1. As the publisher of Welcome Books what type of challenges in the marketplace are you navigating through? Getting our books in front of the consumer is our single biggest challenge. We produce some of the most beautifully designed and produced books in America. When people see our books, they buy them. We gather awards like magnets in whatever field we enter (last year we published our first cookbook and immediately won the IACP Judge’s Choice (Cooking with Italian Grandmothers)and we published our first “history” book and immediately won the Foreword Editor’s Nonfiction Award and $1,500 (Last Good War). If you want the most beautifully photographed, written and designed book on Buddha, we have it: Buddha by Jon Ortner with an introduction by Jack Kornfield; if you are in love with American farming, come see our Paul Mobley’s American Farmer with interviews by Katrina Fried, which won the Wrangler Award for Best Photography Book by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum;The 2009 Rose Awards for Photographic Artists - 1st Place for "Exceptional Use of Color," "1st Place for Black and White" and Silver IPPY Award "Coffee Table Book" category, 2009. If you have decided it is time to meet a whole bunch of gay men, you cannot do better than Gay in America by Scott Pasfield. The physical places where consumers have normally seen books are vanishing (although we have always sought the Anthropologie’s and the Neiman Marcus’ and the off-the-beaten path gift accounts). Media has vanished along with brick and mortar. And, because our interests run so broad and deep, we have to work way harder to find each book’s audience. The virtual places are so various that we would have to clone ourselves dozens of times to have the time to find all of the amazing blogs in every subject category that are out there.
2. You are a novelist – what have you published? This is a short answer: nothing. I have struggled to acquire a literary agent, but am still somewhat early in the process and hopeful. The best advice I can give someone who feels they have just written a great first manuscript is to clear their calendar, because they are going to do some waiting no matter how good it is. A lot of people in the publishing world are getting increasingly nervous about the state of the industry, and therefore maybe not as quick to embrace new types of books with no proven track record of success, but I feel that's the wrong strategy. No struggling industry ever got turned around by playing it safe and trying to do the same thing over and over again, and that lesson is multiplied by ten in such a creative industry as book publishing.
3. How is being a screenwriter different from being a novelist or a blogger? This is really subjective depending on who you talk to because screenwriters swear up and down that their job is harder and novelists will tell you their job is. I have done both and can't say for sure which is more difficult, but they are certainly different. You can probably write a screenplay much faster than a novel but there's a technical side to the script mechanics of it that doesn't exist in a novel, so novel's have a better flow. There are times when you just get spellbound writing a book where you're writing pages at a clip your fingers can hardly keep up with, but it's very hard to get lost into the world of writing a script because of the more technical aspects.
After it's written, a script is really just a blueprint, and there are a thousand people working on that movie you might have to rewrite it for at any given time, sometimes well into shooting the actual movie, so there's a pressure and lack of control there that is less so for a novelist. It's pretty well known that screenwriters are the low man on the Hollywood totem pole and if a script really works the director might hog the majority of the credit (virtually no screenwriters are household names the way Stephen King, John Grisham, or J.K. Rowling are) but if an entire movie doesn't work then the script is the first thing to blame. As to where writing a book is--at least in the eyes of the public--more or less a one man show, and that author will receive all the credit for a success or all the blame for a misfire.
4. What do you love most about the book publishing world? I still think there is something very special about writing a book and sharing it with the public. In a way it's very intimate because that author is really telling you something about them. Whether it's an incredibly personal book about their family or the most routine of genre books, there's a piece of that author in there somewhere that can't be hidden. With a musician's CD or director's movie or TV show, that personal aspect might get drowned out but even in the privacy-phobic world of 2011, there is still a connection with an author when you pick up a book and sit somewhere quiet to read it. It's almost like they're sharing a secret with you, and an author that really knows their audience is hearing one back, as the reader says "This character is me. It speaks to me. This is how I feel." The people that really love books know what I'm talking about and the people that wouldn't pick up a book unless it was assigned for class reading are really missing out on something special.
5. What do you recommend to authors experiencing the process of getting published? Enjoy it. If they are being traditionally published, they are experiencing something that 4 out of 5 writers never will, not to mention all of the people that probably have a great book in them but just never get around to putting it down. I used to go around just constantly pitching people--my friends, my mom, my teachers, even my extremely disinterested younger brother--about my ideas and they would all say "That's great. When are you going to write it?" I know there are others that feel the same way and the most important thing is to write it. Don't get caught up in getting it perfect or freak out when it's not as right on "paper" as it is in your head (it won't be), just write it.
6. Where do you think the book industry is heading? A lot of people are pessimistic and say this could be the end times but I'm a little more bullish than all that. I think Borders, the second largest book retailer in the country, going out of business really rattled some people but Borders was a very poorly run company that made a lot of business mistakes that I don't see Barnes and Noble making. So I think the shockwaves sent out by the Borders bankruptcy have less to do with the overall industry than it does with one specific company, but since the perception is that books are in trouble, the bankruptcy is used to herald the death of traditional publishing.
The two biggest problems as I see them both have to do with Generation Y and younger: 1. This generation (that I'm a part of as a 25 year old) wants more or less everything for free. There has been a tremendous rise in pirating music, bootlegging movies, and, yes, reading books online that may not be paid for. Even when they are paid for, it's for a dollar off Amazon's site instead of the 25 dollar hardback books at Barnes & Noble that really keep the book industry profitable. 2. For the first time in American history, the following generation is going to be less literate than the one before it. There are just too many kids in the U.S. that are not falling out of love with reading, but never falling in love with it. They aren't developing the appetite to read in the first place, and that makes it harder to say "Look, it's the next Harry Potter! Come read this!" In my opinion, the book industry is competing less with Amazon's dollar books than it is with cultural shifts. Kids have become much less likely to read about Stephen King's new villain chainsawing people and much more likely to chainsaw people themselves playing an ultra-violent video game.
And then there's the problem for novelists specifically which is that the culture is losing its imagination a bit and non-fiction has really spread like Kudzu making fiction have a harder time. Still though, I'm not sure how popular non-fiction can remain since most of the information in those books is now available for free on the internet. Also, when a fiction book really breaks out, it's a beautiful thing that can keep a publisher in business (no matter how big a hit "He's Just Not That Into You" is, it can't touch the sales of "Harry Potter"). So, in my opinion, the tide of book publishing can be turned but it won't be with the 4,000th celebrity memoir. It will be bold new authors writing books that can't be described as "the next..." anything because nothing has been written like them before. This seems like a counter-intuitive business strategy, but publishers and literary agents need to get riskier, not risk-averse. They need to remember the thing that makes books so special (that personal connection with an author speaking right to you, not increasingly impersonal fiction derivative of something else) to being with, and start capitalizing on the strengths of the medium instead of trying to turn it into television. I mean, why publish books "written" by reality stars people only watch because they're free? The book industry's problems aren't going to get solved with Snooki's memoir or The Real Housewives of Wherever. You attract a new generation of readers with a new generation of authors trying things that have never been done before. I volunteer my services [Laughter].