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Authors disappointed by publishers

20 April 2015

After a London Book Fair (LBF) which was all about publishers from across the world talking to each other, a Bookseller article enables us to look in more depth at last week's link Authors call for better communication with publishers | The Bookseller.

First, LBF was back in Olympia after many years at Earls Court and one at much-disliked Excel in London's Docklands. But this time it was Olympia which was the scene of a truly international gathering, with more Americans than in the last few years and many overseas visitors.

The book of the Fair was newly on offer there - London agent Andrew Nurnberg was having a wonderful time selling Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird sequel Go Set a Watchman to more than 20 countries. He said: "When I came back from a trip recently, there were two Turkish publishers in the office reading the manuscript... a photocopy of Nelle's [Harper Lee's nickname] original that she typed on an old Remington. People read it in a bright, light room which just has a table and a chair. They cannot bring anything in with them - no phone, mobile, pencil, nothing, they have to leave their bags outside. And at night, the manuscript is kept in a safe place."

Elsewhere rights were being sold to and by publishers from across the world. Spanish language rights (but not to Spain) were strong and China is still a major focus of interest, as its publishing industry develops at breakneck speed.

But back to the authors' survey, which on closer inspection is less favourable to publishers than the summary suggested. The Do You Love Your Publisher? survey was co-produced by Harry Bingham in the UK and Jane Friedman in the US. 75% of authors say they have never been asked for feedback from their publisher and only 7% felt that publishers paid authors well. But a third were "horrified" by the prospect of having control and self-publishing their work and only a quarter were excited by this prospect.

Authors are more loyal to their agents than to their publishers, perhaps not surprisingly as agents tend to be more long-lasting than editors in publishing houses. Publishers' editorial input was rated as "excellent" by 43% and "good" by 27%, but 47% felt that publishers have "ever less to offer" and don't know how to market books any more. Amazon is seen as both a leading innovator in the book business, but also a business intent on destroying bookshops and killing off publishers.

Author Sara Sheridan summarised what a lot of authors feel: authors are "100% invested in the book they have written" while an "editor has a stable of books coming out in the same month or season and the reality is that they only need one or two of those books to make it big. Corporate publishers are engaged in a kind of intellectual property gambling. In this environment, your precious book is less important to them than it is to you."

This is undoubtedly true and is part of the continuing tension in the relationship between authors and their publishers.