Crapshoot

Ben Dooley at The Millions has a response to the recent New York Times article which lays out the crapshoot that is modern publishing (i.e. the publishers put their money down, then hope for the best). Ben’s approach to the whole “revelation” seems to mirror my own and that of most writer/bloggers who have commented on it: “Oh, yeah… that.” But, Ben also crosses this article with a review of the Macmillan New Writing imprint, which has had some controversy. It doesn’t pay advances, takes all subsidiary rights, and gets first look at second books, but it is (arguably) bringing new writers, who would otherwise be ignored, into print.
This could be a new model of publishing mid-list authors. The problem with the midlisters (from the big house’s point of view) is that the cost of printing their works is outweighed by the small profit made on the small number of books sold. If there is a chance of not paying advances and having the only cost be printing itself, which in a day of POD should be very, very low, then might more publishers take a chance on that odd little title they would otherwise pass on?
As Ben says:

If advances are the big gambles everyone says they are, then they only serve to make publishers risk averse. … By not giving writers advances, New Writing has found a way around this problem, allowing them to take a chance on a book, while reducing the considerable overhead attached. This system should be a boon for mid-list writers who, it’s often said, are not nurtured by publishing houses in the way they once were. Sure, you’ll hear writers grousing about being unable to make a living from their work, but, with the exception of the biggest literary stars, isn’t that’s how it’s always been? For my part, I’d much rather have my books in print, giving my readership a chance to grow with me. After all, readers will seek out a good writer’s backlist, and every book that sees print should increase royalties from previous efforts.

I think he may be right.

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