Spring 2017

Humanity

James McConnachie, Editor

This issue considers authors as businesses, of course – but it puts our humanity first.

The author Horatio Clare recently described publishing to me as ‘venture capitalism’. I can see how the analogy works. The author is the creator-entrepreneur, the small business with a modest line of products. The publisher provides the cash and the business muscle. And venture capital firms, according to the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, invest in companies that ‘often have little track record of profitability and are cash hungry’. Sounds like most authors to me.

But there is another way of looking at publishers. They are also providers of a suite of author services, from editorial to accounting. You pay for all of those services, of course. With that in mind, consider these trends. Editorial: how much work did you (or your agent, or course tutor) do before your typescript even got to the publisher? Marketing: who wrote the blurb and pitched the articles? Who maintains the brand on social media? Printing: have you been offered an ebook-only deal? Are any of your books print-on-demand? Rights and licensing: does an agent handle this for you? Accounting: has your publisher been sighing recently over the ‘difficulty’ of paying royalties? Have you ever been offered a flat fee?

Now, new kinds of companies are competing to take on different aspects of the whole publishing ‘offer’, and self-publishing is turning the author into a commissioner of author services. It is an exciting shift. But traditional publishing remains a repository of enormous business experience and expertise, notably in things like rights, returns, foreign taxation and so on. It still offers unrivalled access to the market. And it is still unique in that it offers an author that most crucial thing: capital investment. (I’ll leave aside such questions as whether or not publishers provide enough capital for the author to stay alive, or whether or not the risks and rewards are shared fairly.)
Money, bluntly, is a powerful signal to the world that someone other than the author thinks a book has merit. And until another company ventures its capital, and ventures it to you, it is not sharing the risks with you – and any author must ask serious questions about that company’s claim to share in any reward.

Business analogies can be useful. All of them miss something, however, which matters to most authors, and most publishers, a great deal. We are businesses, but we are also partners in – let’s not be bashful about saying it – the great liberal and humanist enterprise of our era. We are engaged in the creation, dissemination and interrogation of ideas. This Spring issue of The Author appears at a time when many feel that hard-won and much-cherished liberal values are threatened. So it considers authors as businesses, of course – that’s its job. But it puts our humanity first.

James McConnachie

mcconnachie.tumblr.com | @j_mcconnachie


In this issue...

  • Fiction, facts, alternative truths
  • Fiction vs factAmanda Craig
  • Not-so-special sales - James Mayhew
  • The night lawyer: libel tips - Alex Wade

Humanity

  • Human writes - Shafik Meghji
  • Human writes - Chris Riddell
  • Speaking for diversity - Tim Hely Hutchinson
  • Do dull lives produce great writing? - John Greening

The writer at work

  • The between-books blues - Andrew Greig
  • School visit - Anne Fine
  • Living in poetry not by it - Julia Bird
  • Crowd-funding with Unbound - Alice Jolly
  • What’s wrong with ebooks? - Hazhir Teimourian

Regulars

  • You need to know
  • Digital crush - Naomi Alderman
  • Letter from Rwanda - Marion Grace Woolley
  • To the Editor 
  • Booktrade news
  • Broadcasting 
  • Notices
  • Grub Street - Andrew Taylor