Sparks flew at the final Byte The Book of 2014, as traditional publishing locked horns with self-publishing over the best route for authors. Representatives from both camps formed a lively panel, which comprised Hodder & Stoughton editor Suzie Doore, writer Dominic Selwood, Orna Ross of the Alliance Of Independent Authors (ALLi) and literary agent Juliet Mushens (The Agency Group).
Host and Chair, Justine Solomons thanks November sponsors, Ingrams
Juliet – who is widely known in the industry on account of her increasingly star-studded author stable and active presence on Twitter – opened the floor by outlining why authors still benefit hugely from professional representation. Chiefly, an agent acts as a middle-man and rights negotiator to secure the best deals on advances and royalties, and provides a level of support for authors that sits somewhere between agony aunt and psychiatrist (“I’m there for my writers when they have a wobble”, she explained). When the necessity of agents in the modern publishing climate was questioned, Juliet fiercely defended her turf. Do agents rip off authors? Not a bit of it. Like all agents, she doesn’t make money until her writers do, and in theory can work with a new signing for several years without any financial return. That said, so far in 2014 Juliet has grossed over £2million for her writers from countless domestic and international deals, proving that she and other agents continue to be very much worth their 15%.
The panel from left to right: Juliet Mushens, Suzie Doore, Orna Ross and Dominic Selwood.
Orna Ross, who runs the global self-publishers’ alliance ALLi, immediately offered a combative viewpoint. Following a less-than-ideal experience with Bloomsbury as a new author, Orna became passionate about self-publishing and soon came to see it as the preferable route. She stated that publishing is essentially about “two imaginations connecting, the author and the reader” and that, in the B2B world of traditional publishing, this is too often “lost amongst all the middle men”. She lamented the fact that “the writer is the last person publishers want around the table at a marketing meeting”
Despite conflict there were plenty of smiles
This was countered by editor Suzie Doore, who insisted that Hodder & Stoughton are “very much focussed on author care” and, while they do invite authors in on an individual basis to discuss their projects, involving them in every meeting would not only be impractical, but potentially counter-productive (many authors don’t even want to be consulted on marketing strategies, added Juliet, preferring to focus on the writing itself). Suzie also noted that traditionally published authors have a major leg-up when it comes to distribution, benefitting from existing publisher-distributor relationships that the vast majority of writers simply couldn’t match on their own.
Orna from ALLi speaking on behalf of Author Publishers everywhere
Dominic Selwood, who has experienced huge success as a self-published author, trod a diplomatic line during the discussion, explaining that while self-publishing and trade publishing are very different creatures, both models can be successful in the right circumstances. His first book was unusually long for a non-fiction release and, as a result, he struggled to attract mainstream industry interest and opted to strike out on his own. He also added, however, that while he really enjoyed being part of “the creation of a beautiful object”, this isn’t necessarily true for all writers.
Writer in Residence Chris Russell reporting from the frontline
The heated discussion reached its peak when someone in the audience asked whether JK Rowling would have enjoyed the same level of success if she’d had the option to self publish. After a loaded pause, Juliet delivered an emphatic “no”, and Orna an emphatic “yes”. An unanswerable question, perhaps, but the responses made one thing very clear: publishing certainly isn’t short of passion, and that’s as good a fuel as any.
If you enjoyed this report and want to keep up with the latest happenings in publishing as well as network with publishers and authors alike join us at The Club at The Ivy on Monday 19th January 2015.