Moving on

29 Aug
Seth’s Blog

Linchpin will be the last book I publish in a traditional way.

One of the poxes on an author’s otherwise blessed life is people who ask, “what’s your next book,” even if some of them haven’t read the last one. (Jeff did, of course). To answer your question, this book is my next book. I think the ideas in Linchpin are my life’s work, and I’m going to figure out the best way to spread those ideas, in whatever form they take. I also have some new, smaller projects in the works, and no doubt some bigger ones around the corner. [PS the best analysis of this whole thing, particularly the punchline is by Mitch.]

A little background: For ten years or so, beginning in 1986, I was a book packager. Sort of like a movie producer, but for books. My team and I created 120 published books and pitched another 600 ideas, all of which were summarily rejected. Some of the published books were flops, others were huge bestsellers. It was a lot of fun. As a book packager, you wake up in the morning and say, “what sort of book can I invent/sell/organize/write/produce today?”

It took a year or so, but I finally figured out that my customer wasn’t the reader or the book buyer, it was the publisher. If the editor didn’t buy my book, it didn’t get published. Here’s the thing: I liked having editors as my customers. These are smart, motivated and really nice people who are happy to talk with you about what they want and what they believe. Good customers to have. (In all of those years, only one publisher stole any of my ideas, no check ever bounced, and no publisher ever broke a promise to me).

When I decided to become focused on being an author, the logical thing to do was to sell to that same group of people. And it worked. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great editors, and my current publisher, Portfolio, has been patient, flexible and, did I mention, patient. Adrian Zackheim, who runs the imprint, is exactly what you’d hope for, even if the architecture of his industry is fundamentally broken.

Authors need publishers because they need a customer. Readers have been separated from authors by many levels–stores, distributors, media outlets, printers, publishers–there were lots of layers for many generations, and the editor with a checkbook made the process palatable to the writer. For ten years, I had a publisher as a client (with some fun self-published adventures along the way). Twelve bestsellers later, I’ve thought hard about what it means to have a traditional publisher.

Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.

The thing is–now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn’t help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, “how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?” To be succinct: I’m not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.

My audience does things like buy five or ten copies at a time and distribute them to friends and co-workers. They (you) forward blog posts and PDFs. They join online discussion forums. None of these things are supported by the core of the current corporate publishing model.

Since February, I’ve shared my thoughts about the future of publishing in both public forums and in private brainstorming sessions with various friends in top jobs in the publishing industry. Other than one or two insightful mavericks, most of them looked at me like I was nuts for being an optimist. One CEO worked as hard as she could to restrain herself, but failed and almost threw me out of her office by the end. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken at the fear I saw.

All a long way of saying that as the methods for spreading ideas and engaging with people keep changing, I can’t think of a good reason to be on the defensive. It’s been years since I woke up in the morning saying, “I need to write a book, I wonder what it should be about.” Instead, my mission is to figure out who the audience is, and take them where they want and need to go, in whatever format works, even if it’s not a traditionally published book.

If you’re among the majority reading this that has never bought one of my books in a bookstore, not much will change. But I thought I’d share with you this fork in the road. Thanks for reading, in whatever form you choose.

Sent with Reeder

Sent from my iPhone

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