Dear Publishers, Signed (You)

photo by Matt E
photo by Matt E

This is not an April Fools post. But for any office workers out there, I hope you keep tabs on your mouse and question any blue screens of death that might appear while you’re away from your desk.

I’ve had some interesting correspondence lately with folks in the publishing industry. Not my publisher, not anyone associated with The Moon Sisters. These folks asked to pick my brain about what authors feel about the current state of traditional publishing.

Why me? Because of you. Because of Writer Unboxed.

If things progress, I’ll reveal everything down the road, but for now I want to talk. With you. Because I’m only one author, and we are many, and if I move ahead with this I want to represent all of us.

If you had the opportunity to talk directly to folks in publishing, and be heard, what would you want to say? What works in traditional publishing today? What’s fractured or broken or lost? And most importantly, if something isn’t working, what might be done to fix it? 

Be heard. Be constructive. Be unboxed. And be honest, even if you have to comment anonymously or prefer to do so via email.

Please use the “like” button if others’ comments resonate with you, too. (I know that button is a little touchy lately, by the way, but it’s still working, even if doesn’t seem to be registering your “like” right away.)

Thanks, everyone. See you in comments.

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    *If you had the opportunity to talk directly to folks in publishing, and be heard, what would you want to say?*

    I really wish they would do more world-wide simultaneous releasing of books.

    Its frustrating to have my favourite author release the next book in a series, but it is only available to US readers. While I (as a UK resident) must wait up to a year before I can buy it.

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  2. says

    I think it’s time for the length of the publication cycle to align with this century. It’s still typical to see a lag of 1.5 to 2 years between a book being sold and it being published. If an author writes about something topical, there’s a good chance the book will be out of date by the time it is released. I know that part of this cycle includes editing and revising, but seriously, two years?

    I also think publishers need to rethink ebook prices. I keep running into ebooks that cost more than paperbacks. Given the almost total absence of cost in creating and distributing an ebook, this really feels like robbery. Formatting an ebook is not rocket science, and once it’s done, it’s done, with zero cost for literally infinite copies of the book. Publishers should pass some of that savings on to the readers.

    Speaking of passing things on, ebook royalties need to be rethought, for the same reason. Publishers have almost no value-add in the process of creating and distributing ebooks, so authors should get FAR more of the royalties. I know the ebook royalty rate has been creeping up over the past couple of years for at least some authors, but publishers still get the vast majority of the pie. That just doesn’t seem right.

    And on the topic of pricing, I think publishers have a lot to learn about pricing from the self-pub crowd. By being flexible and running occasional low-price promotions, you can drastically increase a book’s profile in the marketplace. I’ve seen some small houses experiment very successfully with this, but I’ve yet to see a Big Five (or however many there are this week) publisher try these tactics.

    I guess in a word, the thing publishers should try to become is more NIMBLE. That’s what succeeds in this rapidly changing marketplace. Amazon continues to lead in this manner, and it’s silly not to learn from them.

    Thanks for this opportunity – hope this input is helpful.

    Oh, one more thing: please stop publishing Clive Cussler’s books. It’s time to stop the madness.

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    • says

      I agree with others here. I liked to see the pace picked up between acceptance and publication and also see e-book pricing drop. Psychologically, I don’t think an e-book should ever cost more than the paperback. And I’d love to have more control over e-book pricing. It would be great to work with the publisher and say “Hey, here’s an event that ties in with my book – can we offer the e-book for $1.99 for a week?” More publishers seem to be doing this for all types of authors, not just bestselling authors, but it would be great to have that flexibility.

      On a practical note, I’d love to see royalties paid out more frequently–monthly or bi-monthly would be nice. :-)

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    • says

      Very much agree with Keith’s points; part of the reason that some knees have knocked in publishing is because Amazonian innovations are an ever-renewed fusillade of coded arrows, whereas publishing still relies on some Bronze-age hammering. Nimble, it’s not.

