We are rebelling...
The publishing business is changing, it has changed dramatically over the last ten years. If a business is to survive in a rapidly changing environment, then it also has to change. The model of the agents who act as filters for publishers is no longer fit for purpose. While a handful of writers earn excellent money, the majority of writers are usually scraping by on very low income. As an agency, you have to ask what your role is. The days when a writer landed a book deal and it guaranteed a career change are gone. We need to create a better future for good writers.
So what has happened?
The Uk Authors' Earnings and Contracts 2018 survey found these conclusions:
- The earnings of writers dropped 49% over a period in which Uk creative industries reached £100bn GVA, growing at twice the rate of the economy
- For 'primary occupation writers' the median earnings dropped from £18,013 in 2006 to £10,497 in 2018
- However, the household incomes for these writers were at £81,000 per annum (in other words writers need to be subsidised)
- There has been a 13% decline in writers receiving advances, therefore shifting risk onto the creators
- The top 10% of writers still earn about 70% of total earnings in the profession
Furthermore, we are finding publishers unwilling to spend on marketing for authors, and the expectation is that writers will self-publicise. Now, this may be a sensible thing for any writer to do, but we have to start to question what publishers are doing for their 75%. We are at a point in time where mainstream publishing is becoming more like vanity publishing. A writer should feel grateful that a publisher has signed them but expect nothing else. This is not a sustainable or satisfactory situation for writers. Many publishers make very good money, Penguin Random House achieved profits of 1.1bn euros in 2019, in a £6bn market. If you work for Penguin, the average salary is around £30,000, roughly three times the average earnings for writers. Something is not quite right. There is money being made, but not by many authors.
As a result of taking stock, we have decided we can't in good conscience carry on serving publishers, as we feel we are no longer serving writers. So what do we do? We believe that this industry will change and we have to be at the vanguard of that change. With publishers no longer fulfilling their roles on behalf of the majority of authors, it is up to us to find another way.
What might another way look like?
Without the traditional distribution channels of a major publisher and their contact book of buyers, the two most important elements to an authors success are the ability to write and marketing. We have to be able to find a writer's audience, if we do that then we can sell them books. A marketing campaign is hard work, time-consuming and usually too much for individuals to take on. However, where a number of authors can be brought together, writing in the same genre and thus likely to share an audience, then the marketing campaign can do the same amount of work, but for multiple authors.
We have to have good authors who have worked at their craft and know how to tell compelling, page-turning books. This means we must also include training in the TCT community.
- To create a community of authors in which ideas, tips and useful critique can be shared.
- Expert writers can be brought in to offer training and guidance to improve the standard of writing in the community.
- Writers who demonstrate advanced skills can move into a prospective publishing pool
- Scripts can be submitted by members of the publishing pool and move from development through to completion through a process of peer review.
- Books will be published electronically initially, in groups, with a common marketing campaign, leveraging the strength of the community to bolster reach and boost amazon position.
- Overall profits after deduction of expenses would be divided as follows:
- 30% to the author
- 30% to the author pool to be divided equally
- 40% to TCT
This novel structure would provide more than the traditional rate for the individual author, it would also provide an income for the cohort of authors as they would all benefit from the same marketing campaign, even if there is variance in sales between the cohort of books. This would provide special motivation for a cohort of authors to choose one another wisely, offer the most constructive critiques as everyone would stand to benefit from their success.
There is no other model of publishing around like it. There will be a hell of a lot of devils in the detail, but if we have a community motivated enough, then this new model of publishing could succeed. We can not get there in one step and we'll have to be patient and we'll have to do it together.
We will offer a space for the community via the 'Mighty Networks' platform. This has the benefit of not being Facebook, so data is more easily protected, and the group can choose to interact freely without interference from the Facebook algorithm. We would propose to charge a nominal monthly fee for the community to cover the costs of setting it up and administering the space. I would hope to use the tried and tested comparison that it could be done for no more than the price of a couple of coffees, but that may depend on the size of the community and the amount of labour involved.
Stage two would involve refining the funnel by which new authors can move from 'training' status through to a publishing pool. It seems likely that this should utilise a voting system on writing samples so that the community decides who is good enough to move on to the next stage. If the community is reaching a sufficient size, we can also start to bring in expert writers to offer training, for which members of the community could choose to pay to attend.
Stage three would see the creation of the first cohort of writers in the first publishing pool, most likely in a popular genre such as crime/thrillers.
Stage four would see the books brought up to standard in the first publishing pool and prepared for marketing and sales, with the development of a cast-iron marketing plan.
Stage five would see the first books published and promoted, with a consistent feedback loop of learning from marketing activities to ensure it is constantly improved.
Stage Six would see the first paper-printed books and the engagement of a distribution company. Given the costs involved, some measure of financial viability would have to have been proven first.
Finally, with the model proven, the cycle just needs to be repeated. Author cohorts can review their position after a year and decide if they remain the same cohort or alter their members. Further cohorts will emerge.
The end result will be authors working with each other to ensure financial success. If we can't smash the national average earnings then we will be doing something drastically wrong.
If this sounds like a rebellion you want to be part of, join the beta community now - HERE
You can help shape the future of writing and publishing and make it work for writers.