Hello authors and welcome to the middle of the week. And what a heck of a week it has been already. There has been a lot of shake up and discourse recently regarding aspects of the industry. From Musk buying Twitter to the discourse surrounding agent/ author querying etiquette to small presses behaving badly. It can all feel like so much noise in the moment but all are loosely connected in the industry bubble authors navigate on a day to day basis. Normally for these posts, I tend to focus on a singular topic but let's talk about how these topics relate to the state of the industry as a whole.
The Musk Takeover: Corporate Overlords
There has been a lot of back and forth conversation about what Elon Musk's purchase of twitter means for the platform moving forward. While Musk talks a big talk about 'free speech', and tweeted that he hoped he biggest detractors would remain on the platform, his own reactionary record with criticism is spotty at best. The general fear many users rightfully have is the re-emergence of virulent hate speech without consequence. This could be a deal breaker for many users in minority groups, who far too often had to fight and dig in just to hold ground on this platform before Musk's takeover.
For authors who have worked for years to carve a niche on Twitter, they find themselves at crossroads, doubly so for those who straddle multiple identities. Do you stay or do you go? Where do you go? At what cost? Much of the discourse surrounding the sentiment to jump ship revolves around mental health. So many of us are tired and social media is already a monumental effort. Other authors might not be able to afford the loss of twitter, from a business and engagement standpoint. Twitter is one of the funneling sites for many authors to their business. It's a high engagement platform between authors, agents, bloggers, and publishers.
Thinking of cutting ties with Twitter yourself? Consider a few things from both sides.
Twitter is not the only engagement platform out there. Many authors have built success solely on other platforms like Instagram or Tik Tok. This could simply mean a shift in how you engage as both of these other platforms revolve around visuals. If you've fallen out of love with twitter, you can rebuild somewhere new. You can continue to grow.
Leaving Twitter does not hurt Musk, but it does silence your voice. As several users have pointed out, the big 5 (big 4?) are owned by corporations. Murdoch, German Corporations, etc are all the main shareholders. If you are trad pubbed or aspiring to be, it's part of the business, and that doesn't dismiss the good work done by people under them who do fight for diverse stories and authors. Staying on Twitter doesn't mean you automatically support corporate interests. The fact the bulk of industry talk and news currently filter through twitter, that so many authors funnel business interests, discourse, and connections through twitter, and that there is no current platform similar puts many of us in a position where we have to ride it out.
Do what is best for your mental health. At the end of the day, the person you answer to is yourself. You don't need to push yourself into a social media situation that destroys your mental well being. There is always another way and at the end of the day, whether you stay on the platform or not, you do what is best for you.
The Agent/ Author Etiquette Discourse
There are a lot of feelings on this topic from both sides. This discourse revolves around the process of querying, the length of time for responses, when authors should nudge or pull their queries if an offer is received, and more as there is a system of not truly clear cut rules to the process. The etiquette discourse has come up before but there is an added dimension to the conversation in regards to the current querying environment that wasn't present just a year or two ago.
You may have seen some authors comment how querying right now is a nightmare, the well used metaphor of 'the trenches' more apt than ever before. Agents are swamped, response times are even longer, more form rejections, more frequent rejections. And there is an industry reason behind that.
At the start of the year, I posted the upcoming publishing trends which pointed to a rise in Indie Publishing which leads back to the current state of the industry. The strain of pandemic production saw an exodus of editors from many publishing houses, which hasn't been recupped, and may not be until it breaks. This means less editors to sell to, which means agents are pressed by what projects to push forward. It makes the already slim margin of signed authors a chokehold without a definite shift in sight. Ultimately, this is not healthy for the traditional publishing industry, but as long as money is being made, corporate interests may milk the current model until they take the financial hit.
This is where the pendulum swings to Small Presses, Indie, and Self Publishing, which have stepped in to fill the gap. There are definite upsides and downsides to this shift, especially regarding finances for authors who find themselves having to cover more expenses out of pocket. In regards to the discourse, I feel for both sides, but with the caveat that agents have to understand they still hold more of the cards and more of the power in this dynamic than querying authors. Yes, the querying trenches are at an all time brutal high, and even successes can end in disaster.
Small Presses Behaving Badly
I am huge proponent of small presses, if you couldn't tell, but I don't shy aware from problems on this front. While many small presses bend over backwards for their authors and work hard to help their authors succeed, there are also small presses with predatory clauses in their contracts, failure to communicate, and failure to fulfill their side of a contract. This was the case with the recent Gen Z publishing upset which appeared to suffer a breakdown internally during the pandemic and their authors paid for it.
Working with small presses can be a wonderful experience, with the right team. I have worked with several that have been a dream. I have also been in the middle of small press implosion. It's not always an obvious failure or fault of the owner. Some presses simply fail to thrive and die off with a whimper while others behave in bafflingly awful ways that earns them an entry into Writer Beware.
Small presses can a window into success. Now more than ever, small press titles are on the rise, finding ways to reach wider audiences through the virtual marketplace. But I always recommend an author does extensive research on a small press before signing any contract. And to carefully comb over any contract they receive. Red flags might not always be apparent at first glance and might require talking to other authors about their experience. If you are taking a chance and signing with a new press, ask questions. Ask about their process, their marketing plans, and what you can expect.
This is a hard field to maneuver but know there are resources out there. There are decent presses who work hard for their authors. There are agents who push hard for their stories. There are many pathways an author can find success. Good luck to you out there, and remember, there is always a way forward.