Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Open Doors

I've just noticed something very significant. My sci-fi/fantasy book is currently under consideration by Harper  Voyager (a division of HarperCollins), Random House and Tor Macmillan. Three of the big six. Not only that, but it was submitted directly to them. I don't have an agent, but all these publishers are open to direct submissions for the first time in, oh, maybe decades.

Well, sort-of. Harper Voyager opened for just a couple of weeks last October, and apparently received 4,500 manuscripts which they are still working through. Random House have started four new imprints for ebooks and it is only those imprints which are open to submissions. And Tor Macmillan are only open to submissions in the UK.

That leaves just three of the big six still closed to authors who don't have an agent. Or does it? Hachette are now open to submissions in Australia, and Simon and Schuster are invited unrepresented authors to submit to their self-publishing arm, Archway. It all leaves me wondering how long it might be before Penguin are inviting all and sundry to submit their manuscripts.

More than that, it leaves me wondering why.

I have a theory, and some evidence to back it up. Many of my writer friends who have been, and continue to be, very successful, are seeing their sales drop considerably. Some sold ten thousand or so copies of each new book a few years ago, but are now selling fewer than two thousand, and yet their publishers are still quite happy with this level of sales. Why aren't those publishers calling the authors into their offices to discuss the problem and come up with new marketing strategies or just better books? I think publishers now expect to sell fewer copies of each book they publish.

Thanks to the ebook revolution anyone and everyone who has written a book (whether it is any good or not) can now publish it with no cost and very little effort. They don't even have to bother asking the bookshops to stock it: anyone can have their book for sale on Amazon alongside the latest blockbuster by a well-known author. These self-published books are often considerably cheaper too, and there are a lot of them. A lot. Millions.

Unfortunately the number of readers, and the amount of money they have to spend on books, is about the same as it always ways. Maybe even less, given the worldwide recession. With the market flooded with cheap Indies, readers have more choice than ever before. The result is that their custom is very thinly spread, and authors and publishers get a smaller bite of the cherry.

So what I think is happening is that the major publishers are fighting back. Authors are not beating a path to their door (via their agents) any more, because it's so much quicker, easier and more fun to self-publish. No nail biting waiting for the rejection letter, no bruises to the ego, a glossy, beautiful book up on Amazon less than a week after you type "the end" and an amazing 70% royalties! Who can be bothered with query letters, submission guidelines and years of editing and proofing for a paltry 15% these days?

The major publishers don't want us to self-publish, though. Not only do they need us to keep their business going with a stead flow of good books, but they can't risk one of those Indie authors being the next E.L. James [crosses self] and selling more copies of a self-published pornfest novel than they can of the literary and thoughtful work in which they have invested heavily. If there is a book out there which is about to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games, they need to be publishing it, not the author. [Note to any publishers reading this: there is, it's called Emon and the Emperor and I wrote it. I'm happy to send it to you.]

Here's more evidence: I'm seeing more and more publishers' websites which explain in depth the advantages of traditional publishing over self-publishing. (Professional editing, expert cover design, wide distribution and a full marketing support team, essentially. But for me the main selling point of traditional publishing is validation.) The publishers are now trying to sell their product to us, rather than the other way around. That tells me something.

It's an interesting and really rather wonderful time to be an author and I look forward to seeing the changes that come next.


  1. Interesting post. I'm not a writer so I don't normally think about these things, but if I were an author, I think I'd rather have my book published by a company rather than self-publish. The whole process might be more exciting; the waiting, the anticipation! :) Hoping to see your book on the big screen someday!

  2. Interesting. The publishing world is changing and it's leaning towards authors although the competition is stiffer all the time. At least now we can get in the game.

  3. Great, interesting post. There is an level of excitement that comes with choice and opportunity, and a level of fear. What is the right path for our little book? Who will help it thrive in the world? Options are wonderful and overwhelming.But I'm glad we have them.



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