Every Job In Publishing Depends On Authors
How is book publishing divided today? Let’s not count the ways.
Outsiders looking into this beleaguered industry, however, might be surprised at the reticence many authors and publishers can have about each other. Maybe about being around each other. Meeting each other. Talking more than friendly chitchat or cover design with each other.
Make no mistake, everybody has a perfect right to be on edge. After years of progress, this is a business still working hard to find a sustainable place in the digital arts-and-entertainment rocket ship of the future. One answer may lie in the agile, consumer-responsive tack mastered right here at Thought Catalog Books, poised to begin breaking into bigger leagues under Chris Lavergne’s direction.
But Problem No. 1, as I discussed in comments at the Singapore Publishing Symposium earlier this month, is readership. It’s not growing nearly as fast as the industry’s output is. If we didn’t publish another book after today, you’d still have too much to read in your lifetime. The Wall of Content is growing at digital speed. The readership isn’t.
In such circumstances, it’s more important than ever that industry players—especially creative players and business leaders—get together, come together, talk together in ways they simply didn’t have to do in the past.
Old publishing created and depended on a suite of well-defined roles.
- Authors didn’t publish themselves.
- Agents didn’t publish their authors.
- Nobody blanched when publishers gained control of their rights for the rest of their lives. Plus 70 years.
- Editors didn’t work from their homes for major publishers as freelancers.
- Nobody dreamed of putting out both hardback and paperback copies of a new title on a single day. Nobody dreamed of digital books at all, let alone on that same day. Plus audiobooks? Or Booktrack’s scored editions?
All these things and many more have changed so quickly that today, when some authors hear publishers speaking of “what’s best for our authors,” they suspect they’re hearing mere lip service. It’s PC these days to talk of the author’s centricity, that’s true. As a journalist covering all this, I can tell you that some publishers are thoroughly sincere when they talk of the importance of authors. Others, of course, may well be closer to the say-whatever-they-want-to-hear model. It takes all kinds.
But as a journalist who also programs conferences, it’s been a special privilege to arrange an event expressly for authors and publishers—and to watch the reactions.
Author Day on the 30th of November in London, is the opening of FutureBook Week, a series of events produced by The Bookseller, culminating in The FutureBook 2015 Conference on the fourth of December. The FutureBook confab is in its fifth year. Author Day, however, is on its first outing.
And from my vantage point as the organizer of Author Day—developing the theme, laying out the sessions for the day, choosing and engaging our terrific speakers—one of the standout elements of the experience has been a certain level of surprise. “You mean it’s for publishers, too?” Yes it is. Adamantly so. Publishing-house professionals, everyone who works with authors, are not only welcome, they’re needed and wanted…and a bit taken aback at that fact.
Maybe We Should Have Called It Authors+Publishers Day
Author Day is not a teaching conference. It’s not a motivational conference. We have many fine conferences of both kinds for writers—I have the honor of working with them in several countries annually—and those are important events, especially as our creative corps undergoes its own rapid transformation into digitally enabled producers of content.
But London’s Author Day is something different. It’s about issues, the issues that authors face in their work and business, the impact those issues are having on the industry, and about what needs to occur to help the best of a largely underpaid and overpopulated community of talent and ambition thrive as the professionals we need them to be.
It’s expressly for both trade-publishing authors and self-publishing authors. That, in itself, is enough to slow down some folks because a largely unproductive and sometimes bitter schism has developed between many writers on either side of the “indie” line.
But it’s also expressly for publishing people. This is one reason that I’m thrilled (that’s not too strong a word) to have announced today in London that Rebecca Smart is going to take on the speaking role in perhaps the most difficult moment of the day. Her talk is entitled “What Publishers Tell Us.” And if you could hear eyes rolling, you’d be listening to some pretty thunderous noise about now: too many writers think they know “what publishers tell us,” and they’re wrong.
As author Jeff Norton was quick to tweet when I announced the news, Smart is among the most accomplished and articulate people in big publishing today.
— Jeff Norton (@thejeffnorton) November 17, 2015
The former publisher of a the independent Osprey Group, she was named Managing Director of Penguin Random House’s major Ebury Publishing division in March 2014. Since then, she’s had fewer turns at conference podiums but few people can forget the dressing-down she gave the industry at the FutureBook Conference two years ago, telling the largest industry conference in Europe that they’re “too bloody slow” to market with books. Never hostile or ugly with her criticisms, Smart has succeeded to make us think many times because she’s willing to say clearly and forcefully what needs to be said.
What will she say on Author Day? We’ll have to wait to find out.
But she will have been preceded by “state of the author” commentary from the Society of Authors’ Nicola Solomon and from the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Orna Ross. We’ll also have heard “A Call for Author Unity” from the writer Jane Steen, and “A Call for Industry Unity” from the author Kamila Shamsie.
When Steen wrote a preliminary piece for us at The FutureBook, she went right for a need among authors to search for common ground:
In public we really are a divided profession, at least according to the vast army of writers who comment on blog posts…To me it’s obvious that there’ll be a gradual process of convergence as more authors work on both sides of the divide according to what works best for a specific project, and as more indie authors strive to give a more realistic, less evangelistic picture of what the indie life involves…Many of the issues that divide us are based on our failure to grasp the whole picture, so I’d also add the general suggestion that we need to develop the ability to put our side of the question across and debate issues without falling into an adversarial stance.
What then will follow is Smart’s considered, experienced commentary: “What Publishers Tell Us.” And she’s speaking as a publisher. She understands the biggest publishers’ minds and concerns and needs and viewpoints. She knows how it feels to have authors refer to publishers as evil gatekeepers, commercially crazed corporati, uncaring bestseller-mongers. She has things to say to us that we need to hear. We have, after all, heard an awful lot from authors in the past few years as digital empowered them to produce and distribute their own material. Partly because of industry culture, there’s rarely been anything like the amount of commentary from the trade-publishing side.
Throughout the day, we’ll be hearing from a mix of voices—from agents and illustrators, from crowdfunders and technologists, from translators and game designers, from marketers and communications officers. And from authors. But not exclusively from authors.
Because authors do an awful lot of talking with each other. They don’t get the chance frequently enough to talk with publishing’s people. And vice-versa.
So Author Day is about authors. But it’s for everyone in publishing.
And it’s great to see publishing-house staffers step forward to register. They are so welcome. Everyone is.
Because every job in the publishing business depends on authors.