This post, by Peter Ginna, originally appeared on Dr. Syntax on 4/1/12.
The London agent Jonny Geller stirred up a lot of discussion, and a flurry of Twittering, by posting “An Agent’s Manifesto” a week or so ago. Jonny contended that in the “maelstrom” of the current book business, authors are being forgotten, taken for granted by booksellers and, in particular, by publishers. The original post seems now to be behind a paywall but it’s extensively quoted here and here. He writes:
The author is not an object which a publisher has to step over in order to achieve a successful publication. If they have a problem with the cover, blurb, copy or format, then something isn’t right…Remember, we don’t have a job without [the author]. For those of us still working in the legacy business of publishing books, here’s a reminder of the primary mover in this chain.
A great many people retweeted his column or commented on it using words like “fantastic.” And his dim view of publishers was echoed elsewhere. At her blog, the novelist and ghostwriter Roz Morris had even more negative opinions of my colleagues:
It is common, behind the scenes, to hear editors talk about authors with undisguised loathing – not just individual ones who may be difficult, but all of them, authors as a breed. There is a culture that authors must not be listened to.
I have to say that I don’t buy these generalizations about our business.
I have worked at publishers large and small–two Big Six houses, a literary indie, a university press, and currently a house I’d describe as mid-size. Never, ever, at any of them, have I heard authors discussed with “loathing.” At all of them it was fully understood by editors, marketers, and management that the author is, in Jonny’s words, “the primary mover” in the publishing firmament. The whole enterprise would not exist without authors. To put it another way, as one of my colleagues says, “the author is our customer.” I simply don’t know anyone in publishing who thinks of an author as “an object we have to step over to achieve a successful publication.”
At Bloomsbury, we regard the author as a key partner in marketing the book, because as Jonny correctly observes, “the author is the expert” on the subject, setting, and likely readership of her book. We want to tap into that expertise, and use the author to help mobilize the networks of readers who are going to respond to what she’s doing.