11.21.2012

Bending in the Winds of Change


An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind.But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots.  -- Aesop

It goes without saying right now that it's a volatile time in publishing. With the news that Penguin and Random House are merging and the news that Harper and Simon & Schuster are in talks about merging, authors and illustrators are understandably nervous and apprehensive. The Big Six emerged as the largest leading publishing houses in the world, then there were five, now it looks like there will be four... and I can’t think it will stop there.

What I sincerely hope authors and illustrators will be willing and able to do during this uncomfortable time of wait-and-see is recognize and remember their value and worth as creative artists in this society—value and worth that exist independently of any publishing house; value and worth that will exist long after the large houses complete their awkward merger dances. To my mind, it's become a little too easy for publishing houses to convince authors and illustrators that their creative work is only worth something because the large publishing house is willing to publish it. The worth of creative work is far greater than that. And now may well be the time for authors and illustrators to take stock of what they do well, what they do best, and be open to all opportunities to share their work—be it through the new large houses or through the myriad of other avenues available these days for publishing our work, including smaller houses, independent houses, and more.

As mergers are rumored, speculated upon, and announced, it's critical to understand that it will be many months before things start to happen at these houses that will have a direct effect on authors and illustrators. And as we wait to see what happens, I hope people will take this time to gather information, ask questions, plan ahead, and remain flexible so they can bend as needed and be ready to readjust.  However, once things DO start to happen, such as evaluating the number of imprints, the amount of staff, and the projected incomes of divisions the combined company has, then it's likely to assume some forms of consolidation and reorganization will take place—and that will absolutely affect authors and artists at differing levels depending upon where the changes take place in the companies.  It's to be expected that the ride will get bumpier before it get smoother. And my advice right now to all the creative people potentially effected by these changes is to stay flexible, stay open minded, and continue paying attention to creating the best work you can. The playing field for authors and artists is actually widening, not shrinking, but it's going to require some new thinking and new approaches by authors, artists, agents, and publishers to see it that way. Fortitude and flexibility, my friends!


(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC

49 comments:

  1. Excellent, Emma! I will share far and wide.

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  2. Thanks for your wise and experienced words of wisdom. I just sent this post to all my clients. Keep dreaming! Keep striving! We determine our future and our successes!

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    1. Thanks so much, Jill! Yes, it's critical for authors and artists to recognize they play a key role in what happens to them and their creative work !

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  3. Love your last two lines especially -- there's hope in a widening market. Being flexible is great advice!

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  4. A similar merge craze happened in the film industry and ya know what? The actors found they were more powerful and valued than the studio that made the films. I hope writers and illustrators will also realize...readers want their stories regardless of the publisher and that change breeds opportunity.

    Thanks Emma

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    1. Yes, yes, yes! Too often I am sensing authors and illustrators defining themselves by whether a big house wants them or not. This is a twisted perspective and we need to get back to the point, to the recognition that artistry is intrinsically valuable and will be paid for, it just may happen in an unexpected way from now on.

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  5. Like Craig, I'm taking a page from the another industry - accounting (because my husband is an accountant). We worried when the big six there merged to become the big four. In the aftermath, smaller, regional companies increased their influence. Still plenty of job opportunities out there, and perhaps more variety.

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    1. Thanks for this added perspective Carolyn. Very important and helpful to remember that these changes in publishing don't happen in a vaccuum.

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  6. Just say to yourself, "I am a loooone reeeed."

    "I am a lone reed..."

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  7. Thanks for sharing your wonderful words of hope and wisdom, Emma. Fortitude and flexibility seem to be a necessity to survive in this business.

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  8. Thanks for this, Emma. I keep thinking of the music industry, which went through just such a shake-up ten to fifteen years ago. And what did we end up with? A lot of indie music, a lot of niche publishing/producing, a lot of experimentation in form, format, and delivery models. Tough circumstances for artists, particularly financially, yet an artistic flowering, too.

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    1. Exactly -- no question it's going to be hard to stay focused creatively when it seems like the walls are crumbling around us, but I feel certain the outcome is promising!

