Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why Publishing Is Extra Cautious These Days

When I first started into this industry back in 2003, publishers and agencies had a different approach to writers (both new and old). There was a "let's just sign someone and see what happens approach." We would sign authors that we would work with for 1 or 2 years just to get a piece of writing in great shape before we sold it to a publisher. The publishing houses would sign people on their potential and sometimes, for projects that were just "OK".

We could take that approach because the consumers were buying, the number of retailers out there selling books was still pretty large and we did have a lot of cases where some of these "maybe" authors turned into pretty big sales.

But things have changed. Those retailers are now gone. When we lost Borders, we lost 50% of those national stores. On top of that, when the economic crunch hit, consumers had to make decisions. Buy a gallon of milk, or buy a book - and milk would win out. Oh, they might have continued to read, but they would go to the libraries, or hit the used book stores. The end result, however, is the money flow from the consumer, to the retailer, to the book seller, to the author and to the agent ceased to move.

I spoke with an editor several years ago when the crunch was really hurting people and her comment was pretty telling. In the past, her company pretty much had three levels of authors. They had the big guns with the 6 figure deals who everyone knew of. Then you had the mid-listers. And then you had that lower rung of authors who were like the minor leagues in baseball. Not quite there but a work in progress. They pretty much got rid of the minor leagues. As she noted, she used to be able to buy books she liked. Now she had to only buy books she beyond loved.

So now we are being extra cautious when signing authors. But, there really is much more than simply the whole money thing. The number of authors out there is also showing us a huge population that really don't have what it takes for the "long haul." Sure, they have one book, but do they have the ability to produce? We have to remember that success in this industry comes from name recognition. Readers return to authors because of their name.

One of the questions I ask authors when they pitch stories to me, or when I think I might have a project that sounds like it has potential is "what else do you have?" The question is not to find someone so I can go for the "3-book deal", but instead, it is there to check of this potential author has any sense of the future.

I have to say, I know I have felt this in the past, and I am not alone. Other editors and agents too have faced this when all of a sudden, an author who we have put a lot into suddenly quits producing. We find problem after problem arising. We really thought we had someone and then we find out it just isn't there. For an agent, this is really tough because we spend so much time being an advocate for the author to the editor and the publisher, telling these people this author is the best thing ever, and then deadlines don't get met, the product is just not there, or the author suddenly becomes difficult to work with. Not cool!

I think authors need to understand, we are not doing this just to find that amazing book that will be the end all, be all of books. We are doing this because the market is simply tough right now and taking those risks is not going to be profitable.

1 comment:

  1. That really puts things into perspective. The flood of authors in the market via the ease of self publishing doesn't seem to be helping those of us who are trying to find an agent because we are truly interested in writing for the long term. Many of those authors are experts as self-marketing and flood social media with their "buy me" campaigns. It seems like the key to getting an agent now is to prove that we can be just as good as promotion as we are at writing just so we can compete with the self-publishers. Between the full-time jobs most of us have, writing and promoting ourselves on social media, sleep is over-rated. :)