Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do we still need publishers?

The bestselling author of the Alex Rider series speaks out

For those who missed the report of a really terrific speech by Anthony Horowitz that was the lead post on the Guardian books blog yesterday (28 February), here is the link

Amusingly, Horowitz jokes about the failings of publishers and editors -- but then he comes to the serious conclusion that the book world really does need them. 

Reading a paragraph from an unnamed bestselling author of self-published books (which he quotes, in all its clumsiness) helped him make up his mind.

And then there is what his editor calls "all the peripherals" -- the promotion, the advance, the marketing and the expert editing.  As he remarks wryly, when he was a start-out author, the first three seemed to be in short supply -- but the professional editing really did "strike a chord."

Having a publisher in some way "raises the bar," he says -- "they provide an imprimatur, a sort of  quality control."  He also likes the feeling of belonging to a longheld tradition -- a tradition that goes all the way back to Gutenberg.  

" Am I mad to think that if publishers were a little less interested in story, character, style, originality, design, typography, literacy, good grammar, education, enlightenment ­ and a little more interested in making money, they might have fewer problems?" he says "But is that not also, at the end of the day, something to celebrate?"

"Five years from now, there may only be ebooks.," he admits. "Fifty years from now, people may not even read at all. But I'm glad I wrote what I did when I did. One of my favourite authors, George Orwell, said this:

 "All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.

 "I think that's very true, but I think it's also true of publishers," Horowitz concludes. "Are we in intensive care? I don't know. But if we are, I'm strangely relieved that we're there together."

So loyalty is a factor, too.


Rick Spilman said...

My guess is that we will see a similar transformation in the publishing industry that we saw in the old motion picture studio system. Once upon a time the studios ran the business and the actors were on contract, often not well compensated and with limited control.

We still have studios, today but they are quite different. Actors are free agents, production is less concentrated and distribution less rigid than in the bad/good old days.

The publishers of today, like the studios of old, are not adequately compensating their writers or allowing their writers enough control over their work.

My guess is that those publishers that than can adapt to the brave new world that none of us yet understands and those new publishers yet to be formed may have a bright future. It will just be a different future.

World of the Written Word said...

Well said, Rick. Many thanks for your very thoughtful response to an interesting and rather challenging topic

William -Bookkus said...

I agree that adapting is key.
Authors can write a good book and publish it on their own and do well. With either a big financial output or with a huge following or by learning to market and doing it full time. But even then, the book might not actually be good.
Then we argue back, that publishers choose the wrong books all the time, etc. So finding a better publisher who can choose better books and also give the financial outlay is important

World of the Written Word said...

Excellent point, William. There is that extra challenge to publishers now -- to produce books that can be relied on to be much, much better than indie books. I also think that indie authors have a much better chance at succeeding if they have a track record that has been established within traditional publishing. See my latest post on indie bestsellers:

I was also reminded of Rick's comment when I read a biography of Audrey Hepburn yesterday. Something I certainly did not know about her was that in her youth, during the Nazi occupation, she worked for the Dutch resistance. After she became a stunning success and was able to name her own terms, she was commissioned to act the part of Anne Frank. She was psychologically unable to do it, and was able to turn down the role without ruining her career. A much less well known actress would not have had that choice.

I'm not sure how well this relates to indie vs traditional publishing, though!