By Nimue Brown
Some months ago I put up a hand and offered to help get Awen Publications and its titles in front of people. Publisher Anthony Nanson invited me to blog about what led me here. The short answer is that I have friends with books at Awen and simply wanted to support them. The long answer, is a good deal more complicated.
The book publishing industry is worth a lot of money. In 2016, it was worth £4.4 billion in the UK publishers.org.uk/media-centre/news-releases/2016/ But at the same time, something like 95% of authors cannot make enough to live on. I have a lot of problems with the combination of those two figures, and with the consequences for authors.
Bigger houses tend to have shareholders. Books are published based not on merit, but on an accounting assessment of what will sell well for least effort and cost. Authors who don’t sell fast and well find themselves dropped. The middle ranking of the publishing industry has largely gone. The idea of developing an author over time has largely gone. The idea of professional authors (who are not TV celebrities) has largely gone and the industry does this while not investing in marketing in the way that competing leisure creators do (films, games etc). There’s a lot to be cross about.
I know far too many apparently successful authors who should be secure, and are struggling. I know far too many talented authors who don’t tick enough boxes to get the breakthrough. I know many part time authors, dealing with burnout, stress, exhaustion. And as an author I’ve experienced some of this too – when selling out your whole print run isn’t good enough to contract the next book because you don’t also have a movie deal…
In my early twenties I got involved with the ebook revolution, back before Amazon and the like would deign to touch them. I saw how it opened things out for self publishing and small publishers. Online giants are both a blessing and a curse now, creating opportunities, but also pushing down the price of books so that a pittance goes back to the publisher. 20% of the profits on an ebook that sold for $0.99 does not keep a roof over anyone’s head.
Since then I’ve worked almost entirely in small publishing – as a publisher myself, as an author, as a book publicist and as an editor. Small forays into the world of big publishing, and watching friends at big houses has convinced me to stay put in smaller, more ethical enterprises. Houses that care about the quality of books and want to get those books in front of readers, rather than caring primarily about the shareholders. Houses that don’t feel easy about the idea that authors are ten a penny, easily replaced and it doesn’t matter if you don’t pay them.
And so here I am. I’m putting in time and energy with Awen because this is a house with an attitude to quality that I really like. This is a house that isn’t set up to exploit creators. There are no shareholders. I doubt we’re ever going to make our fortunes this way, but there is more to life than profit. I do think we can sell books to people who want them, and make that work for all involved. I want to be part of that.