Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I Heart Publisher's Weekly

I was once at a book conference where an agent-turned-author was pitching her book on how to pitch a novel by giving out bad advice. One of the bad things she said was, "Subscribe to Publisher's Weekly." At this point everyone began furiously scribbling on their notepads like she was Moses on Har Sinai, but either that didn't result in one extra subscription or someone in the room had a lot of money to blow.

Publisher's Weekly is a trade publication for the book publishing industry. Being a "trade magazine" means it's mainly - or entirely, really - for people who work in the book publishing industry. With a small readership circle and little or no news stand sales, it makes its money back by advertising and by a $240/year subscription fee. Newsweek, another weekly of about the same length, costs me about $50 a year. On the other hand, Newsweek is not a trade publication, it's timely, and it has high sales from news stands.

I am very fortunate that my boss was having a good enough year last year that she finally broke down and subscribed. Some agents don't. Most editors rely on their office subscription. I once saw it in a magazine shop at Times Square for $14.00, which was $10.00 more than I was willing to pay. I don't get to read it every week, but if I'm in the day it comes in, I do get the privilege.

My G-d! There's an entire magazine out there of industry secrets?!? And it's hidden behind a huge price tag? Those bastards! Trying to keep the small author down.

In actuality, PW is what it is - a trade magazine. That means it discusses industry trends (read: not what kind of book you should be writing), produces more in-depth bestseller lists than the NY Times with some sales numbers, provides some information on comings-and-goings within the industry (so you can see who moved to what house, important if you know that editor), and generally provides a calender of major upcoming releases, book fairs, and other things of note. The opening pages are the articles, which are short but discuss topics relevant to the industry (Amazon's new policy of only dealing with Booksurge and no other POD publisher was this week's topic). Most of the rest of the magazine is just capsule reviews of every book that came out that week, most of which are available for free online and are generally favorable. The last page is something interesting (this week: the day in the life of a publicist) which is meant to get a few chuckles. Again, insider stuff, and we say that because, well, some associate editor taking a new position at Doubleday after leaving Scribner's is not all that important to your writing career. Focus on your writing, polish your query, and you should be fine.


Unknown said...

THANK YOU so much for this! I've been reading reviews and news on the online (free) version of PW, but I've read on more than one agent site that this is a must for serious writers....but there's no way I could afford it. This was really helpful info for me!

Anonymous said...

I do think, though, that being aware of what's happening in the industry through the free offerings is important and useful. The PW Children's Bookshelf email list, for example, is free and has several departments of useful information. On the adult side, they send out a daily email list. That's much more timely than the print version, too.

Anonymous said...

I read it at the library. Free and a relaxing way to spend some time while the kids are at baseball practice or ballet.

Anonymous said...

'Following the industry' seems to have become a pasttime in its own right, on par with writing. I hear more writers agonise about whether their websites are efficient enough as promotional tools and whether to hand out bookmarks or find something different to give away once their book is published than I hear talking about _story_.

This seems to be a misplacement of energies. I can't afford PW, but I also can't afford the time to follow all the deals and market news - I've given up on Locus sales listings, too, Those were useful once en bloc to see who is selling things (found a few agents that hadn't been on my radar) and that yes, new authors are being sold to big houses *all the time* - and that was, in all honesty, all I needed to know.

Deb said...

Hear, hear, Green Knight! *Story* does seem to get lost in the fliss and fuss, doesn't it? High time we concentrated on simply telling the best story possible.

Maria said...



publishes industry gossip, trends, covers the major news stories (such as the Amazon POD story), industry movement (who goes to what house) along with other tidbits. It's free and probably suffices for most writers.

It doesn't annouce every deal, but it covers publishing news and does a good job of it.

Anonymous said...


Aimlesswriter said...

Nice to hear this take on PW. I've also been told time after time that this is "the magazine" if you want to get published. When I saw the price my starving writer kicked in and said no way. I do the free snippet they email out but really don't see much in that for me. It does tell me when an agent or editor moves but I always surf around to get exact contact information before I query anyway so that doesn't make or break it.
Its nice to see someone finally tell us its not that important. I was feeling like a cheapskate.

Anonymous said...

Though I did break down and "invest" in the print version of PW, a much cheaper alternative is Bookpage. Libraries often carry them for free distribution to patrons, but an individual subscription is only $24 per year. Bookpage is attractively packaged and very reader-friendly; it carries many of the same reviews as PW, and there is even an "Author Enabler" column for us wannabes.

Anonymous said...

I've always read PW online, never bought it. It works well for finding out who is whose agent. My office (a publisher) subscribes to it, but I still don't read it. Probably because I'm just an intern right now.

Kanani said...

Hey, it's been awhile since I've been over here. But I just recommended the site to someone working on a book.

Anyway, thanks for saying this. I remember getting very annoyed when someone would walk into class and talk about what PW said, and how we should know everything going on in the industry. All I could think was, "But, you haven't even gotten your story down yet."

I think there is a point where PW is useful, but I'd also say that you can probably make your way without it, as countless others have. As for now, I'm content with the free online version of it --limited as it may be. What I find really useful are old reruns of author interviews on Charlie Rose.

Kidlitjunkie said...

I do love reading my imprint’s copy of PW that circulates around the staff (and keeping a running list of all the new titles that sound interesting to me so I can order them from my beloved NYPL) but in terms of keeping up with the industry, I would definitely recommend instead to sign up for the free PW email newsletters. And if you really want to pay money for something, sign up for Publishers Lunch, where you can see which editors and agents signed which projects. That’s much more bang for your buck, if you ask me.