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July 01, 2003

Guest Posting -- Publishing in Britain

Friedrich --

This note just in from a visitor from England who wants to remain anonymous, and who has a few things to tell us about writing and publishing books Over Yonder:

I was interested in your observations about the book industry. I used to work in publishing, and your comment on the industry supporting a lot of salaried people and the authors usually getting next to nothing is true. But it's also true that, in Britain at least, a lot of people in the industry get next to nothing. A very high proportion of the editorial function is hived off to freelances of various kinds (copyeditors and proofreaders) who are often wannabe authors themselves or adjunct academics needing to add to their poor salaries. Editorial judgement is also often handed over to academics who are persuaded to write readers reports for minute sums (one publisher routinely pays 150 pounds, or 300 pounds worth of books from their back catalogue).

Academics will do this because they need to ingratiate themselves with publishers (more below). On the printing side, where I happen to know a few people, the industry here is being badly squeezed by competition from India (fair enough, if they can do it cheaper). In the publishing house where I worked the rule of thumb was to pay no-one until they were screaming. So, for example, authors were due royalty cheques on a given date, but they would never be paid unless they complained. Some weren't paid for years. Ditto with the various freelances.

The other thing that makes it hard for any serious non-fiction writer is that academics (like me) have undermined the market. Since we need to publish for career reasons (publish or perish), we'll accept very low advances and poor royalties. That's OK for us: the contribution publishing makes to our incomes is more indirect -- promotion after a book will boost our salaries. But pity the poor independent author trying to compete with us.

My latest contract was a complete joke. Luckily, I've worked in the industry and my husband is a lawyer, so we sat down and amended it (tripled the advance -- from nothing to three times nothing!), removed all the clauses offering them first refusal on my next book and unlimited rights to republish in different formats without paying a penny etc etc etc. My editor agreed to all the changes without argument, but told me that he'd sent four contracts out for books in the same series and that the other three had been signed and returned without any fuss.

Many thanks to our anonymous visitor.



posted by Michael at July 1, 2003


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