Authors need to 'engage' in the publishing process

Authors need to 'engage' in the publishing process

Both traditionally and self-published authors need to be “engaged”, traditional publishers have to be open to new voices from different backgrounds, tricky rights issues need to be tackled, but ultimately traditional and indie author communities need to come together.  

Those are some of the main discussion points at yesterday's Author Day, The Bookseller’s inaugural conference aimed at exploring a "common understanding” between writers and publishers.

The role of authors engaged in the publishing process was a recurring theme throughout the day, particularly because of the “cut through” authors need to have with today’s busy, media-saturated consumer. In a panel of authors and agents, Curtis Brown agent Sheila Crowley said that authors needed to engage with audiences, partially because of shifts in reading and what people were looking at on their smart phones. She said: “[Authors and publishers] are in competition like never before. We are competing against a lot of new, great drama—Neflix, Amazon Prime, etc—there are so many more ways of people accessing great stories.”       

In the later What Publishing Can Do panel discussion, publishing consultant Katie Roden echoed these thoughts. She said: “Our competition is infinite, not just other authors but what is on our small screens [of our smartphones].” She said authors perhaps needed to think of changing reader habits “on the smaller screens” and what that might mean for how authors compose and develop stories.       

In the same panel, Pan Macmillan digital and communication director Sara Lloyd refuted earlier claims that traditional publishers did not want to work with authors who ask a lot of questions of them. She said: “We want authors to be engaged, we love authors to be enthusiastic. But there are different levels of engagement that authors are comfortable with. And that is our job, to provide the services to help them reach readers.”  

Traditional publishers were taken to task for being risk adverse in their content which has made them eschew emerging voices. Author, journalist and 22Five Publishing co-founder Douglas Wight said most publishers were too shortsighted. He added: “What they want and what they are commissioning is the short answer to ‘if you liked this you’ll love this’. The great thing about self-publishing is that there is a way to cut through this.”

Lack of new voices was a key theme on What Authors Can Do: Allied Interests. Author Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of Rife magazine, said people in the industry needed to be “less defensive” about calls for more diversity. “We all have a collective responsibility to change things,” he said. “It’s not your fault, it’s the industry’s fault, but we’re all responsible for that industry while we want to be a part of it.”

Though earlier in the day Alli founder Orna Ross said there had been a “power shift” towards writers in the publishing industry, many questions were raised about the current rights regime in publishing and whether or not they benefitted writers. Author Kate Pullinger pointed out the irony that “we are supposed to be in this modern global economy with no borders yet publishing is still very territorial”. Sheil Land agent Piers Blofeld, meanwhile, decried some publishers who were “squatting on rights” and made it difficult for rights to revert to authors.

A statement, based on discussion points raised at Author Day, will be presented at the FutureBook Conference 2015 (4th December), during the session "Writing the future: author-centric publishing" at 12.10pm. For more information or tickets visit thebookseller.com/futurebook/2015.

Read a summary of the Author Day discussions on 'the state of the author' here.