working with an agented author.

Okay, another voice heard from. I wonder if there are any agents out there who would care to comment. Could this idea work?

In the meantime, this week brought news that Tina Brown, trend editor extraordinaire, has announced that her online journalism website, The Daily Beast, will partner with Perseus Books Group to speed up the conventional book publishing schedule. In that world right now, an author comes up with an idea, spends at least a year researching and writing and when the publisher takes over, another eight months to a year elapses for editing and the production process. Tina plans to turn out a title in less than six months from genesis to revelations. This approach is intended (at the moment) to be used for political subjects that can change completely by the time they are conventionally scheduled for publication or for celebrity memoirs before the fickle public transfers its mourning to a later overdose succumbant. Makes me wonder if those get-'em-while-they're-hot-titles need to be published at all.
Comment at Barbara Phillips

Monday, August 31, 2009

I SOUND LIKE A STUCK RECORD (Of course, no one under 50 knows what a stuck record is). Okay, I keep ranting about the horrible state of the book business, but I do have some remedies, one or two of which I have stated before. 1) It is vital to immediately change the pernicious practice of Returns. Like making buggy whips, bookseller and wholesaler return of unsold books to publishers for full refunds is an anachronism that should no longer be acceptable. Large and small publishers should rally against the practice and set a date, say January 2012, after which no returns will be countenanced. The novelty and gamble will be more than interesting for all involved in the book food chain. 2) Make life easier for the beleagured publisher. I've observed that there seem to be more writers than readers. If an author truly wants her book published, with professional editing, distribution and publicity and a jacket that doesn't look like it was coughed up by a copying machine, she might consider becoming a partner with the publisher who signs her up. This would involve persuading the author to give up the advance on royalties or foregoing royalties altogether in favor of taking a cut of the publisher's profits. I like this idea particularly for first-time authors. 3) Publishers should continue to expand their sales to new venues and consider publishing simultaneously in offset print and on-demand or electronic downloads. (However, I personally believe that downloading a title onto a cell phone is good for nothing but keeping opthalmologists busy, and I'm not even sure that Kindle and its ilk will last after its initial craze in the marketplace.) A few large publishers are even now trying out No. 3. Stay tuned.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Why am I getting so exercised about POD and e-books? The latest digital publishing news is that Kindle and its ilk are already obsolete. Any titles that Barnes and Noble, Amazon and even some publishing companies have in their data bases can now be downloaded to your IPhone or Blackberry. I can just see us all squinting into the depths of our teeny, tiny smart phone hoping to hang on to the wonderful words of Janet Lynch or Michael Chabon, while wondering if it's the size of the type or cataracts that's causing the blurriness. How far will techies take this adventure into different reading methods? Barbara Phillips
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Men write novels, women read them

According to an article in The New Yorker, the author Ian McEwan once did a survey in which he handed out copies of one of his books in a nearby park. Women accepted the books willingly and gratefully, while men were polite but negative. These actions led McEwan to conclude that "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

It has been documented elsewhere that men do not like to read novels. In fact, they seem to be ashamed to admit they are reading one, preferring instead long-winded biographies, doubtful social science and obscure polysci. But the major novelists, up to and including the present day, are mostly men. For instance, Trollope, Dickens, James, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Updike, Roth, Franzen. What does this tell us? It tells me that some men are imaginative and show us, in David Foster Wallace's words, what our fucking life is all about, whereas those male readers who one would suppose would be interested in any information about their psyches, reject any hint of self-analysis. Instead, the male gender mostly lives in some neutered book world of so-called facts, which may or may not be factoids. Whereas novels do not have to worry about libel or naming names, so with impunity can and do cover all issues concerning them and their fellow humans. Boys, let's have some rethinking here! Barbara Phillips

