So tomorrow morning the whole Newman-Getzler family is going on our annual pilgrimage to (right near) Miami, where countless Jews have descended over the decades. We’ve gone to visit Amanda’s parents for almost two decades now. And we’ve gone from newlywed explorations of the neighborhood to years of annual visits to Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle and Seaquarium, to what we expect this year’s trip to comprise: Many days of reading by the pool, watching our ridiculously grown-up kids sit and squint at their smartphones while binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and 90210 (the new, horrible version). I was thinking about this tonight as I packed, and then my Facebook feed bing-ed and I saw that I had my Year In The Life montage showing up. Yes, I posted it. But here’s my impression of 2014 in little nuggets of (mostly publishing-related—and to that end, mostly Amazon-centric) information.
1) The Amazon-Hachette (and S&S/Macmillan/etc) fight illustrated that while retailers may want to treat books the same way they treat, say, corn flakes, there’s a lot more blowback when the creators of the product are people rather than extruded grain. Does that mean that the Preston group was 100% correct? Well, not necessarily, since it was making the fight personal when it really was, in Godfather terms, Only Business. And now we have détente. I don’t particularly think that the end result will be good for authors in the long run, since I see both publishers and retailers thinking of ways to maintain their margins, and that will inevitably come at the expense of the artists. But at least the books will be available for sale.
2) While the Amazon folks may have been the Dark Lords of retail, their (genre fiction) publishing divisions were rock stars, and were by a wide margin the most effective marketers and promoters of their books in the industry this year. They understand how to create a long tail of sales, and how to use both older books to promote frontlist, and new books to breathe life into backlist. Of course, many people would say that they are able to do so because they are, you know, part of Amazon, and that’s a possible anti-trust issue. And, well, it may be. But this whole situation is complicated, and you know they will use whatever leverage they have to succeed
3) That being said, the NON-genre-fiction divisions of Amazon publishing were…less impressive, and shed staff as the year went on. Many of my agent colleagues agree with the assessment that, while Amazon is awesome at promoting books with a specific audience, it is less effective when the market isn’t as apparent, when discoverabilitiy of a book is a bit more organic.
4) That discoverability, in this new age of digital marketing, is still the Holy Grail. We can’t sell books effectively by tweeting or posting on Facebook or Tumbler—there’s simply too much chatter. That’s the challenge we’re seeing, and it’s getting us to very interesting returns to old-school book marketing—co-op dollars spent to get books placed on front tables or landing pages on websites. And who has the money to do that? Traditional publishers. Not independent authors (mostly), and not hybrid (Whatever)-Slash-Publishers (mostly). We may be seeing the worm turning back. Fascinating stuff.
5) 2014 also showed me how great it is to work in a real office, with my colleagues surrounding me, with the comfortable collegiality of popping into co-workers’ offices to collaborate on submissions lists or even to commiserate on a particularly painful pass. I spent 2013 in a kind of exile on 80th Street, working through the idea that “hey, you can do this job from anywhere.” But ultimately we humans are social creatures, and we need consistent interaction in order to be effective and—I think, anyway—happy.
6) Finally, the combination of shoulder surgery, my daughter’s bat mitzvah, the increasing grey I see in my hair every time I change my Facebook profile (or look in the mirror in the morning J), and the fact that I’m about to go to my 25th college reunion remind me that…I’m just hitting my prime. Now I need to pack for winter break in Miami. Happy New Year!