Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!
This panel was an amazing wealth of information for me, though I'm a little concerned that I won't be able to translate the information very well. The main topic was how large publisher consolidation affects writers, though it had a lot of good publishing knowledge and pros and cons. Hopefully you find something in here as interesting as I did.
To answer the main question, how does publisher consolidation affect writers? - well, here are some things to consider:
- With the rise of e-books, better means of self-publishing, and legitimate smaller publishers, this isn't as damaging to writers as it would have been ten years ago.
- The main power of the big houses is in their money. They are more stable, financially, and the house is less likely to fold under you while trying to get your book published. They also can make better distribution deals with sellers like Barnes & Noble to get your book on more shelves, faster.
- However, with publisher consolidation comes less competition. There are already too few people in control of choosing what 'trends' are within the industry (and therefore, controlling what gets published), and fewer houses means that even fewer people set the tone - which stinks for you and me.
- This also means that there are fewer big houses to submit your work to, though this is probably the most obvious problem for writers.
So, what does this mean?
Well, you can try submitting your work to smaller (the panel referred to them as "mid-size") publishing houses, as they are becoming more viable options. The two main drawbacks to these are money related - they don't have as much money, so they're a riskier bet, and your advances with a mid-size house may be substantially smaller. But, here's an interesting tidbit - the closing of the Borders chain a few years ago really messed up advances for just about everyone. Distribution numbers went down substantially because Borders, along with B&N, was one of their biggest buyers. With that, advances have tanked.
Mid-size publishers have some great things to offer to writers. First, they are more flexible than bigger houses. Often, they can make decisions faster, because larger publishers are bogged down in being corporate behemoths. They may be more likely to take risks and look for works that wouldn't fit in the main stream (depending on the publisher, of course!).
Additionally, mid-size publishers tend to have a better view of the long term. Bigger publishers very rarely sign for more than one book up front, because they want to see how it will do. Their expectations are higher, and if you don't do well enough, you'll be cut before the prologue of book two. But smaller publishers understand that with a series, each new book will bolster the sales of previous books, and that sales tend to grow over time. They are better able to make long term investments in writers, and it's paying off.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that bigger publishers aren't still an option. They are a completely legitimate option, but it's good to know your options and try to figure out where you might fit best. The world of publishing is still up in the air - they still haven't figured out how to deal with digital publishing yet and personally, I think we're going to see more upheaval before writers and publishers find a new groove.
In the meantime, for writers who are willing to be entrepreneurs, there is hope and new avenues opening up. Just keep looking for them.