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

More about POD


I questioned in an earlier post whether the phenomenon of POD, or Print On Demand, the digital publishing industry, would soon become the successor to conventional offset printing. Many conventional publishers are either rushing or planning to rush onto the bandwagon of all things digital. Authors, who love the idea of not going through the submissions, editing and royalty processes with traditional publishers, are turning to POD companies to get their manuscripts published. The former epithet, "self-publishing" no longer pertains, and with the ever growing number of online reviewers (some professional but most just general readers), it no longer matters that a traditional book critic won't consider reviewing a print-on-demand book. Print reviewers are yesterday's news according to young writers, anyway. But what about publishers, who still wish to remain curators of quality, working with book agents and their own editors to produce what they consider superior professional products? They will still continue to do that for the near future, but what about tomorrow? Will POD save the book industry from crumbling into dust? According to experts, POD can be great for small press runs, to publish second editions, say, or for niche publishers, who publish very few books at a time. Traditional brick and mortar bookstores are still wary of carrying POD books because they cannot be returned if unsold. However, like anyone else, if a bookstore owner thinks she has a hit on her hands, she'll buy POD books PDQ. For Bridge Works, POD publishing is worth considering. We generally print twice the number of titles than we sell. That means we need space for inventory, therefore pay big bucks to buy that space. We wouldn't have to worry about overstock with POD publishing. But the average number of POD sales is about 200, probably because with POD, there is a charge for each book, as opposed to the one-time cost of a traditional print run no matter how many copies are involved. And we publishers still undergo a terrible uncertainty about how many copies a title will sell. What if a title takes off and we don't have the inventory to supply wholesalers? At the moment, the guessing game seems more viable than running out of product. For small publishers like Bridge Works, POD is still a large gamble. Comment at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In my last post, I asked the world, "What do the classics and zombies have in common?" The answer lies in the latest issue of "B00ks", a fairly new trade magazine. An article by James Sturdivant gives us the scoop about a writer's phenomenal success with a title called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". It apparently combines scenes of zombie rumblings with the romance of the Victorian classic. Not only has the title had huge sales since its publication in late winter, Sturdivant says it has been adopted by several university English departments. It currently stands 8th on the NYT paperback trade fiction list. Is this for real? Schlock and classics can actually meet and still call itself a book?
In our zeal to be "new" and "adapt" to the online world, we publishers are crossing the line from producing quality books that will last in favor of generating "buzz" and competing with video games. Not only are we entertaining ourselves to death, to quote Neil Postman, but we are dumbing down our culture and our literary future. David Borgenicht, president and publisher of Quirk Books, the small company that published "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", is engaging in garbage peddling. So much for him. But what about the reading public? Since when was consuming eggshells and day-old fish tasty?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Great to find an intelligent discussion in a blog space. Until now, I never learned anything on a blog that I needed to know. However, my continuing interest in books in and by hand makes your blogspot an oasis. Long may we read. J.K.

Thanks, J.K., happy to have input. Long live books, even if book publishers are drinking much more these days.

So, I have played out the partnership thing between author and publisher farther than I wanted , and so far no writer has objected. In theory, that is... Bridge Works's next contract will incorporate my new idea and we will see which author puts publication higher than not spending some money up front. I'm betting it will work.

In the meantime, today I have another idea. It is already in use and has astounding possibilities, but it also has many weaknesses. Called Books on Demand, the idea is that a publisher or an author who wants to selfpublish can send a draft of his/her work to certain specialized companies who will churn out as many finished books digitally as author or publisher wants or needs. By bypassing storage and warehousing of conventional books, book people can save money. They can also save time. Currently, under the conventional publishing method, it can take up to a year to go through the process of book production. Writers hate to wait so long to see their babies in print and for a publisher, if she has a hot number about politics, world affairs or gossipy celebrity info where time is a factor and in six months hence the topic would be as dead as a yesterday's newspaper, publishing on demand is a super idea. It takes only a matter of weeks to get out the finished books. Sounds good? It is, however...(More on However next time).

Question for the day: what do the classics and zombies have in common?

