Story Merchant had reached a point, about four years ago, when I knew something was wrong. I’d founded Story Merchant, a literary management company, to find books I could set up as films or television. But the flow of movie properties was slowing drastically because we were selling fewer and fewer books to the traditional publishers.
Assessing the situation, we realized that traditional publishing had officially changed from the visionary entrepreneurial world it once was. Now nearly all major imprints were part of one or another of five big conglomerates. Hachette, CBS Viacom, Penguin Putnam Random House, Harper, and Holtzbrinck were all different, but they had one thing in common: the new international corporate owners cared primarily for the bottom line. They were allowing editors to take fewer and fewer chances on unknown new voices. It was breaking my heart to see outstanding books get kicked to the curb because they couldn’t prove they would sell, and because their authors didn’t have a national or international “platform”—that word that suddenly became as much a buzzword as “sustainable” is today.
Then I got an invitation from a friend at Amazon, to attend a meeting of select literary reps—agents and managers—in New York. I was introduced to the prospect of working closely with Amazon, to pass along worthy books for direct publishing. Worthy books meant well-written, well-edited, well-designed, and well-launched books.
I instantly decided to form my own imprint, Story Merchant Books, to have books I could hand across the breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables I frequented in my Hollywood producing world. And it worked. Since the imprint began we’ve assisted nearly 200 titles in being direct-published, and have set up nearly twenty of them already as feature films, television films, or series.
Every setback is an opportunity in the new frontier of the story marketplace.