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The Change Agents is an occasional series spotlighting the work of of people inside Big Publishing who are confronting disruption with creativity, and helping their respective companies adapt, adjust, innovate, and reinvent. Read the anchor post here.
While so many of the conversations around the future of publishing focus on the young innovators at start-up companies, there are plenty of career publishers who are leading the digital transition in their respective corners of Big Publishing. These publishing lifers, like Dan Weiss, are bringing an historical perspective to the digital transition, seeing their wealth of experience inside traditional publishing not as a liability, but as a buttress, providing much-needed context to our ongoing digital experiments. Weiss, Publisher at Large at St Martin’s, knows what it’s like to build something new inside the bubble of something old, having created the Sweet Valley High franchise decades ago. In this brief interview, part of the occasional series The Change Agents, Dan talks about the virtues publishers still retain, the successful experimentation he’s overseeing at SMP, and the increasing importance of reaching readers directly–and listening to what they want.
Ashlock: Tell us the other side of the Big-Publishing-Is-Doomed narrative: what do you think publishers–or at least your company–are getting right?
Weiss: While digital publishing has created many challenges, we think of them as opportunities. We at SMP, like all the big publishers are working very intensively on optimizing all our systems to reflect the need to give readers the content they want, wherever and whenever they want it. Every project we take on, whether it’s a debut novelist or a seasoned non-fiction author, has editors, designers, marketers, publicists and all others from the publishing process focused on using all means to create awareness and sales. To find promising new authors, our editors are mining the online communities, writing programs and developing partnerships, while our marketers are finding audiences online and off for our existing authors, providing them support in their own outreach efforts and generally doing what publishers have always done: helping authors develop their very best work and helping them to get that work in front of the widest readership. In one of our efforts, the success of our online community, especially HEROES and HEARTBREAKERS is an example of how we are committed to building an exciting community for like minded readers and it’s been highly successful. We know genre readers enjoy the conversation and we want to stimulate and be part of it.
Although the channels and formats are evolving, the basic process hasn’t changed and it’s reflected in SMP’s core values. Traditional publishing is far from dead—like all living entities, it’s evolving.
Ashlock: Talk about something that you’ve worked on recently or are working on now at SMP that’s exciting you–and demonstrates how much different your work is now than a few years ago.
Weiss: We started a small experiment in digital first publishing that includes both promotional and original materials that can stimulate sales, whether it’s for an existing author, a new author, a continuing series, a serial format etc. Many of the decisions I make when I look to acquire a project are related to its online elements: what is possible online to get this author’s work widely distributed. Sometimes it’s releasing a previous work at a lower price, a prequel or sequel or interstitial “installment,” or simply using online resources of the author’s and our own to get the word out. The projects that particularly interest me are usually with authors that already have an online profile or are willing to experiment with formats, like some of our serial authors. A few years ago, that wasn’t as central to my thinking as it is now. Our first serial, THE SWEET LIFE, a spinoff of the SWEET VALLY HIGH franchise, was published weekly, a first, we think, for a major publisher and we continue to experiment with this format. Sometimes it’s an episode’s length, sometime the pub schedule or pricing. The experiment has been tremendously valuable (and profitable) in teaching us how and where are readers are and what they’re looking for.
Here are some of the other things SMP has been doing and are planning in the near future: Romance author Donna Grant published a series of three e-novellas with SMP last summer and the third one, Dawn’s Desire, hit the NYT bestseller list. The e-novellas were tied in to a new mass market original series from Grant called the Dark Warriors. That contemporary paranormal series continues in June and we are trying something new. We will serialize the forthcoming mass market book in ebook installments beginning a month ahead of the paperback release date. Midnight’s Kiss will arrive in paperback on 6/4/13. Part 1 will be available as an e-serial on 5/14, with parts 2 & 3 following on 5/21 and 5/28 culminating with part 4 on 6/4 along with the single volume and paperback edition. We will do the same thing with Midnight’s Captive which is on sale in paperback on 7/2/13.
We’ll also have an erotic e-serial this summer from bestselling author Megan Hart called Every Part of You. We’ll have another Opal Carew erotic serial to follow on from HIS TO COMMAND, it’s called HIS TO POSSESS, next Fall, with print bind-ups to follow
Of course, it’s not all about romance. NYT bestselling author Allison Brennan’s Lucy Kincaid suspense series is a case in point. Reckless, an e-original Lucy Kincaid story, just hit the NYT list last week at #21. The next mass market is called Stolen and is due out 6/4.
Ashlock: We’ve been lucky to work with you on a serial project – Jamie Brenner‘s THE GIN LOVERS. Could you talk about new forms like serial fiction, and what you’re learning by your efforts in new categories like this (or NA, etc).
Weiss: We’ve learned that readers are interested in a variety of formats: serials, shorts, full
length works etc for all the ways in which people read now-in print, on their phones or devices. We know that pricing remains very important, particularly in the genres where there’s so much choice and we’ve learned that stimulating sales through a new format e.g. a serial, can boost an author’s sales in their full length works, sometimes resuscitating what may have been a dormant series or character. Editorially, we’ve gotten feedback from our readers that the episodic format is terrific while others find it frustrating. Consequently we vary our publishing programs, sometimes publishing a full length work or sometime publishing installments. We often publish a print edition of the serials and we think that having the episodes, the full length E work as well as the print edition demonstrates our interest in being in whatever format our readers want. We have also learned how important our own online communities are to building and promoting our authors, particularly in the romance category. With serials and other content available to avid romance readers, our Heroes and Heartbreakers community site has become a vibrant and valuable way to stimulate the conversation among the category’s most fervent fans. H&H is agnostic and we welcome submissions from all authors and publishers—particularly if it’s new and exciting news, content etc, and we can demonstrate how exposure on H&H works to everyone’s advantage.
Ashlock: What are your own reading habits – print or digital? What devices?
Weiss: I read like most folks: print editions of new books, but I also tend to buy the digital edition simultaneously because I travel a great deal. I have an iPad, a Kindle a Nook and I use them all. If I’m home, I’ll usually read the print edition, but frankly, I’m all about convenience. I read mostly non fiction for pleasure but I read fiction for work, usually mass market in categories, where I’ve always published. I just finished Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and I’m about to start on the last Churchill biography from William Manchester.
<Click the tag The Change Agents to read all posts in this series.>