Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Times is Hard

A gloomy but surely accurate article in today's Guardian

It's an all too familiar scenario. The squeeze on mid-list authors has been a big story in publishing for years now. It's impossible even to keep track of which authors have dropped off the radar. Publishers don't announce it, and the last thing most writers want to do is broadcast the fact they can no longer get published. Yet, it seems reasonable to estimate that dozens (maybe hundreds) are disappearing every year – judging by persistent industry chatter,

I suspect there was never an easier time to write novels (the growth of technology, and the ready availabilty of advice and information on the internet offer options barely imaginable thrity years ago), but never a harder one to get--and stay--published.

6 comments:

Len Tyler said...

Tim - thanks for drawing our attention to this interesting article. All the more worrying since Charlie Williams was being praised by the Guardian only a day or so earlier for being in the "vanguard of a new wave of young writers".

Aliya Whiteley said...

And so were you, Len! I love that article.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/jun/03/colin-bateman-crime-funny-books

Matt Curran said...

Thanks for posting this, Tim.

It's another reminder of how tough publishing is within the mainstream - though I guess not a surprise in the slightest.  I spoke to an independent bookseller over the weekend who told me in no uncertain terms that "publishers are killing themselves", and quite slowly too, like boiling a frog over a matter of hours.  For the pursuit of the superficial short term profit, they've basically mortgaged the industry to both Amazon and the supermarkets.  When the independents finally die, so will the mid-list author and the life-blood of the industry. And following that, reader choice out there.

However, writers will still write, and to answer the question at the end of the article, the new home for the mid-lister will be the internet and self-publishing.  We might find in the coming years that e-books will be big business to mid-list authors if - and it is a sizable "if" depending on entrepreneurs or dedicated book-lovers - there are enough on-line magazines dedicated to reviewing e-book publications as the market will be swamped by them.  There's also the issue of editing and copy-editing, though with the number of good copy editors for hire now that shouldn't be an issue for a serious author.  If these problems are nailed, then e-publishing will guarantee authors a bigger profit for their creativity, more freedom and mainstream publishing will be… well, in trouble.  While it's doubtful that e-books will ever take over in terms of unit sales, the profits a publisher could make from e-books is sizable in the long-term (with the nil production costs and paying the author a measly 20% royalty rate).  Take that away from publishers and times will be very hard for them in the future as more and more people ditch the paper an opt for the space-saving pixels.

In terms of tangible product, such as paperbacks, a revolution will only occur if devices such as Espresso or Lulu become more accessible and widespread.  POD may be the way to go if the prices of each copy are kept down.  (It terms of waste, it's better than pulping thousands of paperbacks because the cover has been redesigned.)

Mainstream publishing is forcing a revolution to happen and the more stories like this appear the more you realise the frog is definitely being boiled alive.  The question is: how much more can this frog take before it's well and truly cooked, and is there a way for the publishers to turn off the gas-tap?

(PS: apologies to all animal lovers or reptilia-philes for the analogy).

Tim Stretton said...

Len, it surely defines modesty to refer to the previous article without mentioning you were included in it.

Especially when it describes you as "at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers"...

Len Tyler said...

Tim and Aliya - well spotted (as ever!) and thanks, Aliya, for posting the link. The writers listed were good company to be in, but what I really liked was being described as "young"! (Increasingly I'll settle for "with all his own teeth".)

Alis said...

Depressing...