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ASK THE EDITOR Content Still Reigns In Electronic Book Age

By Susan Malone

April, 2000

Will all of the technological advances in publishing change books themselves? In other words, will this influence the content of what people are reading, the kinds of books that publishers present to them, and therefore what writers write?

One question helps identify the answer more clearly: do you care HOW a book gets into your hands, or just THAT it does?

Publishing is changing at light speed. With the proliferation of online publishers and Internet subsidy presses, books are flooding the market in burgeoning numbers and in a variety of ways. That Stephen King’s latest sold more in one day from the Net than any of his releases via traditional book stores bears testament to this. The WAY books are now marketed wasn’t fathomed even five years ago. God knows what the future holds in that regard.

But have books themselves actually changed? You know, the words on the pages? And is what people are buying being influence by this new wave of marketing and promotion?

Not according to most editors and agents. Or check the bestseller lists. Although everyone is bemoaning the soft fiction market (and predicting it will grow softer), nonfiction sales are soaring. Perhaps this is due to the increased availability via the Net, or the increased promotional venues, or perhaps this country isn’t quite as illiterate as all of the doomsayers say (I wouldn’t touch that), but the market has never been so open for new writers of nonfiction.

Gary Goldstein, Senior Editor at Facts On File publishing, sees the future staying bright for all nonfiction categories. Biographies and autobiographies are big right now, as is American History, World History, books on the stock market and general business. Also, pop culture, lifestyle, family/parenting, military history, and science and technology. Facts On File is expanding their own crime/law enforcement list, especially in the areas of the Mafia, serial killers, etc.

Nonfiction is such a wide-ranging area, Goldstein says, that there are no hard and fast rules. "If an author is burning to write on a certain subject, let’s say, a history of twentieth-century inventors, for example, he needs to

1) do a complete search of competitive titles (Amazon is great for this), and then 2) research the different publishers who do books on the subject (such as Facts on File or John Wiley).

"It also helps," he continues, "if the subject matter a writer is gonna tackle is specialized. Find someone in the field who is a professional and collaborate."

As an example, Goldstein is now doing an encyclopedia on the bridges and tunnels of the world. The author is a former HOUSTON CHRONICLE reporter, and the author of an IDIOT’S GUIDE for Macmillan. He found a professor of engineering at the University of Georgia to check the manuscript for inaccuracies and consistency.

"In other words," Goldstein concludes, "work with a pro in the field you plan to write about."

All of this circles back to the premise that the books themselves—the content, style, level of quality, etc.—hasn’t changed. Nor has the focus of for what publishers are looking. The Internet publishing boom is merely changing the WAY books are published, marketed, distributed, and sold. And, opening many more doors into the writing/publishing field.

We’ll discuss the future of fiction next time. For now, though, nonfiction is wide-open and begging for good writers to produce salable books. The how-to is clear: write about something for which a market exists; thoroughly research your subject; and find an expert in the field to either collaborate or make certain no inaccuracies occur. Of course, then when the book comes out, promote like crazy!

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. SEVEN books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last two years. Her own newest nonfiction, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN, co-authored with Gary L. Malone, MD, is out now. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com