Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A not-entirely-perfect author survey: What do authors think of their publishers?

It seems that Jane Friedman, whose blog I sometimes check in on, and Harry Bingham, an author and founder of Agent Hunter, recently put together a survey of authors. They were specifically looking at authors’ attitudes toward their publishers. Now they are presenting the results.

They had over 800 respondents, nearly all American or from the UK. About half have had over 6 books published, about 80% have had one published in the last year, a majority of those with Big Five publishers. A majority, but a smaller majority than I would have expected, had agents.

Some of the questions were just fine: “How would you rate your publisher’s editorial input?”

But many of the questions, including the above, had iffy choices for answers, requiring respondents to choose Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Nonexistent.

The problem here that leaps out at me is the use of the category “average.” Surely it would have been better to use the word “adequate.”

I mean, what if you think that your publisher did a horrible job but that you think that in general all publishers do a horrible job? Boom, your publisher is “average.”

Also, how the blazes are you supposed to tell whether your publisher is “average” or not? I have at this point worked with three of the Big Five publishers and with one smaller press, and I would hardly say that I know what is typical in the industry. My Knopf editor, Michelle Frey, is far from the only editor working in the Random House / Penguin giant. I have no idea how many imprints are covered by that umbrella, nor whether Michelle’s editorial skills (which I greatly admire) are typical. How would I possibly know that?

“Keeping in mind that marketing budgets are limited, do you feel that your publisher’s marketing campaign did a (excellent, good, average, etc) job of utilizing your skills, passion, contacts and digital presence?”

This is very difficult to answer. What if I think they would have, but also think that my personal skills, contacts, and digital presence are below average? Or at any rate, insufficient to really make a difference? I mean, I hardly have a Facebook presence at all because life is too short to figure out how to use every possible digital platform, and for some reason that one doesn’t draw me. Oh, and I have trouble getting to it during the summer when my home connection vanishes. Isn’t there something called pinterest? Well, whatever, tomorrow there will be something else and more than likely I just will not have the time or interest to get into it.

It’s true that none of my publishers have done much marketing that was visible to me, and it’s also true that I did not ask what they might be doing behind the scenes that I wouldn’t necessarily know about. There is a question in the survey: “Were you consulted and involved in your publisher’s marketing plans?” That one is much simpler: no. But I can see that since the typical author is NOT going to be THE marketing priority for his or her publisher, maybe those kinds of discussions would have something of a tendency to be . . . fraught.

In fact, I can see quite a lot of discussions between publishers and authors getting fraught. I can kind of see why publishers do not necessarily solicit a lot of authorial input. I see a lot of potential for bad feeling developing. If I had a problem, I would tell my agent and she would take it up with my publisher. That way problems can be worked out by someone a lot more familiar with the people and the publishing house than I am, and without so much potential for trouble between my editor and me.

Also! The biggest problem with the survey — which IS interesting, I just think it is hard to interpret — is that it specifically asked authors to limit themselves to considering their most recent books when answering the questions. Since my most recent traditionally published book was BLACK DOG, which came out from a smaller press, and particularly since Strange Chemistry folded, that experience was obviously very different from any of my other traditionally-published books. If I’d been answering that survey, I would have been EXTREMELY tempted to simply disregard BLACK DOG and step back to my most-recent-but-one traditionally published title. Frankly, I think it would have been much better to allow respondents to list their publishers and answer the questions separately for each.

Here’s my favorite questions: “If you were to self-publish, you would have control over every aspect of publication. How would you feel about that prospect?”

About a quarter of respondents: Excited / Positive

Just under 40%: Neutral

About 35%: Horrified / Negative

I enjoy the use of the word “horrified” in that answer.

Me, I can now say with considerable assurance that I feel excited / positive / horrified by self-publishing — all at once. Ah, fun times, fun times! I can’t help but notice that if someone asked me at this moment whether, with total control, I feel I am using *my own* skills, passion, contacts and digital presence to an “excellent” degree, I would probably say No.

I am arranging for some bloggers to review PURE MAGIC, and of course I’m pointing to the short stories and to PURE MAGIC on Twitter (trying hard not to be a nuisance about it, of course). It is super useful that for some reason whoever is in charge of these things is currently holding BLACK DOG at $1.99 on Kindle. I really could not say why; it is a normal price on Barnes and Noble, I see.

Anyway, blogging . . . Twitter . . . arranging for reviews, that part is still in progress, I’m working my way down a list, but I didn’t want to start until I could see the short stories published adequately. Shoot, I’m still not 100% sure that the epub and mobi files generated by Draft to Digital work if I send them to someone else as review copies. (I should know about that soon, but it complicates asking for reviews when I’m not even sure about something as simple as that).

When I have more experience with self-publishing, hopefully I will at least be able to answer “adequate” to that particular question.

Oh, one more thing I can think of to do as far as marketing:

PLEASE LEAVE A REVIEW AT GOODREADS OR AMAZON. Or Barnes and Noble, or Library Thing, or all of the above.

There, that’s done.

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