The Publishing Industry Game of Pass The Parcel

There is a short posting today on the Writers’ & Artists’ newly revamped website which we looked at two days ago. Cressida Downing, an editorial consultant, looks at literary agents approach to promising works submitted to them.

“I have seen a few comments on here from aspiring authors who have been advised to use an editorial consultant before an agent will take them on. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of publishing, and it has come about for economic reasons.”
Cressida Downing (editorial consultant)
The trickle-down editorial effect, Writers’ & Artists’ website.

This certainly is a growing trend and in some ways for me also touches upon the old chestnut of literary agents requesting a reading fee before looking at an author’s work. Over the years, and I’m talking about going back 30 years or more, an intricate game of pass the parcel has begun with responsibilities of editing, and more recently marketing, trickled down from the publishing house all the way into the lap of the author.

There was a time an author of talent and promise had a chance at attracting an editor at a large publishing house. Now, in a world of ‘no unsolicited submissions’ and publishing gatekeepers, the author must attract the representation and support of a literary agent. With burgeoning slush piles mounting on literary agents desks – the game of pass the parcel continues. Downing seems to suggest that the time is arriving where even the literary agent wants a ‘as near to published’ manuscript as possible. Tether this potential development to more and more authors reporting that publishers, big as well as the small and independent houses expect authors to take on significant marketing responsibilities themselves.

I’m not adverse to taking on marketing responsibilities for my book – as a self-published author I have to! But when authors reach the stage where they must foot the bill to get their manuscript professionally edited – throw in a reading fee to be read by a literary agent – well boy, you know what, I’m starting to feel like a self-publishing author anyway, but without the full rights of my work or the large royalty share that goes with it once I’ve paid for editing, design, print runs and retailer discounts. It’s no wonder there are so many books being self-published.

For me, with the industry goalposts moving all the time, the increased gatekeepers, and the continuing game of pass the parcel; what is becoming more of a concern is the implicit tone from the publishing industry that ordinary authors are somehow looking for a free gig at the publisher’s expense.

What we must keep sight of in all this is of course professionalism, but with one crucial caveat. Most publishers operate as full time profit seeking businesses. Most authors certainly do not start out as a ‘permanent writing business’, yet, just one book can still represent year(s) of their life. Publishers must take back control of an industry they are slowly but surely conceding to retailers (returns and high discounts), literary agents (expecting them to drop the sure-fire winners and perfect opus onto their editorial desks) and authors (who they expect to play more and more a role in the marketing of a book). Without change, publishers may soon find the stage far too crowded to accommodate them at all.

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