Hanging out and talking about publishing

One more, short (okay it’s not so short) post coming out of Conflux… which would hardly have been a writers convention without discussions surrounding the latest publishing trends.

The centrepiece of this was the so-called “Smackdown — Small press versus mainstream publishers”. In this panel, Russell B Farr of indie Ticonderoga Publishing, literary agent and publishing consultant Alex Adsett, and Angry Robot’s Marc Gascoigne discussed the relative merits of indie presses, medium-sized publishers (such as Angry Robot) and the “big six”, er five.

The main interesting points to come out of this discussion were:

  • Indie presses tend to offer superior speed of response to authors and speed to market, particularly when delivering in electronic formats (as most are).
  • Even though most indie presses and new e-imprints of large publishers are not offering author advances (or else relatively modest ones), the gap is diminishing for new authors as major publishers have dropped the size of advances substantially.
  • Prolific authors are likely to benefit from an indie press’s willingness to publish more than one title a year.
  • Indie presses are more likely to focus on the long-term marketing of titles — and less likely to drop authors whose sales are not “performing”.

In all this Gascoigne positioned Angry Robot as somewhere in the middle. He acknowledged their association with larger publishers tended to impact agility, but I got the impression they embraced the more caring attitude towards authors. The discussion was on the whole favourable towards the smaller scale end of things…

It would have been good to have a large publisher represented on the panel to get a more balanced perspective on aspects such as distribution and the benefit of a big publisher’s reputation with readers — I still believe these carry weight with much of the general public. There is a significant percentage of people who buy books from browsing in bookshops, or who expect a book they’ve heard about to be available in hard copy from the local shopping centre.

Nonetheless, it’s good to see so many positive attitudes towards indie presses and even self-publishing. Because all authors know how hard it is to get picked up by a major publisher, and, even if that would be our first choice, it’s encouraging to know there are serious alternatives.


Alex Adsett also presented a separate talk about contracts and copyright for authors — all very informative, particularly the aspects dealing with e-publishing.

Among other things, she explained the difference in royalty agreements. Whereas standard print royalties are 10% of the RRP, e-book royalties are typically a percentage of net receipts (the amount actually received by the publisher in sales). The e-book royalty will typically be 25% of net receipts for trad publishers and 40-50% for digital-first publishers and imprints. If you self-publish it’s somewhere around 70%, although it’s evidently 85% at smashwords. (This is all very interesting from the perspective of a buyer as well.)

Alex also emphasised the importance of having a reversion clause for e-books as well as print. Because e-books don’t ever technically go “out of print”, the reversion clause should relate to sales volumes. For example, she suggested the reversion clause might state the rights revert to the author if the book is downloaded less than 100 times in 12 months.


As far as the speculative fiction genre goes, Marc Gascoigne said several times that SFF books are automatically “mid-list” from a large publisher’s perspective. With the exception of George RR Martin, JK Rowling and Tolkien, SFF rarely hits the overall best-seller list. This, then, is a starting disadvantage for new SFF authors with the major publishers.

Nonetheless, Martin in particular has done wonders for the fantasy genre of late, with a current resurgence in publication of new epic fantasy series. Some would say a glut, in fact, as a new audience has discovered the genre. The first wave of these (bought post-season-one of Game of Thrones) are hitting the shelves around now. It remains to be seen how long this trend will last — although Gascoigne posited that fantasy is still here to stay for the long term.

This seems to me a very good thing.

This ends my Conflux 9 round-up posts. (The first on a worldbuilding workshop is here, the second on the importance of having a pitch ready is here.)

I had a fabulous time at the convention, even if I spent most of it lounging and chatting over coffee or in the bar having drinks. The main reason I went was to hang out with other writers, industry pros and readers, to participate in stimulating conversations, and meet new people. All achieved!

Sometimes we just need to be with our people. Don’t you agree?

10 thoughts on “Hanging out and talking about publishing

  1. Sounds like you made the most out of your conference experience. Good for you! The publishing scene is almost as varied as the plots we writer’s create. I’m glad to be a writer now with all of the opportunities available to get my wacky words out there. Thanks for sharing what you learned. 🙂


    1. I love sharing what I learned, even if it’s stuff I kinda new already. It always helps me to summarise and reinforce it in my mind. There are so many options now. I’m glad you found it helpful or at least interesting.


  2. The whole publishing business is sometimes so hard to make sense of. I appreciate your sharing with us some of what you learned about e-publishing, indie presses and traditional publishers. I find myself getting overwhelmed when I read a post from an “expert” on the nature of the business and much prefer getting this kind of information in little pieces. Thank you for giving me that.


    1. Thanks for helping me to understand why I felt compelled to write these posts, when I had a small voice in my head telling me there were plenty of expert posts around on this stuff! But yes, small digestible chunks is good — it all helps to build and reinforce the picture. I’m glad you found it useful. As I just responded to Tami, I find it helpful to go through the process of summarising what I learnt or found of interest at these things.


  3. Great posts, Ellen — it’s always good to hear this stuff reported by people who were there, who have an interest but who aren’t completely on the “inside” (if there is such a thing). Or…well, what Sara said!

    And I’m very interested to hear about a resurgence in epic fantasy. I thought that subgenre had gone the way of “chick lit”. Will have to keep an eye on this development!


    1. Yes, the resurgence in epic fantasy is interesting. I’ve realised I’ve read very little recent epic fantasy… And that I have read hasn’t grabbed me like the old stuff. Or maybe I’m a different reader. Not sure. Anyway, the next few years will be interesting.

      Glad you enjoyed the posts and got something out of them. 🙂


      1. I haven’t read much lately either. In fact, I thought I’d grown out of it…until Game of Thrones grabbed me and sucked me in. But we’ve had that conversation already. 😉


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