Home » Big Publishing, Non-US, The Business of Writing » Publishing ain’t what it used to be – an article of thoughts, articles of faith

Publishing ain’t what it used to be – an article of thoughts, articles of faith

31 March 2016

From author A J Dalton:

So, we’ve seen libraries and book shops close across the UK – apparently because people didn’t want hard copies anymore and e-books were cheaper. We’ve seen the undignified bun fight between Amazon and the main publishers – because book prices had been forced so low that publishers could no longer justify taking such a big cut from the pittance that authors were making. And we’ve seen an era of mega-mergers between publishers – as they sought to realise economies of scale and thereby continue to survive.

It was looking apocalyptically bad for publishing. But was the view of things described above the whole picture? Not really. The main problem has been the behaviour of the publishers – they have been victims of themselves in large part. Where other industries have survived changing markets (via innovation and changing themselves), publishing has only made an already bad situation worse. Let’s look at a few behaviours as examples…

  1. Publishers are more reluctant to ‘take a punt’ on authors these days. They don’t want new authors who have no established fan base. Seems sensible? It’s not. How can a genre evolve and remain relevant unless it’s through new blood? If a publisher publishes the same old names over and over, it will soon begin to see a decline. Look what’s happened to the book sales of scifi and horror. Dead. Why? Because no one would take on Necromancer’s Gambitby the young A J Dalton, a book that he was forced to self-publish, a book which proved to be the UK’s first new wave zombie book and which became the best-selling self-published title in the UK. The book was rejected by publishers as not being ‘squarely within the genre’ – the fact it was fresh and different was seen as a weakness!

. . . .

5. Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.

6. Publishers aren’t even offering book advances anymore! Even established authors (like myself and Tom Lloyd) are being told that no advance on their next book will be paid (that or a derisory amount will be offered). Seems sensible of the publishers? Not really. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book? They’re too busy doing other work, work that pays and therefore buys food. Many authors have given up. Some authors manage to keep writing, but it takes them far longer to write a book. And by the time they deliver the book, things have moved on and the book is no longer the game-changer that is required. The book gets rejected. Dead.

Link to the rest at Metaphysical Fantasy and thanks to Mike for the tip.

Here’s a link to A J Dalton’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Big Publishing, Non-US, The Business of Writing

15 Comments to “Publishing ain’t what it used to be – an article of thoughts, articles of faith”

  1. Okay, it may just be the mood I’m in today, but I’m tired of folks whining about traditional publishers. They are what they are and there are viable alternatives. There has been for a few years now.

    And, thanks for this site PG. I’m so glad I found it a few years ago when I started getting serious about my writing. Glad I found out about the options!

    • I think it was more ego stroking or shoving it in Trad pub’s face. He does mention his book was rejected and went on to sell very well.

      I can’t say I blame him. I’d do the same.

      “See what you missed out on?” A little salt for your wound?

  2. Whining is a way to get your name out there, even if you do end up looking like a doofus.

    “So, we’ve seen libraries and book shops close across the UK – apparently because people didn’t want hard copies anymore and e-books were cheaper.”

    The book shops thing I understand, but I was under the impression that libraries were closing because of the government’s austerity campaign, not because no one was using them, right?

    • His USA Amazon author’s page is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen, at least in terms of pricing and even availability. I guess it might have something to do with having used AuthorHouse, Gollancz and now self-publishing? He has a series that is unavailable in ebook format (even though the author’s page lists an ebook for $8.30 per book), some older ebooks listed for $9.99, and a recent novel in ebook format for $2.99.

  3. There’s some good points in there but a bit of research would’ve helped; using yourself as the example over and over undercuts the message. Speaking of yourself in the third person doesn’t help much either.

  4. This is the quote that shook me — the end of the tale: “A last example. Elton John says in interview that he wouldn’t succeed as a young musician these days. You see, he didn’t become successful until his third album back in the day. But record companies today don’t offer three-album deals anymore.”

    Elton John, for pity’s sake!

    • A bit of an exageration since he is enough of a showman to catch the eye of a studio but mostly true. The record studios want showmanship above all so even talented singers need to mount sideshows to get noticed. (And mediocre talents with a good enough gimmick do well.)

  5. Two big warning flags, to me:

    Because no one would take on Necromancer’s Gambitby the young A J Dalton, a book that he was forced to self-publish

    Oh. And who would that Mr. Dalton be? The article’s writer? Trying to emulate Julius Cesar?

    6. Publishers aren’t even offering book advances anymore! Even established authors […] Seems sensible of the publishers? Not really. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book?

    Don’t know, sir. How did you do it? That was point 1, was it not?

    I agree that TradPub is shooting itself in the fo… guts with that policy, but that doesn’t mean writers can’t make a living without advances. Or pre-sales. Or…

    Take care.

  6. It’s actually “Red Country” by Joe Abercrombie, not “The”, and it isn’t part of a series, it’s a stand alone. The author wrote a few stand alones in the same world as his successful series, because that’s what he wanted to do. I’m sure his publisher would have preferred another series.

  7. Numbers 1 and 6 are sweeping generalizations.

    I write nonfiction, don’t have much of a platform–most trad published authors don’t–and have, with my latest book, have had two trad published books for which I received advances.

    • I don’t know why my comment was mangled this way, but I was referring to the author’s points 1 and 6, fwiw.

  8. “We’ve seen the undignified bun fight between Amazon and the main publishers – because book prices had been forced so low that publishers could no longer justify taking such a big cut from the pittance that authors were making.”

    I’m sorry, what?

    Publishers have no problem taking the big cut. They do it all the time! That’s what all those articles about how traditional publishers offer SO MUCH MOAR are about: to justify the giant hunk of the pie they take of every sale.

    And hello? Amazon was still paying the full price to publishers. Amazon was taking the hit on lowering book prices, not traditional publishers or their authors.

  9. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book?

    Maybe get a job?

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