      It would be great as many have suggested here that publishing was worked as more of a partnership rather than a dry signing away of rights. Maybe more general elasticity in contracts (as some authors have recently secured), such as print only, while digital rights are retained. More equitable royalty rates, more complete disclosures on sales figures and print runs, lickable QR codes, dynamic author action figures and lower orchestra fees. Wait, losing focus…

      By the way, I have it on reliable word that Keith actually is Clive Cussler, and is trying to stir up controversy to pump sales. Look: his last name starts with a “C.” Coincidence? I think not.

      Hey, where’s Porter to issue a clarion on “the industry! the industry!”?

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  3. says

    We new writers look at big publishing: record profits – and dismal royalty rates. Accounting systems from the middle ages. Contracts that want all rights to everything, invented or not, forever. No control over important details such as covers. Books which fall into deep holes when the editor who acquired them leaves…

    And we wonder why we would want to join such a system when there is an alternative.

    The perception – true or not in individual cases – is of a life raft with no room for us. In the world of advertising, perception is everything.

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  4. says

    To address Alicia’s comment — I am not interested in self-publishing, and for me there is inherent value (and even honor) in working with a traditional publisher. Period.

    That being said, I’d like to know how those “in the know” see traditional publishing changing. Or not. I want a look at the crystal ball. What do THEY wish were different? And if it’s not the party line, perhaps THEY could answer anonymously as well.

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  5. says

    TO PUBLISHERS: The author is your business partner. Don’t forget to communicate. Collaborate more. And never forget, you hold the author’s career in your hands. Don’t take that lightly.

    TO AUTHORS: Authors need to step up and be business-minded. Your publishers need to show a profit on your books. Do everything you can to help them. Collaborate more . . . too many authors remain silent, or let their agents do all the communicating for them.

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  6. says

    I would have to agree with Keith: the lag time between
    writing and publishing is way too long. But for me–a small-time
    non fiction writer–what I have found most frustrating is the lack
    of support once my book has been published. The process of writing
    and editing has always been so enjoyable with many people there to
    back me up and offer guidance. But once the book comes
    out…crickets. I have since turned to self publishing with decent
    results.

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  7. says

    Jumping off of Kellie’s comment format…

    TO AUTHORS: Your publisher has as much as stake when it comes to the success of your book as you do. They’ve made an investment in you. They want your book to sell, need your book to sell, and since they are professionals at editing, marketing, and publicity, trust that their opinion on your cover, title, marketing copy, etc. is born from years, decades even, of experience. Publishers are actually on your side. It would make no sense if they weren’t.

    TO PUBLISHERS: Build your house in such a way that you have the security to take a chance on something new, innovative, unproven, and unique. Enough with the same old stuff. Stop copying each other and reach for something never-before-seen.

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  8. Carmel says

    Traditional publishing seems very limiting to me. Readers are limited to the preferences of agents, editors, and marketing teams. Yes, there are some not-so-well-written books being e-published, but readers are smart enough to know what they like and what they want to buy. They are readers, after all!

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  9. says

    I am not yet published. Some days I’m all for going the traditional route and others I just *know* I’ll hit big as an indy author (confidence is key, right?). Some of the things that make me leery of traditional publishing include: lack of transparency in sales figures, slow turn times from acquisition to publication and the possibility of tying up all kinds of ancillary rights forever and ever, no amen. I appreciate that folks in traditional publishing are professionals whose livelihoods are inextricably linked to how well the house’s books do. But I agree with Mr. Cronin above – it’s time to set up a model for the 21st century, which includes embracing a more nimble mindset. I also agree with Gilbert – it behooves us to remember that publishing is a business and we authors need to be savvy about making business decisions.

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  10. says

    Publishers need to modernize their antiquated business model. Abandon the practice of taking back books that do not sell and rebuild their brands by setting up distribution channels. Doubleday stocking books at Starbucks, Scribners setting up stores in airports, slowly reclaiming their connection with readers from Amazon. Long, slow slog but it they don’t, the business will quickly become an anachronism.

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  11. says

    I come to writing with a background in business, so I understand that publishing is a business, beholden to the forces of the market. I am as yet unpublished. I have no ill will for the industry’s selectivity of submission or for the vetting process. Indeed, as difficult as it feels now, I am grateful for them, both as a writer and a reader. Careful selection and vetting undoubtedly make for better books.

