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Changes in the book trade 5


Writers' routes to their audiences | Changes in the book trade

The current situation in the book trade is one of rapid change. It's important for writers to understand what is happening as it will impact on their own chances of getting their work published and how it will be published. This series is looking at the changes in the book trade, with a different focus each week. The first article dealt with the bookselling world, the second article looked at publishing, the third focused on print on demand and the fourth on self- publishing.

Writers' routes to their audiences

It is a supreme irony that at time when creative writing courses are turning out large numbers of keen writers and almost everyone seems to think they have a book in them, it has never been so hard to find a publisher.

Publishers' focus has been on fewer books, more heavily promoted, so lists have been cut and currently very few new authors are taken on. It used to be possible to develop a writer's career over several books, as they honed their skills and developed an audience. Now most big publishers do not even look at their 'slush-piles' and many will only accept submissions from literary agents.

Unfortunately many of these same literary agents also don't accept unsolicited submissions, although the result of this is that those who do are inundated with material. Many agencies will only take on a small handful of new authors each year. To be fair, they would say that they are fully occupied with looking after the writers they already represent.

The reason for this is that it has become harder for agents to place books with publishers. That goes for all books, unless they are identified as the next big thing or are by established bestselling authors. Many published authors have found that they can no longer assume that their next book will find a publisher.

This means that for unpublished writers it is harder than ever to get over the double hurdle of finding an agent and then that agent being successful in finding you a publisher. It is particularly hard to get an agent, as agents will currently only take on authors they feel certain they can sell. The reason for this is that agents get paid by results (a percentage of all advances and royalties on what they sell). The problems in the agency world are shown by the fact that some smaller agencies are closing down or amalgamating.

Changes in publishing exacerbate this. As well as wanting to go for big books only, publishers don't any longer tend to have editors on staff to edit the books they are publishing. This means that they are not keen to take on manuscripts which need a lot more work doing on them. New authors need to get their material into shape for publication before they start submitting it. This is the reason for the growth in organisations such as WritersServices which offer services to help authors get their work ready for submission.

Booksellers are also focused on bestselling titles and are less prepared than they used to be to stock 'midlist' or to give new authors a chance. The result is that, once you have a publisher, your debut book has to succeed in the bookshops so that you can break out the first time.

I call this the 'Curse of EPOS'. EPOS stands for 'Electronic Point of Sale' and it is the till machine which a few years ago was introduced into bookshops (and other retail outlets) and which enables accurate sales figures to be made available. The effect is that the chains know exactly how many copies of the author's last book they sold, and will order accordingly. This means that if your first novel was a flop, booksellers won't want to stock the second.

The result of all this is that the traditional routes to publishing are failing for many unpublished authors.

On the positive side the Internet has opened up many routes to publication. These are not so much through e-books, which still await the perfect reader, or through publishing online, which is a tedious way of reading anything, but through making it possible for authors to promote their work through blogs, websites and so on.

Richard Bawden, Head of Media at KPMG, wrote in Publishing News:

'Anyone can be a publisher now, thanks to readily available blogging software and digital photography. And, just as musicians such as Lily Allen are being discovered via, there are whole new generations of writers waiting to come to the fore via the internet rather than via the traditional route of agents and publishers. And their 'books' may bear little resemblance to what we know and love today. Once these authors become known, the viral effect of building a loyal and vocal fan base online may be enough to sustain the interest of existing fans and entice new ones.'


The simple fact is that the Internet offers fantastic opportunities for writers. Together with the international adoption of English as a global language, it has created a worldwide audience for writers in English on an unprecedented scale.

Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.


Changes in the Book Trade

1 Bookselling

2 Publishing

3 Print on demand and the long tail

4 Self-pubishing - 'really great' or career suicide?

6 Copyright under pressure

7 Creative Commons

From the WritersServices site:

An overview of self-publishing

Is self-publishing for you?

WritersPrintShop - WritersServices' self-publishing service

Next article: Copyright under pressure