1. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085

    The Speed of Publishing

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BayView, Jan 14, 2019 at 11:45 AM.

    An interesting Twitter thread from one of my favourite m/m authors, decrying the slow pace of publishing and pointing out the effects it has on authors:



    ETA: That's only a preview, showing in the post. You need to click the preview to get the full thread.
     
    Tenderiser likes this.
  2. Lilith Fairen

    Lilith Fairen Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2018
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    52
    I immediately noticed a glaring problem with this person's arguments in their second tweet:
    ...how exactly does a process that, in the case of traditional publishers, doesn't cost the author a single penny "[excluding] the marginalised"?

    Isn't the obvious reason that it takes so long for publishers to respond that there is little to no barrier to entry for submission, and thus they have to spend the time to go through and evaluate all of those submissions?

    This Twitter thread does come across as one of those cases where someone views extreme cases as representative of all cases—i.e. one person had their manuscript sat on for nine months, so now they think all publishers/agents act like that.
     
  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    10,298
    Likes Received:
    11,352
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    can you afford to do work now and wait 18 months to be paid ? - if you can then you aren't low income/marginalised. That is what he is saying

    writing takes time and if you haven't got the money to live that time might have to be spent doing something that pays more quickly ... that's why he refers to it as a time cost
     
    John-Wayne likes this.
  4. Lilith Fairen

    Lilith Fairen Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2018
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    52
    The majority of writers never get published, and the majority of published writers don't make a significant sum of money from writing.

    There's plenty of people who work and also write. There's plenty of published authors who still have a day job. J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mother when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. And N.K. Jemisin's book sales alone aren't enough for her to live off of.
     
    matwoolf likes this.
  5. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,372
    Likes Received:
    9,735
    Location:
    London, UK
    I agree publishing is hugely under-resourced. I find it really uncomfortable that most "assistants" are now unpaid interns, which does mean that it's people from rich families who are getting in the door to become future agents and editors.

    But I disagree that parts of the process don't need to be this long. Even if a print house had all the editors money could buy, it wouldn't make good business sense to get a novel out the door in six months. Even 12 would be pushing it. All the marketing activity - the things that the end-reader doesn't see but which makes that book a good seller - take time. All the steps in getting a manuscript from a Word document to a printed and bound book take time. All the steps need to be checked and re-checked for quality. ePublishers can do it in six, but there's a reason their sales don't match print houses'.

    And who's going to pay for all those interns to get a wage? Who will pay to double the number of editors on staff? It won't be the shareholders, that's for sure.

    Because if you need money to eat, you need money NOW. You can't write a novel and wait 24 months for your first advance payment (24 months a very generous timescale for a first novel, by the way). Nor are you likely to have the spare time or inclination to write a novel on spec.

    There are other barriers, too. I grew up in an area of poverty (relative poverty - I live in London, not a developing country) and saw people grow into adulthood with absolutely no idea of what it's like to work in a professional environment. They don't even know not to wear ripped jeans to a job interview, but to even get their novel looked at they have to learn how to format and write a query letter, with all the unspoken rules that one only learns through months of research. Not to mention they need to have had an education that allows them to write a clean manuscript in the first place. I broke out of my childhood poverty because I was lucky to be born with high intelligence. A few of my peers broke out, too. Nearly everybody else in my year group at school is now unemployed or working for minimum wage. Maybe one or more of them dreams of being a writer, but do they have a hope in hell?

    Nine months is not an extreme case. It's industry standard to wait six months before you even nudge. Decent-sized publishers who accept unsolicited submissions often have slush piles over a year behind.
     
    jannert and BayView like this.
  6. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    Time/opportunity cost isn't directly financial, but it means that while your MS is sitting there it's not earning you any money. AND there's no guarantee it ever will, but you don't know it won't until way too long after submission. If I were offered a day job at which I might get paid a year from now, but I also might not, I'd have to say I can't afford to take that job, even if I really, really wanted it.