Barbara Phillips

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hello, book lovers! I know I'm a pain, but maybe the following post will goad you into action!!!
A few weeks ago I ranted about wasting time reading romance novels. My feelings about their uselessness (not because I'm against fantasy, but because they are retro fantasy like soap operas and cause men to look on females with even more disdain). This time I'm off on another book genre that both men AND women take as gospel. Self-Help. I prefer to call it Self-Delusion. Even the most clueless shouldn't take more than six months to discover that Deepak Chopra and Mitch Albom might peddle feel-good heaven but, in life, as in love, too many outside forces intrude to allow for a guaranteed real-life happy ending. My solution : read something entertaining but not witless. Read a book with a few ideas that raise either your IQ or your awareness of life. For example, do you have aspirations for your kids? Try All Loves Excelling, a title by Si Bunting, that Bridge Works published a few years ago. Bunting had written previously about his career in the Army that found him amid the horror called Viet Nam. Subsequently though, he became the head of a couple of private schools. All Loves Excelling was a heartbreaking tale of a perfectly normal, smart adolescent whose parents, with unreal expectations of their daughter's abilities to make it into an Ivy League college, tried to force the square-pegged girl into a painful round hole. Result: mortal damage. The school, by the way, was implicit in the affair. Not all kids are meant for Harvard, no matter how bright. Bunting's story goes down easy, reads beautifully, but contains a moral that every parent should take to heart.

(Above, picture of a smart and sensible adolescent whose parents are also sensible about schools and colleges.)
Take my point. I am not of the belief that no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. So, women, lead the way. You read more books than men. Try a different path from Oprah's path. That will make all the difference. Please comment at Thanks. Barbara Phillips

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The June 8, 2009 Publishers Weekly, the bible of the book industry, featured an article in its Soapbox column by an anonymous independent bookseller. This Mr. or Ms. Anonymous took authors to task in the snarkiest way for their supposed sins against this particular bookseller. Like: "do not call or stop by more than once a week to inquire about your book" and "do not ask us to recommend your book to book groups", etc., etc.

I have some info for this dissing bookseller. The book industry is in trouble, But it will not die. It will simply increase its sales ONLINE, causing more and more bookstores to close. Fact: Barnes and Noble, the predominant book retailer, recently reported that the most important reason its net sales were down for the first quarter of this year was "...a significant decline in traffic to retail locations." With the purchase of Kindle, an e-book, a reader can download almost any book available for $9.99 from Amazon, the online book retailer, which sells Kindle. That's at least $15 less than the retail price of a cloth book, as well as about $5.00 less than Amazon's regular discounted price for cloth books.
And yet the person who wrote the PW piece is egregiously giving authors hell for their mistreatment of this earthbound bookseller. My opinion: Do not whine publicly, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. Instead, do EVERYTHING you can to sell books, even if that means occasionally putting up with overly aggressive authors (or publishers). Otherwise, you'll soon be selling ties...

Are you reading me, Indie publishers, authors, booksellers? Or anyone else who is interested in books and thinks about the future? Comment at I want to know what you think.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quote of the week: "...all that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without the intermediate parasite." --George B. Shaw. Ouch! I have heard that sentiment more than once even from writers Bridge Works has published. I'm afraid it is self-delusional, akin to mother and dad, as their tiny tot interrupts for the fourth time, "Isn't she cute? She's learning to express herself."
A writer's ego sometimes overwhelms good sense. The publisher has the financial and business acumen to make the lonely genius a winner with the public. And a good editor is a surrogate for the reader, who tends to shun books that are longer than 300 pages and require too much thinking. So, writers, please be kind to us. We think we are helping you. And speaking of what we read...
Women read a lot of romance novels. And they sell. Is it that busty gal on the cover, a hottie with standards, the subsequent hard breathing inside (under?) the covers, the resolution that always finds the men, even to-die-for-hunks, racing up the aisle? The stats are these: men, when they're not reading porno or discovering 69 ways to avoid meeting any possible in-laws, brag that they love good mysteries, biographies and current events. The jury is out on quality fiction, which is what Bridge Works publishes (and enough mysteries to keep our head above water).
So why do women read more junk than men? Today, it has nothing to do with bored wifey at home trying to decide between Nora Roberts and As the Earth Turns. Today, women are far more likely to be scrabbling outside the home, followed by an evening of kids, spouses and dirty dishes. Perhaps, after a long day spent hacking, suturing or litigating, women need some kind of mindlessness to accompany the dishes, but how about a reality check, sisters? Romance novels were always and will forever be a triumph of hope over experience.

