A Candid View of the Publishing Industry

I had intended to link to this earlier, but for anyone wanting an inside glimpse of the publishing industry, the Virginia Quarterly Review has put up a podcast and a transcript of four publishing heads discussing the state of the industry. Among some of the more interesting highlights:

  • Grove/Atlantic head Morgan Entrekin doesn’t believe that literary fiction is under siege and believe that now is the best time for literary fiction in his thirty-year career.
  • FSG president Jonathan Galassi believes that the success of The Emperor’s Children was the exception to the literary fiction rule, saying that it’s “harder and harder to get people to care about something new, to get things to turn over.”
  • This probably ties into Levi’s ongoing discussion about hardcovers vs. paperbacks, but Entrekin relaunched the Black Cat imprint as a paperback original imprint, because he found that the Black Cat hardcovers were getting a 70-80% return rate.
  • HarperCollins president Jonathan Burnham noted that in positioning books for newspaper coverage, it helped to have “just a story behind the creation of the book.” (Knopf president Sonny Mehta agreed, citing Irène Némirovsky as an example.)
  • There seems to be a consensus that a book landing on the National Book Award shortlist has little effect on sales.
  • Entrekin and Mehta both admit that fifty percent of their business is in the backlist.
  • Galassi believes that writers shouldn’t write for the market. “They should try to develop confidence with their voice and then find professionals to help them with the other, but if you try and sort of play the market, I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, myself.”
  • An audience member brought up Soft Skull’s book bundles, causing Burnham to remark that Knopf or Harper couldn’t effect something like this. So perhaps there are certain advantages in being a small press with a personality and focus.

One Comment

  1. Just a clarification re: Grove/Atlantic’s Black Cat imprint. Black Cat has always been a paperback original imprint (started in 1961 and publishers of Tropic of Cancer, Naked Lunch and other edgy fiction). The hardback returns that Mr. Entrekin speaks about probably come from the Grove Press, Atlantic Monthly Press imprints.

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