Do you love your publisher?

This survey is now closed to responses. Our deep thanks to all who contributed. [Comment added Sunday 20 May.]

As the industry evolves, it has become possible – arguably for the first time in history – for authors to detach themselves from publishers. Traditional publishers are, it’s true, still the only realistic way for authors to get their work into bookshops to any meaningful extent. But anyone with a computer can now sell their work on Amazon – and Amazon offers royalty rates that are vast in comparison with anything offered by traditional publishers.

So, if you’re an author, how do you react? Do you stick or twist? We’ve posted a survey here. We genuinely want your views, good, bad or sideways.What do publishers do well? What do they do horribly? What would you like to say to your publisher?

We’re going to seek as many responses as possible, then we’ll publish the results. We’ll also communicate them directly to the trade on your behalf. So please click through to our survey and let rip. Be utterly honest. We want your truth. Oh – and if you can blog / tweet about this survey, then please do. We want as many responses as possible.

Please note: this survey is only open to traditionally published authors. If the exercise is a success, we’ll do something similar for self-pub and e-pub authors in due course.

This entry was posted in How to get published, How to write a book, Literary agents. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Harry

    Do you love your publisher? Now the Society of Authors is asking:

  • Amazon don’t offer royalty rates that compare well to traditional publishers. What they call a ‘royalty’ is in fact their mark-up price as a retailer. They only sell books, they don’t do any of the jobs a publisher does. You may be able to use Amazon to create an ebook file but you can do that with the free download of open source software Calibre too. Amazon’s 30% is their mark-up as a retailer. Bookshops tend to ask for 30%-35% mark-up from publishers or distributors, so the Amazon mark-up is the same and they don’t have to invest in the buildings to provide shelf space. The word ‘royalty’ is a misnomer when you apply it to Amazon’s business model.

  • Hazel Bowden

    I would love my publisher for ever. I self-published a poetry for children, and I do mean self-published. I found a printer, an illustrator etc. My book is on the education list of poetry books and it’s reccommend that all children should read it. But how can they when schools won’t touch self-published work. I can understand why they have this rule, I just wish I had not been in such a rush and found someone who believed in me enough to publish my work. I have a children’s story ready to go, I know I could put it on Kindle but I would much rather see it in book form first.

  • Harry

    Hmm, I half-agree but only half.

    The bit I agree with is that Amazon is a retailer not a publisher. (It also has a publishing arm, but let’s ignore that for now.) And yes, as a retailer, they do the things that retailers do (sell to the public) not the things that publishers do (select texts, edit them, &c)

    On the other hand:

    – Bookshops often ask for discounts of 55-60% of RRP, so Amazon’s 30% still looks pretty sweet. And some authors today could pay for 3rd party editing, copyediting, proofing, and cover design and make more money from effective self-pub on Amazon than they currently do by handing the whole shebang over to publishers. Perhaps that’s only true if the publishers concerned are ineffective, but then the point of this study is to explore, from an author’s POV, just how effective publishers really are.

    – ‘Royalty’ is a perfectly fair term: royalties are paid on numerous products, not just books, wherever the originator is entitled to a % of sale.

    – And then too Amazon does do some of what a publisher does. A publisher makes public – and Amazon’s reach, its ‘If you like this …’ algorithms, its ebook software, its Kindle store and all its ancillary innovations makes work public on an unprecedented scale. It’s true that’s not publishing the way trad publishers conceive of it – but that too is sort of the point, isn’t it? If you innovate as radically as Amazon has, you’re going to break the old models.

    And the fact is, the question I ask has real merit. On one of my books at the moment, my effective rate of royalties (taking into account export sales, high discounts, etc) is about 5% of RRP. If I self-published the same book on Amazon, I’d get 70% of RRP. Even if I sold 90% fewer books, I’d still make more money than I do currently, so publishers do need to demonstrate that they add value. And frankly, some do, some don’t.

  • I should add that I’m also an author and have experience of being published by a traditional publisher, and also setting up a publishing company, working hard for a list of 18 authors, and also deciding to keep my own books with our company because I wanted to be part of our ‘family’ of authors. I will change from this final decision and need to put my own books with a publisher as I’ve realised I just can’t do the same for my own writing as I can for other authors – so I wouldn’t advice people to self publish if they have a choice.

    I had to pay for an editor, and pay for PR for my own novel as it wouldn’t have been right or possible to do certain tasks myself. It wasn’t a good experience and the money it costs doesn’t buy what a publishing company can do – what we certainly do. I can’t put my own books in for various book awards, and when sending them off for review I’m turned down by some places as they have a rule against authors also being publishers – even though we have a great tradition for author publishers in the UK.

    In answer to your comments on royalties and bookshop commission: many small publishers like us give 10% royalties based on the cover price. This never varies for our authors. Also, although the bookshops may have had the high commission you mention, which affects our income, that doesn’t affect the author royalties. As publishers we bear the cost of that. Even if the author is author/publisher, a bookshop will accept 30-35% for sale or return books, which is a fair comparison to what Amazon does. I’ve asked major wholesalers and I know bookshops take 30-35%. The high commission you mention is because there are so many middle men needed to get books into shops.