Patronize your local library! And comment about this post at B. Phillips

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hello, again. This once-a-week stuff I'm putting out really needs more comments. Otherwise, I think I'm talking to myself. Anyway, my idea to create a publisher-writer arrangement got some reaction. Here is a comment from Martin Shepard, co-publisher of Permanent Press, the great indie press that has taught Bridge Works a lot.

Just read your complete blogs and find them juicy, provocative, and a fair assessment of what's going on in the business. And I suspect that you will even get authors who are willing to share costs and profits with you. Why not? Authors go to vanity presses often enough and spend far more that way.

But I have a problem with that: it's not a system we are ready for. I think a modest advance (like the $1,000 advance to give every author we sign up) is in order. And, contrary to one of your commentators, the costs of converting a manuscript into a printed hardcover edition comes out to about $10,000 by the time you do typesetting, cover design, proof reading, printing 150 galley copies, mailing costs to get them out, paying a $1,000 advance, and ordering a modest printing of anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 copies to start with... and this doesn't include our own editing time. To me, some advance simply indicates good faith on the part of the publisher and a belief that the book will sell at least enough copies to cover these costs (in our case, 1,000 copies). Of course, if a book is hugely successful the writer will earn a bigger dividend from book sales under your proposed contractual terms than he or she would from a standard advance and contract like ours. But huge sales are the rare exception to the rule.... for all the reasons you and your commentators have given. Otherwise sharing subsidiary rights on a 50:50 basis has always made sense to me.. Without that share, no small press (nor many larger ones) would survive. Marty


Enough, already. Barbara Phillips

Comment, please at and thanks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The following is an attempt to explain our new idea of author/publisher partnerships.

Author could be asked to partner with publisher by contributing one-third of the cost of producing his/her next book and, in return, receive one-third of any profit. Profit would be defined as operating profit, before overhead and before tax. In addition, in recognition of the author's work, even if the book loses money, author would receive a royalty of eight percent of net sales (after returns), but no advance on royalties. The author also would receive 50% of any sub-rights revenues.

For this purpose, operating profit would consist of sales revenues (after returns and distributor's fees) and the publisher's 50% of sub-rights revenues for the title minus editing, typesetting, proofreading, printing, marketing, author's royalties and incidental costs related directly to the book. Excluded would be salaries, rent, utilities and similar company-wide overhead--in other words, there would be no allocation of such overhead costs to individual titles, as practiced almost universally by book publishers, film producers and other companies. Interest expenses, depreciation and tax on any profits also would not be allocated, and thus would be excluded from the calculation of profit for the purposes of a 2/3-1/3 split with the author.

If a title ends up with a modest loss instead of a profit, the author still would receive royalties based on sales for his/her work, plus a 50% share of any sub rights sales.

These partnering specifics would be included in the author's contract. After the first year, the author would receive royalties, minus a 40% reserve against returns, as in our previous author contracts. The 2/3-1/3 profit split, assuming the book is profitable, would occur only after the second year, when, hopefully, an almost-final figure on returns could be determined and to guard against a first-year appearance of profit being turned into a later lowered profit or loss by an influx of second-year returns. Conversely, a first-year appearance of loss could be turned into a subsequent profit by sub rights sales.

Since the returns cycle is not always complete by the end of the second year, a reserve would be deducted from part of that first profit-sharing. And at the end of the third year after publication, there would be a final settling-up. (And subsequent sales, returns and/or sub-rights revenue would be cumulatively netted against each other and, if any further profit-sharing is due, those payments would be made at the end of those future years.)

Brilliant??? Let me know.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Welcome, all! Several posts ago I put forth a suggestion that authors go into a sort of partnership with their publishers that includes contributing financially to the publication of their books. On my send-to list are many authors, some of Bridge Works fame, and others who have no connection to Bridge Works. The range of responses goes from total acceptance, to some-doubt-but willing-to-try, to complete rejection. Here's one of the first: I fully support the 50/50 idea of sharing expenses with the publisher (if it is a reputable publisher) because these ideas are new and bold. But if there are no royalties for the author, there should be no subsidiary rights for the publisher. That aspect of the agreement would need to be handled separately. Rosemary Aubert, Canadian author of the well-known and prize-winning mystery series starring Ellis Portal, judge turned homeless bum, with the city of Toronto and the Don River Valley playing starring roles.

