Inside MAI Blog: Thoughts on global publishing

Janet Grant's blog might rock your world

“Rock My World—And Yours.” That’s the title of respected literary agent Janet Kobobel Grant’s five-part blog on the tremors and changes in today’s publishing world. I encourage you to read the full series.

Here’s an excerpt from the first article in the series, shared with Janet’s permission. As you read this thought-provoking material, ask yourself: What are the implications for me and my readers in my part of the world?

Both prognosticators and publishers agree that e-book sales will outpace physical books. But the two groups disagree about how long it will take before the scale tips. Most publishers are looking at five to seven years. Some trend watchers say it will be less.

Studies show that price is the biggest reason consumers aren’t buying dedicated e-readers (despite the readers who vociferously proclaim using an electronic device is an inferior reading experience). In July, in the face of less expensive, competing e-readers, Amazon has significantly dropped the Kindle’s price. That means the trend is on to make e-readers more affordable. That, in turn, will result in more e-reader ownership, causing the move toward e-reading to accelerate.

Those who study these things also have found that, once an individual buys an e-reader, he or she generally is satisfied with the quality of the device and the reading experience.

What Does This Mean for the Publisher?
In preparation for this move toward e-reading, publishers are adjusting their contracts to sew up every right imaginable and even unimaginable. They want the option of creating adaptations of a book with video, with audio, in conjunction with other books, etc. They aren’t quite sure what they will do to enhance the reading experience, but they do know they can’t experiment if they haven’t obtained the rights necessary to do so. There are many other ways the publishers are rethinking what they bring to the publishing table, but for this post, let’s concentrate on this one aspect.

What Does This Mean for Writers?
In the past, a few nonfiction writers who created material with lots of references and a complex exploration of a topic, were asked to create an index. Some writers had charts or illustrations that helped to depict the subject, and the author was responsible to submit those to the publisher. (e.g., A book on war ships in the 1800s would likely have illustrations and diagrams of various ships.)

In the near future, someone (the author?) will need to create searchable links throughout a manuscript. I can envision this being true for fiction as well as nonfiction. So, if you’re a Patrick O’Brian fan, you could look up all those words you’re encountering for the first time in one of his novels. (My husband, an inveterate vocabulary builder, stuck note cards full of words to look up as he read O’Brian’s Aubry/Maturin series.) O’Brian also had such a vast understanding of medicine, music, food, naval terminology and flora and fauna that, in an e-book format, the publisher could create a veritable encyclopedia of links for the reader to drink as deeply from on any one subject as he wanted.
But that’s just the beginning: What about adding video to show what the ship in the novel looked like? We could walk around it, just as we can “drive” down a street by typing in the destination on Google.

And adding audio can create a whole new dimension. Imagine “mood” music, such as we experience when we watch a movie, tipping us off to just how dangerous a situation the unaware protagonist is in. Or, going back to Patrick O’Brian, we could hear Captain Jack Aubrey and surgeon Stephen Maturin playing their musical instruments after dinner on the ship.
Is your mind boggled? Rightly so. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, our world is being rocked.

For writers, the creators of the written word, the ways to present your material are expanding. Sure, we aren’t doing any of things I’ve listed in this blog right now, but if e-readers dominate the reading scene in five years, and it takes two years for a book to move from contract to “printed” version, we would be wise to start thinking about ways to enhance the medium we use to communicate with.

Janet Kobobel Grant established Books & Such Literary Agency in 1996 after working in the book publishing industry for more than twenty years. She had her own imprint at Zondervan Publishing and served as managing editor of books at Focus on the Family.

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