Why it’s time for more transparency in publishing

Publishing has long been a bastion of prestige and influence, smoke and mirrors protecting what was sacred to those inside. Then along came Amazon, ebooks, digital and the rise of self-publishing. Now the old approach is hurting publishing, because this new world moves so fast that only the agile can hope to keep up. So what’s the answer? 

(1) Transparency in experimentation, failure and success

The self-publishing environment is full of authors with entrepreneurial spirit sharing openly. We discuss sales numbers and promote each other through blog posts and social networks, especially when our books are in the same genre. Because in this environment, it’s about co-opetition, when parties with similar interests cooperate to create higher value together than they can apart. In learning together, we can fail faster, respond and adapt more quickly.

Publishers can do the same thing, and are beginning to by sharing information at conferences like FutureBook, but a wider adoption of co-opetition would hasten the process.

(2)Transparency in dealing with authors

One of the main reasons authors talk negatively about publishers is because they are disappointed with results. In the main, the mythical publishing dream is exactly that.

But if there is transparency, with realistic expectations, there will be less disappointment. If there is honesty, there can be real partnership. For example,
* Offer contracts with straight-forward, understandable clauses that mean authors can work for a publisher and for themselves at the same time. The non-compete’ clause has to adapt to a faster-moving digital environment.

*    Tell authors upfront that they need to market their books together with your sales team. You can put a book in stores but they need to find their thousand true fans.
*    Provide accurate, timely sales data reports that reconcile with royalty statements and payments. Amazon and Kobo do this right now for self-published authors and pay monthly so authors can forecast cashflow.
 
"If publishers want to stay in business, they are going to have to partner with writers as equals but there is an entrenched resistance to this in the industry, says Orna Ross, self-publishing novelist and Founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). “It’s revealed in terms like ‘slush pile’, in refusing to shift on e-book royalties, in seeing Amazon as a threat rather than somebody to learn from, in paying lip service to the importance of writers while viewing them as a supplier (in the new parlance 'content provider') only.

I think every publishing executive should brainstorm round the question: 'What would my business look like if I thought of writers, rather than retailers, as the best route to readers?' What would that do to the publishing industry?"

(3) Transparency in personality

Times of change inevitably mean that people defend their corners, but the snarky articles demonizing various aspects of the industry, upstart or established, have got a little out of hand lately.

Let’s remember that behind “publishing” and “self-publishing” are individuals. Remove the smoke and mirrors, and behind the labels are passionate people who care deeply about books and readers.

When I attended FutureBook last year as an independent author, I met some amazing people doing brilliant things in publishing. It changed my opinion and I became an advocate for the ‘traditional’ industry, even though I am considered outside it by so many.

Transparency in publishing is critical right now because we all want this tremendous industry to thrive in a time of great change. Together we are stronger, but we can’t do it without some honesty.

Joanna Penn is the independent author of ARKANE thrillers Pentecost and Prophecy, also represented by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. www.TheCreativePenn.com Twitter @thecreativepenn

Comments

Authors and Marketing

Having read "Why it’s time for more transparency in publishing" I find myself in complete agreement, especially on the marketing side.

Traditionally published authors are in something of a state of denial when it comes to being marketed by their publishers - and publishers are extremely reticent to turn around and say to authors "we can't market you at all/ as much as you expect".

Why is this?

After having talked to a number of publishers, I'm beginning to conclude that much of it is due to fear.

Publishers do a valuable job, no question about it and their value proposition is pretty simple for authors to understand. A publisher will, on the face of it, be a one-stop-shop that takes the book from the delivered file out to a book seller like Waterstones. The writer just has to concentrate on what their best at which is writing. Publishers offer services that authors would struggle to learn let alone finance or do on their own, and that is reflected in the deal that they give authors.

Authors generally believe that marketing of their book is part of this deal - and with very minor, minimal marketing actions (e.g. putting them on reader review sites etc), publishers can indeed claim that they have marketed them. However, the reality is that they can't do much more than this - resources and time mitigate against it.

Now to admit this to the authors they represent would be extremely embarrassing - or at least, they fear it could.

Surely, they might think, a publisher saying to authors "you've got to step up and do it yourself if you want to really stand a chance of making it" might lead to them being shunned and authors going elsewhere? It would be a publisher-written suicide letter. Not necessarily. You see, in todays fast changing world, this is an awkard conversation that needs to be hadm and the day is coming ever closer.

Publishers offer a very valuable service but they're not superman and they can't do everything. Moreover, traditionally published authors aren't going to be ignorant of this fact forever.

The rise of self-publishing proves that authors will act where publishers won't.

Self-published authors are making strides in marketing themselves and are realising that no-marketing equals no-sales. However to do so, they have had to learn how to market their author brand and their books. This can be a terrifying prospect for many authors (traditional and those setting out to self-pubish) and the terror is rooted in their fear of not knowing even where to begin let alone in having the resources to do it effectively. However changes in the online world has made marketing yourself not only within your budget, but very possible. You just need to know where to start, what the principles are and what tools to use.

Authors marketing themselves is a concept going mainstream.

Rather than standing in the waythrough fear of embarrasment, publishers should have a frank discussion with their authors from the outset, and offer guidance of the basics. The bottom line is simple - if a chunk of their authors did embrace marketing, the benefits could be huge. Indeed, publishers may oe day have far more to lose if they don't have that conversation.

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