    Having said that, as a series writer I worry. Perhaps it’s a romantic notion, but I’d always hoped that once I’d achieved my goal of being published that I would naturally find my way to a relationship with an editor, that a team of professionals would focus a portion of their attention toward making my books the best they can be, and thereby build a loyal audience. I have witnessed the power of teamwork, and I want it working for me when I head to the marketplace. But I hear far too many tales of fickleness and whirlwind uncertainty from my traditionally published friends and acquaintances to feel even remotely at ease about the possibility.

    My question: Is there still a place in traditional publishing for the notion of building a career? Has this become a quaint notion? Is there value placed on nurturing a lasting relationship, or striving to engender loyalty—from both authors and their readers? Or is the market just too unstable for long-term thinking? Does today’s market necessitate a constant state of flux in the rush to “the next big thing”?

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  12. says

    I just want to say something about the perception that there is “an almost total absence of cost in creating and distributing an ebook”.

    There is *just as much* work that goes in to the production of an eBook as goes in to a print book. The only cost that a print book incurs that an eBook does not is the actual printing. Publishers still employ editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, designers, layout designers, etc., for eBooks. Publishers still have to create separate bibliographic files for eBooks (eBooks get their own ISBNs, and therefore require separate metadata files, which require separate maintenance). There are distribution costs for eBooks as well, although they are often “hidden” costs, such as paying for increased bandwidth for data transfers (depending on the size of your files, of course). Depending on which distribution services publishers use, there *can be* a cost for digital distribution, and some distributors simply don’t want to work with small or independent presses at all, or will charge high enough retail percentages that it becomes fiscally imprudent to use them.

    Most publishers will price their eBooks at the same or very similar price to their print books; the big exceptions to this are the publishers who seem to be giving *every* publisher a bad name. The textbook publishers are particularly bad for digital edition pricing, and some of the bigger publishers don’t seem to want to match the eBook pricing with print books.

    According to sales data (in Canada, at any rate), sales of eBooks have fallen off dramatically in the last two years. Part of this may be due to inconsistencies in pricing, but one of the running theories is that now that the shininess has rubbed off of the eReaders, people are going back to their print books. That neither supports nor disputes the point i’m making; it’s just an interesting tidbit about eBooks.

    My point is that the claim that there is “next to no cost to produce and distribute (and, presumably, MARKET AND PROMOTE) an eBook” is, simply, incorrect.

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    • says

      Cenobyte, I’m sorry, but I cannot agree with this statement:

      “There is *just as much* work that goes in to the production of an eBook as goes in to a print book.”

      Really? Let’s look at some of these claims.

      First, do you really believe that ebooks are edited AND copyedited separately? Why on earth would they do that? Don’t you want the text to be identical to the hardcopy? I would almost question whether they even bother to proofread the ebook versions. Most ebooks from big publishers still have a surprising amount of typos and formatting errors, which indicate little or no proofing. Many nonfiction ebooks still don’t even have a linked index, instead listing page numbers (which are useless for an ebook), indicating what an afterthought most big publishers seem to consider ebooks.

      As far as layout and design, most ebooks use the same cover design as their hardcopy, and the act of laying out and formatting the ebook is a job that only takes several hours for a pro. This is a task that the publishers most likely outsource to the growing multitude of ebook formatting services, many of whom operate on a flat rate, in a market that is highly price-competitive.

      Hidden costs such as paying for increased bandwidth? Ebook files are not big. Any publisher that doesn’t have an internet plan capable of uploading some book files has bigger problems to worry about. Even so, if they have to get a better internet service plan to handle their uploading bandwidth, the additional cost becomes negligible when spread across the ebooks in their catalog.

      Separate ISBNs are an administrative detail that does not require much time or skill to create. As far as distribution costs of ebooks, please provide an example. As far as I’ve seen, it costs nothing to distribute to any of the primary channels.

