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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Foreseeable Future

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Sunny Frazier

More of Sunny's articles on writing & short stories can be found on KRL.

Since I’ve taken on the rewarding task of acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press, people often ask me, “What do you think is the future of publishing?”

I suppose I could look into my crystal ball if I had one handy, or I could get my alter ego Christy Bristol to draw up an astrology chart (what sign would books come under? Probably Libra). But, the fact of the matter is that this industry is in so much flux that there’s no telling where any of us will be in a decade.

Okay, let’s start from the beginning, but not with the Gutenberg Press. Publishing was once the realm of small outfits manned by people with a love and respect for books. Money was not a primary motive. They had wealthy backers and the publishing houses were passed down from one generation to the next.

In the 1920s, referred to as the Golden Age of Publishing, people were getting better education via public schools and books were not just for the wealthy anymore. But, then came the Great Depression and books were again a luxury item. How to get more people to buy more books? Henry Ford’s idea of mass production took hold. An industry of love for the written word was now an industry of love for the almighty buck.

Sunny Frazier

Publishing houses became corporations. The democracy of publishing now was more like a monopoly. Because publishers answered to corporate boards and stockholders, they began pushing out smaller presses.

Two more influences came on the scene. From Britain we inherited the idea of the literary agent. This miffed publishers because agents demanded higher royalties in order to make their own salary. Aggressiveness became part of the battle for publishing contracts. Then there were chain bookstores, not just accepting what booksellers had to sell but actually dictating what they should publish. Because big bookstores controlled sales, Big Publishing danced to their tune. The game was fixed against small publishers and independent bookstores. They never stood a chance.

My personal history started in the late 1990s. I was finishing my first book, excited about the possibility of publishing. The crash came when I went to a conference and heard that of the Big Six publishing houses, five had been sold overseas. Not to China or Japan, but to Germany, England and France. The only American-owned house was Simon & Schuster.

The new owners took mystery imprints and combined them to make one line, keeping the big names and discarding the rest. I watched as many mid-list authors writing terrific series were suddenly left without contracts. I don’t know how other genres weathered the storm, but mystery took a hit. Some authors tried their hand at creating their own publishing houses, even bookstores like Poison Pen stepped up to the plate. Perseverance Press salvaged many careers. PublishAmerica, I Universe and others came on the scene, for better or for worse. Print on Demand technology was developed. Amazon debuted. Kindles and I Pad’s changed how we read.

What do I see in the future? Authors in control of their own futures. Small bookstores making a comeback as large outfits go under. Smaller houses, which now publish 78% of books on the market, getting the respect they deserve. Writers looking for publishers who still love the written word. And readers learning to discover good books on their own, not through the manipulation of the marketplace. That’s a future I’m willing to invest in.

Sunny Frazier worked with an undercover narcotics team in Fresno County for 17 years before turning her energies to writing the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries. Based in the San Joaquin Valley of California, the novels are inspired by real cases and 35 years of casting horoscopes. Sunny is also acquisitions editor for Oak Tree Press.


  1. Sunny is a bit more optimistic than I, but we share the same timeline of our publishing careers. Had SIX agents who never sold a word, then went with one of the first small publishers (Deadly Alibi Press) to make a dent in the rigid, traditional world of publishing, though it went out of business five years later. Through all the changes Sunny notes, I think the mindset changes most. NEVER thought I'd love an e-reader and now can't make a move without it! What happens next? Stay tuned!

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  3. (sorry, needed to edit.) Very informative. I find it interesting that with the influx of smaller bookstores, the big chains are still not learning and the smaller bookstores are still difficult to garner attention. I think the indie stores, if they tout support, if they want local support, better start supporting local and area authors even more than what I've experienced.

  4. I loved this--so much I didn't know about the history of publishing. And, of course, I have no idea what's going to happen next since so much has changed in the ten years that I've been publishing. In a way that's exciting and another, terrifying.

  5. My hope is that at the very least small publishing houses will get the respect they deserve. And I wouldn't mind if their writers got rich either, but respect first.

    Holli Castillo

  6. The first hurdle is educating the public and getting them to accept trade paperbacks as "real" books. The paperback format we're used to seeing was designed to fit in a man's back pocket and is outdated. And yes, independent bookstores have to support local authors because that's where their support comes from. But, most important of all, each author has to learn how to reach a reading public. Authors who can do that will have a sustaining career.