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Friday, June 15, 2018

Guest Post & Giveaway: Derek Taylor Kent, author of Principal Mikey

I'm excited to have Derek Taylor Kent stopping by today with a guest post and giveaway of his new middle-grade, Principal Mikey...

Principal Mikey 
By Derek Taylor Kent 
Illustrated by Paul Louis Smith 
May 15, 2018 
Whimsical World Enterprises 

A hilarious S.T.E.A.M. chapter book for fans of Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries, this heartwarming story is perfect for any 7-12 year old. Mikey McKenzie is an expert at using the scientific method to solve problems in his neighborhood and school. The only problem he can't solve is that he's just 10-year-old and nobody takes any of his ideas seriously. But everything changes when the kooky Principal Walker appoints him as the new school principal when she gets called away, much to the chagrin of the stern Vice Principal Sherman. It's a dream come true for Mikey to finally have the power to implement all his great ideas to improve the school. However, when the power goes to his head, the new job strains his relationships with his best friend and his sister he looks up to. On top of that, the district is threatening to close the underperforming school unless they ace the new standardized test. By the end, he'll have to think outside the box to find solutions that will save the school and his most valued relationships. S.T.E.A.M. concepts: problem-solving, scientific method, educational technology, health/medicine, and socio-emotion. 

1849 = 2019 
Why a Publishing Gold Rush is Coming and How to Prepare for It 
by Derek Taylor Kent 

First the Crown fell. Then Walden fell. Then the Borders fell. From their ashes rose the mighty Amazon, crushing all who would oppose it. With the Noble on the brink of collapse, and the only competition against the Amazon a collection of small but fierce independent states, what hope is there for the weary writers who wander the desolate landscape in search of fame, fortune, and treasure?  

 While it may seem like we are marching headlong into a barren world for the book industry in the coming years, I am here to tell you that just beyond this desert awaits a veritable El Dorado for those who can persevere. Yes, there is hope… more than anybody seems to realize. If the chips fall as I believe they will, something momentous and game-changing is coming. Whether it is two years or twenty years away is difficult to say, but I shall reveal to you why, in my view, there will be a great boom, at least monetarily, for authors in the near future.  

 Whether or not this “boom” will be good for literature as an art form is another question entirely, and a good question for a different article, but based on what has already happened in the world of entertainment, it is only a matter of time before the same model filters down to books and the same explosion of media occurs.  

 Books, television, film, news articles, and Youtube are at their core the same thing—mediums that compete for the attention of our eyeballs when we are not working. 

Some years ago, the city of Los Angeles, where I live, was in a state of panic. Television ratings had fallen precipitously and have remained at a fraction of what they once were, a result of quality options spread across too many channels, DVRs, and quality streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. With the decline of the ratings came with it a certainty that it would be the end of the medium as a lucrative business model. Salaries would surely be reduced across the board and actors and crew members fretted that it would be almost impossible to make a living without a market for popular shows and the countless commercials they spawned. It was all doom and gloom.  

 What ended up happening turned out to be exactly the opposite. From the decline of the networks rose Netflix, Amazon, quality cable programs, Hulu, Youtube, and more. With the advent of subscription models that catered to binge-watching, production of well-paying TV shows reached record numbers and is only growing. Nobody I knew predicted this, but it should have been easy.  

 Netflix wanted our eyeballs. With a lack of quality programming on networks that offered mostly cheapter-to-produce reality TV, our brains craved something better than what was available. Netflix lured top talent by offering them more control and larger episode orders than were ever offered by the networks. When viewership followed, it strategically created original programming and acquired a library of film and TV that would hit every demographic.  

 From the brink of a famine came a boom, a practical gold rush of quality programming, creative risk-taking, and artistic opportunity from outlets utilizing the same models, such as Amazon, Hulu, and countless more. 

 But how does the world of book publishing fit into this? 

 Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken so long to adapt, but the same opportunity exists for the medium of books as it did for film and TV because all three are inherently connected. 

 Think about this: the major money-makers, the multi-billion-dollar franchises, are all based on books—Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Jurassic Park. Even the Marvel and DC franchises are based on comic books, another medium that was in freefall not long ago, but has been bolstered by the popularity of adapted films and TV shows. The only examples I could think of that were not originally based on books were Star Wars and Avatar. Star Wars actually worked backwards and birthed a whole industry of spin-off books and comic books. Avatar’s success was due mainly to the new technology it introduced. During the years without Star Wars films, its popularity was actually maintained by the successful extension of the universe into books and other media. As for Avatar, well, we’ll see how the new ones do without another major technological advance to draw in audiences.  

