Death of the Novel – Publisher’s Perogative

I had always thought that the term “Ghostwriter” was interchangeable with pseudonym.  I’m was wrong.  Writing with a Pseudonym is writing with an alias while being a Ghostwriter is writing a manuscript, novel, essay that officially gives credit to someone else.  Why am I talking about this?  Because Ghostwriting is huge and it a great example of the publisher’s prerogative.

I saw a documentary (I think it was Dateline NBC or something like that) about ghost-writing and I was shocked by the prevalence of it in modern publishing.  The only reason for the massive amounts of ghostwriting was: we know that certain key writers will make most of their money (about 1% of all novelists – that is an unofficial DIY % that I believe if accurate) while others will simply flounder or do okay.  Publishers are heavily invested in sure fire sales from authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele.  The issue of quality has no bearing with these top tier authors…it’s about money.  That isn’t to say that top tier authors aren’t any good…but that quality, for them, has ceased being any motivation to publish.  So publishers generate a stable of ghostwriters to “write in the voice of” someone else and then the novelist (or more often the publisher) signs off on the piece for printing and distribution.  This generates the highest return possible.

Generally, its the smaller publishing houses that take the risks on newer authors and potentially niche authors…each hoping for the next Stephanie Meyer to touch a vampiric nerve.  Smaller publishers cannot produce as many books each year but strive for a unique and strong catalogue of works and quality stable of authors.

Publishers also wield their prerogatives through their editing and revising of manuscripts.  An acquaintance of mine had a 4 book deal with a major publishing house.  On the third book his writing took a different trajectory from his previous 2 works and the publisher expected major revisions to the content of his work.  He refused to make such substantial changes and the publishing house dropped him because they didn’t like the content of his work.  He who has the money makes the rules!!

There is a great website called “No Media Kings” run by Jim Munroe.  He was a former HarperCollins author who left the company after growing tired and disillusioned by the tyranny of the publisher.  His website is full of great DIY solution to self-publishing and gives an honest account of the publishing machine to help authors and aspiring authors choose which path makes the most sense to them.  Munroe contents that if an author does self-publishing correctly than both the author and the bookseller can earn higher profits by cutting out the publishing house.  This is even more so the case with new technologies that are designed to cut out the publishing house (i.e. Lulu)

Self-publishing is inherently unsexy.  There is not PR team behind you.  There is no carefully crafted book tours.  You have to do all this legwork yourself. BUT – you retain control over ever aspect of your work and you can work according to your ethical standards.  You can still contract out editor (at your cost) if you feel that this is necessary.  You are ultimately making your bed with what seems to be a DIY revolution in media (which I’ll talk about a bit more in later post).  With new developments of ebook readers, youtube, PC based recording & mixers, and a huge host of DIY programs we are seeing the wall between creating original content and distribution this content falling down.  The traditional kings of media may in fact be naked…and nobody really shouted it loudly enough at them yet.

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