The Eleven Axioms of 21st Century Book Publishing

1 – All publishers are information engines, not producers of objects

2 – A book is no longer a thing in itself

3 – Connections between books add value to all books

4 – A non-fiction book is only the beginning of its story

5 – Even fiction books connect to all other books

6 – A book’s deep metadata is worth more than the book itself

7 – Every dollar invested in deep metadata is worth a hundred dollars in future sales

8 – A book’s function dictates its file container

9 – Readers are no longer passive customers

10 – Readers sell more books than any publisher

11 – To see only today is to forfeit tomorrow

26 Responses to The Eleven Axioms of 21st Century Book Publishing

  1. laura says:

    Excellent. As I read these, I find that the word "book" seems out of place. Maybe we need to find another name for written works in the 21st century.

  2. Mike Cane says:

    I used the term "book" on purpose. It still has a respect that "eBook" lacks.

  3. Kat Meyer says:

    great post, Mike! books connected to other books, as well as other information and media sources will be awesome.

  4. Neil Anderson says:

    Exactly! Succinct post.

  5. Fiona Joseph says:

    Hi. I think that No 10 has always been true but Word of Mouth is powered now more than it ever has been. As for No 4, it may be that a non-fiction book is the middle part of the story, i.e. not the end OR the beginning, but sitting somewhere in between.
    Good points to think about – thanks!

  6. Fogbound says:

    The list is great. I have two books ready to publish and for the first time my main focus will be on online publishing. Then I'll consider print publishing. Things have changed alot and are still changing.

  7. Kimberly Davis says:

    This was a great post, and boiled down a lot of what I've learned over the past year since I started Kim's Craft Blog. These bullet points were very cryptic and "zen," but start to point the way towards how I need to apply what I've learned to my own writing. I feel like I need to think about my writing much more the way I think about my blogging, if that makes sense.

  8. Dean says:

    Do authors have a place in 21st century book publishing? No mention of them in these axioms . . .

  9. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Do authors have a place in 21st century book publishing? No mention of them in these axioms . . .

    That's because it was addressed solely to publishers.

  10. Anonymous says:

    these "axioms" are jargon-laden marketing by another pseudo who hides behind obscurity and misuse of scientific or mathematical terminology — the "deep" meta-takeaway is "BS".

    the anti_supernaturalist

  11. Mike Cane says:

    >>>these "axioms" are jargon-laden marketing by another pseudo who hides behind obscurity and misuse of scientific or mathematical terminology — the "deep" meta-takeaway is "BS".

    You'd do better not to parrot the constipated bleatings of a temporary and very minor celebrity who within five years will be best known as "Who?" Or, indeed, are YOU he?

  12. Sean says:

    2 things:

    Authors are obviously a huge part of these axioms, implied though it may be. They provide the raw materials, there is no industry without them, let's move on.

    As for the anonymous comments, I've never understood why someone with something to say on a thread like this doesn't have the courage of their convictions to put their real name down?

    Cyber courage is meaninglessness.

    The 11 Axoims are designed – to my mind – to provoke thought and discussion and to kind of itemize some of the changes that we are seeing in book publishing.

    Not only does 'anonymous' not have the nuts to stand and be counted but he hides his mediocre ideas behind flimsy language.

    Come again, anonymous, this time with 2 things: your real name and some real ideas.

  13. Satchi says:

    Liked 4 and 10.The distance between fiction and non-fivtion is anyeway wearing off fast, esp, autobiography and fiction, look at JMCoetzee’s recent works, Boyhood, Youth, Elizabeth Costello, The Diary of a Bad Year and Summertime: autobiographical, yet fictional in mode…Liked them for that.Even in Slowman and Disgrace there are elements of autobiography…
    And yes, this proved no 10.. I am recommending these books as their reader to anyone who cares.

  14. A thought-provoking list: although I’d like to be enlightened as to what ‘metadata’ is. And no reason why we shouldn’t use ‘book’ for centuries to come. A ‘book’ is simply a permutation of subject matter, length, style, text, graphics, that isn’t a ‘pamphlet’, ‘essay’, ‘dissertation’, ‘brochure’, etc. All can be presented on paper, vdu screen, electronic reader and goodness knows what other display media the future may hold. How you look at it doesn’t alter what it is.

  15. I agree that calling yourself ‘anonymous’ when you can assume any name online seems odd. I can only assume ‘anonymous’ is making some point that I’m missing. I wonder if ‘anonymous’ simply fails to understand some of your terminology – like me, I’m afraid. I’ve no idea what ‘deep metadata’ is. All this is way beyond my limited understanding. I’ll stick to writing stories. The real world is far too complicated for me! No, wait a minute – we’re talking about virtual world, aren’t we? Or should that be writing about the virtual world . . . time I withdrew quietly, in total confusion (my normal state).