 Books and comic books are like a beta-testing ground for the movie studios. If a book can make millions, then a film version can make billions. But what always bothered me about this was: then why are there so few billion-dollar franchises? Why has nothing come along that has matched the popularity of Harry Potter or at least come close to it? Having been an author in that world and having received a three-book deal from HarperCollins for my series Scary School, which I thought stood a fair chance at becoming a phenomenon like Harry Potter, Goosebumps, or A Series of Unfortunate Events, what I learned is that it’s very difficult to create best-sellers without marketing dollars to support them, and publishers simply don’t have the capital to support most of what they publish.  

The marketing departments at publishing houses have a limited budget to work with, and if they have a celebrity or a big name author’s book coming out, those books are going to get most of the backing. Let’s just say that a company releases 500 books in a year and has a million dollars in marketing money to spend. Only fifty of those 500 books are written by the Stephen Kings, presidential candidates, and the big-name actors of the world, but those ten books are going to get about $900,000 of the million dollars. Is the remaining $100,000 divided evenly amongst the other 90 books in the catalogue? Unfortunately, not. What will most likely happen is that the marketing department will decide which one or two books has the best chance at becoming a breakthrough phenomenon, and all of the remaining marketing dollars go to those one or two books.  

 That leaves 448 books that a major publisher believed in enough that they purchased it from an agent and possibly even gave it a multi-book deal, but its success is completely dependent on the marketing abilities of the author or the wishful hope that word of mouth will carry it up the best-seller list.  

 I remember when Scary School was about to come out. I was so excited to receive the first galleys. On the back of the Advanced Reader Copy, the marketing plan was described in detail. It said the publisher would be sending out copies to critics and trade publications, and… that was about it. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then, I happened to glimpse a copy of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, the first in her popular The Grisha Trilogy. On the back an extensive marketing plan was detailed that included the figure of $100,000 that would be invested in its marketing.  

The book shot up to the top of the New York Times best-seller list and the series scored a lucrative movie deal, which is currently in development.  

 What shocked me the most was that it only took $100,000 to create that level of success, and while the quality of the writing also played a huge role, in my travels through the book circuit I have met countless authors with fantastic books who are equally deserving of that kind of marketing support, but were simply not lucky enough to be one of the chosen few to get it.  

 Another thing that strikes me is that while Bardugo’s books are extraordinarily popular and her name is widely known amongst the reading community, her books are not household names like Harry Potter as they probably deserve to be. If the marketing budget were a million as opposed to just $100,000, they probably would be. 

 Think about this: In order for a film to have even a chance at becoming a hit, there has to be at least a few million dollars put into its marketing. For most studio films, the figure is much higher and is a reflection of the overall budget. A $30 milllion dollar film will probably have a marketing budget of $5-$15 million. A $200 million dollar film may have a marketing budget of $100 million or more. Even if a movie performs negatively in the testing phase, its marketing budget may be limited, but rarely is a film left without any kind of budget at all. Sometimes marketing budgets are increased in anticipation of poor reviews to make up for it! If a movie were to receive zero marketing dollars, there is practically no hope of the film making even a million dollars in its release. It would be guaranteeing a huge money loss. And yet, that is what happens with 90% of books that are released by major publishers!  

I don’t blame the publishers for this at all. They are just trying to make the best use of their limited budgets to create the maximum return. The problem is just that they have such limited budgets.  

 Now here’s the part that nobody seems to have figured out… If the studios are dependent on the success of books to create their billion dollar franchises, why in the world aren’t they doing more to help create them? The studios are the ones that actually have marketing dollars to spend. That million dollars a publisher has to spend is equivalent to multi-billions that studios have. 

 If a studio like Warner Bros. were to take just a small portion of its marketing budget, say 10 million dollars, and strategically invest that into ten books that it has acquired the rights to, imagine how far those millions of dollars per book could go. Remember that it took just $100,000 to launch Leigh Bardugo’s series that has become one of the best-selling titles of the last decade. 

 Every studio should have a Book Development Department (BDD)That department would work closely with the major publishers and be equally involved in book acquisitions. They could be pitched books after they have been acquired by a publisher, or perhaps agents would even sneak them books before showing to a publisher to generate buzz and interest.  

The point is, the BDD would have a modest marketing budget. Let’s just use that 10 million dollar figure, and its entire purpose would be to find and nurture books and series that could attain a Harry Potter level of popularity, or as close as could ever come to it. Hunger Games certainly wasn’t on the same level of Harry Potter, but its broad appeal led to a multi-billion dollar film franchise. 

 If the BDD of this hypothetical studio is extremely picky and acquires just ten books per year, and just one of those ten books catches fire with the support of the marketing dollars and leads to a billion dollar three-film franchise, then the department has already paid for itself one hundred fold. 

 As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox corporation, and from what I gathered, there is not a lot of support in terms of their billions in revenue trickling down to the book division. Despite the natural overlap, it has not been put to full use as far as I can tell.  

