At the same time as the great and the good of Digital Publishing arrive en masse in New York at DBW and articles abound on how agents have to make further transitions, news reaches whitefox in London of a really bright young agent who has thrown in the towel. Maybe not forever, but at least for now. Gone off to seek his fortune in another country in another way. And the reason for this fundamental career step change? Absolute all consuming frustration with publishers and their inability to engage with what he perceived to be low risk, commercial, highly marketable book projects. If there had been simply rejection, it would have been fine. But I believe the multi pack of straws that ended up breaking this particular camel’s back was the torpor, the laziness, the yawning silence, the inability of supposedly hungry younger editorial acquirers across a range of houses to bother to respond to what had been carefully pitched and positioned marketable proposals.
Maybe this is the way it has always been and only the emergence of an indie publishing DIY alternative has forced the issue out into the open. And this institutionalised inability to take risk will not kill off traditional publishing, seemingly obsessed with that cyclical old chestnut ‘less is more’. But it will mean that trade publishers will come to represent something different in the future. Big budget brand management, coordinated global releases, decisions made after consumer group testing and in house committee, genre books that can be favourably compared to previous bestsellers three years after they were published.
And here is a final thought. Publishing houses will contract and editors and agents directly serving those establishments will decline. But those people, those creative individuals are not all going to retrain to become plumbers and therapists, some of them will set up their own publishing houses and agencies, built on 21st century princples. They will find writers and commission content they believe will sell. They will nurture talent they believe in and they will create their own stables which represents ‘less is more’. Which will mean there really won’t be that much less at all.