      As far as promoting ebooks separately – how often have you seen an ad specifically for an ebook? The only example I can think of is the ads that appear on the cover of my cheap Kindle. Other than that, promotion costs remain the same (and that’s not an area where most publishers spend much money on any but their top authors).

      Publishers WANT authors to believe there are significant costs in producing ebooks. But as anybody who’s actually created and published one should know, it ain’t necessarily so. I hasten to add that I am NOT against conventional publishing, but this is an area where they still employ a lot of smoke and mirrors, trying to make us think ebooks represent a significant cost center. The thing is, anybody who has self-pubbed can easily see through this spin, and it only undermines their opinions of conventional publishing even further.

      Bottom line: ebooks aren’t magic. And they aren’t expensive to create or distribute. So if they ARE expensive for you, then I suspect somebody is hosing you.

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      • says

        Kevin, all I can tell you is what I know as someone who works in the publishing industry, with traditional small- to mid-size publishers, with self-publishers, and with publishing services.

        If eBooks are being published without proper editorial work, that should say something about the production value of that particular publisher.

        “First, do you really believe that ebooks are edited AND copyedited separately?”

        Nope. I didn’t say that. I said there is just as much work that goes into the production of eBooks as print books. The publishers with whom and for whom I have worked develop the same manuscript for eBooks and for print. Which is to say, the editorial work is done on one manuscript; the product may be either digital or print.

        “Why on earth would they do that?”
        They don’t.

        “Don’t you want the text to be identical to the hardcopy?”
        Yes, that is the goal.

        “As far as layout and design, most ebooks use the same cover design as their hardcopy, and the act of laying out and formatting the ebook is a job that only takes several hours for a pro.”

        A pro that has to be paid. The cover art may be the same for digital and print, but interior layout and design is incredibly different, especially if you’re doing reflowable text, and if the digital version is going to have the same graphical elements the print version may.

        “This is a task that the publishers most likely outsource to the growing multitude of ebook formatting services, many of whom operate on a flat rate, in a market that is highly price-competitive.”

        Big publishers may. Most independents to mid-size publishers with whom I have worked do it in-house because it’s more cost-effective to do so.

        “Hidden costs such as paying for increased bandwidth?”

        This is not a significant cost.

        “As far as distribution costs of ebooks, please provide an example. As far as I’ve seen, it costs nothing to distribute to any of the primary channels.”

        I’m not sure I said a whole lot about distribution costs of eBooks. Distribution in general is incredibly challenging for most small-mid size publishers. The distribution challenges for eBooks is more on the discoverability side; if you can get a distributor to promote your titles to library, education, and retail markets, you’re lucky.

        “As far as promoting ebooks separately – how often have you seen an ad specifically for an ebook?”

        Quite frequently. Every day, in fact. However, my point was never that publishers promote eBooks and print books separately. My point was that it costs just as much to produce and promote an eBook as it does a print book – my point being that most publishers produce both formats, not one or the other (with the exception of poetry and academic publishers; most trade publishers produce both print and digital versions of their books). Therefore what I’m trying to say is not that publishers must choose one over the other, but rather that even the self-publishers for whom I work invest as much in the eBook versions of their print books as they do in the print versions of their eBooks, and that the publishers with whom I work do not price their eBooks unfairly. They are the same, or moderately less expensive than print books.

        I don’t think I ever said that eBooks are expensive to create. What I said is that if you want to create a quality product, you have to invest in the production. That means you have to pay for editorial, you have to pay for design, you have to pay for promotion and marketing; you have to sign distribution agreements and offer retail discounts. I work with dozens of small, independent, regional, and self-publishers. Things may be very different for big publishers, and I must say I don’t have much experience working for them. But from what I have seen from inside the industry, the investment publishers make in their products (whether they are self-publishers or independents) is significant regardless of the format of the finished product, and that every single one of them is in business to make money, not to lose money. And that every single one of them prices their eBooks commensurately with their print books, and sets prices based on recouping investment and production costs, not based on how much they can gouge their readers.

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        • says

          (I totally did mention the increased bandwidth costs – that is something that has begun to pop up in Canada, which small publishers and self-publishers have brought up as being an increased/unforseen cost to the production of eBooks. I should really read my own comment before posting. Duh.)