    And as the twitter thread points out, there are elements within publishing that act in addition to the number of submissions. Reviewing the slush pile is an additional job on top of an editor's usual jobs, and editors are being overworked, even at at time when corporate profits are rising.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2019 at 12:43 PM
  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,372
    Likes Received:
    9,735
    Location:
    London, UK
    I can afford to spend my spare time writing 'on spec' for novels that may never be published, because I have a day job that meets all my needs. It's a desk job, so I go home with the physical and metal energy to write. I don't need to work two jobs to feed my kids.
     
    jannert and BayView like this.
  8. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    5,416
    Likes Received:
    6,839
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    Topish rather than top end, to qualify. There's no shame in that.
     
    Tenderiser likes this.
  9. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    How many of those 12 months involve people actually working on the MS, as opposed to the MS sitting in a queue somewhere, waiting to be seen? And is the long pace of marketing because it actually takes that long to market a book, or because the marketing system has slowed down to match the publishing system?

    It seems like an invariable part of publishing, in my experience, to have a book accepted and then have it be put in a queue for editing. It's not like we get our acceptance letters, sign a contract (and that process takes unnecessary months, if you're with a bigger publisher) and then the next day an editor contacts us with an introduction and says the book is next on her list and the first round of edits should be done within a couple weeks. That has NEVER happened for me. There's always a big lag before anyone even looks at the book.

    And the marketing stuff seems to follow a similar pattern. If we're looking at a publisher who sends books to Publishers' Weekly or the other big journals, fair enough, the schedule there is determined by the review journals. But the books aren't sent out until the ARC stage, so what's the excuse for the book taking so long to get to the ARC stage?

    Like, rough estimate (on the generous side)... let's say it takes 40 hours for an editor to do the first round, and then it gets sent back to the author, the editor does first edits on another book while the author has the MS, then 20 hours for the next round, then another wait, then 10 hours for the third round, then another wait, then another 10 hours for a final review of that stage, then off to copy edits for ten hours, while the original editor works on the sales copy and sends the cover request, and the cover artist takes... ten hours for the first draft, sends for review, five hours for revision...

    There's a lot of back-and-forth, so I can see the process taking a couple months, maybe. And often, once a book is IN editing, it DOES only take about that long. But the MS has already been sitting in the queue for six months.

    It's never going to be an instant process. But I really think it can be a lot faster than it is.
     
  10. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    Appalling etiquette for me to not only double-post, but also double-quote the same post I'm responding to... but as long as you point out your etiquette breaches, it's okay(?!?)

    Anyway...

    This is maybe a topic for another thread, but I'm not sure I accept the premise that e-first publishers have lower sales b/c they're not paying as much attention to quality... I only have limited experience with Big 5, but I don't recall a noticeable difference in the editing process, at least from my direction. Of course, my sales from the Big 5 weren't good, so possibly I was seeing a bad example of their publishing efforts, but... I'd generally considered that the sales were lower from e-pubs because they don't have extensive access to the print market, which is still a dominant part of book sales.
     
  11. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,372
    Likes Received:
    9,735
    Location:
    London, UK
    (Quote snipped for size, not ignoring the rest)

    I don't know... I think a couple of months is really pushing it for all the steps involved. And many of the steps are sequential, so you can't start Task 24 until Task 23 is completed and signed off.

    I don't think it'd *ever* be financially viable to have an editor working on just one book at a time, and it wouldn't make sense because a lot of the time they would be sitting around waiting for the author to make edits or the copywriter to produce a blurb or the cover designer to produce a cover. Even with just two books, there would be overlaps where one book would have to wait while another was being worked on.

    Maybe there is a lot of time-wasting in publishing and probably editors do have more manuscripts than they should have, for maximum efficiency. But I do think there's a limit to how quick you can make the process, and I don't think it's too far from the current 18-ish months.

    Nooo that wasn't what I meant. Sloppy writing on my part. :) I meant exactly what you say - they can produce books quicker because they don't go to print, but they sell less books because they don't go to print. I was saying I don't think you can have both.

    I ain't no genius. :)
     
    BayView likes this.
  12. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    What about the initial queue time before anyone even LOOKS at the book?

    I'm not sure I've ever read one of the rushed-to-production-because-of-a-big-event books publishers sometimes put out... I wonder if there's a noticeable decrease in quality with them?

