The Current State of Publishing According to Mark Gottlieb, Literary Agent

Sophie Playle

What’s going on in the publishing industry these days? In this guest post, Mark Gottlieb, a literary agent at Trident Media Group in New York City, spills the beans!

In this article I offer up a letter on the state of book publishing, the sales that are being made in fiction, what is currently hot or in high demand among publishers, types of books that are in lower demand and other general thoughts and musings on book publishing.

The State of Publishing

Book publishing in the United States is at an interesting crossroads. The eBook boom came with many self-published authors that felt as though they had won the lottery. Some of those self-published authors that had book sales in the tens of thousands were able to be built into traditional book publishing as hybrid authors.

For the self-published authors that chose to stay within self-publishing, eBook sales in the publishing industry have by and large leveled off. There is currently a glut of material in the self-publishing space and it has become a race to the bottom in terms of the pricing of eBooks.

Furthermore, an author in the self-publishing space needs to be a marketing guru in order to make it anywhere close to the Amazon Top 100. More than ever, self-publishing successfully is like threading a needle.

[I must say, I don’t necessarily think self-publishing is all about a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. With an effective cover and a great blurb, a good book can convince readers to pay more than bargain-bucket prices. I do think self-publishers need to be very savvy about marketing to be able to match the sales a traditionally published author might achieve, but there are many different definitions of successful self-publishing. — Sophie]

Fiction Sales

The sale of commercial, upmarket and literary fiction continues to be the bread and butter of our company [Trident Media Group].

Interestingly enough, whereas literary fiction tends to remain strong within the world of printed books, commercial fiction has been gravitating toward the eBook space. Publishers have gotten better about owning portions of the Amazon Top 100 eBook charts when they are willing to get creative with pricing, rather than pricing their eBooks too high in order to protect their print business.

Much of the Amazon Top 100 has been recaptured from self-publishers and the Amazon Book Publishing imprints, although traditional publishers could still do more. Otherwise, many are beginning to believe that Amazon Book Publishing will be the future of commercial fiction as we know it.

What’s Hot

Debut fiction is very hot right now. A big reason for that is that an author of debut fiction will have no prior book publishing baggage in terms of a damaged sales track record. Therefore a publisher can only make a highly subjective evaluation based on the quality of the writing itself.

Book publishers have been betting on authors of debut fiction like never before. In the past, debut fiction had been a very quiet space for book publishing. Publishers are overpaying for debut fiction in many cases in the hope that at least one in five books breaks out in a big way and can help carry their list.

Upmarket and commercial fiction also tends to sell well in the print space, which pleases publishers trying to protect their print business.

What’s Not

Certain genres continue to struggle to find footing in the current marketplace, but all of that could instantly change. I tend not to like to call out specific genres, but cozy mysteries, urban fantasy and erotic fiction have been on the decline.

Remember how I mentioned this could all change, though? Horror had been in decline for a long time, since a very small selection of authors had a stranglehold on the genre’s readership, but talk in the industry is that horror fiction may be n the rise.

Similarly, while romantic comedies had been a tough sell in the past, romcoms are now back in vogue. So authors of cozies, urban fantasy or other struggling genres should not feel discouraged. A lot of those genres have also found some footholds in the self-publishing eBook space.

Other Musings

There has also been a recent audiobook boom in book publishing.

For a long time, physical audio had a presence in the physical retail landscape but CD audio is nearly gone. Audio CDs are now typically sold online and in the library market. A lot of this came about as a result of Audible being able to market their brand extremely well, from ads in the TV, billboard and print ad space. Many audiobook listeners now make Audible their first stop for audio listening. Many also believe that audiobooks cater to our ever-shortening attention spans that have been taken up by technology and screen time.

Mark Gottlieb is a literary agent working within major trade book publishing at Trident Media Group in New York City. He represents New York Times bestselling authors and prestigious award-winning authors. Mark Gottlieb has ranked first among literary agent in both overall number of deals and has ranked highly for other individual categories and genres. He has also optioned numerous books for film and TV adaptation to studios and production companies.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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