Earlier this week, author Philip Pullman wrote an open letter to publishers on the Guardian website (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/06/philip-pullman-society-of-authors-open-letter-fairer-terms-for-writers) which discussed the problems professional writers are facing at the moment, and firmly placing the blame on publishers. We at MadeGlobal would like to respond with our own open letter…
We completely agree!
Philip Pullman, we completely agree with your article. Time and time again we, as publishers of historical fiction and non-fiction, are approached by the “cast-offs” and “no-hopers” from the main, traditional, old-style publishers. We hear horror stories about terribly low royalty payouts, about books going out of stock with no re-print date, lack of control over cover design and wording, re-publications of books with a different title for no reason, no focus on creating an e-book version ever, and about authors only receiving royalties once a year…
The world of publishing has changed
The world of publishing has changed, and traditional publishers are not able to keep up with the dramatic changes that have happened in the world of printing, publishing and book retail. I’ll say that again they just can’t keep up.
A new breed of responsive publishers
However there is hope for the beleaguered author, and it belongs with what we’ve started calling “a new breed of responsive publishers”. These publishers (and yes, we are one!) are fair to their authors. For example, we at MadeGlobal split royalties 50/50 for ALL sales through ALL channels. These publishers want to be fair in everything they do. Nobody makes anything unless a book sells, but for authors to be happy, they should be compensated immediately. In a world where royalties and payments from retailers are electronic, there is no excuse not to pay authors on a monthly basis (we do). Authors work incredibly hard to create their manuscripts. They deserve to be paid as soon as they can. And they are the ONLY real asset that a publisher has. Without authors and their manuscripts, a publisher is useless. I suspect that traditional old-style publishers have forgotten this fact, and that it’s part of the reason they are all struggling so much at the moment.
Another point we feel is vital for a healthy publisher-author relationship is an open discussion about all things. We feel that traditional publishers want to hide behind locked doors, to do everything internally. That isn’t the way to keep authors happy. We feel that authors should be part of a family. Certainly we’ve created a “MadeGlobal Family” for our authors, where we all cross-promote our works, share successs and failure, and motivate each other to much greater highs. It’s part of a full inclusion that only new-breed responsive publishers can offer. By working with a responsive publisher, authors can be involved in the direction and concept for a cover design (though only good publishers will avoid the horrible “self published” look that sadly still exists!), in manuscript changes to tighten up wording, and in discussing places where a book might be marketed or promoted.
Bookshops are not the sole focus anymore
Publishers focus on trying to get books into physical book shops, but they are no longer the main avenue for most readers these days. The majority of people shop online. Certainly in countries like the UK and many parts of the US, a local bookshop finds it difficult to survive these days.
Online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are able to provide every book that exists, not just a limited selection which the owner of a shop can show. The physical bookshop is wonderful and we love them, but they’re not the only outlet for books any more. From the author’s point of view, we completely understand the attraction of having your book “in a shop”. But that shop is only every visited by locals. The world is one HUGE market place and online sales, ebook sales, are the way things are going.
Sadly, traditional publishers are still counting on their relationships with bookshops and chains, and in many cases are neglecting the way the market has changed… but not responsive publishers!
Yes, we can see the value of real shops carrying our author’s books. For example we employ a marketing manager whose job it is to place our books in historical sites throughout the UK. That’s because we sell history books, and we know that visitors to historical attractions are actively looking for our books. But Waterstones?, no. They are great for the top 100 mainstream books and that’s about it, in our opinion.
These days, readers want to be able to choose from a myriad of tiny niches. And authors are increasingly catering to those small niches – that’s excellent news for both readers and authors. Sadly the traditional publishers just can’t see that the world has fragmented. Online retail has enabled our history authors to get directly to their target audience. No gate-keeper is needed any more. Within the blink of an eye they can tweet, facebook, blog or whatever and hundreds of thousands of likeminded readers will get to see it. It’s amazing. It’s what a responsive publisher can take advantage of.
Philip Pullman also touches on agents in his article. We really don’t see the value of agents any more. With traditional publishers, an agent was vital to get the best deal possible, or even to get a deal at all. Authors can now negotiate their own deals. When the author knows they’re getting a totally fair deal, there isn’t any need for an agent to try and negotiate a “good deal”. The author CAN ALWAYS gets a good deal if their book is good.
And in conclusion
We wholeheartedly agree that the old business model (author -> agent -> publisher -> bookshop) is dead. It’s that simple. We think that traditional publishers have treated authors badly for long enough, and that it’s time for modern publishers to give the power back to the author. We think that a new business model has already taken over (author -> publisher -> world) and that we are in the dying moments of the old ways.
Philip Pullman, we, as modern publishers, salute you, and all of the other authors out there. YOU are the reason that publishers exist, not the other way around.