Don't forget to go to for comments. I want them! Barbara Phillips

Friday, May 15, 2009

My co-publisher and severest critic takes center stage this week:

Bridge Works for the past 17 years has taken risks introducing promising new authors, Tom Perrotta among them. What is unique about the current economic circumstances is that most booksellers and print reviewers have lost the resources they once had to lend even limited support to such small-publisher literary offerings.
Booksellers, fighting to stay alive as customers cut spending, have to cut inventories, and as they buy fewer copies of fewer titles the unknown authors are the first to be eliminated. Book stores feel safer with known names and/or purchases from big publishers with big promotion budgets to spend.
It is the same with the once-supportive book editors at newspapers and magazines, as their publications' declining ad revenues have brought cuts of 50% or more in space available for book reviews. With such triage taking place everywhere,, new authors and small publishers are the first to feel the pain.
Agent Robert Brown is right, in his earlier comment on your blog, when he says that it is reader word-of-mouth recommendations to friends, not book advertising, that is most effective in creating demand for particular books of merit. Large publishers have an advantage here, too, as they can afford to flood booksellers and book clubs with advance galley copies to try to create word-of-mouth.
But hats off to those book clubs, web sites, online reviewers and other discriminating readers still willing to seek out the gems still coming from small publishers who are dedicated to discovering and investing in the author stars of tomorrow. Though the economy and book business are tough, let's be thankful we are not car dealers, stock brokers or investment bankers these days. They are even more familiar with what glut on a market can bring. -- Warren Phillips

On to more comments about small publishers: I do have some small knowledge about publishing and small publishers as my partner and I decided, about four years ago, to make the plunge. We were tired of seeing great books good un-published, so we mounted our chargers did battle--for about a year. We found two writers who were willing to fight the battle with us, even though it was a huge risk for all concerned. One thing I'd suggest to anyone who wants to do this is--DON'T. Don't do it unless you want to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week and wish there were eight days a week. Also, make sure you have lots of money that you want to risk--(read that throw away). We put out two titles that actually did fairly well--combined the did well I should say. And we even sold reprint rights on one, which helped us break even. "Break even you say, what about that year's work? Surely breaking even was after wages, right?" Wrong. No wages. We broke even by getting our initial investment back is what I mean by break even. But what an education! The education alone was worth all the effort. What did we learn? Everything. We took a book from a raw manuscript, edited it, ordered revisions, edited again, copy edited, set the book up, made galleys, printed, bound and shipped our own review copies (actually printed and folded pages and bound them with covers--all by hand). Arranged for printing, hired a cover artist, designed a cover, wrote cover copy, found distribution, warehoused books, and did shipping and handing. That's publishing, baby!! That's what it's all about. I've probably left out a few steps because it has been a few years. Was it a waste of time? Definitely not. We actually loved every moment of it. Got printers ink under our fingernails and in our blood and loved the whole process. There's nothing like opening a box of books, smelling the fresh ink and realizing that this is something you and your writers put together--gave birth to--created. A book is a treasure and in this form it can be held and read and enjoyed. "So if you loved it, why aren't you still in it? I'd say the biggest deterrent was distribution. Finding a way into bookstores is the biggest roadblock that anyone ever tried to get over, get past, or around. Major distributors, the ones who move book books out of the warehouse, have to have a great sales force to get a small publisher's books into bookstores and they don't want to even try unless you've published at least ten titles. Even at small volumes, publishing ten titles would cost at least $50,000 dollars, and that's probably a very conservative estimate of what it would cost. Even at that, there's still no guarantee that any major will accept your books--and you have to get a major because places like Biblio want 70% of cover price. And they all want a guarantee that you'll accept and reimburse them for all returns--all of them, because that's what bookstores accept. On top of that, you pay shipping and that alone, in small volumes can kill your business.. If you publish under ten titles, you're stuck with Amazon and Baker and Taylor who order a few books here and there. B & T used to pay ever 90 days but I think it's now 180 days. Amazon pays monthly and is much easier to with with. Baker and Taylor is not worth the effort--believe me. So after two titles, because of the lack of distribution, we gave it up. But I'd do it again. Anyone have a few thousand dollars that they don't need? This is why shared cost between the publisher and writer is very appealing. You and your writers become the publisher and you share the risks inherent in this business. However, another thing I've noticed the many writers shy away from is marketing. Writer people, you have to market your books. Readers don't want to kibitz with the publisher--they want the author. So marketing becomes something authors must do to make their book a success. Publishers, after all, put in the sweat to get that manuscript between two nice covers, the writer must also do his or her part to make the venture a success. R. Brown, Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency