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  13. says

    I’m not sure I qualify, being an industry insider, but with twenty books of my own behind me maybe I do. As a member of the WU community, anyway, I’ll comment.

    Publishers…

    …need to pay attention to author discontent. The frustration of aspiring authors is one thing, the migration of more than a few published authors to self-publishing is another.

    …need to see that the migration results from many factors, but chief among them is low e-book royalty rates. Authors do not necessarily need print to replace their income.

    …may not care about that now, given the abundance of authors, but need to see that they have new competition to win authors’ business. That competition is authors themselves.

    …the death of mass market and the rise of low-priced e-books is not a coincidence. Many authors complain of over-pricing of their e-books. They’re not always wrong. Consumers agree.

    …for fiction authors, need to create value other than promotion, since promotion for fiction is of limited value and is mostly done by authors themselves anyway.

    …need to face that physical retail is waning and warehouse buys are not the answer. 40% of sales are online, and growing. Put effort there.

    …which brings us to Amazon. Yes, Amazon should grant better terms to publishers. An equal issue, though, is that Amazon is half brilliant, half bumbling in selling books. Workarounds are needed.

    …need to admit that the art of editing has declined. Editorial vocabulary sometimes consists of “I’m looking for a voice.” That not only fails authors, it fails publishers. Books could be better.

    Authors…

    …Books could be better. Sorry. That’s up to you and it’s 90% of success.

    …Print is powerful, maybe not wholly necessary, okay, but more powerful than “e” alone. (The “statistics” you’ve seen are statistics. Be advised.)

    …You deserve more from print publishers, but print publishers are not wrong to expect a partner in you.

    …Consumers rule. We can complain all we want about the industry, we can revolt, but what ultimately wins readers is writing. Period.

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  14. Anonymous says

    I love traditional publishing; I hope to be a part of it, regardless of some serious structural flaws in the system. But of all the things that need work (rights, payment, etc.) the one that SLAYS me is an author’s lack of control over the title and cover of their own book. An author spends months, sometimes even years creating and revising and perfecting this piece of art in novel form, and yet they often don’t even get a say in what it will be called and wrapped in. If you compare this to every other art form, the ludicrousness of this becomes clear. I understand that there are marketing professionals at most publishing companies who have experience at these things – and they should be allowed to do their job – but it should not be a dictator position. There are authors whose covers blatantly don’t fit their book (characters who look nothing like theirs, etc.). There are authors who are “given” covers that are genuinely bad design (not every effort can be a winner) and have absolutely no recourse to protest that. A bad cover, a bad title… these things can truly break a book. It is absurd and unfair beyond belief that the creator of the actual product has little to no say in these vital representations of their art. It’s no surprise that many writers are opting to self-pub in large part so they can control the presentation of their product. If trad pub wants to stay competitive to a new wave of young writers, this practice needs to change.

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  15. says

    Dear publishers,

    You are not souless.

    You KNOW you are not treating authors fairly when it comes to ebook royalties.

    So how about instead of trying to keep this cherry ride going as long as you can before you’re forced to make a change, just do the right thing now.

    Wouldn’t you want authors to do the same if positions were reversed?

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  16. says

    Fairness works both ways. Authors should be treated as partners in the publishing process, not as particularly stupid sheep to be used. The pen where those sheep have been held now has a large hole in it called self-publishing. The smart and most talented ones will leave, and the smart and talented ones not yet published are being educated to avoid that pen.

    Editors should be given time to edit. Stop firing the editors as a cost-cutting measure then making the survivors do even more of the office/business shit so they have less time to spend with the books. And under no circumstances should you cut the editorial staff while increasing the number of books being published.

    Read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog, “The Business Rusch.” She has a lot of smart things to say about the publishing business.

    http://kriswrites.com/category/business/

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  17. says

    I’d like to see publishers take creative and new approaches
    to inspiring people, especially the next/ younger generations, to
    read. From a business perspective, this is an investment in our
    collective future. Create and drive programs that, at their heart,
    get people to read and/ or write. Contests for kids, local events,
    heck… invent a holiday! Facilitate mtgs between authors and
    classes, help drive support for the arts… The future of the
    industry essentially depends on whether or not the children of now
    enjoy reading when they are earning income. So make sure they love
    it!

