Wednesday 9 July 2014

Demands on Authors

So much is demanded these days of book creators, more than ever in the history of publishing. Once all a writer had to do was to write his book and submit it to a publisher. Most publishers ‘in the good old days’ responded to submissions within a reasonable time, usually from six to eight weeks. When his book was accepted, the author would correct two sets of proofs – the galley and the page proofs -- and then wait for his book to be published, at which time he usually joined with his publisher to launch his book, such expense being borne by the publisher.

The author did not have to worry about his book’s blurb: even his back cover biographical blurb was done by his editor. Back then all publicity was handled by the publisher. Usually the author was paid a 10% royalty on recommended retail price and received an advance in excess of $3,000. And, too, most commercially published books were reviewed within a short period of time, most likely because there were fewer publishers which meant fewer published books.

Nowadays it is simply not enough to write and/or illustrate one’s book and hope that reason will prevail and that one’s book will be treated with respect. First, there is the question of submission: with most publishers sitting on manuscript slush piles for many months, sometimes years it behooves the author to make multiple submissions. Even then it can seem like forever before a publisher actually reads and responds to one’s submission, even if one has already published extensively. Acceptance is made difficult in these days by the plethora of writers, many graduates of university and college writing courses and by the high standard of submission required. Once editors would work with new authors, helping to shape and reshape promising manuscripts: nowadays it is practically expected that one’s manuscript has been professionally assessed and/or edited prior to submission.

If one’s work is accepted, then begins the difficult task of negotiating one’s contract with many publishers pushing for net receipts or less than 10% RRP receipts. Advances are generally poor and there's none at all for e-books. However, when the book is published is the time of the hardest work – helping to market and publicise one’s work. Most publishing houses expect authors – even established authors – to fill in multi-paged documents that reveal every personal detail, as well as any contacts, especially media contacts, made during their careers. Sometimes – and this has been my experience – publicists ask the author to fill in the media document every time a new book is accepted, even when he has already done this previously for that company.

Then there is the expectation that the author will work relentlessly to publicise his book. It is essential he has a website. It is also expected that he should use all electronic gadgets to promote himself and his work – with a blog, and on Facebook, U-tube, Linked-In, Twitter, and so on. There is also the expectation that the author be available for interviews, conferences, seminars, workshops. All of the above is usually at the author’s expense. More recently my publisher expected me to fly interstate – at my own expense – to launch my latest book. No mention was made of who was to handle accommodate and other travel that would be involved. This for a book which attracted an advance of only $500!

It is rare, especially in the children’s book industry, for there to be launches – unless the author not only organises but pays for one. One first time author I know spent all of her $3,000 advance catering for her launch: the publisher’s only contribution was to help with sending out invitations! This is not unusual in the industry.

When authors publish book series, it is not uncommon for the publisher to expect them to set up a series’ website. In any case, if the publisher plans to promote the book or series via its own website, the author is expected to provide plenty of material to be downloaded onto that site – including photographs. One author I know paid for a professional team of actors, dancers and camera crew to create a video to go on to U-tube to promote her book – at her own (very considerable) expense, of course. Other authors I know have paid for their own bookmarks, stickers, even posters to promote their books. Authors are also asked to be speakers at conferences, but rarely are they paid for their appearances – unless they are media personalities or from overseas.

These days the energy required for an author to promote one’s book doubtless costs more in energy, anxiety and out of pocket expense than the creation of the book in the first place. When will it all ever end?

Dianne (Di) Bates is the author of 120+ books, mostly for young people. Her most recent (junior novel) is A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press)
Di’s website is  



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