Joni Evans has been in the publishing industry for over four decades, representing bestselling authors during her time at the William Morris Agency and serving as President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster and Publisher at Random House. Today, she is a co-creator of wowOwow.com (The Women on the Web), a website for and about women. Pen and Brush is fortunate enough to have Joni as part of the first group of Literary Arts Curators supporting the launch of Pen and Brush's new programming (learn more about our open call for literary or visual art submissions at PenandBrush.org).
In a recent conversation with Joni, she shared some important insights into the evolving literary landscape, and how authors, agents and publishers can adapt.
Janice Sands (JS): Throughout the course of your career in publishing you've seen a lot of changes to the industry and made your own adaptations to the digital world. What do you see as the future of the industry 10 or 20 years into the future?
Joni Evans (JE): It's hard enough predicting a year or two from now; unsure I can speak to 10 or 20. The thing is, the book has not changed. The words have not changed. But the form in which they come - the vessel they come in - has changed dramatically with the digital revolution. I presume that revolution will be complete in less than 5 years. Yes, there will always be the paper book - coffee table books, physical books for gifts and for those who love the feel of turning pages - but overwhelmingly, we will retrieve and read online the way the music audience now receives its music. Our hardcover books will be the CDs of the future.
Do you remember how many years ago You've Got Mail, the Nora Ephron film, came out? 1998! That movie, of course, described the potential demise of the independent bookstore. Now, 15 years later, we are seeing the demise of book chains. Certainly paper, print and binding will increasingly become a thing of the past.
JS: What are the biggest challenges facing the publishing world right now? In other words, what keeps you - and your friends in the industry - up at night?
JE: Well, the sea change means a new way of life for the publishing industry. It is being fully disintermediated. Books read in electronic form have major advantages, as well as disadvantages. We all know (or should) that fighting with Amazon is ultimately a losing battle. Technology continues to progress and lower prices for the consumer is king (which I predict the courts will uphold). Prices are down, and that means less revenue for traditional publishers to pay their authors and their editors. We've already seen the consolidation of Penguin and Random House, and most others will follow. Authors and agents are no longer able to command the huge advances they once received and publishing staff have been laid off. Similar to the newspaper industry, this consolidation is obviously what keeps the industry up at night.
But there is an amazing new reading frontier ahead and if we can adapt, the future will be much brighter. The e-book allows us not only to read but to comment and to share our thoughts about what we are reading. So many more books can now be in print, backlists resurrected, libraries tapped. And it is very efficient: we can read multiple books at a time, travel with them, and take them to bed with us while our partners are sleeping.
Once we stop fearing the enemy, the future will probably be brighter than it ever could have been imagined. Once we adapt to the new world of publishing, form new ways of finding talent and promoting it, discover ways to access editors and copy editors and, most importantly, the right readers, the possibilities are endless. I do believe Amazon hoodwinked us, but we let them. We allowed them to be the only one; without competition, of course they felt entitled to abuse their power and squeeze our publishers. Once we recognize the future potential and embrace new means of distribution and marketing and, yes, even business models, digital publishing will become a boon to authors and editors.
JS: What advice would you like to give to emerging or mid-career writers?
JE: I have always believed that you can't keep a good book down. If the author has real talent, the book will find its way, no matter what the format.
JS: In your experience, what is the common denominator shared by successful working authors?
JE: Talent. Talent. And talent.
JS: Why did you decide to sign on as a Literary Curator for Pen and Brush?
JE: I hope to share some of my experience. I've been around books and writing for over 40 years! I'm ancient and am good at pretending to be wise.
JS: Do the many opportunities for self-publication in today's marketplace show initiative on the part of authors, or has it created a kind of divide: the "gold standard" of traditional publishing vs. the self-published author? Should writers still be striving to achieve success based on the more traditional print model?
JE: Initiative is essential in both spheres. For over a decade now, the publisher has not been doing the complete job, but has been leaning on authors to tap into their "platforms": to get the blurbs, make the connections, find the pulpits on television or in local libraries. Networking by e-publishing has its advantages. With social networking tools, far larger audiences can be accessed. And who better to market the book than its own author?