Brave new world of publishing

Yesterday morning I decided to step away from the desk and join the Geneva Writers Group to listen to three literary agents – Ayesha Pande, Oliver Munson and Nicola Barr – talk about the current state of the publishing industry. I was really curious to see what the prospects are for non-published writers. There were a couple of articles recently trying to convince people that writing cannot be considered a “real” occupation as the chances to strike gold are bleak, to put it mildly. Although the three agents weren’t as straightforward – or cruel – to put it that way, they didn’t sugar-coat the fact that, especially since the economic crisis (2009, that magical year), publishers are taking fewer risks.

The agents also emphasised how much the industry has changed, especially in the United States -which is still the biggest publishing market in the world. Publishers expect a lot more from writers than they did before: the manuscript must be as close to perfect as possible. Authors also must take responsibility for their careers: they need to understand their market and their audience, they must be social media savvy, and they must be competent in promoting their own work, leaving publishers in charge of production and distribution. Having a zillion followers on Twitter might be an advantage in the eyes of the publisher, while the agent is in it for the actual quality of your work. Writing a book without a clear genre, for instance, can be dangerous unless the author finds a hook and an agent who believes in the book’s potential. And even if you are lucky enough to get published, your book must sell more than 25,000 copies – the number which provides the publisher with a clean ROI. If you don’t hit that number, you’re unlikely to have a second one published no matter how amazing the second book might be compared to the first one. Which is a shame, because it means books might no longer excel as much as they could.

Unless, of course, you publish it yourself. But with so many self-published works out there (thank you, Amazon.com), the author’s chances of being discovered are, well… they’re not that great. And taking into account that you need to pay good money for the editing and copywriting, formatting, and the cover design, it might also end up becoming a time-consuming and expensive enterprise. However, there is an up-side: by taking over this process, you have full control over the final product which can be very empowering and very motivating.

Economically, the odds are against the publishers. And that means they’re also against the authors. But it’s not all bad news because recently this situation has caused a rise of independent publishers, especially in the US, which go for “mid-list” authors. And of course, the ultimate silver lining is that people are still buying books.

So what does that mean for me and the manuscript I’m trying to CPR into life?

We’ve got some thinking to do…

Thank you so much for reading, and have a lovely Sunday!

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3 comments on “Brave new world of publishing

  1. EJ Biz says:

    Thank you for this insightful story Brigitte. Where there any references to the odds improving for publishing a series of books in a sort of collection (non-fiction or even fiction)? I imagine that with collections, there can be “economies of scale” in terms of carrying out promotional activities. Thus there is more attractiveness… In other words, authors must have a clear medium-to-long term plan regarding where they are trying to go with their writing…

    • brightaylor says:

      Hi Eugene! Thank you very much for reading, and for your message. They didn’t mention if it was easier to approach a publisher with a collection or series of books; but they did use the example of one author who approached one of them with four finished novels, which were superbly written. In this case, they could approach a publisher with a publishing plan, and it turned out for the better for the author.

  2. Ed Mercer says:

    I believe you are both right and wrong when you state that economically, the odds are against the publishers and therefore also against the authors. I might sound like an anarcho-cyberpunk when I say this, but books and music will soon break free from the shackles of publishing houses and spring eternal from the authors to the consumers without hindrance from middlemen straight of of the dark ages of physical distribution. Movies will too, eventually, but the economies of scale in motion picture are a lot harder to attain for self-distributing authors than in books.
    So march on, unimpeded, write your book, worry not about dinosaurs and their swan songs. The publishers shall perish, the authors will live on.

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