Below are some of Harry Bingham’s thoughts on the state of book publishing today. Harry is the founder of Jericho Writers. It’s a good time to be a writer!
Ten years ago, self-pub wasn’t really a thing. Now it certainly is. These days, there’s no longer any good public data for the scale of the self-pub market, but very roughly you should assume that self-published titles sell as many copies as all Big 5 titles on Amazon combined – in other words, one heck of a lot. Indeed, there are corners of the reading globe (romance and erotica especially) where self-publishing utterly dominates.
What’s more, indie authors make money. Again, public data is no longer available, but when it was, it was clear that at every single income level you care to name, there were more indie authors earning at that level than trad-published ones. More million-dollar indies. More $100K indies. And so on down. I’m certain that that basic picture hasn’t changed.
A friend of mine is currently selling a book, via a top British agent at a top British agency. The list of editors who are receiving that book include (of course) all the Big 5. It may surprise you to learn that the book doesn’t go to just one editor per publisher. It goes to as many editors, at as many imprints, as may be right for the book. From memory, the book is therefore going to two editors in different bits of HarperCollins, the same at PRH, and so on.
If an auction arises, those two HarperCollins editors, let’s say, might find themselves bidding against each other. A PRH / S&S merger wouldn’t necessarily reduce the number of editors that an agent pitched to. It would just change the email addresses of one recipient.
The long tail
Good publishing simply does not stop at the big firms.
My friend had as many small- to mid-sized publishers on that submissions list as Big 5 editors. And honestly? I think it’s simply 50/50 whether the book ends with a large house or a small one. The right publisher for that book will be one where the editorial, design and marketing visions align the best … along with a dollop of good chemistry between author and editor. A real passion from a Faber or a Bloomsbury or a Granta would (to my mind) be a better deal than a more lukewarm offer from a larger firm. (Those are British firms, but there are similar firms in the US and elsewhere too.)
The quality in some of these smaller houses is incredible. You often get more daring publishing, greater willingness to take risks, and generally bolder decisions at every level of the firm. You also, as an author, actually feel important to the firm, which is not something that’s easy to feel when you’re in the grip of one of the big machines. I once rejected an offer from a top, top quality British independent and I’ve always wonder if I did the right thing. If I had to guess, I’d say probably not.
Most authors I know don’t ultimately care about money anyway. Yes, they want to be paid properly for their work, and they want that side of things to be handled with proper justice and professionalism, but the real payoff is more intangible. It’s the passion of a publisher, the respect of a community of peers, the book in the bookshop, the reviews and comments. All those things are every bit as likely – perhaps likelier – for authors working with strong indie presses as for those working with the Big 5.
The Big 5 firms are great. The indie publishers are better than they’ve ever been. Self-publishing creates a tremendously inspiring and effective route for countless authors.
Author-led marketing tools are the best they’ve ever been.
Barnes & Noble and Waterstones (respectively the flagship bookchains in the US and UK) are both in better shape than ever.
The independent bookstore sector has lost a lot of poor-quality stores, but the strong ones remain strong.
Books (thanks, especially to low cost ebook pricing) are insanely affordable – and you can read in any format you choose much more easily than before.
The simple fact is that it’s better to be an author today than at any point in the last two decades. Indeed, that’s probably underselling it. I think it’s easy to argue that this is the best ever time to be an author.”