Authors seek engagement

It’s curious. I’m currently working my way through my fifth six-figure book deal with a top-tier publisher, but I’ve never really been asked for my views. No publisher has ever said: “Harry, we’ve published a couple of your books, and we just wanted to know how you felt about it. What things did we do well? What things did we mess up? Where could we improve?”

Now, just to be clear, this isn’t a coded dig at anyone. My relationship with my current publisher, Orion, is excellent and my basic view on that relationship is “more of the same, please”.

All the same, it’s odd, isn’t it? You buy a book from Amazon and it’ll ask you to rate the packaging. You publish a book with a major publishing house... and no one asks you to rate anything. According to our stats, 74% of authors aren’t asked to give feedback at all, while only 16% felt that they were asked for feedback in a manner which allowed them “to communicate freely”. That’s not very good, is it? When we looked only at the responses from authors on larger advances, the pattern of responses was essentially identical.

When we probed publishers’ willingness to engage with authors more broadly—regarding marketing, career development, communications and guidance in general—we found the same thing: authors felt under-involved and under-used.

There’s an ethical issue here, but also a commercial one. The ethical one is that most authors are badly paid and have wildly insecure careers. So why not make nice? Conversation is free.

The commercial issue is that feedback and communication makes things work better. Editors talk to marketing. Marketing talks to design. Everyone talks to sales. So why not include authors too? Agents do, and authors are fiercely loyal as a result. Publishers too often don’t, and only 33% of authors are sure they would stick with their current house if given the option to move. For an industry that claims to have authors at its heart, that’s a dispiriting stat. I hope it changes.


Author Harry Bingham runs industry database Agent Hunter