Saturday, 12 July 2014

Authors vs Publishers

These days publishers seem to be attracting a lot of adverse criticism. This could be due to growing numbers of self-published authors expressing their disappointment with traditional publishing houses who have rejected their work. But this week even the Society of Authors have thrown their august weight behind the attack. "Traditional Publishing Is 'No Longer Fair Or Sustainable', Says Society Of Authors."
I have the utmost respect for the Society of Authors who have offered me invaluable support on more than one occasion. When I was an agentless author, the Society acted promptly and expertly to protect the interests of a vulnerable member. For that I will always remain in their debt. But it does strike me as more than coincidence that they should throw their weight behind the anti-publishers lobby after they began accepting self-published authors as members. Fair enough, they want to support the views of self-published authors, but isn't this a little one-sided? 
So I'd like to set the record straight, if I may, by putting the case for the much-criticised publisher. 
Not only am I (apparently) in the top 10% or so of authors because I earn a very decent living from writing fiction, but I am - oh heresy! - very happy indeed with my publisher. Yes, I could gripe about a long list of things he doesn't do. I have been known to dash off the occasional stroppy email to him. But we resolve our occasional differences because producing a book is a team effort, where we work together to our mutual benefit. Yes, I'm making a handsome income from my writing, but I work hard to earn my living. And yes, my publisher is also making a lot of money from my books. 
You might think that because I write the books, I alone should benefit from the proceeds. But writing is all I do. The list of what my publisher does do for me is huge, as is the list of what he pays for. He provides me with: a topnotch editor, proof readers, an efficient production manager whose serenity under pressure is second to none, a production team, jacket designer, sales team, publicist, distributor, ISBN numbers, ebooks everywhere around the world. He sells the rights and has my books translated into French, German, Italian, Turkish, published with Harper Collins in the US, published in audio, large print... 
Do I need to go on, when the point is surely made? If I were to deal with all those areas myself it would be a full-time job for about six people, each with various areas of expertise. And some of what my publisher does, like the sales of foreign rights, I don't believe I could even begin to tackle for myself. 
So yes, you could say my publisher makes money out of 'my' books, and in a way you would be right. But that is a gross misrepresentation of what really happens. Because I only write the books; my publisher does everything else. And, let's face it, writing the books is the fun part!
Who really has the best of the deal? 





22 comments:

Val Ewing said...

You are getting a good deal, I've never dealt with a publisher though so I have nothing to compare that to.

Who else could help make sure that we, the lucky public get to find your books and read them?

Leigh Russell said...

Glad you agree, Val!

Leigh Russell said...

Bernard - what do you think? (I'm not sure if your previous comment was intended as a response to this post...?)

Ralph Spurrier said...

Leigh, you are lucky in being with No Exit Press, a relatively small publisher which can concentrate on a small number of authors (Iain would, I hope, agree!) and together with your own hard work on FB and elsewhere have established your name as a presence in the bookshops and on-line. Having said that the internet and social media have transformed the way authors and publishers get to their "market". Prior to this revolution many authors (even those with No Exit Press) took their chances in the bookshops. With the big publishers having more muscle and, one might argue, stronger "names" on their lists space for authors from smaller publishers was very limited.
Now, the author can play a much bigger part in getting his/her book stocked/read because you have a direct line to the readers which never existed before social media. Its hard work and takes a lot of time, time that some might argue diminishes that which is available for your creative writing. Well, if an author isn't being read then there's little point in continue to write hence, in my view, the necessity to blog, self-promote and generally schmooze with the potential readers.
Bookshops: the demise of the independents is the result of many prevailing forces. Top of the list is an historically inadequate gross profit margin (25% at worst - 45% at best). With overheads the net profit could easily cut this down into single figures or negative. Buoyancy of sales kept shops afloat but once the publishers began to put all the eggs in one basket by preferring the multiples (WHS, Waterstones, Borders, Dillons etc) and offering substantially bigger discounts for quantity then the writing was on the wall for the independents. The removal of Retail Price Maintenance began discounting but the independents, already scraping along on low net profit, couldn't afford to join in. More trade lost to the big chains. Along comes Amazon and holes the publishing world below the waterline by demanding and getting even bigger discounts. Borders, Dillons and other chains go bust and Waterstones almost follow. Publishers must bear a lot of the blame for the decline in bookshops in the UK by ignoring the fate of independents and how much it costs to keep the doors of a shop open. I'm afraid the die is well and truly cast. Where it will end I have no idea.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes - there's been far too much chasing of short term profit, and far too little thought for what really matters. Look at Waterstones selling kindles to get a fast buck in the short term. Of course Waterstones are safe, being kept afloat by a Russian patron throwing millions at them - let's hope for their sake he doesn't bail out... whrere, indeed, will it all end? Hopefully with stories, not tears, at bedtime...
Thanks for commenting, Ralph.

