Most of you who are reading these blogs here at Amazing Stories are probably well aware that publishing is changing. It has perhaps always been changing, but it seems to me that for the last decade or so the changes have been accelerating at an exponential rate. At first in the mid-2000s the big publishers started gobbling up the smaller publishers, then the bigger media companies began gobbling up the big publishers. Now there are four main publishers of science fiction and fantasy, though many of those have several different imprints so it gives the appearance that there are more than just four out there. Of course, losing Borders Books a couple of years ago wasn’t a big help either.
Then, too, small publishers have appeared in the last several years and I’ve been trying to promote (and review) books by them here and for Galaxy’s Edge. They’re one of the last bastions of print options not only for new authors but established authors who’ve lost their normal publishers–and believe me, quite a lot of familiar names have lost their publishers and their agents in the last decade and a half due to these changes.
The changes have to do with money. Or I should say greed. Agents nowadays will not take on anyone new unless they can bring that agency in a lot of money. The agencies of old, such a Scott Meredith, would have hundreds of clients who each brought in perhaps a few thousand dollars a year. The bigger authors obviously made more money than the mid-list authors, but in the end everyone prospered. Not so anymore. Agents have cut their lists down to the big money-makers and the main publishers stay with what’s familiar (in the consumer’s mind, anyway)–the big guns.
This is why we have trilogies and series up the wazoo. I have written early about this, how the desire to make money has moved publishers into the direction of serial publication. What’s been ruined in the process is an appreciation for the stand-alone novel. Remember that Philip K. Dick did not write a series or a trilogy; all of his novels were organic wholes: they had beginnings, middles, and each had a conclusion. Not anymore.
That aside, the other phenomenon is self-publishing. It now is apparently making a lot of money and now agents and publishers are doing all they can to get some (if not all) of that money by cashing in.
I have created a link to an article above that you should read. With the self-publishing success of Hugh Howey’s novel Wool (and a number of other authors in a wide range of fields), agents now sense that there is a lot of money out there to be made NOT by taking on new clients and submitting their novels to real, established publishers, but submitting them for publication to a self-publisher such as Argo Nevis. As the article above suggests, Argo Nevis will only take on novels submitted by agents, but the author–if accepted–has to pay for the cover art, the proof-reading, the layout, etc. In the meantime, the agent and the publisher walk off with a hefty 60% of the take. As the article points out, this is another way in which desperate authors get ripped off by greedy, mendacious, and extremely venal agents and authors who no longer act as advocates for authors and clients, except the biggest of them who will never have to go the Argo Nevis route. (The article does indicate that ARGO is just one of many services coming into existence now to take up this huge self-publishing market.)
Not only are authors getting screwed, but we, the readers of science fiction, are getting screwed as well. A publisher vets a book. That is to say, when you see a book for sale, it means that someone has decided to spend money on production, art, and distribution on the book; they, in effect, have faith in the book and they think it’ll sell. But now, if self-published works appear on the shelves of Barnes and Noble under the ARGO imprint or the imprints of others like Argo Nevis, then the unwary customer will have no way of knowing what’s good and what isn’t. All that matters is that agents and publishers make millions of dollars.
It’s all about money. It’s never about advocating good stories. This is why I never read trilogies or books-in-series. I’ll read the first book in a series or a trilogy, but only to review it, either for Amazing Stories or Galaxy’s Edge. But I’ve taught literature for over 36 years and I know how the novel as an art-form functions. There’s a reason why Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury has no sequel: the story is over in the end. It’s over. There’s no need for a sequel. When Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms or The Garden of Eden comes to an end, those books are OVER. There are architectural and aesthetic reasons a novel is what it is. When they end, there is a sense of completeness in the reader’s mind. It’s the same for symphonies. Imagine Beethoven’s Ninth . . . without the last movement. Or more movements added on later because Beethoven’s publisher wanted to make more money. (Never mind what the composer wanted.)
That’s another blog entry all its own, but let the buyer beware and all you newbies out here be sure you know where you are submitting your work.