You’ve finished your manuscript, sought out an agent and are hopeful your wonderful book will be snapped up. Here are some little-known facts about what happens next… you’re walking into the lion’s den.
1 Your success is reliant on market information before a publisher will even touch what you’ve written. Annual figures produced by Nielsen Book Scan, about who buys books UK-wide, how they read those books and which genres readers prefer, heavily influences how publishers allocate the few precious free slots in their schedules. For example, last year in the UK, fiction sales in most genres dropped. The only fiction genres rising in popularity were children’s books, Young Adult fiction, and fantasy. This means when publishers fill their vacant slots, they will choose children’s books, YA, and fantasy where they can. Publishers know that the popularity of individual genres goes up and down all the time but they tend to buy on the upturn. If you’ve written a brilliant historical novel or a fantastic crime book your odds of selling it this year will be lower than they would have been in a year when those genres were rising, no matter how brilliant your work. Authors, even wonderful authors, are small in the landscape of corporate publishers, corporate distributors and corporate-sponsored events.
2 You don’t get to choose your cover or have much input into the marketing material your publisher will use. 21% of authors say they weren’t even ‘meaningfully’ consulted on their last book. That said, over 50% surveyed said they liked the cover the publisher had chosen with a slightly lower percentage approving of the cover copy. So, your chances of liking what the publisher does is about 50-50. The truth is, in a standard contract the publisher is usually obliged to show you their materials, but you can’t veto anything if you feel they have misrepresented your work. Likewise you have no control over pricing or distribution.
3 If you are a female writer, averagely you will earn less, be put up for fewer prizes and receive fewer reviews than male writers. If you have a female editor she will be earning averagely 16% less than a male editor.
4 The sale of a book comprises a myriad of different rights. First there are publication rights in different territories – English language rights for example, comprise, UK and Commonwealth and US rights. Then there are translation rights – everything from French and Spanish to Latin and Gaelic. Sometimes publishers buy World Rights (which is everything) other times they only take a particular section. Additionally there are audio rights (in English and other languages) and broadcast (radio, film and TV rights). Even if you sell a good selection of these rights it’s very likely they won’t all be put to use. If I had 50p for every time someone said ‘oh, you’ve sold TV rights – we’ll see that on our screens soon,’ I’d have enough money to fund the production myself!
There are two big foreign rights fairs each year – London in spring and Frankfurt in autumn and the majority of translation/foreign rights are sold there.
The good news is that the Society of Authors provides a legal service and you are entitled to join as soon as you have an offer from a publisher. It’s worth making use of it. Publishers and producers aren’t supposed to hold onto rights if they don’t use them. Have your contract checked to make sure you are entitled get your rights back, if for example, the book goes out of print.
5 There is no career path. Fledgling writers generally expect that, after publication, one thing will lead to another, but being a writer isn’t like being a doctor or a lawyer where A generally leads to B – everyone’s career is different. Writers are paid differently, published differently, received differently, they work at different paces and they are good at different things. In addition there is an element of luck involved, which you don’t rely on in more conventional careers. It’s a crowded marketplace but sometimes you can just be jammy and something will work out of the blue. Though forewarned is forearmed, the big upside of that is that all the above pitfalls CAN just go right – it’s perfectly possible to sell an historical novel when the market is falling, love the cover, be offered a great contract and still be a woman.
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