  16. Lucy Edge says:

    I am fascinated but I need help!
    What is deep metadata?
    Could you write a little more beneath each header? I would love to know more.
    Thank you

  17. Yeah, metadata caught my eye as well. I’m in the process of expanding my work into a “multimedia novel,” a literary-audio-visual mashup, which works organically, I think, because the story involves a lot of musical references. So far I’ve set up a YouTube playlist on a Web site to serve as a soundtrack to the narrative. I also plan to create an original-music CD and video interpretations of various scenes to augment the text. Is all of this metadata?

  18. paul gannon says:

    What is metadata? What does any of it mean? Do the people saying it is a wonderful set of ‘axioms’ have any better understanding of the meaning of it all than me? Do they imagine these empty slogans have the same meaning to them as to their ‘author’? Does the author, indeed, know what it means? And if he/she does, why write in a way that hides any meaning? Or does it matter? If any old, geekish sounding puff gets adulation, what’s the point of meaning?

  19. […] eBook Test has a list of 11 axioms in publishing today. Many of those axioms are about […]

  20. james barclay says:

    The only things a writer need know are:

    1. The book must be presented in such a way that the little assistant editor will actually pick it up and read some of it.
    2. Don’t be boring and use good punctuation. No one gives fig about spelling these days.
    3. Convince the publishers they can make a huge amount of bucks with your book. Content be damned.
    4. Do what the publicist says and just be there for the interviews, signings and other stuff.
    5. Have another work in the mill. ‘One book deals’ are fairytale contracts, illegal, immoral or unhealthy.

  21. james barclay says:

    Any writer who tells you he or she does not write for the money- is a liar.

  22. mikecane says:

    I hope the people here in the Comments who have been asking for a clarification/expansion of “metadata” are not employed in print publishing. If you are, you are FAIL.

    There are other posts here where I go into some more detail about metadata. To see them, there is this nifty METADATA CATEGORY at the right side of the blog. A simple click of that will bring up those posts. You don’t even have to go to the extreme effort of typing m-e-t-a-d-a-t-a into the Search box at the TOP RIGHT of this blog.

    Not making any effort = FAIL. And if you are in print publishing, start looking at yourself and your intolerance for expending any effort as the primary cause of that industry’s continued death spiral.

    The Root Of Why Print Is Dying

  23. Calvin Reid says:

    I like most of this list. But I believe a good book, fiction on nonfiction, IS a thing in itself. It may be a thing–even a digital thing–that has aspects and facets but I still believe good books are little monuments to themselves. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t connect beyond itself as well.

    Metadata is terrifically important but I don’t believe its more important than an important book. Although clearly, metadata is key in actually being able to find the book.

    otherwise, good and prescient list.

  24. Ted Treanor says:

    Metadata has been and is *one* of the many weaknesses in in publishing. It is not surprising that many of the readers do not understand the meaning of ‘metadata’, which is information about the book. A primary use of metadata is to help to distribute, market, merchandise, connect to find and sell content.

    B&N and Ingram metadata managers regularly express their dismay for the lack of quality metadata coming from publishers. These distributors and booksellers must employ metadata cleaners to add and correct basic book marketing information, to help their publishers. Guess we need to better understand how metadata helps sell more books.

    Yes, Ted Treanor is my real name.

  25. mikecane says:

    @Ted: That’s basically catalog/distribution information. See my others posts for what I mean.

  26. A movie has a beginning, a middle and an end. It is filmed storytelling with visions and nuances of the writer, directors, editors, etc.

    To change it to a bovie or kovie is absurd. A book is a book however it is delivered. There are distinct neurological challenges and benefits to reading so I’d tend to cautiously include audio books.

    The reality is and will be for some time that printed matter has distinct benefits. For one it is hard to be turned off by We are all aware of the arguments now about delivery methods so I would suggest that there will be a place for multiple formats on a case-by-case basis or hybrid like those at

    I will never forget that some of the biggest publishers in the world told us only 5 years ago, and I do quote… “We’re not even sure if the internet will still be around.”

    I agree with most of this list although I’d have to add that I’ve been listening to such arguments since December of 2002. Little has changed. Even then we knew there would be reading devices. What I’m really excited about is the potential positive environmental impact.

    Something like 180,000 new titles published in the U.S. last year of which only 30,000 to 50,000 had any merit. If most of those end up as e-books and or on-demand…awesome! Lot’s of carbon savings.

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