Are publishers getting the #authorsay message?

Are publishers getting the #authorsay message?

This article was originally written as the walkup to our Friday, 10th April, #FutureChat discussion. Join The Bookseller's The FutureBook #FutureChat each Friay at 4 p.m. London (BST), 5 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9 a.m. Denver (MT), 8 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

The real irony here, it turns out, is that it wasn't the publishers calling the questions:

  • 75 percent of responding authors said they have never been asked for feedback from their publisher
  • 7 percent said that publishers pay writers well
  • 32 percent said that the prestige of having a deal with a traditional publisher was important to them
  • 28 percent said communication from their publisher before, during, and after publication was inconsistent, confusing or always poor
  • 26 percent said that communication from their publisher was excellent
  • 37 percent said they would move publisher if another reputable publisher offered the same advance as their current advance for their next book

We are sure the concerns raised about feedback will be well noted by publishers.

That's the optimistic comment you'll find from Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet on results of the #AuthorSay survey of traditionally published writers. Those results indicate that a lot of traditionally published authors feel that their publishers — communications specialists, after all — have long shared a kind of lapse in their own communications with their writers.

Exclusive first coverage of the results of the "Do You Love Your Publisher" survey is now available from The Bookseller here in Authors call for better communication with publishers.

As The Bookseller editor Philip Jones notes in his leader piece in today's (10th April) edition

Traditional publishers are deluding themselves if they think they hold the whip-hand over authors. The recent high-profile poaches (Kate Mosse, Danielle Steel, Allison Pearson, Trisha Ashley, with more announcements to come during LBF) show how far publishers will now go to get the right talent on their books, and how they are refining their offers to make themselves attractive, whether that is by promising to publish with global muscle or with boutique attention.

But it also reveals how authors are willing to break even long-term publisher relationships for the chance of something new  and refreshing, especially if it also comes with more money.



The "Do You Love Your Publisher?" survey created by author-industry analyst and educator Jane Friedman (US) and author Harry Bingham (UK) did what traditionally publishing authors told us their publishers do not do: It asked them.

As Jones tells us, it's a case of "yes, but" -- the picture is a mixture of authors who have new options for getting their work to readers — but many of them would much prefer to carry on with traditional publishing, rather than trying to do it themselves. 

My colleague at The Bookseller Sarah Shaffi spoke to — among several industry observers — author and former Headline editorial director Harriet Evans (pictured):

Evans...said there was a “culture of passive-aggression in publishers’ dealings with authors, like authors are exotic, crazy creatures who can’t possibly be listened to”. She advised publishers to communicate regularly with writers: “Be quick to respond, be honest but be kind and consistent. Publishers need to stop seeing the email in the inbox from the author as a stinkbomb and more as a part of the process—the most important part, after all.”

If Mollet is right about publishers being wiling to note how  traditionally published authors feel about them, now would be a good time for the trade to start showing this.

Bingham makes the point in his comments to Shaffi for our coverage, Authors seek engagement:

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.

And while Friedman, in her own wrap of the results, points out that the survey is not scientific — this is a self-selecting sample of 812 writers who volunteered their input, about three-fifths of them from North America and 310 of them from the UK and Ireland -- she is today, in fact, doing one of the things she's best known for: studying what happens to authors in the marketplace.

Our #FutureChat session was led from Minneapolis where Friedman and several panelists have discussed the plight of authors' work in literary magazines in the US at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (#AWP15). The panel related to the release of a new anthology of articles from the University of Chicago Press in which Friedman's essay, The Future of Gatekeepers, is featured.

When The Bookseller's Shaffi spoke with Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, the interpretation was one of caution for the industry. Solomon:

If I were a publisher reading this survey I would be very concerned. Although on first glance there appears to be broad satisfaction with publishers, deeper drilling reveals some interesting pointers,” she continued, adding that publishers were “falling down” on author care, and highlighting author pay, saying the “time has come to give authors a greater share of publishing profits, particularly on digital exploitation.

And early response this morning to the news of the survey's results includes such commentary as this tweet from Curtis Brown co-managing director Jonny Geller:

Bingham, in his own commentary at his site, calls the input of the survey's respondents Grumbling but not quitting: what authors really think of publishers.

That mixed result is characterized well by Jones in Rules of attraction:

Of the authors surveyed, a third were “horrifed” by the prospect of having control over the publication process—only a quarter were excited. Futhermore, 85% of respondents said that the “prestige” of having a traditional deal was important to them. Agents play a vital role here: authors are more loyal to their agent than their publisher, and value their agent’s careers advice over that of their editor. That agents are pro-publisher, should not be a given.


Join The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community on Fridays for #FutureChat at 4 p.m. London (BST), 5 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9 a.m. Denver (MT), 8 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Main image - Pixabay: John Potter