‘One person has been forgotten in this unholy publishing maelstrom: the author.’ That’s London literary agent Jonny Geller, from Curtis Brown, writing today in The Bookseller.
In a piece he titles ‘An agent’s manifesto’ he says: ‘The author is not an object a publisher has to step over in order to achieve a successful publication.’ Someone needed to say this and thank goodness he has.
Any author who has knocked around the publishing industry has hair-raising stories of bad treatment. Everything is usually fine if we keep their heads down and do as we’re told. But if we get out of our boxes, we suddenly meet unreasonable amounts of disrespect.
Typically this happens if we want changes to a cover or a blurb. Or we object to a title change. Or we make suggestions about the ebook release or the marketing plan. Suddenly we are treated dismissively, told we’re ‘only the author’, told to put up and shut up.
Publishers cannot change anything without the author’s say-so, but they don’t want us to know this. (Even though it’s probably in the contract.) And if we raise it, the standard tactic is not to discuss, but to bully the writer into agreeing by telling them publication will be delayed by a year or two, possibly indefinitely.
Now, having worked in publishers I know how important deadlines are. I know everything needs to run like clockwork. I know that publishers have not just one book to deal with, but twenty at least, plus all the other stuff that comes with working in a company. But they wouldn’t treat any other supplier or professional that way. Just authors.
Jonny Geller again: ‘If an author has a problem with the cover, blurb, copy or format, then something isn’t right.’
It is common, behind the scenes, to hear editors talk about authors with undisguised loathing – not just individual ones who may be difficult, but all of them, authors as a breed. There is a culture that authors must not be listened to.
The real work
They seem to think that because they do some editing and proofing they’ve done all the proper work, and the author was a slapdash child who spewed up a half-baked mess. That’s because the author had just spent months or even years locked in a silo with the book. We had to invent it, from nothing but ideas. The manuscript the publisher sees has another nine-tenths of work and tears below the waterline. If we put it aside and saw it with fresh eyes, we’d see a lot of those problems too (not all of them, but a lot). So no, the publisher didn’t do all the work.
Is it because they think they could write too, if only they had the time? Everybody says that. We’re used to it.
All the glory
Is it because writers seem to get all the glory? Most of us don’t get within a light year of glory. And if we do, we’ve earned it. Publishers get paid a salary, reliably every month. Writers work for several years on an idea and all we can guarantee from it is a lottery ticket that probably won’t pay back. In almost any other business environment, the one who puts in most risk gets the most reward. Try asking a venture capitalist for seed capital and see how much of your company they want for it.
Is it because we’re uncontrollable creatives? That’s what brings publishers new, wonderful things to sell. Jonny Geller again: ‘Remember, we don’t have a job without authors … Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like adults will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.’
Heavens, we want our books to be a success. We want to work with professionals who will help that to happen. We are grateful for good guidance and support. But we want to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Thanks for the pic, Lydiashiningbrightly
Agree, disagree, add your experiences? The floor is yours…
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