Wednesday, March 10, 2010


As promised, I am going to start to flesh out the summary of the Writers' Union of Canada's (TWUC) symposium that I posted on March 6, 2010 (see below) with info about publishers and agents. Both have been hit by the economic downturn over the last 18 months and are now having to also confront the necessity of producing digital titles. This is an overview of the current climate according to TWUC.

  • Publishers are only publishing books that will sell well.
  • Big-box bookstores and online booksellers are driving the market.
  • They base their acquisition decisions entirely on the bottom line. Is this book likely to sell? Only 20% of Canadian titles earn out their advance.
  • Acquisition decisions are made by marketing departments, not on merit, at the moment.
  • The amount offered for advances has dropped in the last two years.
  • Houses have increased their lists and hired no new staff. The staff that they have is severely over-burdened and not communicating with their own authors very well, let alone aspiring authors who are sending query letters.
  • The explosion in electronic book formats and the growth in e-book readers has most publishers scrambling to keep up. Converting print books into digital formats takes staff time - two weeks/title apparently. See above.
  • Self-publishing is becoming more respectable.
  • Chapbooks are making a come-back.
  • So are writer-run publishing collectives (no wonder!).
  • Agents are having a difficult time selling books to major publishers, especially by mid-list authors.
  • Advances for even bestselling authors have been halved.
  • More and more reputable agencies are charging a fee to represent an author - unheard of a couple of years ago. ($500-1000)
  • All authors must have a well-conceived and proven platform showing where their readers congregate and how they communicate with them pre-publication. Platforms have a direct relationship with potential sales.
  • Authors' platforms must include a significant online presence that provides them with a brand and reaches potential readers.
Authors can succeed with polished, well-crafted manuscripts, a good platform, and a targeted promotion campaign. However, it all takes time and effort.