Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why The Industry Sticks With Established Authors

Two weekends ago, at the PNWA conference, I heard authors outside in the lobby discussing the state of the business. They were in a heated discussion and really complaining a lot about the current trends in the market. In particular, they were upset at the number of publishers "unwilling to give new authors a chance." They seemed to think it was due to an unwillingness of the publishing industry to try anything new. Now, while there is some truth in that, I think we have to be cautious how far we extend that logic.

So, why do publishers stick with the established authors? Let's take a look at a few ideas that we are seeing currently in the market:

  • Sales are down (or at least not increasing) in pretty much every genre and every format.
  • The market in all genres is really saturated right now with the number of authors launching their own books through self-publishing.
  • Because of that saturation, finding authors is really difficult.
Because publishing is a business and the goal is to make money for everyone (publisher through the writer) the approach publishers need to take is one that will attempt to make that money. (Yes, I know I am making a lot of obvious statements but stick with me). Although publishers are all looking for new ways to reinvigorate the business with different marketing trends, voices, publishing packages and so forth, they still have to be able to put out products. This is where the established authors come into play.

We have to remember that established authors do have a proven track record. They have sales as well as a backlist that demonstrates they can produce. Along the same line, because the market is so saturated right now, name recognition is key to making those sales. We know that readers will often return to their "favorite" authors when getting their latest book. In other words, these established authors already have a platform to sell their books. They are pretty much a "sure thing".

When it comes to new authors, although they may have fantastic stories and great concepts. Heck, the writing may be through the roof, there are no promises. This market is really strange right now. I spoke to a couple of editors at the RWA conference and they all said the same thing. Projects that should have sold well struggled. Authors that should have worked struggled. And yet a lot of other projects succeeded. The strange part was there was really no pattern to the project. The only thing they saw as a trend was the author's name recognition. In simple terms, new authors are not coming in with sales numbers and a following.

Yes, I know this is the reason why so many authors are tying the self-publishing approach.  There is the thought that if they can build up a reader base and build up their sales, they would be in the same place as the established authors. The problem though, is one simple two letter word I used - IF. As we said, this is a business where there are not promises.

I think we forget a couple of things when it comes to this business. Building an author takes time. This is not an overnight business. The work you commit to a new author to train them and to get them ready to produce is an investment in the future. Publishers will not see that profit until several books down the line. And, like anything in business, time is money. When we sign a new author, or give those coveted slots to the established authors, we are doing so because the "odds" of success are better than putting that new author out there without a name.

So what does this mean for new authors? It means it takes a stronger project to market. It takes having a strong sense of the industry and really knowing what it takes to succeed. In the past, we used to be able to take those mediocre projects and build them into something great. Now, we have to take projects that really demonstrate something right out of the gate. For new authors, this is going to take time.

I am in no way saying that new authors should just give up. As I have said over and over again, this industry takes time. Publishing takes time. So give it that time. Be persistent. Don't be impatient (as the editor panel noted at the PNWA conference about the current population of writers out there). Learn to write the great story. Learn the business.

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