    I feel like there's almost a stigma associated with producing a book quickly. As if it's a sort of status thing to take their time and drag the process out.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    11,486
    Likes Received:
    12,571
    Location:
    Scotland
    I can understand the frustration of waiting and WAITING AND WAITING. However, the extended lack of payment does seem to underline the wisdom of having another kind of paying job in addition to writing.

    I honestly don't think that's a bad thing either. Having to work as well as write makes you regulate your writing time. It gets you out of the house and keeps you interacting with people. It gives you time (enroute to work and home again) to think about your story. Interestingly, having to write in spare time can also help to prevent procrastination. It certainly did for me. Writing wasn't my 'job,' it was my pleasure, and I certainly looked forward to it, every day.

    I suppose once you become a high-selling author, they'll be more likely to push you up the queue. In fact, readers kind of expect a book fairly frequently from a popular author, so I imagine this is a situation that improves with successful publishing. (Along with pressure to produce more books as fast as you can.) But it must be annoying all the same, if you're starting out and hearing zipadee doodah for months on end. Not knowing what, if anything, is happening to your book.
     
  14. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,372
    Likes Received:
    9,735
    Location:
    London, UK
    I think there's a LOT of time to be shaved off the submissions process with proper resourcing. But the issue is who's gonna pay for it? I'm sure every agent and editor would loveee to have a full-time assistant or two.

    I think the rush-job zeitgeist books come out so quickly at the expense of the less time-sensitive ones. That wouldn't be sustainable if every book was a rush job.

    I've never got that impression about a stigma. Not denying it exists, just saying I've never come across it.
     
    BayView likes this.
  15. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    May be different for different people (and different day jobs) but I find it REALLY hard to write when I'm working full time. I get about six weeks off each summer and it's much easier for me to get writing done, then.

    And, no, writing doesn't need to be a job. But I think there's something peculiar about a system that seems to so completely disregard the financial needs of the people who are, ostensibly, the ones that produce what the system needs to survive...
     
    jannert likes this.
  16. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    I guess if authors continue to shift to self-publishing, publishers may need to make some changes just to attract talent. I know KJ Charles started out working with publishers, including some Big 5, but she seems to be mostly self-publishing, now. It's not like the publishers aren't making profits, so they could afford to hire more if they were forced to.

    And I appreciated the point in the original article that if we expect submission times to speed up we should stop bitching about the lack of personalized feedback. If an MS isn't right for a publisher, they should just say so, and we shouldn't expect them to write a detailed editorial letter explaining why!
     
    Tenderiser likes this.
  17. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    7,372
    Likes Received:
    9,735
    Location:
    London, UK
    Well put, and it isn't just us. Editor salaries are ridiculously low, in my opinion, for everything they have to do and all the unpaid overtime they have to put in. Agents are working on spec just the same as authors, which probably accounts for the ridiculously high turnover rate. It seems like half or more quit within a few years of starting. Freelance editors/cover artists/whatevers seem to be paid a pittance.

    As with most things, it seems the only people getting a good deal are the shareholders...
     
    BayView likes this.
  18. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    11,486
    Likes Received:
    12,571
    Location:
    Scotland
    You certainly have a point there, about disregarding the welfare of the people whom the system relies on for the product.

    And the work thing as well. You also have a good point. If you've got the kind of job I had (medical receptionist) it was easy to leave the 'job' at the practice, and not worry about it from day to day. My free time was my own, as long as I made it to work every day and did a good job. In fact, I've never had any kind of job I had to worry about during my time off, except for my short stint as a teacher. (And man, I HATED that aspect of the teaching job.)

    If you have a job where you have to take work home (either literally—like teachers do—or have job concerns to think about all the time) it would be difficult to write as well, I imagine.
     
    BayView likes this.
  19. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    3,003
    Likes Received:
    1,078
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    Editors at publishing houses do work hard and have many responsibilities. As was said, reading manuscripts (agent submitted and especially slush) is not high on the list of getting things done. One agent indicated to me that there are times when they have publishing slots filled for two years out (or more) that they pretty much reject everything in the queue with hardly a glance. In a way it's not fair to the author, but then again, it's even less fair to hold onto something that has virtually no shot of getting picked up.