 With every studio now in the game of acquiring book properties in their early stages and building on that growth to acquire more and more books, that’s just one way that we could see a major monetary boom for authors. But, that’s not the only way. 

Imagine this. There is no more Barnes and Noble. Suddenly we are in a landscape where Amazon is the only major book retailer and instead of placing large orders that can pay for authors’ advances, they order small amounts at a time and just reorder when those copies sell out. The big name authors and celebrities may not notice as much of a difference, but every new author will find themselves in a world where advances from publishers are insignificant to non-existent, even in cases of a bidding war.  

 In this scenario, I believe most publishing houses would be affected badly enough that mergers would begin to happen. We already saw this play out with the creation of Penguin-Random House. That was probably just the beginning. Publishers are going to merge with one another and then those mega-publishers are going to merge with the studios, similar to what happened with the NBC-Universal and ABC-Disney. We might see something akin to: Penguin-Random House-Netflix and Hachette-Amazon (their previous feud set aside) or Simon and Schuster and Apple.  

 Amazon has actually already launched Amazon Publishing and is using its massive coffers to lure successful authors with larger advances than are offered by the traditional publishers. We’ll see if this plays into an overall strategy similar to what I am describing and they begin creating film and TV based on properties they acquire and promote.  

 The publisher-studios need hit books to fuel their programming, because adaptions from hit novels with a built-in fanbases are not only a safer bet, they are all but required for blockbusters.  
Just as the advent of streaming services led to a boom in TV and film and production, so will it lead to a boom in book acquisition and development once the imminent mergers happen.  

Books are such a small investment in comparison to acquiring films and TV shows, the publisher-studios will gobble them up because it is inexpensive intellectual property, and if just one in a thousand books they acquire becomes a popular film or TV series, there is a substantial overall profit.  

 I’m guessing that the publisher-studios may also elect to become the primary retailers and no longer go through Amazon. If they already own the film and TV rights, they may even elect to create the film/TV production first and then keep all the residual profits from the book sales that result. 

 However, the interesting thing with this model is that it’s not really about the profit. It’s about hitting every available demographic. If the studios can get more eyeballs coming to their service that like to read everything from romance novels, to steampunk to sci-fi, to thrasher horror, to historical horse fiction, a book could be considered a “success” if it brings them that specific audience and keeps them subscribing to the service, rather than if it sells X amount of copies and earns back its advance.  

 In this scenario, many more authors would be getting book deals, and most likely at advance levels that would match the “good old days”, when it was a safe bet the major book retailers would order 30,000 or more books upon its release.  

 And yes, I do foresee similar situations to what we have right now where, let’s say, the publisher-studios acquire 5,000 books per year (spread across target ages and genres) and only 500 end up receiving the bulk of marketing dollars, leaving 4,500 books to exist solely for their purpose of hitting a specific audience, however, compared to the 500 books per year and 50 books that received support, this is still a massive gold rush for authors who before who were struggling to find support for their work or whose work was considered too “niche” to appeal to a mass audience. The big publishers hate niche. I know from experience. Netflix LOVES niche. It needs niche. All the niche authors will finally find a home for their work where it can be appreciated and reach a wider audience. 

 With other content providers like Amazon, Hulu, Apple, Youtube, Yahoo, and the major film studios following Netflix’s lead, it won’t be long before they realize that books are the true conduit to launching the billion-dollar franchises they need to come out on top. I believe every author out there should be preparing to “head West” when the gold rush begins with content that can fill every possible niche that will need to be filled, while all the other authors who have bought into the doom and gloom prophecies of the publishing industry and have given up on their writing are the ones who are going to be stuck east of Rockies.  

Derek Taylor Kent is the author of the Scary School series published by HarperCollins, El Perro con Sombrero from Holt/Macmillan, and Kubrick’s Game from Evolved. He recently founded the children’s brand Whimsical World, with his wife, #1 best-selling author Sheri Fink. His latest middle-grade novel, Principal Mikey, was released through Whimsical World. You can follow them @DerekTaylorKent and @Sheri_Fink on Twitter and Instagram. Their websites are, and  

Win a copy of Principal Mikey!
Derek Taylor Kent has generously offered one copy for one winner: a hard copy if the winner is in the US or an ebook for an international winner.
-open to everyone 
(US winner: hard copy OR international winner: ebook)
-ends 6/24/18
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-word spelunking is not responsible for lost, damaged, or stolen prizes

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Danielle H. said...

This sounds like a fun book that is also "sneaky" with the educational stuff. Great cover too!

John Smith said...

The author's insights into the publishing world are fascinating. It's nice that there are some "upsides" with mega-corporations, but I still find lax antitrust enforcement depressing!

Dan Denman said...

I like the fun, colorful book cover. I am excited to read this to see just what Mikey gets up to.