Last Thursday Leicester Writers' Club was host to a talk by Elizabeth Cochrane, a rights manager from literary agency Greene and Heaton. The talk was kindly sponsored by Creative Leicestershire.
That's the background.
The substance is that Elizabeth's excellent talk sketched a depressing picture of the publishing industry. Not a new story. If you have followed this blog you will be aware of similar pictures being painted by various speakers on the subject over the last few years. The best sellers are selling better. The rest are selling worse. Publishers and agents are on the hunt for those few who will make it to the stratosphere. The death of the mid-list.
Sales managers were in the past getting to be as powerful as the commissioning editors. Now it seems that they are more powerful. Most books did not make much money before. It seems that they are now making a loss.
That is a somewhat bleak summary of the talk. There was much useful detail, hints and insights.
Here are my thoughts on the matter.
This bleak picture of publishing correctly describes the state of the mainstream industry. The major publishers. The authors represented by agents. As this section of the industry narrows down, new channels are opening for good writers working outside the mainstream. New small publishers have sprung up in the regions over the last few years and well-conceived self-publishing ventures are getting the respect they deserve.
We live in a time of rapid change. The number of different book retailers is shrinking. Leicester's independent book shops have withered to nothing and now even the Borders bookshop is closing. At the same time, the technology of printing is making it progressively easier for individual writers to bypass the system altogether by publishing their own work. If I was starting out now and could identify who my readers were and where they gathered, I would seriously consider doing it myself - writing, editing, printing and selling.
It might not be comfortable to have to think about how one would persuade a person to hand over money for a copy of your book. It might seem to be a prostitution of a noble art form. But for me it gets to the reality of the process we are engaged in.