Publishing A-Z

Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Recently a friend commented on a book he was reading by saying, “It feels dated because the author refers to books and writers that were popular when he wrote it back in 1986. The principles in the book hold up, they are timeless, but the reading of it made me feel old.”

This is a great reminder for every author if you are writing a contemporary novel or a non-fiction book. Of course there is no way to avoid this completely (unless you decide only to quote Shakespeare or the Puritans…which creates a new set of communication problems). However you can try to be aware of our rapidly changing culture.

A Generation is only Twenty Years Long

In Biblical studies it is generally understood that a generation is 40 years. In modern times it is 20 years or so. isn’t even 20 years old yet, but has changed a generation (it was founded on September 4, 1998).

If you are a writer, you can no longer assume that your audience will understand your cultural references. In a mere six years, today’s 18-year-olds will be adults…possibly with families and jobs and children…they will be reading your books and articles.

You will only be six years older.

The bestselling products of today will be a footnote in twenty years.

November 1997 the #1 novel in the USA was Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

The bestselling music acts of 1997 included Jewel, Toni Braxton, Puff Daddy, R. Kelly, Spice Girls, Hanson, and Third Eye Blind.

The #1 grossing film was “Titanic” follewed by “Jurassic Park: Lost World” and “Men in Black.”

And, in 1997 Steve Jobs returned as the CEO of Apple, the company he helped launch, after it merged with his company NEXT.

The Beloit College “Mindset List”

Every year Beloit College creates a “Mindset List” which reflects the culture that the incoming Freshman class have grown up experiencing. It helps their faculty know how to relate to these incoming students. Click here for the Mindset List for the graduating class of 2021. (Don’t fail to read the discussion guide that goes along with each observation. Click here.)

I read this list every year and wonder at the speed of our cultural changes.

The college graduating class of 2021 was born in 1999. Think about it …

For the class of 2021 Zappos has always meant shoes on the Internet.
For the class of 2021 eHarmony has always offered an algorithm for happiness.
For the class of 2021 Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act (he will turn 40 the year they graduate).
For the class of 2021 Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.
For the class of 2021 they are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.
For the class of 2021 they are the last class to be born in the 1900s, the last of the Millennials —  enter next year, on cue, Generation Z! 

There are 60 observations in this year’s list.

Earlier Mindset Lists illustrate things even more dramatically. For this generation of future readers:

“Star Wars” turned 40-years-old in 2017.
MTV has never featured music videos.
Czechoslovakia has never existed.
They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.
The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
They have grown up with bottled water.
Operation Desert Shield, aka “The Gulf War” (1990-91) happened almost a decade before they were born.
What does it mean to dial a phone? You push a few buttons on a square pattern.
Google is a verb.
They’ve only known them as a NBA team called the Washington Wizards…not the Washington Bullets.
Smoking has never been allowed on a US airplane flight.
Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.

Also, for these incoming Freshman, 9/11 happened when they were two years old. Pause for a moment and try to remember what major world changing event occurred when you were two or three? Then ask if it really changed the way you saw the world. Of course it didn’t…you were two. The parents were effected but the student was not. This means we have a new generation of readers who were only tangentially affected by 9/11. If you refer to the “new” war on terror be aware that it is no longer “new”.

Plus if you refer to a disastrous hurricane…remember that Katrina happened in 2005. Sandy was in 2012. Ivan in 2004. Andrew in 1992. Each reference could quickly date your material if you are not careful.

Novels set in the Vietnam War era are now being classified as “historical fiction.”

So, the next time you visualize the audience to which you are writing, realize that they don’t think like you, process information like you, or see the world the same way you do.

With all this change it is comforting to know that our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

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P is for Preemptive Offer

It can be exciting if more than one publisher is interested in your book. The publishers gather their calculators and prepare to make their offers on the book. Depending on how many publishers are involved in the bidding process (we’ve had as many as nine at once for a property) …

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A is for Auction

When an agent has a client who is wanting to shop for the best deal available from publishers or if there is a particular project that is bound to garner significant interest from more than one publisher, the agent can hold what it called an auction. Or if a project …

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I is for ISBN

by Steve Laube 978-0-310-32533-8 978-0-7814-1042-7 978-1-61626-639-4 No, these are not the plays being called by a quarterback during a football game. They are the ISBN numbers on the back of three different books by three different clients. Kudos to the first person to identify the three titles in the comments …

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L is for Libel

by Steve Laube

 To libel someone is to injure a person’s reputation via the written word (slander is for the spoken word). I wrote recently about Indemnification but only touched on this topic. Let’s try to unpack it a little further today.

First, be aware that the laws that define defamation vary from state to state, however there are some commonly accepted guidelines. Anyone can claim to have been “defamed,” but to prove it they usually have to show that the written statement is all four of the following: 1) published 2) false 3) injurious 4) unprivileged.