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  9. Well said! Sharing on Facebook!

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  10. Thank you for your encouragement and wisdom, Emma!

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  11. So true and so well spoken - as always!

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  12. Thank you, Emma. Your words are encouraging at a time when I'm focusing on the creative process and all its rewards, and trying not to spend an abundant amount of time hoping for traditional publication. The result has been quite exciting...

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    1. Especially right now, I am a real proponent of focusing on the creative process, focusing on the work, and staying open to the possibilities that will present themselves when the time is right. If this can be exciting, all the better! Cheers, Carol!

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  13. As an unpublished writer, it's all very scary anyway. It really helps to hear these words from you with your experience & expertise.

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    1. I actually think things are potentially more disarming right now for published authors and illustrators who are so familiar with the systems and protocols that have been in place with large houses for a long time...and that are now being cracked open and called into question, rocking assumptions. New, unpublished authors and illustrators do have more choices. And I'm not wearing rosy glasses here; I do understand all too well how hard this market is to break into, but all I'm encouraging is to stay open to different options because there are so many! Stick with it, Penny!

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  14. Can you explain a little to a nervous writer how the playing field is widening these days?

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    1. There are a myriad of strong small and/or independent publishers looking for authors and illustrators and new projects to publish -- and this includes such houses as Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Sourcebooks, Boyds Mills, etc. There are also even smaller indie houses, such as Little Pickle Press and Magination Press, and there are online platforms such as uTales. In addition, there are a myriad of self-publshing platforms to think about, though I would be the first to caution that if you're going to self-publish, you need to be certain that you're doing it well and right--with an edited and copy edited manuscript, a book design that makes sense for the book, and a marketing plan. To be sure, many of these options may not suit every author or illustrator -- and there's nothing that says an author can't try several publishing models at once for their work. It's going to be necessary to do a lot of homework to learn about the various publishing options open to people. In addition, this is where having an agent can prove extremely helpful, to help sort through the choices and differences. But for certain, there's a whole range of publishing options beyond relying on the Big Six (or Five). Thanks for your question, Susan, and good luck!

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  15. I don't know many writers who would relish dealing with a massive company compared to a smaller, friendlier one, if you put aside the money aspect.
    It's really scary to think how all-encompassing these companies can become and so focussed on their profits above everything else
    Thanks for a great post on this topic! And apologies if there are any typos as I'm struggling with a bad phone and a naughty cat!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment!

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  16. Excellent advice, Emma, as always! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  17. These mergers and possible mergers actually make me more prone to want to explore small presses and other opportunities. Such changes will probably inspire new models we haven't yet contemplated.

    Thank you for your reassuring words born of experience and your own flexibility.

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    1. Exactly, Joanna! You're leading the way among new authors experimenting with different platforms and staying open to all models - and this to me seems the way to go!

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  18. Thank you for your comments Emma and for leading the discussion above. My blog is geared towards books that help heal kids. I've noticed an increase in the number of authors forming their own independent publishing companies and linking to large distrbutors. Made me wonder about groups of authors doing the same. I think we are already beginning to see a lot of new ways emerging. It's kind of exciting!

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    1. It IS kind of exciting, I agree! Thanks for your comments.

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  19. Thank you, Emma. This future of ours is exciting and scary The one sure thing is that there is no "safe."
    I've been in life long enough to know that you can't stop change. It will happen with or without your clawmarks all over it.
    You can change your beliefs about change.
    You believe that what you are doing is wonderful and worthy and that your work will find a good home.
    I am praying my current writing home for Children's books will stay open to me and that I will find the right place for my Second Chances in the adult market.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
    Susan

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    1. Thanks for your excellent comments, Susan! Changing our beliefs about change -- YES!

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  20. Thanks for your words of encouragement and wisdom-- and for believing in authors and artists!

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    1. Thanks, Carol. Believing in authors and artists? Easy!

