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Author Topic: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be  (Read 3678 times)

Offline AJDalton

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Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« on: March 30, 2016, 01:26:54 PM »
So, we’ve seen libraries and book shops close across the UK – apparently because people didn’t want hard copies anymore and e-books were cheaper. We’ve seen the undignified bun fight between Amazon and the main publishers – because book prices had been forced so low that publishers could no longer justify taking such a big cut from the pittance that authors were making. And we’ve seen an era of mega-mergers between publishers – as they sought to realise economies of scale and thereby continue to survive.

It was looking apocalyptically bad for publishing. But was the view of things described above the whole picture? Not really. The main problem has been the behaviour of the publishers – they have been victims of themselves in large part. Where other industries have survived changing markets (via innovation and changing themselves), publishing has only made an already bad situation worse. Let’s look at a few behaviours as examples…
 
1. Publishers are more reluctant to ‘take a punt’ on authors these days. They don’t want new authors who have no established fan base. Seems sensible? It’s not. How can a genre evolve and remain relevant unless it’s through new blood? If a publisher publishes the same old names over and over, it will soon begin to see a decline. Look what’s happened to the book sales of scifi and horror. Dead. Why? Because no one would take on Necromancer’s Gambit by the young A J Dalton, a book that he was forced to self-publish, a book which proved to be the UK’s first new wave zombie book and which became the best-selling self-published title in the UK. The book was rejected by publishers as not being ‘squarely within the genre’ – the fact it was fresh and different was seen as a weakness! Bringing us to the next issue…
2. Publishers over-read trends and markets. True Blood by Charlaine Harris was rejected by every publisher in the western hemisphere for two years. She was close to giving up. Twilight became successful in 2008 and then there was an insane scramble to secure the rights to True Blood. Publishers then ONLY wanted vampire fiction. They started rejecting anything that didn’t have a vampire, no matter how good the book was (and Empire of the Saviours by one A J Dalton probably got its deal back in 2010 cos it contained blood-drinking saints). What happened? Various rejected authors gave up, meaning that the ‘new blood’ the genre needed was lost, meaning that we ended up with the same situation in example no.1 above. Sure enough, the market was saturated with vampire fiction, people got sick of it and it all died off. Dead.
3. Publishers are reluctant to commit to a series anymore. Say the first book in a series sells pretty well, but the second one doesn’t sell so well, are you gonna publish the third book or ‘cut’ the series (anticipating even more of a fall-off in sales)? More and more, publishers are cutting a series before it’s finished. It happened to Paul Kearney’s Sea Beggars Trilogy (which was never a trilogy!). And what about Joss Whedon’s Firely? Seems sensible? Not really. Readers have got so fed up with series being cut, that they now won’t commit to buying a series until all the books are out (or they’ve heard the next series instalment has been commissioned). This reader behaviour makes the situation worse, cos it means that sales of books 1 and 2 in the hypothetical series we started with will be even lower, meaning the publisher will be even more inclined to cut the series. Dead.
4. Publishers are insisting on game-changing novels. As in example 3 above, publishers won’t commit to a series. Instead they insist that authors submit a ‘game-changing’ first novel that will all but guarantee immediate and massive sales. The number of brilliant books that get rejected because they aren’t ‘game-changing’ enough is disgraceful – and, remember, it means we lose the ‘new blood’ the genre requires. If you meet a publisher demanding a game-changer, tell them where to get off. I wrote a brilliant scifi called Lifer, but it got rejected in precisely this scenario. (By the way, it’s still available if anyone’s interested.)
5. Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.
6. Publishers aren’t even offering book advances anymore! Even established authors (like myself and Tom Lloyd) are being told that no advance on their next book will be paid (that or a derisory amount will be offered). Seems sensible of the publishers? Not really. If the author isn’t paid any money to live on while they write the next book, how can they actually write the book? They’re too busy doing other work, work that pays and therefore buys food. Many authors have given up. Some authors manage to keep writing, but it takes them far longer to write a book. And by the time they deliver the book, things have moved on and the book is no longer the game-changer that is required. The book gets rejected. Dead.