Leigh Russell said...

Not sure I agree about it being easier for independent publishers these days, Ralph. When I started in 2009/2010 it was quite easy for a new author, and by 2012/2013 a modest midlist author, to get into Waterstones. Now they are far more interested in big names and 'celebs' - a sound business decision, I daresay, but sad all the same. It's a reflection of our culture when our sole surviving bookshop chain is rescued for the price of a mediocre footballer, some £56million pounds. Where will it all end indeed?

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I don't belong to societies of authors, although I have many published author friends. I create novels from start to finish, and Amazon is my marketplace. Your anecdotal story of success and complete happiness with your publishing experience is wonderful... for you. I would remind you that your premise in the last post was 'real' authors' wages are going down because of the plethora of new self-published authors. My comments were not meant to bash anyone. I addressed your concern of dropping wages as a competitive marketplace adjustment: Amazon and self-publishing - the fact being neither one is going away, and it will be mainstream publishing that will have to change or they will fade away. I welcome the changes.

Sally Wragg said...

I think your article is very interesting and thought provoking, Leigh. I've had experience of having a book published by a publishing company and in self publishing. I have enjoyed the experience of self publishing, from writing through to editing, book cover and down loading onto Amazon Kindle. I've discovered that editing, for instance, is a totally different process from writing and I'm sure that's improved my writing in the long run, forcing me to confront my errors before they went into print. Though I'm very pleased with the finished product, however, I'm bound to think that professional editing would have resulted in a better book. I was very lucky because when I needed help, as with creating the book cover and then coping with the complicated procedure of downloading onto Amazon Kindle, a member of my family was able to step in and do the necessary. Where I've really struggled and where I think publishing companies win hands down, is in marketing and reaching an audience. I haven't been able to reach a big enough audience to my mind and that's been very frustrating. I wouldn't have missed the experience of self-publishing because its taught me a lot but I am pleased that my book's sequel is to be published by a publishing company, leaving me free to concentrate on writing. I do wonder with the sheer volume of books self published encourages, if we're not making it too difficult for our work to be heard.

Leigh Russell said...

I have to say I'm in awe of people who do self-publish - I wouldn't know what to do or where to begin. To be honest, I wouldn't bother. But there are plenty of IT literate writers who do just that, and I take my hat off to them. Congratulations on finding a publisher - it really does pay off, in my opinion. And yes, I do think the proliferation of authors, particularly of ebooks, is making it very difficult for any new authors to be discovered. I feel sorry for the new authors coming along trying to make their way on their own. It's a tough call.

Leigh Russell said...

Sadly, I think that many self-published authors will struggle to find readers, just as many traditionally published authors do, Bernard. Perhaps we all need to write less, and read more! It's tough, and very hard to earn a living from writing fiction. I keep waiting for my bubble to burst - I expect it will, one day. Anyway, good luck to you, I have a lot of admiration for people who self-publish. I wouldn't know where to begin, and to be honest, it's not something that would appeal to me in the slightest. I just want to write the books and am happy to leave everything else to other people to do for me. As Sally says, it leaves me free to concentrate on writing. That takes up enough time, on its own! Perhaps I'm just slow.

Gordon Brice said...

You have been very fair in commenting, Leigh and it does sound as if the quality of the publisher makes all the difference. In a way it has the round robin effect. The writer creates a story.....not without some stress, I should add.....the publisher if he is top quality, does all the things that you have mentioned, giving the writer the opportunity to create more stories for the publisher to promote etc etc. It is very much a case of teamwork and, if both are experts in their field, it should prove very fruitful for both sides......and the readers of course.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

You're not slow, Leigh. No writer writes and creates at the same pace. I write because I can't imagine a time without storytelling. That I now have a readership for a passion I have been pursuing for decades is icing on the cake. I would never give up my storytelling because of sales.

No chore associated with the creation of my novels turns me off, nor have they limited my writing ability or my enjoyment of reading. I'm sorry that if you were required to do some aspects of novel creation you would stop writing, but as I said we're not all the same. I wouldn't quit writing for any reason under the sun.

Leigh Russell said...

I do try to be fair, Gordon, but there are so many sides to this issue, that it's hard to avoid stepping on any toes in expressing an opinion. (And of course I wouldn't dream of being deliberately controversial just to start a discussion on such an important topic... ) But you're right, it's a case of teamwork - writer, publisher, and most important of all, reader. We really should all be writing less and reading more!

