The publishing wars leave behind many victims.
August 13, 2016
IT’S TOUGH being a literary agent these days. They view the publishing wars up close and often find themselves victims, caught in a crossfire left behind upon an ever-changing landscape.
Across the country, there are a lot of fine writers.
There are a lot of fine books.
But big publishers are merging.
Small publishers are dying.
Vanity publishers are picking your pocket.
Hybrid publishers want to make a deal.
And where are the bookstores going?
Nobody is paying advances that amount to anything anymore.
Traditional New York publishers prefer to publish novels with the names of dead men on the covers– Robert Parker, Robert Ludlum, Michael Crichton, to name a few – rather than discover bright new writers.
Don’t take a chance.
Go for the sure thing, may he rest in peace.
The publishing world no longer has publishers.
It has cost accountants.
Not even a CPA would be interested in Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee.
CPA won’t write books.
They keep books, the one without words, the ones with numbers in them.
God, how they love the numbers.
God, how they hate the numbers.
For the agent, the golden era has turned to rust. There was a time when an agent was invaluable for authors because those agents were locked solidly into the publishing houses.
Agents had contacts.
Agents knew all about in-house politics.
They knew who liked who and who didn’t .
They knew who liked what and who didn’t.
They knew who was looking for mysteries or thrillers or romance or horror.
Now, they only know who’s looking for cover.
And everybody is looking for cover.
Not long ago, I talked with a New York agent and a former editor of numerous bestsellers. He admitted that he, too, was treading unfamiliar waters.
He lives the hard truth of publishing every day.
As he says, the best advance any writer can hope for today is five thousand dollars. The trouble is, back when he began in the 1980s, authors were receiving advances of five thousand dollars. Almost thirty years have passed, and the advances haven’t changed a dollar.
He recently signed a deal with a small publisher for one of his clients. There was no advance. There was only a promise of royalties.
The publisher suddenly went out of business.
The agent was holding a contract.
He had a piece of paper.
The agent had one client, he said, who wrote a book that the publisher absolutely loved. In fact, the publisher loved the author’s writing so much that he bought two books.
A year later, the publisher hated the books so much he cancelled the contract.
What went wrong?
The book hadn’t changed.
The publisher’s mission had.
His only goal now was cutting costs.
So what’s an agent to do in this strange and unpredictable new world of publishing.
The agent made his decision. He still tries as hard as he can to broker a traditional book deal with a publisher.
It doesn’t matter.
And if he fails, the agent has established his own eBook publishing company.
He’s going digital.
We indies aren’t alone anymore.
The big boys in publishing are joining us.
The agent says that if he sells a hundred copies of an eBook a month, it’s been a real good month.
Welcome to our world, New York.