“It's bleak, unless you want a X Factor for authors,” commented one.
In the new order of easy self-publishing, the results of a poll of aspiring novelists by leading literary consultancy, The Writers' Workshop may come as a surprise. Aspiring novelists predict the toughest times ahead for themselves and for booksellers but expect publishers both big and small to be able to adapt in the coming few years.
Asked to predict the future for authors in five years time, aspiring novelists said that authors would be more likely to self-publish (52%), earn over half their income from ebook sales (45%) and overall, earn less from publishing (40%). For aspiring authors in the future, most predicted less chance to earn a living (93%) and a greater need to market themselves (76%). “It's bleak, unless you want a X Factor for authors,” commented one. Despite talk of the democratisation of the publishing process, aspiring authors anticipate traditional publishing (86%) and literary agents (87%) to endure but there would be much more self-publishing and e-publishing (78%). Most pessimistically, one in five aspiring authors felt that it is aspiring authors themselves who should be most concerned about changes in publishing (22%).
Four out of five (79%) aspiring authors cite that trying to find out which publishers and agents to approach presents a challenge to getting a publishing deal. Seven out of ten (70%) mention getting good feedback on their work. Also considered to be challenges were finding time to write (51%) and finding out about publishing trends (50%).
“The options for new authors are increasing all the time,” says Harry Bingham, an author and also M.D. of The Writers' Workshop, the world's largest literary consultancy. “Most of our clients still want an agent and to be published in the traditional way – but we’ve also had clients take control of their own careers and become #1 Kindle bestsellers in their category. Because the industry is becoming ever more complex, however, it’s become increasingly essential for writers to understand its evolution – and to hear direct from the people who shape the market.
“Our Festival of Writing draws together more aspiring novelists, literary agents and publishers than any other event. Several dozen literary agents and publishers will meet with writers at the 3rd Festival of Writing which takes place in York this September.”
Aspiring authors cite the biggest barriers facing them are writing a good enough book (35%) followed by having to get an agent (23%). However, there also remains a perception of a narrowing market and that publishers are not taking enough risks: “Publishers and agents not willing to take any risks, not even ones they were taking quite happily 5-10 years ago,” commented one writer. “It is finding a publisher or agent who wants to take risks and is not bogged down by market rules,” commented another.
The aspiring novelists polled said they had been writing between 3 to 4 years on average with the aim of getting a novel published. One in ten (12%) said they had been writing for over 10 years. Very few (9%) said they were motivated to start writing by plans for a career change or to see their name in print (8%). Rather that they have always loved writing (59%) or a desire to be creative (29%). 29% said they blogged or tweeted about their work.
Harry Bingham stresses that quality is still by far the most important criterion of success. “We’re know that we come across a novel that’s good enough, we’ll be able to secure an agent for its author. Where we’ve come across something exceptional, that work has often gone on to become a bestseller, win a prize, sell internationally and/or get TV/film interest.
“If authors choose to self-publish, their novel still needs to be strong – and the author needs to realise that they’ll be spending about two full days a week on the sales effort, not just around the time of launch but permanently.
“But either way, what matters is quality. If authors want to succeed, they need four things. Talent. A stunning concept. A rigorous approach to improving their work. And the right kind of engagement with the industry. We can’t help with the first two of those – but we offer loads of help with the last two. And our Festival of Writing is the best place to get started.”
Notes for editors
323 aspiring novelists answered the online survey polled by The Writers' Workshop. Respondents were geographically spread throughout the British Isles and reported writing in a wide variety of genres.
The Writers' Workshop is believed to be the world's largest literary consultancy, dealing with 8-900 manuscripts from aspiring authors each year. Based in Oxfordshire, The Writers' Workshop was founded in 2006.
Harry Bingham is the author of a number of novels, notably TALKING TO THE DEAD (Orion, June 2012). He is also the author of the Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Getting Published (Bloomsbury) and the W&A Guide on How To Write (Bloomsbury, May 2012).
The Festival of Writing takes place from 7-9th September at the University of York. Key publishing speakers include Kirsty Dunsheath, publishing director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Gillian Green, editorial director at Ebury, Random House and Simon Trewin, literary agent at United Agents.
Tel: 07973 218434
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