Friday, October 26, 2012

What Publishers Have That Writers Should Want

Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? by Jane Friedman is full, full, full of interesting material. The comments are juicy, too.

There's an awful lot of information there, but two bits of info that were striking to me:

"If you sign a traditional deal with a Big Six house, you’ll receive an advance. But most authors (up to 80%) never see royalties; their books never earn out."  I was aware that it was not at all unusual, and maybe even common, for writers to never make more on a book than their original advance. But for this to be happening with "up to 80%" (what does "up to" mean?) of writers is significant.

" It boils down to three desirables that publishers offer.
  1. Money
  2. Service
  3. Status"
Friedman pretty much writes off money (we've just seen that most writers don't make much beyond their advance) and service and dwells on the status that publishing with a traditional publisher brings an author. Yes, it's true that publishing with one of the Big Six publishers "can open doors and lead to other types of paychecks." It opens doors to literary blogs, review journals, and conferences, though, in my experience, not necessarily to bookstores.  But as Friedman points out in one of her comments to her own article, readers rarely know the publishers of the books they read. I have definitely found that to be true. So the status we're talking about here is status within the publishing industry, not status within the greater culture. How long and how much are you going to care what the cool kids in your cliche think about you? Cripe, we're grown-ups.

I think the major desirable publishers offer is service. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that marketing and promotion are the big devils on everybody's backs. But publishers also offer editing. I do not mean copy editing, though they do offer that (mine always did) and that is definitely important. But more significantly, they offer content editing. This is crucial. It is a rare manuscript that will not benefit from a second mind helping to look for inconsistencies, meanderings, unnecessary characters, and a long list of other things.
At a publishing house, your manuscript was acquired by an editor who has some kind of interest in it, presumably "gets" it and "gets" you, at least in relationship to this one particular piece of work. Because they are being paid by a third party (the publisher, not you) they they are free to go back and forth with you to help you shape your book into something more polished and finished than your (first) final draft.
The money might not be great with a traditional publishing company and your neighbors and family may be totally unaware of your elevated status because you're publishing with one. But so long as the traditional publishing companies have content editors, they'll have one very big desirable to offer.

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