In this week’s The Bookseller literary agent Peter Cox has written an article condemning publishers who are branching out into offering services and courses for authors in an attempt to ‘monetise the slush pile’. He says that ‘the misconception that anyone is capable of writing a bestseller is not only damaging to aspiring writers, but bestselling ones, too’.
I’m not convinced these publishers are exploiting authors. They’re simply noticing what editors like me are doing, and setting up to compete. No one’s telling authors they’ll write a bestseller, and only the best writers succeed as a result of using writers’ services and courses. And the increase of courses and services – of decent quality – available to writers is surely a good thing. Even those writers who will never sell millions of copies benefit from editorial consultancy and writing guidance.
Most worrying in the article, for me, is this line: ‘[M]any of these offerings are … guilty of being extremely poor value for money – why anyone would pay hundreds or thousands of pounds for advice that’s available in any how-to book is beyond me …’
My high-level editorial consultancy services can cost several hundred pounds, or over a thousand – because they’re reflective of the time it takes me to carry out the work and the level of my expertise. The idea that an author doesn’t need an editor – that they can learn all they need in a how-to book – is laughable to me. It’s like saying we don’t need teachers in schools – just hand a kid a stack of books and he’ll know how to do quadratic equations and conjugate a French verb and write beautiful English. Or that publishing houses don’t need proofreaders and editors – you could just give an author a How to Prep Your Book for Publication book, and he’ll make it word perfect.
I’ve recently finished writing a how-to book for authors, called Writing a Marketable Book (to be published by Troubador later this year). I’m hopeful that the book will help authors to create decent books that sell. But I’m under no illusion that my book replaces the need for The Book Specialist services.
Authors need guidance. Input. Suggestions. Feedback. Opinions. Dialogue. How else can they develop their craft? Reading a book on how to write is useful – but it’s not enough. Some writers are naturally brilliant and need little support, but these are the exception to the rule.
In the seven years I’ve been running The Book Specialist, I’ve worked with countless authors, all of whom have developed their writing as a result of my services. I’ve never once had a complaint that the guidance I give is poor value for money; that a client could have bought a book for £9.99 and achieved the same result. In fact, during a recent mentoring session with a client (for which I charge £50 per hour) he was so excited by the leaps forward he’d made in plotting his book that he declared I should charge £200 per hour. I won’t, because I’m not in the business of exploiting authors, but it exemplifies my point about value for money.
Perhaps Mr Cox would be less negative about editorial services and writing courses if each book that came into his agency had been created by an author who’d had such support. No slush pile then – just a stack of interesting, engaging books.