The Perfect Publisher

The future of publishing

Ebooks are here to stay. Amazon enjoys overwhelming dominance among book retailers. Indie has matured into the preferred publishing model for authors.

These developments, among many that have turned the book industry upside down in recent years, are widely known. Yet publishers, and even most indie authors, continue to employ obsolete practices that no longer make sense in the post-analog publishing world.

The other day I was conversing with a friend and reader about how Leftist authors get ample support from converged publishers and media outlets, while non-Leftists must largely go it alone. Yet these converged institutions are almost entirely wedded to the dying trad publishing model.

We agreed that a more effective support structure for dissident authors of speculative fiction  was needed. Soon we started brainstorming about what a publishing company designed to take maximum advantage of the current industry landscape would look like.

If I had the resources and inclination to build the perfect speculative fiction publisher from scratch, here's the plan I'd follow. Note that this is purely theoretical, since ideally I'd have needed to start implementing this plan five years ago.

The groundwork
Before I even considered calling for author submissions, my first step would be to start building a platform. The centerpiece would be a blog devoted to speculative fiction. I'd enlist two or three other like-minded guys with solid writing and editing skills to contribute. We'd keep a strict schedule of publishing multiple posts per day, seven days a week to build a readership while cross-promoting on social media. The initial goal would be to get 100,000 views per month before moving to the next stage.

As the blog's readership grew, I'd keep an eye out for commenters with writing talent. Those with the most promise would be recruited as contributors and kept in mind for later consideration as authors. I would also cultivate an email list to keep readers apprised of news, contests, and giveaways.

The structure
With the initial team assembled and the blog's audience at the requisite size (100,000 monthly views and 10,000 newsletter subscribers), for which I'd allow roughly five years, I'd begin putting the actual publishing operation's structure in place.

This hypothetical publishing house would have at least three imprints right off the bat--one for each main category of fiction we'd publish. I'd forego analog-era genres like science fiction and fantasy since trad publishers have effectively killed those labels in the reading public's mind. Instead, our operation would be divided based on far more useful Amazon categories. Each imprint would have an editor chosen from the original collaborators.

As mentioned above, the future editors would have been recruiting and curating talent over the previous five years. Their goal would be to have five authors apiece, each with five-book series already written and ready to go.

The launch
The initial launch would consist of all three imprints releasing the first book by each of their five authors. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Extensive preparation would be necessary prior to launch. Pre-launch support for each title would include the following:
  • Each author would have built his own platform, to include regular blogging and social media presence. The publisher's blog would help with promotion.
  • Each author would also have built up a personal mailing list--again, with publisher assistance.
  • The publisher would have worked to build mutually beneficial relationships with several best selling indie authors. Mailing list trades would be arranged so that every launch title would be promoted by eight best selling authors not signed to the publisher via their mailing lists.
  • At least 35 advance reviewers would be recruited for every launch title through the publisher's and authors' email lists.
As a result of all this preparation, each book would launch on KDP with 35 reviews. Each book would be assigned different subcategories. Cross-promotion by authors with #1 best sellers in each book's Amazon categories would teach Amazon's algorithm to promote the book to likely buyers. 

Just as importantly, each imprint would have its own separate KDP account and email list. The publisher would not cross-promote books from different imprints on the same mailing lists, whether those lists belonged to the publisher or allied authors. These measures would prevent a book's "also boughts" from becoming too incestuous, i.e. dominated by other books from the same publisher/authors in different categories.

If this plan is implemented properly, each book should reliably attain a #1 rank in at least one of its Amazon subcategories.

The future
Remember how I said that all fifteen original authors would need to have five books each ready to publish? After the launch of their first books, the successive titles in each author's series would be released every month, following the same formula outlined above. Each book could reasonably be expected to reach #1 in at least one subcategory. Meanwhile, the authors keep writing one book per month.

After a few months, all of the initial fifteen authors would be established enough to effectively promote new authors in the same categories. At that point, the editors would start scouting new authors from submissions, social media, and Amazon.

At that point, you'd have a publisher capable of reliably taking a new author from relative obscurity to consistent #1 best selling status. The cultural benefits of such an operation cannot be overstated.

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier
the Soul Cycle is everything that sci-fi, including the new Star Wars movies, should be trying to emulate.


  1. When John and I began writing, the only thing that sold books was word of mouth. This meant that the best thing an author could do to sell more books was...write better.

    This situation was perfect for writers, because they weren't called on to do anything that was not a writerly talent or that interfered with writing.

    The situation then changed to where publishers pushed authors to have online platforms. This was suppose to sell books.