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  18. says

    Dear Traditional Publisher,
    Maybe it’s because of the lag-time between contract and publication, but I’m tired of hearing one thing and seeing another on your list. I’m trying to give you the picture book manuscript that best fits your style, and I know the best way to get your style is by reading the titles on your list. However, what you’re asking for in your submission guidelines doesn’t seem to fit your list.

    Your submission guidelines are saying (for the most part), “no rhyme, no talking animals, no retelling of fairytales and fables.” But your lists are filled with retold fairytales with animal characters talking in perfect rhyme. I’m confused.

    Someday, I will figure out what you want and send it to you, so we can work together to sell a great picture book.

    Sincerely,
    Aspiring Author

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  19. says

    Dear Publisher,
    When you get a submissions that’s “pretty good but not quite ready,” why don’t you offer some coaching to the poor guy? He came to you first. If he’s “almost there,” his next submission may be “the one,” but it may not come to you. The MLB has a farm system. That’s how they train up promising athletes. Why not something similar for publishing houses? We don’t even need uniforms. Offer advice, stay in touch, and encourage us in this lonely profession.

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  20. says

    I’m actually speaking more as a reader now, although I think this would benefit authors just as much. Can we please keep a diversity in books to serve a wider range of readers? I keep hearing from literary agents they want things like “strong, fresh voice”, but to give an example, the last (YA) fantasy novels I picked up all sounded the same. And can we please have female protagonists who don’t have to be kickass strong all the time? Equality isn’t about being strong, it’s about having everyone’s voice heard, about being allowed to be yourself, and having equal opportunities. Equality is diversity.

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  21. says

    This is a wonderful forum and, I hope useful to you, Therese. My issue is right at the entry point of what should be a ‘relationship’. I have found an appalling lack of common courtesy and business etiquette from all the gatekeepers; agents, publishers and even contest managers by treating submitting authors with disdain unto hostility. Submissions are not acknowledged and, in far too many instances, neither are rejections. Such arrogance.

    Many put up a lame disclaimer saying, ‘due to the volume of submissions, we will be unable to acknowledge receipt of submissions’. If I were king, an email response would be sent promptly (that very morning) at all major junctures of the process; receipt, review, rejection, etc. You get 100 submissions per day? Lucky you. Assign a junior clerk to launch 100 warm and courteous messages of thanks. It doesn’t have to be a custom letter.

    While on the soapbox, how about the position that a submission must be exclusive but, oh well, we may not get back to you for 6 months or so? If followed, it may take six years to find someone to deign to glance at your work and comment. Sheese.

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    • Denise Willson says

      I have to agree with Alex. I believe there is a serious flaw in the system.

      I’m an entrepreneur, and I can honestly tell you that few businesses would survive using the model literary agencies and publishers use today (from a customer service perspective). If I were to outright ignore potential clients, I would soon be without, and eventually (read quickly) my business would die.

      If there isn’t structure to handle the outpour of potential clients, you have a system flaw. In the literary realm, this lack of customer service has only become acceptable because there have been few options for the author. As self publishing has proven though, clients will eventually take their business elsewhere.

