This post, by Janet Kobobel Grant, origiinally appeared on the Books & Such Literary Agency blog on 5/14/12.
The other day I was talking with an editor about digital rights the publisher wanted back even though those rights had reverted to my client. I was surprised to hear her say: “We have ended up promoting authors’ books that are published by other publishers when we offered titles for free. That offer cost us, but other publishers benefited.”
I found myself thinking: “Welcome to the new world of publishing. Why are you surprised by that?” Neat lines of loyalty to publishers have melted away. But even so, doesn’t it benefit each publisher if all of an author’s titles sell well? When the water rises, it raises the entire boat. Yet the editor clearly thought of her publishing house as being in competition with other publishers, and she couldn’t imagine why she should help another publisher. That’s kind of an old-fashioned thought. While publishers might end up competing for a certain title or author, generally publishers are in competition with self-publishing, not each other. Which leads me to my next point of surprise in that conversation.
The editor went on to say that she found it disturbing that I had pointed out to her that my client could make more money by self-publishing her digital titles rather than returning them to the publisher, who intended to use those titles to promote my client’s other titles. In other words, those digital rights were useful to the publisher to make money off of other titles. But I have to weigh how much money my client could lose by reassigning those digital rights to the publisher. Why should the publisher be offended? It’s my job to think about all the angles of such a decision.
That exchange with the editor was one of several instances I’ve experienced that demonstrates publishers, agents, and authors all feel disenfranchised. The publishers feel wronged and wonder what happened to loyalty. The authors wonder what happened to publishers who worked hard and over the long-term to build careers. And agents wonder what happened to a world in which their major job was to place clients’ work with publishing houses.
That’s my point: Everyone feels disenfranchised and disrespected. Feelings run strong and deep on every side.