Tuesday, May 31, 2011

21st Century Books and Publishing

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I have been sending my latest novel to publishers and agents. Initially I started with UK agents, since it is very much a British book (despite being set on some mysterious other world) and I was keen to finally have a book published on these blessed shores. My ambition is one day to see someone on the Tube reading my book, and that's never going to happen if it's not available outside Utah.

So I bought the latest copy of "The Writers Handbook" which lists all the publishers, agents, journals and newspapers in the UK, along with their submission guidelines and what genres they specialise in. And I hunted through it for agents specialising in fantasy/sci-fi who were accepting unsolicited approaches.

What they wanted varied enormously. One wanted the first three chapters plus a synopsis and a brief covering letter. Another wanted a long covering letter outlining my hopes for the book and explaining where it fitted into the market, plus my biography and the first fifty pages. But they all wanted it printed on A4 paper, single side, double spaced and sent by post. Almost every agent and publisher in the book said they did not accept email submissions. Some didn't have websites.

After a couple of months (and one rejection) I started to wonder whether I should also consider the American market, where all my other books have been published. After all, Harry Potter and James Bond are as English as it's possible to be, and they go down fine in the US. So I started looking into American agents.

The difference was astonishing. American agents, for the most part, don't accept postal submissions. Good thing too - I couldn't afford the postage. They all have glossy websites explaining exactly what they are looking for and how to approach them, and frequently listing the individuals at the company and what they like to read. So despite my initial reluctance to present my British book to the US market, I have sent off a couple of queries simply because it was so much easier, and because they made themselves seem so much more enthusiastic and approachable. It seems that the UK publishing industry hasn't quite discovered the 21st Century yet.

But it's the same with books. I read recently that ebooks are now outselling printed books on Amazon.com, but on Amazon.co.uk they are only outselling hardcover books. Not only that, but I've only ever seen one person with a Kindle, whereas it seems that all my American friends have one. (Price may have a lot to do with it. There is no VAT [sales tax] on print books in the UK, but there is on ebooks, making a paperback print book a cheaper option.)

When I lived in Wales there used to be a saying which our family would recite as we crossed the border from England on our way home after visiting friends. "Set your watch back 50 years, now entering Wales." Well, sad to say, in matters of publishing and the future of books, it seems the UK is several years behind the US, and that's why my British book is now in the hands of an American publisher.


Victoria Rollison said...

It's the same in Australia - our publishing industry is a long way behind the US market. I try to keep up with what is happening there so I can stay ahead of the game, but it's hard to watch from afar and really understand how different the market is.
Thanks for the post, very interesting.

Stephanie Black said...

This is absolutely fascinating, Anna. I had no idea the publishing industry was so different in the UK.

My oldest daughter just got a Kindle for her birthday, and she's thrilled.