Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Recently British author Harry Bingham and American publishing consultant Jane Friedman conducted a survey entitled “Do You Love Your Publisher?” The survey measured how satisfied authors were with various aspects of their publishing experiences. The results are enlightening.
1. The majority of those responding were authors who had published 5-6 books, and most of those books were with large, traditional publishers. Most of these authors were represented by agents. So the results reflect how experienced authors see publishing. That in and of itself is interesting because it’s hard to find data on this group of authors. Self-published writers have been surveyed far more vigorously.
2. The authors tended to rate the editorial input they received as excellent or good. That, frankly, surprised me since we hear a lot about how in-house editors don’t have time to dig deep into a manuscript. Even copy editors (grammar, punctuation, etc.) received high marks, which also surprised me because I find that many books I read are deplorably copy edited.
3, Responders indicated they felt pretty involved in the designing of their covers and even in the cover’s back cover copy.
4. But the publishing process seems to fall apart for authors when the marketing department gets involved. Only 19.75% of the respondents felt they were meaningfully engaged in the marketing process, with another 18.11% saying the communication was good but could have been better. That leaves the majority of authors seeing themselves as marginalized–with 21.40% saying they didn’t think their books even had a marketing plan. (Remember, the survey measured authors’ perceptions. This last statistic shows authors never saw a marketing plan, even though one might have existed.)
5. Among other communication questions the surveyed authors responded to was, “Did you receive systematic guidance from your publisher about how you could add [the] most value to the overall publishing process?” 19.20% indicated they did receive guidance most of the way; 25.41% said they received guidance but would have liked more; 30.25% said they didn’t need their hands held; 25.14% said they felt excluded or marginalized. Now, if these had been debut writers, seeing 1/4 of them feeling marginalized might make sense. But these are authors who know the ropes. That’s a pretty disturbing percentage, in my opinion.
6. The publishers didn’t ask authors for feedback. When asked if the publishers ever sought author feedback on how the publisher was performing, a full 74.38% said feedback had never been sought. Considering that every time I stay at a hotel; shop at various sites online; or use GoToMeeting, my opinion on that experience is solicited, it’s pretty stunning that publishers, whom we view as having regular connection points with authors, don’t tend to ask, “How are we doing?”
7. Publishers received high marks for paying on time and for making their royalty statements clear. That response also surprised me because some publishers’ statements are beyond deciphering. Now, it’s true these publishers aren’t the largest in the land, but even some medium-sized publishers manage to obfuscate just how a title performed. I think this stems from the publishers being inward focused rather than author-centric. Some have made a real effort to clearly communicate a book’s activity. For example, Simon & Schuster provides so much information on each title that a person reading the reports can feel inundated with data. The reports are relatively easy to read, if you take the time to sift through all the pages. Other publishers’ statements offer inadequate data; there’s no way to determine exactly how a book is doing.
8. Authors aren’t particularly loyal to their publishing houses. The survey asked, if another reputable publisher were to offer the same size advance for the writer’s next book, would the writer switch. 37.22% said they would; 32.92% said they would stay; and 29.86% said they weren’t sure. Considering that your current publisher is in the best position to win your heart, it’s disconcerting that, for the same amount of money, an author would seriously consider shifting to a new house.
9. In comparison, if a different agent offered representation, these authors generally would choose to stay put. 45.77% would stay; 33.57% weren’t sure; 20.66% would move.
10. The survey goes on to ask perceptions about self-publishing (many of these authors are hybrid); about Amazon; and about the role of publishers. Authors generally expressed a negative view of publishers.
- 56.79% agreed with the statement: Publishers have been lazy and uninnovative when it comes to digital.
- 46.72% agreed with: Publishers have ever less to offer. They don’t know how to market books any more.
- 43.05% affirmed: Publishers are a crucial bastion of culture and learning in our society.
- 34.02% think that: Publishers think and act collusively; the big 5 is an oligopoly of sorts.
- 25.19% would say: Publishers treat their authors well (in nonfinancial ways).
- 15.88% predict: Conventional publishing will cease to exist in 10-20 years.
- 7.63% believe that: Publishers pay their authors well.
Taken as a whole, this survey is a pretty sobering picture of the author-publisher relationship. It seems that, as a book is produced, the experience is positive until the marketing equation is weighed in. Authors generally feel disengaged from the process at some point, see themselves as underpaid, and don’t see publishers as doing much to change with changing times.
11. Still, most authors agreed that being published traditionally is important to them. 31.58% responded with an unqualified yes, while 53.6% gave a qualified yes.
This desire to be published traditionally, the level of editing, and the sense of being meaningfully involved in the cover and jacket copy, add up to some compelling motivations for publishers to ramp up their engagement of authors with marketing–and to crack the nut of what marketing works today. Not to mention asking the simple question, “How are we doing?”
Do these authors’ responses encourage or discourage you? Which responses surprised you?
Are publishers failing authors? #publishing Click to tweet.
A survey shows how authors see traditional publishers. #publishing Click to tweet.
What do authors like/dislike about their publishers? #publishing Click to tweet.
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