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  21. Emma, thanks for the thoughts, My value as a long time member of the community has not changed. My art and how I always felt it was of value has not changed. The librarians and teachers who know of my books make me feel valued. The publishing world is changing so that people no longer "get paid". And the chances of being a "professional" (one who is paid) diminishes with each new corporate merger. That is another form of value that is eroding, paying the artists and authors. Right now, newer publishing models ask for out of pocket payment in order to be published. That sends a big massage that our creative endeavors have no value. That what we do is a hobby and another full time job is expected in order to carry out our hobby. It leaves us as servants rather than kings and queens. We need to be paid as artists, not pay to be published or pay the service providers who can help us get there. Call me old school but I know I was with the best in publishing and paid for my services. Paying to be published just sounds backwards and that art is valueless. Ask my musician friends who make no money after publishing their own fabulous CDs that never sell.

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    1. Thanks for your comments and perspective, Melanie. The issue of being paid for your work is, of course, highly relevant to this conversation --and could indeed be the topic of additional blog posts! And while I do agree that there are many publishing options open to people right now that do require the artist to pay out of pocket for their work to be published, I don't agree with that method for publication--and have done enough research to see there are many other publishing models that don't require an artist to pay up front. Some smaller and/or indie houses still follow an advance/royalty model; some indie platforms follow a 50/50 profit sharing model; some self-publishing platforms are free. Where I am seeing an interesting and real difference is between how authors are used to working and how illustrators are used to working -- and it's critical to understand authors are used to working "on spec," creating an entire manuscript (and sometimes spending years doing so) before it's ever sold. Illustrators traditionally are hired based on a style or sample and then don't illustrate an entire project until after they've been paid something. This is a considerable difference and one that is definitely having an effect on some new business models that require all artwork to be completed before any money (literal or potential) is realized. This new publishing environment is shifting and changing everyday--and the goal indeed will be to figure out how artists can and will continue to get paid for their work at the levels at which they ought to be paid to maintain value.

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  22. Anonymous11/23/2012

    In addition to discussing the woes of writer and illustrators we should address the fears and trepidations of those in the publishing industry. Some editors are terrified over losing their jobs thus they'll take what superiors offer them: "Make profits or leave the company." -- "Get a 'celebrity' to write a
    picture book or novel. It makes no difference if it is awful; his/her name will sell copies."

    Some of the 'big' guys and gals are going to topple. Some already have. I've worked with them, with their pretentious attitude, their know-it-all yet know nothings. I know one who is now a maitre d' in Soho; another who is unsuccessfullly trying to do 'internet' things; then there are others who become agents who can't sell works to houses they once worked for.

    We are in a publishing mess. Yet, we've been there before. Emma stands tall and tough and true in that only the best will succeed (unless, of course, you are 'famous' and can get on morning talk shows for a few seconds.)

    Onward.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. It is true that many who work in the publishing houses are fearful for their jobs and nervous about continued layoffs and "reorganizations." Because so much of publishing has really become akin to any other big corporate business, the fears are that much greater. That being said, I do find it interesting and noteworthy to see just how many people from some of the largest houses are succeeding in smaller houses, as agents, as consultants, and in new publishing-related fields. And I would say that those who work in the larger publishing houses need to be as flexible as anyone else right now. It's not an easy time, but it's a time of a lot of potential -- an to your last point, I would add that not only will the best succeed, but that the most creative and flexiblel will succeed as well.

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  23. "Especially right now, I am a real proponent of focusing on the creative process, focusing on the work, and staying open to the possibilities that will present themselves when the time is right."

    Emma, I have watched you reinvent yourself over the last few years after you left one of those big houses, and I have appreciated your honesty in sharing that process with your readers. Truly, your posts have given me hope as I have made my own way on a journey of reinvention.

    Thanks, now, for addressing issues that are so daunting--so demoralizing--to many of us, and for encouraging each of us by your own example. Change is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is inevitable. Sharing strength and taking courage from each other helps.

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    1. Thank you so very much for your comment and kind words, Anita. There are so many of us on this path of reinvention of self -- and we need to recognize we're in this together and to remind ourselves and one another of why what we do is so important and so worthwhile. "Sharing strength and taking courage from each other" -- YES!

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  24. Awesome post, Emma! Thank you for your words of wisdom.

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