In a recent interview for a writing blog, I was asked how publishing has changed since I’ve been an editor. The obvious answer is the rise of self-publishing and e-publishing. But these are only symptoms of something deeper.
Most publishing houses used to offer more support for midlist writers – writers who weren’t celebrities but who sold well enough to turn a decent profit. (They were “midlist” because they appeared in the middle of the list of new releases the publishing houses put out twice a year.) Then, starting in the 70s and 80s, publishing houses began to consolidate, and their approach to the business began to change. Major houses started paying large advances for established writers, looking for blockbuster-sized sales and profits. Spend a million dollars to buy the rights, spend another million promoting the book, and make five million in sales.
It’s not a bad business model, but it does limit one of the main avenues for talented new writers to break into print. Most writers will never become bestsellers, and certainly none of them start out that way. So how do the skilled, respectable writers who aren’t blockbusters get into print now that traditional publishers are a little further out of reach?
I’ve written before about small presses and self-publishing, both of which have their advantages and pitfalls. But one of the main dangers of either of these came home to me in this last month – they don’t have gatekeepers.
In order to get onto a publishing house list at all, you have to get past an acquisitions editor – the gatekeeper who both warned writers that their books weren’t ready for print and helped shape those who were close. As a result, even beginning writers had a trained professional watching over them to let them know if and when they had gone off the rails. There were still hacks, of course, but many writers who were only modestly popular in their day were skillful and engaging to read.
Of course, there are still strong, midlist writers like that today. But . . . [Read more…]