And I could go on. But then I’d be writing a book rather than an article. At the end of the day, publishers have made their own bed and will have to lie in it. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be their death-bed. But maybe it will. With today’s technology, how much do we really need the old monoliths of publishing? What we need are innovative, risk-taking, marketing-savvy and IT-savvy companies. We need companies that respect their authors and invest in their authors in the longer-term. A last example. Elton John says in interview that he wouldn’t succeed as a young musician these days. You see, he didn’t become successful until his third album back in the day. But record companies today don’t offer three-album deals anymore.
fantasy reader, writer, dreamer, screamer - Empire of the Saviours

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2016, 04:29:28 PM »
What's ironic is there is no shortage of published fantasy fiction out there that gets quite a bit of hype yet really isn't doing anything to "change the game". An overabundant focus on creating an exciting world and then filling it with cliche characters and third rate story-telling is not uncommon.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline Mygoditsraining

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2016, 04:50:12 PM »
A couple of things:

a book which proved to be the UK’s first new wave zombie book and which became the best-selling self-published title in the UK - Citation needed

True Blood by Charlaine Harris was rejected by every publisher in the western hemisphere for two years. She was close to giving up. Twilight became successful in 2008 and then there was an insane scramble to secure the rights to True Blood. - Dead Until Dark was published in 2001, and was repackaged for the release of the TV show. Harris has had books published and - generally - in print since the early 90s to the present day.

And what about Joss Whedon’s Firely? Seems sensible? Not really - Firefly was a tv show, not a book. It had low enough ratings that it was, sadly, cancelled.

What we need are innovative, risk-taking, marketing-savvy and IT-savvy companies. We need companies that respect their authors and invest in their authors in the longer-term. - If we shuffle your list 1,6,2,4,3,5 then it goes: take a punt on new talent, but invest in established authors; don't try and catch trends - be unique, but don't look for things that are too unique; commit to series, but don't commit too much to them.

I get that you're frustrated with publishing as an entity - of course there's going to be a disconnect between the financial needs of a company and the creative needs of an author - but this is just...a confusing rant. I don't know what you expected to happen as a result of it. The likelihood of fandom rising up to smash the looms of traditional publishing is really rather slim. Maybe a cup of tea and a nice biscuit is in order. 



Offline Yora

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2016, 05:09:12 PM »
I think the big problem publishers are facing is their obsolescence. For 500 years you couldn't get anything written to a larger audience without the services of a publisher. Now you can, while keeping much more control of your work and all of the profit.
Promotion is something publishers could provide, but I don't know if that actually makes any difference for no-name writers. The only other service they provide that you can't really do yourself is advances. But if they don't do that there's really not much of a place left for them.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2016, 07:31:32 PM »
5. Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.
I'm not sure where your basis is for The First Law books dying. I for one didn't enjoy Red Country, but it won awards, made the tops of book lists, and has a huge following. Many people enjoyed The Heroes tremendously. And Best Served Cold was a hit!
And more books are coming out in that world, and people are ready to jump in and grab them. Will the story dry up? That remains to be seen. But it hasn't yet.
The only reason I've given up on Joe Abercrombie is I figured out his plot style. It became easy for me to predict where the story was going, and which characters would live and die. The suspense factor was lost on me. But several others continue to enjoy his writing and stories.

Offline Nora

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Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2016, 11:25:27 PM »
5. Publishers over-extend series. If a series does emerge as relatively successful, publishers then insist the series-author writes more and more titles in that series – it doesn’t matter how good the book is, it’ll sell anyway. Yes, in the short term it will, but in the longer term it’ll die a death. Look at the Joe Abercrombie Gollancz series (ending with The Red Country). Or the True Blood series, which ended up with 12 or 13 titles. At the same time, the publisher puts all its marketing resource, time and effort behind that one series, ignoring all the other authors, meaning that other stuff starts to fail, no matter how good it is.
I'm not sure where your basis is for The First Law books dying. I for one didn't enjoy Red Country, but it won awards, made the tops of book lists, and has a huge following. Many people enjoyed The Heroes tremendously. And Best Served Cold was a hit!
And more books are coming out in that world, and people are ready to jump in and grab them. Will the story dry up? That remains to be seen. But it hasn't yet.
The only reason I've given up on Joe Abercrombie is I figured out his plot style. It became easy for me to predict where the story was going, and which characters would live and die. The suspense factor was lost on me. But several others continue to enjoy his writing and stories.

Haha! I'm exactly the same for Charlaine Harris. I read all the true bloods, but they all follow the exact same plot pattern.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline cupiscent

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2016, 12:52:02 AM »
There are some good points in here, but overall I'm just not sure. I mean, I thought Red Country was Abercrombie's best yet, since for my money his style is just SO suited to a Western (though his YA trilogy is smashing it out of the park as well, imho). And vampires are always an entertaining example of trends. They've been ebbing and flowing in popularity for (pause while I look up while Dracula was published...) ages. That's the way it is with trends - dystopia, grimdark, zombies, YA sci-fi... whatever. You write what you want to write. Sometimes it's going to catch a trend. Sometimes it's going to set a trend. Sometimes it's not going to go anywhere and you have to stick it in your back pocket until later and write something else. (I mean, if you only have one idea, you're probably never going to have a big career?)

