As Senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam's Sons, how would you describe the current state of the publishing industry? The news all seems pretty grim from where some of us sit--book sales down, advances drying up, booksellers disappearing, industry layoffs, etc. In your view, where are we now, and where are we likely to be in five years, say?

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Thanks for the question, Jon. Yes, there's a fair amount of bad news around -- but the same holds for just about every other business in this country now, as I'm sure you've noticed, so it's hardly unique to publishing. I've also been around long enough to see things go in cycles in my business -- periods of layoffs followed by periods of growth. And some of the restructuring has been beneficial, in my view -- made us think about who we are and what we need to do.

But as far as from where you sit....I was at a writers' conference last month, and was asked, considering everything that's going on: what's a writer to do? How is it affecting what we're looking for? I replied that, yes, we were all being careful about what we bought, looking twice and even three times at a ms before buying it -- just "kinda liking it" isn't enough anymore. But then, I added, if you'd asked me the same question three or five years answer would have been exactly the same. We *always* have to be careful about what we buy. (I know, I know, doesn't always look like it, does it? Don't get me started.) Writers shouldn't worry about what's going on right now. They have a more important job -- just to write the best damn book they can.

And in five years? That'll still be the answer. We'll have a greater digital mix than we do now -- ereaders will have advanced considerably by then, there'll be a lot more downloads. But the hunger for story will be exactly the same, and it'll be up to the writer to satisfy it.

I've been told that reading is dead. Now, disco may be dead. Subprime mortages. Rod Blagojovich's political career. But reading? It'll never die.
Thanks for the encouragement. When the economy took a tailspin, I diverted my priorities from writing to other areas (creating a good POS system for small booksellers). This project is almost complete...the itch to write is spreading (I must have hit some poison oak). Your comments have stepped writing up a few pegs on my priority list.

Neil should be a regular feature here. It's always good to get perspepctive when our world tilts or dims. Thanks. Gerrie
That's reassuring...honestly. I can hope that five years from now, Paris Hilton's bio won't be the biggest best-seller.
Great question, great answer.

I think we should make Ask Neil a regular feature here on Crimespace. :)
Thanks, Gerrie and Jude! I do a yearly interview about the business with JT Ellison over at Murderati, my favorite crime blog, and that time's about coming up again. Keep your eyes peeled!
I read your past interviews on Muderati, Neil, and learned a lot from them. Looking forward to the new one!
Love Murderati :) Gerrie
Jeez, Neil is a powerhouse at G.P.Putnam? Who are a part of Penguin -- or are they? And I have just outraged the man with my elititism on another thread. Foot in mouth, clearly.

However, I probably pretty much meant what I said. I usually do, though I often make somewhat sweeping statements and memory doesn't always serve to recall brilliant bestsellers when one wants them.

Never mind. Neil is indeed a very good person to have join us. Hearing from publishers is always informative, and perhaps we will understand better why they do the crazy things they do.
Yeah, nice going, I.J. Thank God I didn't step in it like--uh--Oh, crap...
:) What, me worry?
Your advice makes good common sense, Neil. Writing is about the only thing we have some control over anyway. Still, it's nice to get together, worry, and whine a bit around here. Like group therapy.


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