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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Shrinking Debut Novels in Bookshops by Chris Longmuir

Awarding winning author of five novels, Chris Longmuir talks about the decline of new authors' publications in High street bookshops

Do Writers Need Publishers?

Have you noticed how the numbers of debut novels in the bookshops have been shrinking recently? I used to browse book shops for new, unknown writers, mainly to sample them in order to find out what will persuade a publisher to publish. In the process I read many good novels, and one or two stinkers. But I’m not having a great deal of luck lately. So what has changed?

Well, I suppose the recession has to take some of the blame, and then there is the rapid rise of the ebook market, which many publishers never believed would happen, and now that it has, they seem to be running a bit scared.

As an author who has been traditionally published I’ve noticed that over the past few years it is getting more and more difficult to find a publisher willing to invest in new novels from lesser known writers. Their focus seems to be on best selling authors, celebrity memoirs, and celebrity cookbooks. But it isn’t only lesser known authors who are suffering the fallout, several of my friends, with more than twenty books to their names, who have in the past published best selling books have been dropped by their publishers.

A literary agent who apparently represents President Obama criticizes publishers who are only willing to buy ‘sure things’. Read the critique here and if that is the case, and I quite believe it is, then authors are on a hiding to nothing when they try to attract the attention of a publisher. Maybe we should be targeting the accountants instead?

Despite all this the publishers, or their representatives, do their best to discourage authors from taking the electronic self publishing route. Among their arguments are, that authors still need publishers to provide editorial services, cover art, promotion and marketing. The first two are blatantly not true because these things can be purchased, and as for promotion and marketing – well, all I can say is that there is no marketing budget for most authors. The budget goes on the ‘sure things’, the best selling authors who would sell in any case and the celebrity books. When last did you see any advertising for an author apart from any of these?

So I reckon it’s time to fight back. Ebooks are here to stay and it is relatively simple for an author to break into this market. Many well established authors are now publishing their backlists this way, as well as their newer works. So this is where I now look for the new authors, as well as the really good writers who are getting the go by from publishers, and similar to before I’m reading some really good books, although according to the laws of average there are some stinkers as well.

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  1. Hi,

    As a pre-pubbed author in the conventional sense, never a truer word spoken, Chris. Publishers a few years back ridiculed the idea of e-books, and now they're going ape in trying to catch-up with the Indies/self-pubbers who've proved them wrong. Now those same big-named publishers are attempting to dominate the market by stating authors need publishers to provide quality end product!

    What a joke: one sees book after book coming out of the big-named 3, which are badly in need of editing and proof reading. As for their skills in formatting for Kindle etc., boy are they on a steep learning curve and have yet to master the basics! ;)

  2. Great post, Chris, and absolutely true! Susan

  3. I've noticed the same thing. Even the mid-list (those published authors who aren't best sellers) is rapidly shrinking. What is more and more evident is that publishing is business and nurturing authors isn''t part of the business model. And that is true from agent to bookstore.

  4. I read somewhere recently (can't remember where) that agents now have to be sure an author will sell 100,000 books before they will take them on! Plus I have two friends, both probably termed midlisters but at the upper end, who had several best sellers in their lists of 20+ published books, and both lost their contracts.

  5. I agree with everything you have said Chris. I was considered a bit of an oddball (I think!) four years ago when I dared to get my books into Waterstones as a self-published (spoken in hushed whispers) author. Now SPs have earned respect and readers appreciate they may well get something original, creative and, indeed, daring and risky too! I believe we could all be on a level playing-field now - heads held high (plus other cliches).