I've also got to admit that personally, I love game-changing books. I love books that turn all of my comfortable genre associations on their heads. I love books that wrap me up in great story and prose and shake me all about. The past dozen years have been amazing ones like that. I am keen to see that continue. I am keen to see publishers pushing the envelope.

Small press and self pub are big options now in a way they haven't been previously, but for me as a reader, there's one significant element missing from the model, and that's a quality gatekeeper. At least I know, if I pick up a book from a mainstream publisher, that it's going to meet a certain basic quality threshold. But when there's already waaaaaay more great-looking fantasy available from mainstream presses than I can sensibly read, I'm really not feeling any urge to venture into the murky waters of wider publishing. There are (poorly spelled and badly punctuated) monsters out there.

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2016, 08:54:59 AM »
There are some good points in here, but overall I'm just not sure. I mean, I thought Red Country was Abercrombie's best yet, since for my money his style is just SO suited to a Western (though his YA trilogy is smashing it out of the park as well, imho). And vampires are always an entertaining example of trends. They've been ebbing and flowing in popularity for (pause while I look up while Dracula was published...) ages. That's the way it is with trends - dystopia, grimdark, zombies, YA sci-fi... whatever. You write what you want to write. Sometimes it's going to catch a trend. Sometimes it's going to set a trend. Sometimes it's not going to go anywhere and you have to stick it in your back pocket until later and write something else. (I mean, if you only have one idea, you're probably never going to have a big career?)

I've also got to admit that personally, I love game-changing books. I love books that turn all of my comfortable genre associations on their heads. I love books that wrap me up in great story and prose and shake me all about. The past dozen years have been amazing ones like that. I am keen to see that continue. I am keen to see publishers pushing the envelope.

Small press and self pub are big options now in a way they haven't been previously, but for me as a reader, there's one significant element missing from the model, and that's a quality gatekeeper. At least I know, if I pick up a book from a mainstream publisher, that it's going to meet a certain basic quality threshold. But when there's already waaaaaay more great-looking fantasy available from mainstream presses than I can sensibly read, I'm really not feeling any urge to venture into the murky waters of wider publishing. There are (poorly spelled and badly punctuated) monsters out there.

I wouldn't trust any publisher's quality threshold. It usually ranges from plain awful to mediocre. I wouldn't even trust author stamps of approval either. A well known author might give you a one-liner thumbs up for the front of the book but the authenticity of that statement is never reliable.

This is the big problem. The publisher's don't have a fool proof plan or crystal ball to predict what will sell and what won't. Quality is secondary to profit. If quality was paramount then books like 50 shades of grey would never be published. The publisher saw that they had a cash cow on their hands and green-lighted a piece of bad fan fiction.

Take everything with a grain of salt.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2016, 08:57:38 AM by CryptofCthulhu »
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline Nora

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Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2016, 09:43:49 AM »
Well, you're being a wee bit harsh there. I don't wanna defend 50 Shades, but there are books out there that are pure pieces of paper waste, like the whole Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which is vampire soft porn following the same old worn out plotline in every single book... and they have rock solid fans.

Quote from goodreads :

Quote
'Fucking Awesome' doesn't quite cover it.

Captivating
Hot
Epic
Amazing

Feels more like it.

Meet my sexy Wrath...
Quote
Holy smokes Dark Lover was bloody brilliant!!!!!! Why the hell did I wait so long to jump on the J. R. Ward bandwagon and start reading this series?? ?? ?? Why?? ?? ?

Who are we to deprive people who have such amazing time out of a book where shallow characters with no reason to fall in love start banging each other on page 20 before a weak plot unfolds to give an excuse for the book to be on regular fiction shelves? A dozen novels later it's a cash machine as well, but if it sells it means it makes some people happy, so whatever really...
If it keeps a publishing house alive and wealthy that's fine. Especially if they invest their money towards more serious potential authors and starting authors. I think that's more the key.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2016, 09:45:29 AM by Nora »
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2016, 10:03:28 AM »
Well, you're being a wee bit harsh there. I don't wanna defend 50 Shades, but there are books out there that are pure pieces of paper waste, like the whole Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which is vampire soft porn following the same old worn out plotline in every single book... and they have rock solid fans.

