Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More Changes in the Publishing World

Ah, publishing, that glamorous world of 7-figure advances (8, if you're REALLY big); long lunches at expensive restaurants, all on the publisher's ticket; world-encircling book tours; and mongo book launch parties where the only thing more lavish than the food is the cost of the author's pen as he signs his books for the teeming masses...

Well...that's how it looks in the movies. And, to be fair, that's how it was--and is--for a select few. I confess, too, that in the 26 years I've been in publishing, I've done my share of wining and dining (okay, not literally "wining"!) authors, both prospective and those already on our list. Taking a group of authors to an expensive restaurant is just a way of showing appreciation.

At least, it was.

Several articles have been written lately about a new "austerity" in the world of publishing. Now, publishing has been called a lot of things, but austere? Hardly. Until, according to the NY Times and this site, now. As I read these articles, I couldn't help but wonder if this coming "austerity" wasn't actually more a coming back to reason. Just like the publishers who are stepping back from massive (or any!) advances--a move we started seeing in '07 among publishers such as HarperCollins and supported by, among others, Mark Taylor of Tyndale in his thoughtful, thought-provoking letter to ECPA Members. (I know this letter stirred a flurry of fury from agents and authors, but I can't say I disagree with Mark. Seems too many forget publishing is a shared-risk proposition, and books not being profitable doesn't help anyone. I know there's more to being profitable than earning out an advance, but it's a definite factor.)

So, where does that leave us? Acquisitions lunches at Burger King? Author dinners at Denny's? Nickle and diming ourselves, and our authors, to death? I can't see that happening. But here's what I do see: publishers are taking a far harder look at what it really costs to be effective in publishing. And while some may find it hard to believe, those I know in publishing are trying to determine what most benefits not just the publishers, but the authors and their readers. In today's economy, everyone is hurting, and we all need to tighten the belt. I see that as simple wisdom, so long as the decisions made are done strategically and with consideration for all parties. I don't want to see authors mistreated or devalued any more than I want to see publishers going under.

So I'm curious. What do you think? Where should we tighten the belt? What do you see as wise and strategic moves for publishers and authors in the face of an ever declining economy?

How can we make publishing a win-win proposition?

Can't wait to read your thoughts!



Colleen Coble said...

One thing I've always loved about my agent Karen Solem is that she tries never to hold the publisher over a barrel. She's always talked about the win/win situation. I think authors and agents have to start thinking of this as a partnership and not how high can we get the advance. Build a relationship with the publisher and think of "us" not me. Maybe consider taking less up front and a little higher percentage of royalties in the end. I hadn't read Mark Taylor's letter until your post, Karen. I can't say I disagree with him either.

And I wouldn't be offended at a meal at Appleby's instead of a $40 dinner. I'd take coffee! :)

Cheryl Pickett said...

Hi Karen,
I think the first step may finally be happening, the industry is beginning to see it's broken. Once that realization is achieved, work can be done to fix and heal it.

When I read the NY Times article, I was actually surprised that agents etc. still had "fancy" lunches or meetings at all. There have been issues about unprofitability long before now, so yes, I'd think those types of expenses would be removed from the budget for all but the most special occasions.

If I go to buy a car or carpeting or even a house, I don't expect to be "wined or dined". I don't really see why publishers would see that as a good place to spend money in the times we are in. There are plenty of ways to say "we appreciate your business" that are more cost effective I'm sure.

As mentioned, will that cut alone fix the downward slide currently going on now? No, but just like a family budget, you have to look at every detail and often a little here and there adds up to a lot.

Cheryl Pickett

Nicole said...

Hmm. If you'll forgive the possible lack of understanding in these comments--or ignorance, if you prefer . . .

If a publisher uses the same printer for all books produced, one would expect they have an arrangement which might include specialized discounts. I know that the larger print runs provide a cheaper--er, less expensive--cost break. In spite of the quantity break it seems logical to do smaller runs for newer or lesser known authors' books to avoid a surplus. With a smaller advance the author stands a chance of earning it back for the publisher.

For authors, we need to get over ourselves and bite the bullet as far as advances go if we're un-established.

However, if the author makes concessions with advances, the bulk of marketing shouldn't rest on his shoulders--not saying it does, but there seems to be huge expectations from some publishers upon an author to spend, spend, spend for marketing their book.

And booksellers should not ever be able to attain refunds on ordered books just because some knucklehead decided, AFTER reading the entire book, she didn't "like" it. Tough.

Somehow, some way, the cost to publish these 300 page or 80,000-100,000 word jobs needs to drop. They're rarely worth the $13.99 to $15.99 it costs to buy them.

Christina Berry said...

Depends on where the author finds value.

If she finds her value in the dollar amount of her advance, she might feel slighted. Not that I'm perfect by any means, but I'm not in this to make the most money I can. I'm in this to have a career.

Accordingly, when my agent counter-offered to a publisher I asked her to only go slightly above their number on the advance. I WANT to earn out. I WANT to publish with them again.

I value the way they treat me, the way they believe in the book, and the way they promptly communicate with me. Money is just a side benefit. :-)

Kathy said...

I didn't see my 40 cents a book royalty mentioned : )

It is hard to get in with new publishers. I consider myself very low maintainance (sp?) I've only ever once gone out with an editor and it was at ICRS for Chinese. Bring on those $12 meals!

Karen B. said...

LOL, Kathy! That's because I was jealous. You get lots more than I do!

insert wink here

Catherine West said...

I don't know...given the predictions in publishing for this year already, if a new author was offered a contract, I think they'd be happy enough. At least I would. I'd be so happy in fact, that I'd even go to Chuck E. Cheese's with you. Of course I'd wonder about your state of mind, but hey, who am I to judge?
Let's hope it doesn't get as bad as it sounds like it might.

Courtney Walsh said...

I feel like I'm far too new to this to really comment, but I wanted to thank you for putting the thought out there... it's definitely good stuff to chew on!

Kristi Holl said...

Seems like common sense to me (though it isn't so common anymore) to tighten your belt during tough times (or heaven forbid, to forestall tougher times). It's what most people are doing at home these days. Personally, I want my publishers to be wise and prudent and STAY IN BUSINESS. They can't publish good books if they go under.

I only had one fancy New York lunch with an editor, and I was a new writer then. It made me so nervous (fresh off my Iowa farm) that I spilled food down my front three times. I DID wish she'd taken me to Denny's!

Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog