Consolidating the Traditional Publishing Industry: What Will This Mean for Authors?

Penguin Random House parent company Bertelsmann announced on November 25 that they will be purchasing Simon & Schuster for $2.175 billion, further consolidating the “Big Five” trade publishers into the “Big Four.” The deal will create what many are already calling a “megapublisher.” What does this mean for current and future authors?


Deal or no deal
The merger between PRH and S&S will likely take about a year to close, and many have concerns about whether the deal will go through due to possible legal issues. The Authors Guild released a statement criticizing the potential increase of PRH’s market share, which would rise to between 18.4% and 33% of all book units sold if the merger is completed. They have called on the Justice Department to challenge the deal and all future consolidation between publishing houses. The Guild was joined by the American Booksellers Association and the Association of American Literary Agents, both of which noted the loss of a traditional publishing choice for many authors.


What stays the same
While critics of the deal have been vocal about the way it will change traditional publishing, there are some constants authors can expect.

Retaining Core Identity. PRH CEO Markus Dohle stated that the company has previously demonstrated its ability to “successfully unite company cultures and prestigious publishing teams while preserving each imprint’s identity and independence,” referring to the merger of Penguin and Random House in 2013. Editorial autonomy will remain with each imprint’s publisher, so it is possible little change could trickle down to authors.


What changes
Many authors are wary of the PRH-S&S deal based on the history of consolidation in traditional publishing.

Lower Advances. With fewer competitors, PRH-S&S is more likely to acquire the books it wants for a lower advance. Imprints under the same parent company often don’t bid against one another, so the merged company has less incentive to offer higher advances to authors as there will be fewer imprints competing in auctions. Lower competition and fewer bids for authors mean smaller advances.

Less Diversity of Books. Different publishing houses choose to publish different projects. With fewer voices in traditional publishing, the range of published books will become more homogenous. Big Five publishers are more likely to focus on acquiring fewer books that are sure to sell, offering higher advances to secure those deals rather than taking many chances on “riskier” deals by debut authors. This trend has not gone unnoticed. An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times noted this merger comes at a moment where diversity in America is a focus, and an op-ed in The Atlantic raised concerns about preserving democracy through the diversity of thought. The Association of American Literary Agents echoed this in their statement by arguing the deal will “diminish the diversity of viewpoints and the vibrancy so essential to the future of books.” If a lack of diversity ensues, even more authors will be excluded from traditional publishing avenues.


What does this ultimately mean for authors?
It will likely become more difficult for authors to secure a traditional publishing deal in an already-competitive market. Professional writer and publishing industry commentator Josh Bernoff argues that “basically, as an author, you have to take more responsibility than ever before for your own books.” If the merger goes through, pursuing traditional publication through a Big Five publisher may be a less attractive option for authors. Authors may turn to alternative publishing options such as:

Independent Presses. Indie presses may give more time and attention to each author even if they can’t promise a big advance.

Self-Publishing. Promising total creative control, self-publishing is an option for the author who is willing to produce the book themselves in totality in order to retain full creative freedom.

Hybrid Publishing. Hybrid publishing bridges the gap between traditional and self-publishing, and appeals to authors who want the guidance of publishing experts yet have the final say on their book.


Whether or not the Bertelsmann acquisition of Simon & Schuster will go through remains to be seen. The merger of two large traditional publishers has drawn attention and speculation as to what it means for the future of publishing. What’s certain, though, is that the future of alternative publishing options has never looked brighter for authors of all genres.




As the CEO at
Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books, Naren Aryal is a recognized publishing industry expert. Naren advises authors, thought leaders, and various organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving publishing world. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single children’s book in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Mascot Books publishes hundreds of books a year across all genres, and Amplify Publishing is a leading nonfiction imprint specializing in “big ideas” from some of the most reputable names in business and politics.

Naren frequently speaks at publishing and business events about the importance of developing compelling content and a robust author platform. He is also the author of How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform.

Prior to entering the world of books, Naren worked as a lawyer, advising technology companies in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and Juris Doctor from University of Denver.

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How to Deal with Crippling Self-Doubt: Advice for Authors

By Josh Bernoff

This post originally appeared on WithoutBullshit.com, an excellent resource for writers, editors, and marketers written by bestselling author Josh Bernoff.  View the original post in its entirety here and follow Josh on Twitter (@jbernoff), Facebook (@bernoffwobs), and LinkedIn for more wisdom on writing, editing, publishing, and business news.