      Denise Willson
      Author of A Keeper’s Truth and (coming soon) GOT

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  22. says

    Let me explain it this way. If I went traditional right now I would be looking at low advances, little to no marketing support, minimal editing, non-compete clauses that could stop my career in its tracks, the very real possibility of dying on the vine for lack of support, low royalties, ebook rights grabs, a bottleneck of one book per year published instead of the 6 I’m capable of producing, and no guarantee that my book would even appear in print. As an indie author, I have no support unless I pay for it out of pocket, but at least I have the chance to earn high royalties and keep all my own rights, do the marketing I would have to do on my own anyway, keep creative control, and make informed decisions that can’t be stopped by people in an insular industry who don’t want to see the changes going on because they don’t know what to do about them. I would happily go traditional at any point if I could get marketing support, find a decent contract, and work with people I can trust, but the more I talk to people in the industry, the more that looks like a pipe dream. Can anyone fix this while the industry still has time to change and offer Amazon some competition and give everyone more options for putting out books? I hope so, but at this point I can’t afford to count on it and will put out 6 books this year on my own and 6 next year (which would take traditional publishing something like a decade to accomplish, if they even accepted those books for publication, if they didn’t drop me for one of them not selling, if they understood the brand I’m building). It’s certainly not looking like it’s heading in that direction, quite the opposite with all the wagon circling behavior and rights grabs and worse contract terms instead of better. But I’m happy someone’s asking questions! And I’m happy to keep discussing it as long as someone is trying to fix things. :)

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  23. says

    Since I haven’t been traditionally published, I’ll speak as a reader and a sideline spectator to the indie/traditional tug-of-war.

    1) Big publishers sink too much into the established “blockbusters” and don’t often offer fresh new material. I can never find any decent e-books through my local library because the selection on Overdrive is nothing but pages and pages of the same handful of bestselling authors, or copycats of those authors. The store shelves are lined with books-by-template, and Amazon pushes the same tiny selection of bestsellers in the recommended title of Kindle apps no matter what I read. Finding something new is very difficult, frustrating, and disappointing.

    2) The only incentive that I, as a maybe-someday author, have to submit my work to a publishing house is paper distribution. “Prestige” and “honor” mean nothing in the modern market. Everywhere I go I hear warnings that the days of tight editor-author relationships are gone, copyediting and proofing is outsourced and sub-par, and if I’m not an NY Times bestselling author pulling six-figure advances, I can’t expect any help in marketing. So for the benefit of maybe getting my paperbacks into B&N and seeing a canned review in the Library Journal, I have to give up the majority of my rights and potential royalties.

    Publishers need to offer much more value-added in order to lure current and future writers away from self-publishing. This means paying unestablished and mid-list authors with the same respect, and offering similar contract terms, that they do to the billionaires; offering the best editing services they can; and doing more than printing a book, throwing it on a shelf, calling it done, and then sinking it and the author’s career when it doesn’t magically generate sales by itself.

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  24. says

    As a reader, I agree with Katherine James. I am 100% in favor of the simultaneous release of books regardless of country borders. I often order books that have been released in other countries and pay the additional fees involved rather than wait a year for a book to become available in the United States.

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  25. Lisa Threadgill says

    I get that publishing is a for profit business, and that a publisher makes an investment on the likelihood of some sort of return. They’d be fools if they didn’t. That being said, what I’d like to see change is the (and please note the use of the following word) perceived attitude that their model is the be-all and end-all and any other avenue is some how “less than”. I’m sorry, but trad publishing puts out it’s share of awful books. All the editing, cover art and promo in the world won’t change a book that is bad. Put lipstick on a pig…. I can’t imagine how inundated agents and publishers are with the hopes and dreams of countless aspiring authors. I know it can’t be a cakewalk. And yet, almost any time I read an article about what is wanted, it’s always in truth the same old thing, because *that* is what has sold. And once something is sold? The length of time from sale to publication, if the book even makes it through the obstacle course of musical editors, corporate re-alignment and so on, is just too long. I agree with most of what others have said about how the Jurassic structure has to change. The three book death spiral as a result of the practice of “selling to the net” (while admittedly a function of booksellers rather than publishers), leads to an author’s backlist sinking beneath the waves because there is no incentive for a publisher to support it unless the author is a Rowling or a Grisham.

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  26. says

    Speaking as a reader…please work with books that are bold and different, not just books that have the potential to be commercially successful. We need more diversity in bookstores, both literally (many kinds of characters, from personality to race to gender) and figuratively (plotlines, tone, etc.). Do it for posterity! :) That is all.

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  27. says

    Cherish the midlist author.

    That brilliant, seasoned writer who doesn’t pump out blockbusters, doesn’t make the sales chart jump out of the powerpoint and dance around the room. Not yet.

