The relationship between author and publisher lies at the heart of the publishing industry – yet to a host of professional authors, that relationship can feel strangely neglected. So we decided we’d ask authors what they thought of the industry that nurtures them: the unvarnished truth.
In total, we secured responses from more than 300 authors, based in the UK. Those authors were, on the whole, very experienced, with a majority having published three or more books, and a good many having published more than six, often in many countries, and usually with the assistance of a literary agent.
And we found both good and bad in the industry. Every now and then one reads about the ‘death of the editor’, but that certainly didn’t come across from the responses we had. Nearly all our authors thought the standard of editing was good or excellent. The same high praise extended to copy editing and the whole production side of things.
Yet when it came to sales and marketing – in theory the heart of any modern publisher – we found that authors were distinctly unimpressed. Asked to rate the marketing campaign mounted by their publisher, about two fifths of authors commented, ‘Marketing campaign? What marketing campaign?’ It also seems remarkable that, deep into the twenty-first century, publishers should be so sloppy about asking their authors for feedback: the ‘what did we do well? What could we improve?’ type questions. Most authors simply weren’t asked for their opinions, and if they were, they were asked by their editor – in effect, their line manager and the person most immediately responsible for the publication process.
Swings and roundabouts perhaps – but the crunch question came towards the end of the survey. We asked authors whether they would choose to stick with their current publisher or move to a new one, assuming that there was no financial difference either way. Authors broke into roughly equal thirds: stick, twist and don’t know. For an industry which claims to be founded on the talents and energies of its authors, we think this is a rather unimpressive result! (And an interesting one for literary agents, who might be tempted to take their clients out to auction a bit more.)
Our campaigning infographic is trying to get these thoughts more widely disseminated. Amongst literary agents, amongst publishers – and indeed amongst authors themselves. The industry is in a state of flux. Now is the time to be asking the hard questions!