Every nonfiction author feels it. That moment when you think “I can’t do this. I am not an author. I am helpless. I can’t move forward.”

That’s crippling self-doubt. It’s so common, it deserves an acronym. CSD.

Do you suffer from CSD?

Please have hope. ’m here to help.

First, here’s what doesn’t help

This is not a cheery post.

I’m not going to pay you on the shoulder and say “You got this. You can do it.”

Your friends may do that. It doesn’t help. Because the thing about CSD is: it is crippling, and it’s justified.

You feel CSD because you are not making progress. You feel it because you don’t know what to do. You feel it because the tasks ahead of you fill you with dread.

(Sorry, I know that’s depressing, but what the heck, you’re already depressed.)

Your well-meaning friends don’t understand. You don’t need cheering up. You need help.

If you want, go out drinking with them. You might enjoy that. Sure, your writing problems will still be there in the morning, but your mood might be lighter. (If you follow this strategy repeatedly, you might have a different problem.)

Here’s the thing about CSD. You might be right.

You might not have the stamina to be a writer.

You might not want it enough.

You might not really have anything to say.

If you read those words and agree, then I’ve solved your problem. Give up on writing. Do something else.

But if you read those words and object — “I really want this! And I certainly have something to say!” — then you are a writer. You’re just stuck right now.

Let’s take on one more objection. Do you have the talent?

Each of us writers, at some point, asks “Do I have the talent to do this?”

That’s a dumb question, mate. Because talent isn’t a prerequisite.

You write by typing words. If you you can do that, you can be a writer.

If the words are the wrong words, in the wrong order, in the wrong structure, then you need an editor. The editor will help you sort out what’s wrong. You’ll address their suggestions. And then it will be better.

Talent doesn’t enter into it. Talent just means you know how to take your experience and apply it to make writing that sounds better.

How do you get experience? By writing. So stop worrying about talent. It’s not something you can address (except by writing more).

So what should you do?

The biggest challenge in writing is that people start with writing. The biggest challenge is that people start with writing.

There are 20 different tasks you need to do before you start to write. If you skip some, then your writing will suck. You’ll feel CSD. And it won’t help.

Your CSD makes you feel you can’t write. So what should you do?

Don’t write.

Do one of these tasks (all of which you can do easily, even with CSD):

  • Talk about your book or chapter with some friends. Get some perspective.
  • Write a speech and build a set of slides about your book or chapter.
  • Draw a diagram on a whiteboard. Get some friends to help.
  • Do research. Do lots of research. Find articles about what you’re writing about. Clip useful bits out of those articles and put them in a bin — a big word or Google Docs file, or into Scrivener of Evernote if you use those.
  • Find people to interview. Email them or send a Linked In message or contact their PR staff. Get them on the phone and learn their stories.
  • Take a walk. Think about your chapter without sitting in front of a keyboard.
  • Rearrange the stuff in your bin of research into an order that roughly seems like a story.
  • Write two pages based on the stuff in bin. Write two more. You can do two pages, can’t you?
  • Write a terrible draft, filled with repetition and poor turns of phrase and fragments and passive voice. Experience CSD. Don’t show the shitty draft to anyone. But eat a cookie or however you reward yourself for completing something.
  • A few days later, read the terrible draft in the cold light of day and figure out what might make it better. Then revise it. Turning something into something better is possible, even with CSD.

Every one of those tasks are work that writers do. They don’t worry about whether they’re suffering CSD. They just do them.

Carpenters don’t have CSD, they just identify the tools and supplies they need, acquire them, and get to work.

Chefs don’t have CSD, they just assemble the ingredients, prepare them, and only then start cooking.

Writers have CSD, but they don’t need to. Do those other tasks for a while, assemble your content, write a shitty draft, and then make it better. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually, the crippling self doubt will recede and you’ll be working. And next time you’ll be able to do more without so much worrying.

If this works, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.


Josh bernoff author photoJosh Bernoff has been a professional writer since 1982 and co-authored the bestselling book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (HBR Press, 2008), a groundbreaking book on social media that’s sold 150,000 copies worldwide. Josh is most recently the author of Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean (HarperBusiness, 2016) and has co-authored two other business books.

Josh was an analyst, senior vice president, and frequent public speaker at the renowned research and consulting firm Forrester Research for twenty years, following fourteen years as an executive in Boston-area startup companies. He has edited four books and works frequently with authors on book ideas and book proposals. His daily blog on writing, withoutbullshit.com, has generated two million views in just over two years.

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