Traditional Publishing

Author productivity is a publishing problem – Saturday January 13, 2024

Writers struggling to hit their deadlines are a sign of deeper issues in the industry.

George R R Martin was late delivering the sixth instalment of his A Song of Ice and Fire novel series. Over the years, frustrated fans speculated on his delay and procrastination, with one taking to the internet to ask advice of fellow writer Neil Gaiman. The fan, Gareth, complained: “It’s almost as though he is doing everything in his power to avoid working on it. Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is letting me down?” Gaiman’s witty response was simple: “Writers and artists aren’t machines.”

I’ve worked in and around publishing for 20 years and over that time had many different roles. Thinking back, I’ve been guilty of treating authors like machines – sorry Neil.

Take one example where I had responsibility for a list of 200 titles. With forthcoming titles represented as a line on a spreadsheet an author was reduced to a unit of production. Publishing margins are increasingly tight, so the hard commercial reality was that each title, and by extension author, was assessed in terms of financial viability.

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