    But what has really happened is: a few authors are good at blogging in a way that attracts readers.

    Most are not.

    Worse, many find that successful blogs...do not sell books.

    I've seen authors spend so much time on Blog Tours, blogs, etc...with little to no change in book sales, maybe $20.

    Meanwhile, they are not writing.

    This means that every author would be required to blog on the topics they write about...which would mean even more blogs on these topics than we have now, and, thus, less readership per blog, unless even more time is taken from writing (and family, work, etc.) and put into even more powerful blogging.

    I will have to politely disagree with you 100%. What is needed is not a publishing company that relies on its authors to do things that many good writers just cannot do.

    What is needed is to find a model where the publisher and not the writer can build the platform.

    A writer with a platform hardly needs a publisher...though a big publisher who could get them into bookstores could help.

    What writers need today is a way to reach readers while NOT spending a lot of time blogging.

    Not that blogging isn't delighteful, or that those who can do it well should not.

    But many cannot.

    For one thing, successful blogs that are not on related topics to books do not sell books. So, people blogging about knitting or animals or politics, don't sell sf..not a whole lot, anyway.

    1. Hi, Jagi. Thanks for stopping by.

      Based on the personal experience with trad publishers you shared, it makes sense that you'd interpret the part of the model I laid out calling for authors to blog through the same lens that Tor et al. viewed blogging through.

      To clarify, the point of blogging in this system isn't to sell books - not directly. It's to help each author build a mailing list so he can run cross-promotions with other authors in his category.

      If an author honestly couldn't blog, he wouldn't necessarily have to. That's a key purpose of the publisher itself having a popular blog. The individual author having a blog/social media presence speeds up the process and gives him more to bargain with.

      What's essential is that each of the publisher's three main imprints must have its own email list to trade with authors who publish in the same Amazon categories. That's integral to training the algorithm, and gaming the algorithm is how you sell books.

    2. Reading Jagi’s comment I suddenly thought of a possible solution. Ghostbloggers! ... Is there already such a thing? Someone with good blogging skills, able to blog in the style of someone else (in this case, a writer), who arranges to blog under their name?

    3. In your scenario I don't see what the publisher is adding to what the authors are doing for themselves. There are already self-published authors who network to build an audience for the group as a whole.

      If I were a salesman, I wouldn't be interested in signing with a publisher, and it seems as if publishers aren't interested in authors who are not also salesmen.

      Having someone else do the marketing and promotion is the only thing that would make it worth it for me to sign with a publisher.

      That's why I am concentrating on short fiction. Most publishers of short fiction will do the work of selling the end product.

    4. What the publisher can offer--after launching this model with the initial group of 15--is the guaranteed ability to get the books of everyone who signs with them after that to #1 in their Amazon categories.

    5. If the publisher will do the marketing then, yes, that would be worth it.

  2. I left a long second note...which failed to post. Trying again. :-)

    I, too, was thinking about this of late, and I was quite depressed. For it seemed as if there is no hope for most writers. Then I had a thought that really cheered me:

    Authors want their books to reach readers who will enjoy them.

    Booksellers want books to reach readers who will enjoy them.

    Readers want to read books that enjoy them.

    And all things are possible to God.

    We just have ask Him to tell us--all of us--how to do it. ;-)

    1. Ask and ye shall receive :)

      For God has sent Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, who have beaten Amazon's algorithm.

      Honest! They release a new book every month, and every month their new book goes to #1 in its category.

      There's no luck involved. It's all about 1) having the right number of reviews on launch day, 2) trading email lists with the right authors, which ensures that your book 3) gets the right sales.

      #3 is the key change in thinking that I found hardest to wrap my head around. But when I realized what getting the *right* sales meant, it all clicked.

  3. That seems like quite the project. How do you make money in the 5 years you're building the platform? Or get authors to write 5 books before they see any money if you don't already have a track record of making authors huge sums of money? And further more. I'm tired just reading this. (Says the person who works 12-16 hrs a day 7 days a week)

    1. "How do you make money in the 5 years you're building the platform?"

      However you can. This won't replace anyone's day job until after the 5 year setup phase.

      "Or get authors to write 5 books before they see any money if you don't already have a track record of making authors huge sums of money?"

      1) When it comes to signing authors, it's still a buyer's market.
      2) I could introduce you to several aspiring authors who've written at least that many trunk novels.

  4. This could be epic.

    It makes a lot of sense to have core bloggers who are also editors, each in charge of their own authors and imprint. The mechanics of cross-promotion are fascinating, and I am very curious about what the new genre categories might be. Once you know how to game the system, anything is possible!