The first is obvious. Posting something on Twitter or Facebook is “published.” And yet two weeks ago a Federal judge ruled that a blogger has the same defamation protection as a journalist. (Read the article here.)

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J is for Just-in-Time

by Steve Laube

The economics of bookselling are complex and ever changing. There is a method of inventory control called “Just-in-Time” (or JIT) that has revolutionized both the retail and manufacturing industries.

When I began as a bookseller there was no such thing as computerized inventory, at least not in the Christian bookstore business. We used a method call “Stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.” Because “If you stack ‘em low, they won’t go.” The idea was to merchandise large amounts of inventory because there was no quick way to replenish your stock if you ran out.

We had sheets of paper with a list of “Never Out” titles in books and music. Weekly we would physically count the remaining stock and if our inventory on a title fell below a particular level we would order more. This was our attempt to time our inventory to match the consumer demand. Titles not on the list would be reordered when that publisher’s sales rep came to visit. The rep would inventory the store and together we would determine what titles to replenish and which ones to let disappear.

Technology Caused Disruption
Computerization changed everything. Using an algorithm the computer determined the speed, or rate, of sale for each title and created order quantities to match the projected demand. This was called “Just-in-Time.” The inventory would arrive just in time to meet the customer wanting that book.

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I is for Indemnification

by Steve Laube

Publishing is not without risks. Plagiarism, fraud, and libel by an author are real possibilities. Thus within a book contract is a legal clause called indemnification inserted to protect the publisher from your antics.

The indemnification clause, in essence, says that if someone sues your publisher because of your book, claiming something like libel (defamation) or plagiarism etc., your publisher can make you pay the fees to compensate for their losses. This is to “indemnify” which is defined as “to compensate (someone) for harm or loss.” Bottom line: The publisher has the right to hire its own attorneys (at the author’s expense) to defend against these claims.

Doesn’t sound like a happy clause does it? But you can understand why it is there. This clause and the Warranty clause are notoriously difficult to negotiate. (The Warranty clause is where the things the author guarantees or warrants are listed; i.e. the book is original, it is not libelous in content, etc. This clause will be more fully covered by me at another time) The language has been written by the publisher’s attorneys and are usually set in stone.

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H is for Hybrid

by Steve Laube

To state the obvious, the publishing industry has changed rather dramatically in the last few years. The possibility for a writer to inexpensively produce their own books (in e-book form) has shifted the sands. In addition the economic challenges facing the brick-and-mortar bookstore has reduced the amount of shelf-space available to launch a new book via traditional methods. It appears to be an either or choice: go Indie or go Traditional. But there is a third way, the way of the “hybrid author.”

The hybrid author is one who chooses to follow both the Traditional and the Indie routes. Thus the hybrid moniker. They are neither one nor the other, they are both. And just like the hybrid car that is a mix of both gas and electric, the circumstances dictate which form of transportation their words use to reach the public.

Our agency has a number of hybrid authors. These authors continue to have flourishing relationships with their traditional publisher and are receiving new contracts all the time. But at the same time they have certain books that they publish on their own. They are very entrepreneurial and work tirelessly self-promoting their Indie books but also work tirelessly to promote their traditional ones. Some have extremely modest Indie sales and others are quite pleased with the revenue their Indie books produce. The range of sales is rather dramatic, everything from an author who has sold less than 60 of their Indie e-books to another who is in the five figures in Indie ebooks sold. However, each of these hybrid authors continues to maintain a presence in the traditional market as well.

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G is for Great

by Steve Laube

“There are a lot of good manuscripts out there. What we want are those which are great.” I’ve said this may times but thought I should elaborate. Please note the following applies mostly to non-fiction projects.

When it comes to the non-fiction books that attract the major publishers I believe the author must have at least two of three “great” things:

Great Concept
Great Writing
Great Platform

Let’s look at the various combinations to see how this plays out.

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F is for Foreign Rights

by Steve Laube

Publishing is a global concern. The new Penguin Random House (co-owned by Bertlesmann from Germany and Pearson from the UK) is the largest publisher in the world. The fourth largest publisher is based in the Netherlands. (See this link for a list of the top 50 largest publishers worldwide.) There are thousands of publishers outside the U.S. most of which publish in their native language. Therefore, in most contracts, the foreign rights or translation rights are negotiated.

Some publishers have a dedicated rights division which handles the licensing of your book into other languages. Your contract defines how any income is to be split between you and your publisher. (It is usually a 50/50 split.) Often we have negotiated with the publisher who is doing the English language edition to also manage foreign language licensed. However our agency has also handled the licensing for book published in Korean, Dutch, German, and Slovakian. It is quite fun to look on our shelves and find our client’s books also printed in Russian, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

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