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Society of Authors publishers' survey

17 March 2003

The Society of AuthorsThe British authors’ organization, with a membership of over 7,000 writers. Membership is open to those who have had a book published, or who have an offer to publish (without subsidy by the author). Offers individual specialist advice and a range of publications to its members. Has also campaigned successfully on behalf of authors in general for improved terms and established a minimum terms agreement with many publishers. Recently campaigned to get the Public Lending Right fund increased from £5 million to £7 million for the year 2002/2003. Regularly uses input from members to produce comparative surveys of publishers’ royalty payment systems. has just published the results of their annual survey. This gives 1,000 British authors a chance to comment on their publishers' performance. It makes slightly depressing reading and, since there's no reason to think that British publishers are particularly hopeless, or British authors especially hard done by, it probably shows up global trends.

Authors' levels of satisfaction with their publishers have fallen over the past six years. They criticise their publicity and marketing; lack of continuity in publishers' editorial departments, where books 'orphaned' by their editors' departure were felt to suffer; and over-zealous copy editing.

There are some hair-raising horror stories. These include the children's picture book which was taken over by the publisher's MD and sold at Bologna under her name. Another was the extremely unprofessional editor who told one author that 'she hated me and hated my books'. One author described their publisher in memorable terms, as 'a sinking ship with a rat as captain'.

On the positive side, 70% of the authors would recommend their publishers to other authors, so the Society's work to improve conditions for authors has borne fruit. Authors were impressed by publishers sticking to contractual terms, by good dealings with commissioning and copy editors, and by the high quality of book production. Publishers who came out of the survey well included Constable & Robinson, Hodder Headline, Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books, John Murray, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Random House trade, Transworld and Walker.