What are you doing next Monday? L.P.
O.K. That's it for today. See you next week. Barbara Phillips

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

COMMENTS: This is in response to your blog. First, I think it's wonderful that you've started a dialogue among smaller publishers. I'm the acquisition editor for Oceanview Publishing. We started in 2006 with 5 titles and are now up to 12 per year, mostly in the mystery, suspense, thriller genre. Of course, we hate the "return" policy as you have highlighted, but what can we do. If we want our books out there, we have to go with the flow. Before starting Oceanview Publishing, the three partners, of which I am one, all had "big" jobs at Johnson and Johnson. Yes, healthcare. And now we have transitioned to fiction. So we have gone from big influence to not so well known. Yet we are trying to work toward a break-out book that will cover all those titles that don't quite cover the gross profit margin let alone the contribution margin. Your ideas on author financial interaction and splitting profits and shifting the financial burden are surely interesting, but as a very new, and very small publisher, we don't feel that we can be in a leadership role, maybe a fast-follower if this trend proves feasible. But in the meantime, we're concentrating on finding the best of the thriller genre -- out of thousands of submissions. Patricia Gussin, Oceanview Publishing

Okay you want comments. Sounds like you want them in the negative, but how can I do that when I agree with ALL of what you say? The reason I agree is that I'm part of a small agency and much of what effects you as a publisher also effect me as an agent. Where Bridge Works is affected because you cannot pay huge advance, Wylie-Merrick is affected because it's considered more prestigious to be represented by a large NYC agency--even though we all deal with the same publishers. I'm also sure prestige has loads to do with the level of writers who come to your press too. Also a high six advance goes beyond money and into bragging rights these days--for everyone in the deal. I agree that it makes more sense for writers to share the expense of publication and to be part of the process than to get a big advance and be outside of it. But first large publishers have to stop paying large advances and this isn't going to happen until pigs fly backward. Then you have us agents who depend on large advances to stay in business. Can a NYC agency afford office space on $1000 advances? One hundred and fifty dollars is what it costs for a nice lunch in NYC. About the only agencies who can afford to sell to small publisher as small agencies--our lunch at McAlister's runs around $18. It's also been our experience that even small publishers like to be courted by larger agencies even if it does cost them a bigger advance. Bragging rights are not size dependent it seems. One area of slight disagreement would be that promotion via advertisement sells books. It has been proven time and time again that more books are sold through by readers telling their friends what a great read such and such was. Of course getting a book on Oprah, Colbert, Larry King or The Daily Show doesn't hurt either. Also, book reviews via newspapers and magazines are going because the review section is always the first cut made when these publishers feel the pinch. So the online reviewer recently has tried to take up the slack. I wonder how long before PW, Kirkus, and Library Journal begin feeling the squeeze? Robert (Pronounce Ro-bear) Brown

Lady! I love it that an old gal woman of a different era like you has joined the digerati digitalia and is jumping into the fray and using the internet to promote your own ideas and agenda. But hey! The internet is about immediacy, the here and now, being ahead of everyone else, of instantaneousness. Update your blog! not every post has to be a well reasoned treatise. Blog about the book you are reading, the books being reviewed, the books that don’t get written, the crazy authors you know. vite vite. L.P.