    I've been through the waiting game (it can take years from slush pile to moving up the editorial chain, to rejection). Sure, I'd like to be published by one of the big five, but I do okay with a small press. The the agent seeking/query process, and the waiting for what is heavy odds against rejection by publishers...just not for me at this stage.
     
    BayView and jannert like this.
  20. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    14,584
    Likes Received:
    11,984
    I find myself wondering if anyone does value stream mapping on the publishing process. As I understand it--I've never participated in the value stream mapping process formally, just read about it--a large part of the goal of value stream mapping is to eliminate the "wait" parts of the process.

    The book Kanban (David Anderson) about software development and maintenance, which I realize is fairly wildly different from publishing, mentions two teams, one with a lead time (approximately the time from start to finish for a task) of about three months, another with a lead time of 5-10 days. The team with the longer lead time, despite having more experience and other advantages, had thirty times as many errors.

    Publishing is of course very different from programming, but I'm betting that there's a great deal of detail work, planning, possible errors, and so on. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if hiring more people and reducing individual workloads actually saved money in the end, and also produced an opportunity for making a good deal more money, by making it possible to react more quickly to the market.

    But nobody ever believes that sort of thing. Corporate cultures seems to be committed to understaffing and counterproductive multitasking.

    (Grant gnash.)
     
    BayView likes this.
  21. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    It'd be interesting to track an MS from submission to distribution, keeping track of when it was actually being WORKED ON vs when it was just WAITING.
     
  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    14,584
    Likes Received:
    11,984
    Yup yup. When value stream mapping is done that percentage is usually minuscule.
     
  23. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    2,654
    Likes Received:
    1,792
    I can give you the breakdown of a short story I had published in a national magazine. It took about six months for me to hear anything. Then I got an email that said it was not an acceptance, but my story was going to be put on the schedule;e for an upcoming editorial meeting. Maybe then it took about a month and a half before my story was accepted. The next step was the contract that they wanted signed and mailed back before the editing process was underway. Maybe my editor was doing work on it during that time, but we didn't start emailing back and forth until they had the contract back. Then the real work began. It was a lot of work with fast approaching deadlines. And I guess you can call me lucky. During all this I had another story accepted by a different publication. So, I really felt busy jugging the two stories. I can sort of imagine how busy these editors are. Working on two stories like that I had to stop working on other things. But the editing was quick. And by quick I would say two months. About a month and some change my story hit the shelves.

    I would say the process and timeline was for the most part similar with both publications. I don't have much more to compare it to, but I get the feeling this it's what's maybe standard when it comes to publishing short stories in literary publications. And I'm talking about short stories. This is the timeline and process for publishing 4,000-word stories.

    I agree that the publishing world moves slow. And waiting for an answer totally sucks because of all the anticipation and possibility that make it impossible not to daydream about it all going your way. At least that's the case with me. But the slush pile should be the last thing the editors and agents are worrying about. The editors I've worked with were very good and worked hard. I can't really imagine how the process would be any faster.
     
  24. Cephus

    Cephus Member

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2014
    Messages:
    65
    Likes Received:
    38
    The publishers, unless they have a contract with you, owe the writer nothing. They don't ever have to respond if they don't want to. The writer is responsible for finding a way to live while their manuscripts are being evaluated, it isn't the publisher's problem. If it takes 1 day or 1 year or 50 years, that's up to the publisher. Writers who don't like the way the publishing industry works can either self-publish and do it faster, or go find something else to do with their time. The entitlement I see in a lot of people, writers and otherwise, is just absurd.
     
  25. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,450
    Likes Received:
    11,085
    As I mentioned upthread, the writer who made the Twitter thread has started to a do a lot of self-publishing. I don't think there's an m/m publisher who wouldn't love to work with her, but she's apparently chosen not to work with them.

    So, yes, of course, the publishers can treat their writers poorly if they want to. But I hope they're not too surprised by the consequences.
     

Share This Page