THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCELLENT ANALYSIS OF THE CURRENT STATE OF PUBLISHING
AND THE PLIGHT OF THE AUTHOR
IT IS NOT A PRETTY PICTURE. WHERE WILL IT LEAD IS THE QUESTION?
How to fix book publishing
Start with the author, and build from there
Note to authors: We welcome you to comment directly in the text or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Latest edits based on author feedback: 5/20/15
It’s 2015, and publishing is broken.
Writing an outstanding book takes all of an author’s effort, talent and passion. Publishing is about connecting that work to readers in the best way possible. But the industry’s structure puts a long chain of people and corporations, each with their own incentives, between you and your audience.
Traditional publishers, in the pursuit of blockbusters, take control of publishing rights — then abandon authors whose sales don’t generate the expected return on investment.
Self-publishing forces you to choose between hundreds of costly services whose value is obscured by sales pitches. And once you publish, you’re on your own.
We believe authors deserve better.
What we’ve learned
In the past five years, we’ve seen first-hand the challenges and intricacies of publishing books in a digital world. We’ve partnered with Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Macmillan. We’ve published books for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. We’ve worked with many of New York’s leading literary agencies.
Though the publishing industry is filled with people who care deeply about books, it always privileges someone above the author — whether it’s the retailer, the distributor, or the publisher. When there’s a conflict of interest, the author loses. When margins increase, the author is the last to benefit.
You can see this clearly in the public fight between Hachette and Amazon. As authors John Scalzi and Walter Jon Williams as well as publishing analystMike Shatzkin point out, these corporations are not your friends. We believe the underlying issue is simple:
The publishing industry does not put authors first.
The publishing industry —
a model that predates electricity
Just like in 1892, there are thousands of submissions for every available spot in “traditional” publishing. J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve publishersbefore she was signed by Bloomsbury for an advance of £1,500. Authors query their hearts out and pull strings in the hopes that an agent or an editor will deem them worthy. And when they are lucky enough to win the lottery of approval, they are asked to give everything up: the rights to their work, copyediting, final say on the covers, input on marketing budget and promotional strategy.
Even then, more than 80 percent of published books don’t reach enough readers to earn out their advances. How can they, when publishers only invest promotional dollars in a fraction of their titles? Publishers think of their catalogs as a portfolio — they spread their risk, and invest more resources in books that succeed. That makes sense from their perspective, but authors with unique voices who need time to build an audience are left with no options.
When publishers fully control the marketing of a book, authors lose their ability to reach readers. They’ve given up their authority, so when the publisher gives up on them, their story is over.
So what about self-publishing?
Thanks to recent advances in the technology for creating, distributing, and reading books, authors can now publish on their own, with complete freedom — but no support.
Self-publishing today means finding your way through a maze of costly and bewildering services. Many don’t deliver what they promise. The biggest company in self-publishing, Author Solutions (which was purchased for $116mm by Pearson in 2012 and is now part of Penguin Random House), is currently being sued by its own authors for its deceptive practices.
It doesn’t have to be this way
We believe technology can give authors a choice beyond the framework of “traditional publishing” versus “self-publishing.”
Software can quickly convert manuscripts to high-quality digital books that work on every device. Digital distribution can reach millions of potential readers instantly.
But technology can do more than just drastically reduce the cost and time it takes to create and distribute a book. It can also help authors understand their readers, connect with them, and build their audience.
Digital retailers like Amazon and Apple already know far more about book buyers than anyone in history. They know where your readers live, what other books they love, and how they found your book. They choose to keep this information for themselves, yet it could be harnessed in an author’s favor. Authors could use digital tools to learn about their audience, understand how people find and evaluate their books before buying, and adjust how they position their book to reach more readers.
How can publishing realize these possibilities?
Someone needs to start with the author, and build from there.
What every author deserves
Authors deserve support, especially after their book is launched.
Every author shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. You deserve to learn from other successful authors and receive clear recommendations based on accurate data. What should you do the day your book launches? A week later? A month? How do you get visibility in online stores? How can you drive more readers to see your book? Launching is just the beginning of the journey, and authors need help the entire way — with final say over important decisions.
Authors deserve complete transparency.
To know what to do, you need to know what’s happening. You deserve instant access to your books’ sales on every retailer. You deserve to be notified when something important happens — a valuable review, a retailer changing the price of your book, mentions on social media.
Authors deserve to have control over their work.
You must retain all rights to your work. You must be able to publish when you choose, set your own price, and change your price as you see fit. You deserve total ownership over how you present your work and yourself to readers. As you learn more about your readers, you must have the freedom to experiment with your metadata and messaging.
Authors deserve to profit from advances in technology.
Technology can make creating and distributing a beautiful book extremely fast and practically free. That speed and cost should be passed directly to authors, skipping intermediaries.
What we believe at Pronoun
We believe that books are important, and that the authors who create them deserve the highest respect.
We believe that technology should be used to empower authors, not to exploit them.
We believe that publishing should be open and completely free.
Calling all authors
We think that a major change to publishing is inevitable. We want to create that change by starting with the author, and building from there. Authors, we want to hear from you.