May I suggest two marketing ideas (from the outside world). Find atalk show host (not Oprah) who would specifically have a 'book club'geared to unknown authors who would be published by small publishingcompanies. Also set up book tours with three or four authorsparticipating at one time. This small group might get more publicityand a larger crowd than just one author would. B.T.
I thought you'd like to hear what some other professionals think about the book business. I haven't heard Word One from Marty Shepard, of Permanent Press, whom I lauded in Blog No. 2). I hope that means he's too busy publishing and raking in the shekels to comment. And Pat Gussin from Ocean View Publishing seems to be more content with her small publishing life than I am.
Robert Brown sees the issues as I do, and comments from a lifetime of being a literary agent. And he is certainly right that no one can live on the royalties and advances paid by small publishers to his clients. I'm not sure just how many writers can live on the LARGE royalties the big publishers pay. According to some, after a writer has had to pay bills during research time, writing time and waiting for print, plus paying off her agent, a $100,000 advance ends up somewhere in the thirty thousands. That's one reason small publishers seek non-agented material. Most of those writers have a day job, don't have to pay an agent's commission and are willing to accept a smaller royalty just to get their first work published. The down side is that the majority of first-time writers need heavy editing, and the old-timers are too tired and the youngsters don't know from editing, even though that's their job title. I loved Jonathan Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS, published by FSG,but, as an editor, I gagged at the 566 pages. Way too long. The story just about disappeared in the welter of details of affairs, cooking, drug taking, medicine cabinet supplies, Lithuanian conspiracies, etc. Bridge Works titles rarely run over 300 pages. That's enough for even a bookworm to tackle.
And thanks, B.T., for your specific answers to selling those books (see above). CSpan, are you listening?
Next blog, more recommendatios. Go to for comments. Talk to you soon again. Barbara Phillips

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blog 2


As you can read from the comments below, my first blog caused only ripples in cyberspace.

COMMENTS; 1) L.P. Don't like the use of the word "digitalia", not dignified. And come on, how about another post? Instantaneous is the word around here. Answer: Okay, okay. I'm new at this stuff. 2) R.A., Wow! Answer: Is that positive or negative? 3) W.H., The dumbed-down quality of books these days may reflect the educational quality of readers in general. Answer: Yes, but we publishers have to live with that unfortunate fact. 4) R.H., loved the story about Kindle, but I can't get to your email to comment. Answer: Try this:

I guess I must be more provocative in subsequent blogs to get you scribblers, agentos and fellow publishers to comment. You can say I’m full of it, you can say I should quit and take a long vacation. Just speak up. I need you to get on the digital bandwagon.
An independent press, such as I belong to, is first of all unlike the New York publishing houses. We are SMALL, in finances, employees and the number of titles we publish. Most of us are so-called "niche" presses and a few are like mine, Bridge Works, dedicated to quality fiction and non-fiction. None of us, even the largest Indies, has the resources of S&S or Random House, bankrolled by conglomerates. Not that they are bringing in much dough to the mother ship these days, but they do bring prestige to Bertelsmann, Holtzbrinck et al. So, how is a small press to compete? We eke out as small a living as the average writer. When I started in the business 17 years ago, I was under the impression that quality fiction and nonfiction would rise to the surface like water lilies and with the help of appropriate reviews and advertising, we would sell lots of books. Wrong. Small presses cannot compete in any sort of promotional clout with the large publishers. And promotion sells books. Small press books have been mostly ignored by reviewers of large urban papers and national magazines, and the current recession hasn't improved matters. There's even less space for book reviews. My friend and fellow publisher, Marty Shepard, who blogs at The Cockeyed Pessimist, has not only given newspaper/magazine reviewers unshirted hell for ignoring the small publisher, but has named names.

