Monday, 8 March 2010

More publishing collapsism

piece (by McCrum of The Observer) on the collapsing world of publishing, with some pertinent remarks about prospects for first time authors:
Literary agents who used to make a good living from a range of authors now struggle to interest the market in new "content". Unless this new "content" is in effect risk-free, it is, says literary agent Deborah Rogers, doyenne of Rogers, Coleridge and White (RCW), "much, much harder to get books you love published. Even when a writer has a respectable track record, you still find sales and marketing throwing up their hands in horror".

Rejections are now commonplace. Advances have been slashed, where possible. The process of submitting new books by unknowns has become, in the words of one , "a bloody nightmare".
Another straw in the wind: I was talking to a lady novelist friend last week who mentioned that her agent - an independent with no particularly high profile - has received twelve thousand unsolicited manuscripts since the start of the year. Twelve thousand in not much more than a couple of months!

McCrum, though, isn't all doom:
But this perfect storm may have a silver lining: the IT revolution. Just as one generation of writers faces the prospect of the garret, another kind of challenge confronts the new kids on the block: how to navigate the myriad, conflicting opportunities and temptations of online publishing.

It seems to me that traditional publishing provides three key things: production, distribution and marketing (editing is now for the birds). Production is available more or less for no upfront payment from sites such as Lulu.com. Distribution is now available online via Amazon etcetera for the modest cost of an ISBN number. Money invested by your publisher in a marketing plan would be nice but is becoming rare. In fact, as the 'risk-free' comment quoted above suggests, publishers are only likely to take you on if you have some form of ready-made profile or PR plan (hence the ubiquity of celebrity pulp).

So it may be that the biggest task for a budding author who wants to get their books sold (and for that matter to get a book deal if you want to go down the traditional route) is that of knitting your own publicity. I suspect nearly all authors will have a website in five year's time - an equivalent of the pop band's MySpace site (surprisingly few do now). And the obvious way to get people to visit will be to provide free online samples, constantly refreshed, just like the pop sites. Which makes me wonder: will blogs become a critical part of a writer's portfolio?

12 comments:

ghostofelberry said...

i suspect something will happen, to allow people to self-publish and survive or at least make a reasonable amount of dough. At present, the only reason i can see for going to a publisher, rather than Lulu, is for marketing.

Although i think most of the good writing these days is in blogs rather than print, the money is still in print. And i don't think publishers would now look at anything from an unknown author. The only way to get published is to kill someone and write your memoirs from prison. Go for it!

p.s. what's happened to Sean Bean? he said he was going on one of his mercenary killing sprees for a week or two and hasn't come back, is he dead in Bolivia?

Gaw said...

I have considered that but you can't keep any proceeds from your writing if you're in prison - you'd just as well self-publish.

Sean sounded as if he was off for a while, calling into various countries. I suspect he's been delayed as he's earning such a good living crocodile wrestling in Australia's Northern Territories. I shouldn't think he'll stay for long though once he realises that a few hundred million Muslims are sitting just to the north in Indonesia.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gaw, one of our number, Mr Dotterel, is in a similar position to you, having written an excellent book (which I read) and wondering how to get others to read it. He found that he was doing all the marketing but his publishers were taking most of the money, or something like that. I reckon the answer is to self-publish and not give up the day job.

Gaw said...

Thanks Gadjo. I shall explore Mr Dotterel's excellent site.

Brit said...

Taking an optimistic view of it: we bloggers write and we earn money - just separately.

Recusant said...

A lot of my working life is spent with publishers and I'm afraid that, au fond, they just don't get it. It being the new digital age.

They can see what happened to the record companies, but think that it has no bearing on their situation. I was talking to the head of one of the top three last week and he gave it as his considered opinion that you "can't pirate books like you can records". There is no point arguing when that is the position.

You're right about the necessity of self-marketing in the form of personal websites and samples. Unfortunately, for people who profess to love writing and need to do it, most authors are extraordinarily reluctant to give anything away for free. They see it as somehow demeaning of their craft.

The people with the power in the coming world of publishing are going to be the critics. I do not mean by that the current incestuous little crew who all review each other's work, but there will develop, almost certainly out of the blog world, a small number of highly opinionated and powerful reviewers whose opinions will be slavishly followed by an increasingly lazy mainstream media. That is the 'market' that needs targeting; at the moment no one has the clout, but one of them soon will.

ghostofelberry said...

One the subject, i think i've probably received more Paypal donations in the last 12 months than most novelists get in royalties for a single book. It's not enough to live on but without it i would have run out of money & hence life a while ago.

Gaw said...

Brit: Dr Johnson's quip re writing and money seems one of his most wrong-headed.

Recusant: That's a fascinating insight. Thanks. Any tips as to who's likely to emerge as the first of these new reviewers as I shall ingratiate myself forthwith?

Elb: I still think there's scope to write an interesting blog novel, as based on the original epistolary format. Someone's going to do it at some point to great effect.

Recusant said...

Your guess, at the moment Gaw, is as good as mine.

Essentially we are awaiting the hardware. As the iPhone made the web enabled phone a practical reality in a way it had never really been before, so we need the piece of kit that transcends the Sony Reader or the Kindle and allows Joe Public to browse the web and grab/purchase/copy/steal any piece of text he fancies.

We haven't got there yet - Kindle requires you to buy what Amazon USA sells and the Sony Reader has a crappy agreement with Waterstones - but we will shortly. When we have it, developments will take place at publisher frightening speeds.

Gaw said...

Perhaps a few us bloggers should get together to set up a book review site? Publicise it via the day-to-day blogs, start referring book sales and get in position for when 'it' happens.

ghostofelberry said...

Not merely a book review site but a site dedicated to the end of the world, manly facial hair, human sacrifice, pagan idolatry, - oh wait, that's my blog.

ghostofelberry said...

Yahoo just went off so i can't email you this:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/03/i_wonder_if_this_will_work.html

worth a read.