Sunday, May 20, 2012

Is Publishing More Work Really Better For Authors?

Over recent years, I’ve had several interesting discussions with writers, albeit none of them with the big six publishers, who’ve been lamenting over the pressure to write more books quickly. Many felt pressured to write one book a year. Many also discovered that their second or third books didn’t garner the glowing reviews of their first book, often because reviewers thought the plot or characters weren’t as fully developed as they could have been. This was a dilemma, I thought for all writers, however, a recent post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch was a real eye opener.

Rusch maintains that as little as three years ago, big six publishers were discouraging their writers from producing too many books, primarily because the cost to produce them was so high. Rusch states that the average midlist novel costs the publisher $250,000 to produce, figuring in the cost of paper, shipping, returns, etc., and that fewer authors were selling enough copies to reach the 4% profit margin the publisher wanted. Therefore, unless the author was a guaranteed superstar, such as Nora Roberts, publishers were reluctant to publish a book every year. Rusch also said that publishers now seem determined to rid themselves of mass market paperbacks by producing fewer of them, opting for trade paperbacks instead.

The ebook revolution, however, has changed these publishers’ attitude toward volume. They’ve begun to see the financial gain in publishing ebooks (because many of them aren’t granting their authors large royalties), and they’re jumping on the lets-publish-lots bandwagon that self-publishers have been doing for some time now. Admittedly, much of the drive to publish more comes from readers who want lots of books from their favorite authors. Romance authors, for instance, have been dealing with this for a long time, and it wasn’t uncommon (probably still isn’t) for established authors to write three books a year.

To meet the demands of readers (and make more money) big six publishers are now apparently pressuring their writers into writing more ebook novellas or long short stories. Publishers tell their writers that it will help sell their next book. One of the problems with this thinking is not only the pressure to maintain quality work, but the lack of financial benefit for the writer. Rusch points out that these big six, and often bestselling authors (excluding the superstars) are receiving no advances and terrible royalties for their novellas/short stories. In other words, it’s more work for a financial payoff that may or may not happen much further down the road.

Rusch says that “every writer gets better terms from traditional publishing on paper formats than they do on e-formats”. And this, folks, is an important aspect about the business of writing that we all need to keep in mind. Traditionally published, established writers are doing more work just to maintain the status quo, but not necessarily seeing the extra dollars in their pockets.

Rusch writes a great deal more about this issue than I can discuss here, so I encourage you to read her fascinating blog at

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