    Because the midlist author is only biding her time, seeking that right alignment of story and talent and support and astrological alignment to break into stardom. Potential for greatness is everywhere. Support them now with bigger average advances, better promotion, loyalty.

    A few authors who took some time to hit their stride: Margaret Atwood. Toni Morrison. Alice McDermott. Alice Munroe. Kurt Vonnegut. Sherman Alexie. Could any of them have kept writing in today’s market?

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  28. says

    I have to agree with the majority of opinions above. I am working on my debut novel, so I have yet to be published. I have been reading up on the industry for a few years now. I write a review blog for aspiring and debut authors. I have seen much that is being self-published, and I have to agree with Donald Maass, much of it is not ready; however, there are also a lot of gems too. I think that traditional publishing needs to enter the 21st century. If they were more willing to work with new authors, rather than dismiss them with a simple form letter, then maybe more would be interested in considering tightening their work and working harder to putting out quality material. As it is now, the self-publishing market is much more approachable. If they can afford to pay for the editing, the cover, the printing, etc., then they may have a quality product. If they can’t, then many are uploading as soon as they type The End. My question is this: What can traditional publishing offer me? If I must pay for all of these services anyway, plus hire an attorney to explain the legalese of a contract to make sure it is in my best interest to sign it, why shouldn’t I go with self-publishing? I keep all control, the majority of the royalties, and I get my work out to the masses, rather than to one or two subjective opinions on whether they want to take a chance on me, so what can you offer me in exchange? I have wavered back and forth. On the one hand, I would love to be traditionally published. That would mean validation. Someone else thought my work was good enough to fight for. On the other hand, why would I not self-publish if I can’t be offered an alternative?

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  29. says

    Charles Dickens published quicker than today’s authors can with traditional publishers.

    I’m a little too ADHD to wait. For a year. Or more.

    Plus, no control over cover – OR title?

    I could run my own business for over a decade, but can’t have input on virtually anything about marketing the book/s I write?

    Ludicrous.

    Not to mention less royalties, antiquated payment schedules, questionable accounting practices, lack of promotion or career promotion.

    Traditional publishers are making it really difficult for writers to think they’re the way to go any more. I want to – but I also know how to do a cost/benefit analysis.

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  30. says

    I agree with Rebecca. Remember when Susan Boyle rocked the Britain’s Got Talent stage with her stunning vocal performance? Well, there are a lot literary Susan Boyles out there, quietly going about their lives and never getting noticed because they don’t have connections or understand the intricacies of marketing themselves. Some may be content with writing for their own enjoyment. Others, like me, may simply be too busy raising a family while trying to earn a living to invest the time necessary to learn, let alone play the game, especially when what they NEED to do – what they were born to do – is write. Where are the talent scouts in this industry? Why aren’t publishers as hungry for discovering really great works as they are for selling mass market schlock? How many pages of pure brilliance are buried in piles of unread manuscripts because they were unsolicited, un-agented, or their cover letter stank? As the dollar replaces the divine, we shouldn’t be surprised when all we get is sound-alike pop divas instead of virtuosas, and poorly written best sellers instead of timeless literary treasures. Kudos to writers (and you know who you are) who not only manage to self publish, but gift the world instead of clutter it.

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  31. says

    I just wish there was a little bit more imagination in the choices publishers make about the fiction they publish. As well as being an aspiring author myself I am an avid reader and have worked as a bookseller for the past 7 years, but I find it hard to discover new fiction that appeals to me because so few publishers (in the UK at least) are willing to publish and then properly market fiction that doesn’t fit neatly into an already pre-ordained category. There seems to me to be a sense that publishers are waiting for obvious best sellers to fall into their laps rather than pursuing anything new and different with any passion. It’s a tough climate, I know, but endless clones of Hunger Games or Game of Thrones aren’t going to inspire either new or existing customers. The industry really needs to actively move into new markets and that means expanding the range of work they publish to appeal to more demographics.

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  32. says

    Self-published authors can hire out all the services that
    traditional publishers offer except print distribution. And for
    that I should give them the lion’s share of the profits for the
    next 35 years? I’m sorry, no. That deal sucks.

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