In addition, small publishers cannot give large advances (more about that queasy aspect of the industry later) and understand that if their authors get buzz, they will, after a two-book contract, move on. We expect that and are happy that we find and nurture writers who are promising but were ignored until they got to us.
Marty Shepard (see above) is positive that if the larger presses are in financial trouble and selling fewer books, that’s good for the small presses. According to him, the little guys will get more online reviews and greater notice. I frankly don’t agree about our advantage, unless we take to publishing fewer stories and more Self Help. And the small presses like ours that publish quality fiction and nonfiction like to publish GOOD STUFF which, in our lexicon, means stories that are adult without being porno, intelligent without being stuffy and very often impossible to forget.
So, how to prove to the world that small is really big??? And cool? And fabulous?

My first BIG idea shifts some of the financial burden of small publishing (editing, typesetting, proof reading, printing, distributing, marketing) onto the authors. Okay, guys and gals, don't give up your day jobs. If a writer feels that he must get published, and not by a vanity publisher (a publisher that demands full payment for producing any author's work), that she has something to say and needs a legitimate publisher, he/she must forget receiving an advance on royalties, and even the time-honored royalties themselves. In my scenario, the writer in effect becomes partners with the small publisher on his work. If a writer is selected to be published by us (and about six out of 2,000 make the cut), she will be asked to kick in an agreed-upon down payment up front. (Certain larger publishers are already experimenting with varieties of this idea, such as Dave Eggers of McSweeneys.) The publisher pays the rest of the costs. After all costs of publishing are paid, the publisher and author split profits 50/50. The lucre thrown into the pot by the author would only increase his/her connection to the publication of the work. Tough love, I know, but if you as a writer are untested and we choose you to be published, we will take the raw and tentative and, if needed, polish it up a bit, tweak the plot, strengthen the characters, and send the work out into the world professionally produced, with a cover designed to entice browsers on land and in cyberspace. And with a bit more money in the till, the small publisher could seek out more opportunities for promotion of the work.

What do you think? Comment at And visit the web site of Bridge Works at

Friday, March 20, 2009

After 17 years as editorial director of Bridge Works Publishing Co., a small but mighty Independent press that publishes mainstream fiction and nonfiction, I have succumbed to joining the chorus of bloggers bellowing about their not-so-secret passions. Mine is books. To me, there's no business like book business, but it's no secret that books are in deep trouble. I'm not talking about romance novels or cookbooks, which have a devoted following of wanna-bes and gourmands, but about good, old-fashioned quality fiction and nonfiction, the kind with a story that has an original theme and a little helpful information about life thrown in. And the trouble in paradise has nothing to do with the popularity of Kindle, or other electronic books, either. Even though some naive soul inquired, "Does adding more books to Kindle make it weigh more?", e-books are here to stay, so no whining over the loss of that papery feel and smell. The one percent of readers who now have an e-book still gets news, opinion and entertainment in book form from publishers who, except for a few miscreants, have carefully edited, fact-checked, and edited again before the title sees the light of day. True, e-books might one day spell the demise of that delight of all browsers, the book store, unless Barnes and Noble decides to go totally digital. We would all hate to see that happen, but browsing has been co-opted by the digitalia already.
No, the real monster eating the adult book business is its lack of readers, period, exclamation mark. While real old people (over 50) still read, if less often than of yore, young adults and various Gen X's, Y's and Millenials seem oblivious to anything longer than two pages. Whereas writers and publishers want the public to be as intimate with Don Gately and Don Quixote as with aggro and My Space.

Except for the aforementioned cook books or bodice busters, publishers can't count on enough sales to keep afloat these days. Some publishers have stopped reading manuscripts until the financial recession takes an upturn. And, of course, the vampire from the 1930's remains: publishers must take back and eat the titles that bookstores order but don't sell. Imagine 3M having to take back its Scotch tape if Walmart doesn't sell through! And book sections and reviewers are disappearing along with their print parents, magazines and newspapers.

If the older reader, the one who used to make quality books her lover, friend and debating opponent, is reading less often, is there any hope of enticing the young to stories that may run into hundreds of pages? How can we publishers get the world to read more fiction and nonfiction and earn a living wage doing so? What's the matter with books anyway--too long, too short, too boring, too quiet? For everyone who is up for returning briefly (even once a month) to a world before Instant Messaging, texting and tweeting took over our lives, look for answers in my next blog.
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