Thursday, 7 October 2010
Publishers and agents
Publishing is in an interesting state of upheaval right now. It's broken, and when it's fixed it isn't going to be quite the same.
I'm going to suggest that one major reason for this is the decision publishers took some years ago to relinquish the slushpile to agents. I'm sure on paper it made sense. No doubt they worked out the time and the cost of looking at all those desperate typescripts, 99%+ of which were no use to them, and thought they'd save some money. Agents were willing to take on the job; for free they'd filter out all the rubbish and pass the gems on to the publishers. Win/win situation.
Except it hasn't worked out like that. Of course it's worse for writers, who now have to pass two gatekeepers instead of one. But nobody in the industry cares much about writers. The problem is that agents aren't interested in taking a chance on a new writer, in the belief that two or three books on, they'll write a best seller. (Publishers used to do this; Longmans stuck with Mary Renault for several now-forgotten books until she struck gold and justified their faith.) Nor are they interested in acquiring a midlist author, because a modest advance of a few thousand pounds, though most new authors would jump at it, just isn't worth their while. 15% of 5,000 is £750, hardly enough to put a gleam in an agent's eye.
But worst of all, agents are, it seems to me, giving up on the slushpile. They are always moaning about it (funny, you don't hear owners of gold mines grumbling about all the rock they have to shift) and I have a dark suspicion a lot of it is shredded unopened. What made me decide to self-publish was my last round of five submissions. I included stamped postcards for agents to post so I'd know Royal Mail had done its stuff. Only two postcards returned. I received three form rejections, one of which had no letter heading and was signed by an intern, so I don't know who it came from.
Gone are the days when a rejected author shoved his manuscript to the back of a drawer. These days, we self-publish. Some of these books are bad. Very bad. And some of them are so good they will change the face of publishing for ever.
*See also this article from The Independent.
Posted by Lexi at Thursday, October 07, 2010