Surviving—and Thriving—In The Brave New World Of Publishing

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Publishing used to be a leisurely enterprise.  Authors could submit their work directly to the “slush” pile. Editorial assistants would carefully sift through the submissions looking for books that could be turned into solid commercial properties.  Submissions were sent in hard copy, and editors’ offices were piled high with manuscripts.  We had to lug three or four submissions home to read on our spare time. Editing was done in right on the manuscript, usually in red pencil. Time consuming but effective.

In years past, agents would take on projects because they loved them and would work with authors until they were ready for submission to publishers. Editors would often send an editorial letter to authors before they actually acquired their books, making suggestions how to make them acceptable. Publishers supported new writers with publicity, author tours, sometimes even advertising. The rule was that it was only on their third or fourth book that their fortunes would hit their stride.

. . . .

The current state of publishing.

The advent of mega corporate publishing conglomerates, computer sales tracking, and the consolidation of the bookstores and distributors changed everything.  There used to be dozens of publishers, large and small, where an author might find a home. Now there are basically four or five publishers that control the market.

. . . .

Bottom line concerns have all but decimated the publishers’ promotional efforts and have left it up to the authors for the most part. Computer sales tracking  allows publishers, agents and distributors daily performance reports. While it used to take six months to figure out if a book was successful, now it takes less than month.

. . . .

 Since there are fewer bookstores, large and small, to showcase the thousands of new and old titles that are still published each month, it’s tough get an traction with readers. The vast majority of books are bought from online like vendors like Amazon or in big box stores like Walmart or Costco.

As of result all these new market forces, the submission and acquisition process is more competitive than ever.  Physical slush piles are now the email inboxes of agents and editors. The pressure is on to find “big” books that will become bestsellers upon publication. Agents are more selective than ever.

One agent I know reads only the first line of a manuscript. If she doesn’t like it, she rejects it.

Another won’t accept authors who don’t have well established social media platforms.

Editors spend their days at corporate meetings and don’t have as much time to edit or work with an author to strengthen work. The consequence is that both agents and editors require manuscripts to be as close to final as possible before taking them on.

. . . .

Authors need to be prepared to meet these challenges, but they are often subject to the old problem of not being able to see “the forest for the trees.”  Immersed in their craft, they lose perspective, and find it hard to see the larger picture of how their work will be received by agents or editors. In most instances, a new project has one shot at being accepted when it is submitted to an editor. If it rejected by multiple editors, agents will deem it a losing proposition and cease to represent it.  So authors need to make sure their work is as strong as it can be before the submission process begins.  

Hence the need for experienced freelance editors, whose familiarity with the business can give authors an advantage. In this new world of publishing, they have taken the place of the traditional in-house editor or hands-on agent. Qualified freelance editors have become a vital part of the submission process and can make difference between rejection and acceptance.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG is a big fan of quality freelance editors. He thinks they can improve most manuscripts substantially.

However, if, as the OP implies, hiring an experienced freelance editor to help you get an agent who then gets you a publishing contract with a traditional publisher is adding one more person for a traditionally-published author to pay, further reducing the net income the author will receive for a book.

In ancient times, an author could submit a book to one or more publishers directly with some reasonable assurance that a qualified individual who was on the publisher’s payroll and had been for more than three weeks would give it a serious read, at least through several pages, then send the author some meaningful feedback if the publisher’s employee thought the manuscript showed promise.

Today, PG thinks quite a few authors could benefit from a quality freelance editor before self-publishing their book.

There are quality freelance editors in New York City. There are also quality freelance editors in places other than New York City, including places where the cost of living is much lower than it is in New York City. On a regular basis, the cost of living affects the fees a quality freelance editor (or anyone else providing services) charges for her/his services.

6 thoughts on “Surviving—and Thriving—In The Brave New World Of Publishing”

  1. I can’t help wondering how factual the picture the writer drew of publishing in the past is. I’ve heard of ‘famous editor’ who worked with ‘famous writer’ whose manuscript was truly unpublishable and made it a hit (was it Max Perkins and tom Wolfe?) , but after watching publishing for some decades now, I’m sure that was an outlying example and mostly never happened.

    • Oh it’s a fair description of the way it used to be here in the UK, anyway. Although not completely so. Because I fell victim to the change. I had been working on plays with some success for years, and had an agent for those, but some time in the mid 80s I finished a novel that I was reasonably happy with, and my then agency passed it on to a fiction agent. Mind you, she always said that it wasn’t her job to edit. It was her job to sell the book. And she was very good at her job. She placed it with an old-but-good publisher called The Bodley Head, and they assigned me an editor to work with me on it. It wasn’t a bad book, but I’ve written a lot better since! However, half way through the process, the Bodley Head was bought over by a huge conglomerate and everything changed almost overnight. The book was published as a beach bonkbuster – which it really wasn’t -(I wouldn’t have minded if it was!) given no publicity or promotion, and sank without trace. Later, the editor actually contacted me to apologise. I went back to writing plays for a while, before resurrecting the fiction career with the new millennium. Now I work with a mixture of self and traditional publishing, fiction and narrative non-fiction, with a small independent publisher I trust. Horses for courses and I’m quite happy doing it this way. The publisher uses an experienced freelance editor I like and trust (and she likes the way I write, which is quite important!) I don’t have an agent. My old agent died, and after that I had a couple of disasters. One of the problems never admitted in this article is that when and if you get an agent there is no guarantee whatsoever that they will find you a publisher. And since even with an agented author, publishers often have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule, people can be trapped, wasting years rewriting the same book to an agent’s specifications, in search of that ‘oven ready product’. In my opinion, and experience, they would be much better advised to build a body of writing, find a good editor, self publish and then reassess how they want to play things later on.

      • I’m catching up on my comments, C., and appreciated your sharing of your experiences.

        When a lot of people talk about how to become a successful author of any sort, they often don’t talk about the business part.

        If you want to write for the pleasure of writing and for the enjoyment of friends and family, that works.

        However if you want to write for a much larger group of readers, the agent/publisher or self-published promotion and marketing piece also must be dealt with.

        There are enough stories about agents failing to pass on the proper amount of money to authors who just want to focus on writing and not the other stuff to fill a book. Plus the number of times these types of activities happen vs. the number of times stories about agents cheating authors make it to public notice via the media indicates the dishonest practices may be more widespread than many authors realize.

  2. Or, we could say there was once a time when publishers could control the supply available to consumers. Those days, and that power, are gone. Supply will continue to increase, and that means competition will continue to increase as more authors push more books into an unlimited market. Joining them will be the complete back list of everyone else.

    This is what those gatekeepers used to manage. Depending on what side of the gate one was on, this is either good or bad.

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