    I’m not sure if you’re mixing up the offers bookshops give to customers with what they pay publishers, through our wholesalers and distributors, and what the author actually receives in royalties from us.

    If a bookshop has low price offers on books they still pay our wholesaler and distributor the same amount and it doesn’t affect what we receive (which is pretty low to be honest) or the 10% of cover price royalties for authors. I know the major publishers and some others do pay royalties based on the actual income after expenses, but they also give advances (not as big as people imagine, but still….) And there’s the benefit of having the following provided by that publisher, and linking into their reputation as one of their authors.

    Bookshops and even online retailers often demand that we have at least 50 copies of books warehoused with our distributor or they won’t retail our books. A top manager in one of the main bookshops has told me this is to ‘filter out’ self published authors using Print on Demand. So we have to use this low income method, and it’s another block to self published authors.

    Yes, people can pay for an edit. That would mean publishing is heading in the direction of being something for those who can afford it, and not the great leveller people were expecting from ebooks, Amazon and others.

    Do you really think that the freelance edit they pay for is what an editor actually does? Or is that kind of edit what I would consider a low-level edit – something I’d pass to somebody to check the manuscript when I’ve done the high level editing for months, talking through it all with the author, seeing if structural changes could help, suggesting scenes they could rewrite and strengthen etc. Are you really saying self-published authors are going to pay a high level editor for all the months that kind of work takes? Not to mention promotions (and yes I’ve tried a PR company to back up what we do and what the best ones do for £2,000 comes nowhere near it).

    I won’t carry on. From what I can see in other online debates, the conversation has moved on from the idea that publishers are the people who will disappear from publishing. Instead it’s the other middle men who are at risk – particularly the distributors who need to add a commission to warehouse the books. Ebooks and Print On Demand will help this move to wholesalers only, or publisher direct to buyer. Publishers are the people willing to do a lot of the work that can be low income or no income, sometimes to break even and keep publishing outlets going because they believe in it, and sometimes because one book can come along that does extremely well if we do our job well and helps keep it all going.

  • Harry

    Hmm, but I still don’t quite see your issue. We’re asking authors how they find working with their publishers. That’s a good question, no?

    If publishers do a great job, authors will happily say so. If publishers don’t do a good job, then shouldn’t that fact also be known? In the end, we’re asking authors what they think of the people who publish them. How can that possibly be a mistaken thing to do?

  • It’s a good thing to do. I was commenting on some of the things I’ve discovered which authors may not be aware of when choosing between having a publisher or going for the self-published option.

  • I disagree with what Elaine says about publishers always giving 10% of RRP.
    Hodder give me a variable commission depending on whether books are sold at low discount, mid discount or full price. Mostly they are sold below RRP. And I understand that in order to get bookshops to promote books by offering three for two or putting them on the front table publishers have to pay quite a bit up front – which they only do for sure-fire best-sellers.

  • Harry

    You’re right, Hilary. I’m looking at a recent royalty statement of my own. My effective royalty rate works out at less than 5%. Clearly publishers do add value. The question is do they add enough value to justify the share they keep for themselves.

  • It depends what you think the share is that they keep for themselves after you take into account all the discounts they have to give plus the high price they have to pay to get books displayed or advertised in various ways, with wholesalers etc. Many books don’t earn the advance major publishers pay, even if the advance is relatively low. That’s why many authors don’t get their contracts renewed. A lot of books make a loss. The bestselling books make it possible to finance the books with lower sales and the risks taken on debut authors. I know I’m playing the devil’s advocate a bit here for the major publishers (I have a small company and like many companies of our size we do always pay 10% royalties on cover price). I don’t think it’s an easy business for publishers of all sizes, and it’s easy to imagine huge profit margins exploiting authors. As an author myself I would always choose to go with a publisher if possible, but my genre is literary fiction (which can also be popular). I can see it could be different for some genres, where it might be easier to work on a book with peer feedback online and a self published ebook might sell. It would be very tough though, and it seems people are slipping more and more towards a belief in paying for editorial and other services.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    Just to clarify. There are two royalty options – 35% and 70%. A year ago your royalty was dictated by the price bracket you chose (you were only entitled to 35% of a 99 – 1.99 book, anything above 1.99 and you got 70%). I’ve just checked and they seem to have revised their pricing model. Document size is now a factor.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    Ooops – I misunderstood. I still think it highly unlikely that any conventionally published author gets 70% of his book’s retail price.

  • Harry Bingham

    In practice, it’s WAY less than that. My latest royalty statement from Bloomsbury showed royalties that were 4.9% of RRP. Amazon, on the other hand, offers royalties of up to 70%, so publishers need to sell far more copies than a self-published author could achieve alone, if regular publishing is to make financial sense for authors.

    Good publishers routinely achieve excellent sales levels. But, um, not all publishers are good.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    Thanks for that, Harry. It’ll be interesting to see if contracts for authors change as a result of Amazon’s tactics.

  • Pingback: Author Survey: The Data | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent()

  • Pingback: Do you love your publisher? The results of our survey | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent()

  • Pingback: Two Surveys()

  • Pingback: Do Authors Love Their Publishers: The Data | Write Edit Seek Literary Agent()