Quote from goodreads :

Quote
'Fucking Awesome' doesn't quite cover it.

Captivating
Hot
Epic
Amazing

Feels more like it.

Meet my sexy Wrath...
Quote
Holy smokes Dark Lover was bloody brilliant!!!!!! Why the hell did I wait so long to jump on the J. R. Ward bandwagon and start reading this series?? ?? ?? Why?? ?? ?

Who are we to deprive people who have such amazing time out of a book where shallow characters with no reason to fall in love start banging each other on page 20 before a weak plot unfolds to give an excuse for the book to be on regular fiction shelves? A dozen novels later it's a cash machine as well, but if it sells it means it makes some people happy, so whatever really...
If it keeps a publishing house alive and wealthy that's fine. Especially if they invest their money towards more serious potential authors and starting authors. I think that's more the key.

Let's hope they have altruistic intentions and are willing to take a risk on authors that can actually write well and not rely on fan service and re-cycled ideas. I can't imagine anything more disheartening than a publisher having the mindset of "Well the writing is pretty bad but it should sell well enough." Mediocrity does well, just look at TV and film. I just don't like the reinforcing of the idea that mindless entertainment should be the standard. It's probably not going to change any time soon but it's the main reason why I have very little interest in contemporary culture. I don't fit the short attention span, instant gratification demographic. I don't binge read in the hopes I find one good book out of twenty duds.

No writer should have any delusions about the publishing business being about art and creative expression, as it is a business and little else. This is just how it is and I've made peace with that fact.

I don't think people should be deprived of crappy fiction if it floats their boat, I was just illustrating the fact that quality control in the industry is arbitrary at best. I just feel sympathy for all the authors that had their manuscripts rejected or put on the back burner because a publisher was too busy green-lighting a series based on the author's infatuation with a poorly written, sparkling vampire.
“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” ~ William S. Boroughs

Offline Yora

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2016, 10:15:00 AM »
The amount of books released by big publishers that I care about is already so low that their name somewhere on the book doesn't have any meaning to me. Word of mouth is the only thing that can get my attention and for that it doesn't matter how it was published.
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There is nothing to read!

Offline Nora

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Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2016, 10:18:13 AM »
Well, I don't fit the demographics either, but to be honest, I'd rather the average citizen be reading mediocre books (pulp detective, vampire softporn, recycled YA trash, etc) than watching mediocre shows or reading The Sun or Gossip, or nothing at all. At least it makes for people to whom you can recommend better books, people you can take by the hand to lead them to higher shelves.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2016, 10:43:28 AM »
Well, I don't fit the demographics either, but to be honest, I'd rather the average citizen be reading mediocre books (pulp detective, vampire softporn, recycled YA trash, etc) than watching mediocre shows or reading The Sun or Gossip, or nothing at all. At least it makes for people to whom you can recommend better books, people you can take by the hand to lead them to higher shelves.

True, and hopefully as their taste improves they can throw their voice in with the rest that better quality is what they want.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2016, 12:29:45 PM »
Word of mouth is the only thing that can get my attention and for that it doesn't matter how it was published.

I was just gonna say this. People here recommending books get my attention. Another great source to discover new books that is working very well for me are book clubs.

A contest like SPFBO caught my attention too. Recently, I'm into Reading Challenges, but not like the one in GR, which just counts the amount of books you read. "Read a book released in the year you were born", "A graphic novel", and so on. It is a different way to search for things to read.
Maybe FF should do a Reading Challenge small list too, giving us custom titles or something  ::)

Lists of "Best books" works too, like the ones in FF, Reddit or GR (although I really wish Paranormal Romance gets its own section).
A couple of review blogs/sites for titles recently released or that are causing a buzz. 
Slow and steady wins the race.

Lanko's Year in Books 2019

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Mainstream fantasy publishing ain't what it used to be
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2016, 12:50:05 PM »
I understand where the book quality thing is coming into play here. But that's entirely relative to your own tastes.
Obviously, the people who enjoy The Black Dagger Brotherhood think that's high quality. I think the books I enjoy are high quality. Lots of people consider The 5th Season to be high quality, and I couldn't make it halfway through the book because it was so boring.
So really, high-quality stories don't exist. There's just the ones that appeal to you and the ones that don't. It's even impossible to judge a book by its prose. We've had many discussions on here about how we have different preferences for sentence structure in books. There's just no such thing.