Leigh Russell said...

I can't ever envisage stopping writing, Bernard. In fact, I can't go a day without writing, which is why it is such a blessing to be able to write full-time. But I honestly don't think I could be bothered to try and publish my own writing myself. Why would I? I'm not a publisher and that side of things doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. Maybe I'm a one trick pony, but publishing just doesn't sound like my bag at all. It would be far too complicated for me, and life is too short. Writing does not necessarily mean being published. I write because, as the great William McIllvaney said, 'it's an inexplicable compulsion'. Whether my stories are published or not is kind of irrelevant, really, when I'm in the story - apart from the wonderful bonus of buying me time to write, of course. So please keep buying my books, everyone, so that my publisher keeps publishing them, and I can just write! That's my game, Bernard, pure and simple.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

If your publisher stops, send your manuscript to me. I'll get it published for you. :)

Derek Thompson said...

Hi Leigh, an interesting post there and some interesting comments. I think everyone can only speak from their own experience and you'll get different views from published and self-published authors, I'm not sure what the rationale was for the SoA welcoming self-published authors to their ranks - it could be a recognition that some 'selfies' who enjoy success will go on to be traditionally published, or it could be that they wanted to swell their ranks and coffers.

I think the real issue, which you've alluded to previously, is that not everyone can be published or, let's be frank, ought to be published. There are only so many seats on the top table for any profession. Technology may have democratised a version of the publication process, but it can't change mathematics! Publishers have limited resources and they have to make choices based upon a number of factors including economic viability.

I agree that some criticisms of publishers are unfounded or based on ignorance (although the publisher who took over a year to get back to me wasn't exactly flying the flag for the industry!).

There are no guarantees, no rights to be published and, frankly, no guarantees for authors or publishers alike even once you are published. Writers write and publishers publish. And we're all, generally, just doing our best!

Leigh Russell said...

The change is that these days everybody CAN be published, even if they publish themselves (and it still intrigues me why anyone would want to do that). Yes, there are publishers who take far too long to respond to submissions, although these days I don't think most publishers accept unsolicited submissions, but everything has to go through agents? But you're right, Derek, there are no guarantees.

Leigh Russell said...

I don't know if that would work out financially for either of us, Bernard, but I'll certainly approach you first if I can't find a publisher, and thank you very much for the offer. You never know! As Derek said, there are no guarantees, and I'm only signed with my publisher until 2017...

Anna Jaocbs said...

Good article, Leigh. I've been published by one of the major publishers (Hodder/Hachette) since 1993 and the fact that I've stayed with them shows how I feel about them. They aren't perfect - but then, neither am I. They have good will and relevant expertise to bring to our partnership. So do I. Those are the main things to maintaining a partnership, I think.

Like Leigh, I prefer to write and after 67 novels published, I produce enough books per annum to write for two other publishers. My husband has also published the 20 or so backlist books to which I have the rights back, so I've tried both ways of publishing. I prefer to have a good publisher and get on with my story telling.

I don't see why we need to be at loggerheads about how to get published. It's not an either/or, but which way suits an author and a certain type of story, surely?

Leigh Russell said...

I couldn't agree.with you more, Anna. I do think publishers have come under a lot of criticism lately, and wanted to put the other side of the case, in their defence. My publishers aren't perfect either, but neither am I, and they certainly bring good will and a lot of relevant expertise to the partnership. Those of us with publishers are happy to just write our books, but we're all different, and some writers are happy to do all the associated tasks as well. Hopefully there's room for all in a rapidly expanding pool, and there is an argument for offering readers almost unlimited choice. Thank you for commenting, Anna. I'm off to look up your books and will probably start at the beginning. Plenty to read!

Anna Jacobs said...

I hope you enjoy my books, Leigh. I write historical and modern novels, and I used to write fantasy as Shannah Jay. I enjoy the variety.

You might enjoy the Traders series, set in the UK, Singapore and Western Australia in the 1860s and 70s.

Happy writing! I'll have to check out your books, too.

Leigh Russell said...

Sounds interesting, Anna. What a great way to meet a new author (new to me, that is). I'd love to be able to write historical crime but I'm not a historian and the research would probably consume all my time once I started... and I still have two MSs a year to deliver. Of course the disadvantage of writing 'contemporary' crime is that you can never really keep up with all the forensic - and technological - developments. No sooner is a book published than it's out-of-date. Historical novels, on the other hand, are never out-of-date. That's how things were at that time.