I have been in this business for what might be considered an embarrassingly long amount of time: since 1992, to be exact, when I started as an assistant to a brilliant agent named Raphael Sagalyn down in DC.
So I realize when looking back that a lot has changed, of course, since then and I was thinking about what has changed for the worse and what has changed for the better. I thought I’d make a laundry list–these are just a few off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many more that I’m not thinking of. And then I did another list of a few nice things about the industry that haven’t changed at all.
For the Better:
1. More transparency. It’s hard to remember now, when publishers like Simon and Schuster make all sales information available to their authors online, that publishers actually used to be reluctant to give their authors sales information. Now, I call an editor and get first week sales breakdowns by account, including e-books. Before the book ships I get an accounting of orders, again broken down by account. But in the old days, there would be hemming and hawing, and even outright refusal to give numbers outside of the royalty statement that was provided twice a year.
2. Self-publishing via e-books. Hooray self-publishing! I’ve always been a fan, since way before e-book days, but now self-publishing is a possibility for so many more folks. A great way, as I’ve said so many times, to prove that there is indeed an audience for your book.
3. Less territorialism. Is that a word? In my experience, anyway, publishers seem to be more accepting of the fact that an author will write for several different houses. As advances go down, and payments get more and more spread-out (see below), it becomes a financial necessity for some authors, and I think publishers get that now.
4. Authors are so much better informed. I used to have to basically reinvent the wheel with each new author, breaking the bad news to them one thing at a time. Yes, it will take a year for your book to be published. Yes, you will only get a royalty statement twice a year and it will be for the period ending three months prior. Now, authors know so much more about the process. Via social media they’re able to connect with published author friends and really learn the ropes before getting tossed in. It’s one of my favorite things about the way technology has changed the business.
5. A corollary to #4: Authors who query now have access to so much more information. The only resources about agents really used to be Jeff Herman’s guide and the LMP (who remembers the LMP?). Now, there are almost infinite sources of information about agents. Beyond just access to sales (which I think is so important) authors can get a real sense of the agent’s personality via twitter, blogs and facebook. It’s a wonderful way of figuring out who might be a great agent match.
For the Worse:
1. Payouts. Don’t get me started. An author’s advance payment almost always used to be half and half–half on signing, half on delivery and acceptance. Now it’s thirds or even fourths–1/4 on signing, 1/4 on d &a, 1/4 on hardcover pub and 1/4 on paperback pub. Sigh. Authors have to write a lot faster these days to make money on the same kind of schedule that they used to.
2.Hard/soft deals. You used to be able to sell hardcover rights to one house and then turn around and sell paperback rights to another. Two separate income streams. Now publishers buy all rights to a book. One income stream.
3. Audio. Again, don’t get me started. You used to always be able to retain audio rights and sell those separately. Another income stream for the author. No more. Publishers are increasingly (I can think of two right off the bat) insisting that audio be part of their overall grant of rights.
Things that are the same:
1. Editors do edit. I know everyone says they don’t, but they do. Trust me.
2. Innovation. I see it everywhere, in publishers and authors, and I’m always so impressed by the creativity around me.
3. Nice people. Publishing is full of smart, nice, funny people, united by their passion for reading and books. That hasn’t changed. I’m always surprised when I mingle with people out in the “real” world by how less cool they are than publishing people.
4. I still think I have the best job in the world. That hasn’t changed a bit.
That’s all for me, folks. Would love to hear from other industry long-timers about their better/worse impressions as well.