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Most authors still yearn for a traditional publishing deal…

Despite the rise in self publishing, over half of aspiring novelists still want an agent and still want to be published in the traditional way.

Authors still yearn for a traditional book deal
A traditional book deal is the dream for many authors

But, according to a new survey, most believe in five years time authors will be more likely to self publish rather than go the traditional route.

And they predict the toughest times ahead for themselves and for booksellers but expect publishers both big and small to be able to adapt in the coming few years.

Asked to predict the future for authors in five years time, aspiring novelists said that authors would be more likely to self-publish (52%), earn over half their income from ebook sales (45%) and overall, earn less from publishing (40%). For aspiring authors in the future, most predicted less chance to earn a living (93%) and a greater need to market themselves (76%).

“It’s bleak, unless you want a X Factor for authors,” commented one. Despite talk of the democratisation of the publishing process, aspiring authors anticipate traditional publishing (86%) and literary agents (87%) to endure but there would be much more self-publishing and e-publishing (78%). Most pessimistically, one in five aspiring authors felt that it is aspiring authors themselves who should be most concerned about changes in publishing (22%).

Four out of five (79%) aspiring authors cite that trying to find out which publishers and agents to approach presents a challenge to getting a publishing deal. Seven out of ten (70%) mention getting good feedback on their work. Also considered to be challenges were finding time to write (51%) and finding out about publishing trends (50%).

“The options for new authors are increasing all the time,” says Harry Bingham, an author and also M.D. of The Writers’ Workshop, the world’s largest literary consultancy, which conducted the survey, “Most of our clients still want an agent and to be published in the traditional way – but we’ve also had clients take control of their own careers and become #1 Kindle bestsellers in their category. Because the industry is becoming ever more complex, however, it’s become increasingly essential for writers to understand its evolution – and to hear direct from the people who shape the market.

Aspiring authors cite the biggest barriers facing them are writing a good enough book (35%) followed by having to get an agent (23%). However, there also remains a perception of a narrowing market and that publishers are not taking enough risks: “Publishers and agents not willing to take any risks, not even ones they were taking quite happily 5-10 years ago,” commented one writer. “It is finding a publisher or agent who wants to take risks and is not bogged down by market rules,” commented another.

The aspiring novelists polled said they had been writing between 3 to 4 years on average with the aim of getting a novel published. One in ten (12%) said they had been writing for over 10 years. Very few (9%) said they were motivated to start writing by plans for a career change or to see their name in print (8%). Rather that they have always loved writing (59%) or a desire to be creative (29%). 29% said they blogged or tweeted about their work.

Harry Bingham, who has written a number of novels, guides about getting published and who has another novel Talking to the Dead (Orion) about to be published in June, stresses that quality is still by far the most important criterion of success. “We’re know that we come across a novel that’s good enough, we’ll be able to secure an agent for its author. Where we’ve come across something exceptional, that work has often gone on to become a bestseller, win a prize, sell internationally and/or get TV/film interest.

“If authors choose to self-publish, their novel still needs to be strong – and the author needs to realise that they’ll be spending about two full days a week on the sales effort, not just around the time of launch but permanently.

“But either way, what matters is quality. If authors want to succeed, they need four things. Talent. A stunning concept. A rigorous approach to improving their work. And the right kind of engagement with the industry.”

The consultancy, which deals with 900 manuscripts from aspiring authors a year, is now set to run a Festival of Writing to give advice to would-be authors.

The Festival of Writing takes place from 7th-9th September at the University of York. Key publishing speakers include Kirsty Dunsheath, publishing director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Gillian Green, editorial director at Ebury, Random House and Simon Trewin, literary agent at United Agents.

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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