Last August I attended a wedding where, for the first time, I met two people who are or were involved in the world of traditional publishing. One was Fiona, a former manager at a large prestigious publishing house, who, it turned out, commissioned a report fourteen years ago on an early draft of my first novel, The Bridge of Dead Things.
It “quickly establishes itself as a remarkably assured, well-written, funny and complex Victorian Gothic,” the report read. “It is at the very least extremely good, and quite possibly exceptional…but it’s definitely not a HarperCollins children’s book. More Wilkie Collins than The Diamond of Drury Lane, in other words.”
Prescient, no? I’d never thought of it as a children’s book, but as rejection letters go, they don’t get much better than that! It went on to recommend I find myself a literary agent, which I did, though it took a further four years. I mention all this to establish my credentials. Although I may now be an indie author, at one time or other I have had my feet in both camps. It used to be that the reading public could rely on the good reputation of legacy publishing houses. They would be spared the spelling errors and ragged grammar that supposedly typify an indie author’s work. But is that really still the case?
Hands up those of you who have come across multiple typos and poorly-spaced text (where five words are strung out across a line like a few bits of pegged-out washing) in any of the traditionally-published hard-copy books you’ve read lately? Ah. All of you then. In one I recently came across, a sentence petered out halfway through. Cut off in its prime. In another—or possibly the same one—one character started speaking before miraculously transforming himself into another (the one who should have been speaking all along). The arts of typesetting and proofreading aren’t dead; they’re just no longer guaranteed.
And it’s not as if traditional publishers seem especially au fait with the genres we read. One claimed that their author was famed for his “comic book series”. Presumably they meant “graphic novel series”, and not some unintentional put-down. And I’m not sure any of them knows what a “cozy mystery” is (but we know, don’t we, readers?).
Nor is their disservice limited to readers. Authors get it too. A three-book deal with a big, fat advance? If your first title fails to make back that advance, the remainder accrues to the second title, and then the third. Royalties used to be based on the selling price of your book. Where books were discounted, this led to proportionately lower receipts. Children’s author Nicola Davies (@nicolakidsbooks) sold over 13,000 copies of one of her titles and received just £800. That’s about 16 pence per copy. But more and more, royalties are being based on the publisher’s net receipts—not on the book’s retail price—after all of their costs are deducted. And I’m sure this will have a knock-on effect for the 25-40% of your royalties that go to your agent. They won’t be much pleased. My biggest bugbear at the moment, however, is to do with publishers’ territorial rights, and the short-sighted, parochial unwillingness for their counterparts in other countries to take on a title if they don’t think their readers will accept the colloquialisms it contains. Case in point: Charlotte MacLeod. She’s virtually unknown here in the UK. And that truly is a crime!
While it’s true that, at a time when the market is flooded, brands stand out, as readers and authors we cling to this cheery notion very much in the sense of “between a rock and a hard place”.
This month’s giveaway is a free download of The Bridge of Dead Things. A working-class Victorian girl discovers she has a unique if unwanted power and is soon drawn into a world of seances, ghost grabbers…and murderers. Definitely not a HarperCollins children’s book! Use coupon code UB95E. Offer ends on May 31st 2018.
“I absolutely loved it! I don’t give out 5 stars very often, but I did for this book! Mysteries abound and Gallagher does an amazing job creating an atmosphere of rising fear and creepiness…I hope that there are many more additions to the Lizzie Blaylock series because I now consider myself a firm fan!”—Suzy Schettler LibraryThing Early Reviewer (5 stars)
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Michael Gallagher is the author of two series of novels set in Victorian times. Send for Octavius Guy chronicles the attempts of fourteen-year-old Gooseberry—reformed master pickpocket—to become a detective, aided and abetted by his ragtag bunch of friends. The Involuntary Medium follows the fortunes of young Lizzie Blaylock, a girl who can materialize the spirits of the dead, as she strives to come to terms with her unique gift. For twenty-five years Michael taught adults with learning disabilities at Bede, a London-based charity that works with the local community. He now writes full time.
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