    I think the most difficult part will be cultivating the writing talent, since so many people these days don’t know how to write in the first place, and authors are notoriously stubborn about taking corrections. That might work out though if you have good editors to cultivate talent, and the new authors know they're largely depending on the publisher to get their books noticed.

    The frequent release dates are, of course, one of the most attractive features of the proposed publishing house. It would be awesome to have a reputation as the only company that reliably churns out serialized fiction every month from multiple authors!

    Didn’t someone say that novels only used to be about 50,000 words? So many new authors focus on writing 100,000+ word behemoths, but those words pull twice their weight when converted into multiple books. Smaller books are also more digestible for readers who have “less time” to read… I bet they’d start finding time to read again if they got fun fiction in smaller chunks!

    Anyway, awesome ideas!

    1. *Nods approvingly* You've homed in on the three most vital parts of the plan: division of labor, cross-promotion, and regular frequent content.

      "Didn’t someone say that novels only used to be about 50,000 words? So many new authors focus on writing 100,000+ word behemoths, but those words pull twice their weight when converted into multiple books."

      Exactly right. I think the Galaxy's Edge books run 50-65k words each.

  5. Brian.
    Intetesting proposal. I would like to add some fuether ideas:
    Offer multiple medoa formats : ie epub kindle and audio book formats. Eventually you'll need to think about foreign roghts so the popular writers could be translated.

    Another idea to do a Csstalia house sensor sweep of foreign language works and have readers maybe buy the books. Further this woul create another network node. Sure some the writers English might not be fluent but the community can help out and maybe even get their stuff translated.
    So we think out of the box and find talented writers from all over the

    1. Good point about audio. It's the fastest growing market segment.

  6. Three imprints.

    That would be tricky since, for all intents and purposes, you would have to create brand new ones. All the genres have been twisted or subverted since their original conception into unrecognizable shapes.

    Getting a new imprint together today must be a real bear.

    1. "All the genres have been twisted or subverted since their original conception into unrecognizable shapes."

      Creating multiple imprints based on Amazon categories actually solves this problem--and another even worse one.

      You can tell which authors are using Nick and Jason's method effectively by looking at their "also boughts" on KDP.

      For Galaxy's Edge, it's Mark Wandrey, Richard Fox, B.V. Larson--all perennial Mil-SF best sellers. That's what you need.

      Now look at any Castalia House book. I'm not picking on them. They publish great books. I'm talking about their internal structure.

      A given CH book is going to have everything from John C. Wright YA novels to Scalzi parodies; from highbrow lit-fic to philosophy books in its "also boughts". CH can't help it because Amazon's algorithm looks at a title's publisher account when making recommendations.

      It's the same with any publisher still using the old model. Readers of one book will get suggestions for books published under the same account but in different categories.

      That's why you need to set up multiple imprints with their own publisher accounts from day one. That way, the algorithm will at least suggest books in the same category.

      The admittedly high curb you'd have to surmount in the beginning is the main reason I foresee the setup taking 5 years.

      You'd look at your first batch of new authors and the established authors you've built relationships with. Then you'd find complimentary Amazon markets - none so big that you'd get lost in the shuffle, but not so niche that there's no money in them.

      Cross-referencing those three data sets will give you your Amazon categories and thus your imprints.

    2. Interesting.

      But it appears the one correlation aside from a fluke in all the hits involve higher output.

      In other words, pulp speed is still your best bet.

  7. JD:
    I see your concern but I don't think it need be that tough. It's a question of definition and the imprint can accommodate the mix/mash up of genres. What's important is to get good books to the readers.
    That's something the readers and editors can hashout together.
    For example one imprint can be anthologies; another one is for the winners and first finalist of a writing contest (something like Premio Planeta)
    and the 3rd one: individual titles regardless of genre.
    But these can be discussed :)

    1. Writing contests would be a good way to scout talent. I'd avoid anthologies, though.

      In actuality the imprints would be divided by Amazon category instead of genre or format.

      For example, instead of Science Fiction, you'd have a Men's Adventure imprint and a Military imprint. Instead of fantasy, you'd have Paranormal.

    2. Brian,

      Fair enough with anthologies. Another idea would to create (eventually) an imprint called the Sandbox where writers could give permission to others to write in their universe. Something that Larry's currently doing. I realize that this is extremely delicate but it's not an imprint that needs to be done right away but in the far future.
      The other obsession of mine is to get non English works both in the original languages and in translation out. We really need to help the non-English writers out too because in many countries traditional publishing is oppressive. By that they deliberately overprice the ebooks, the whine about piracy, wring their hands histrionically at the decline in readership among the young. Amazon can only do so much.