Set the Wayback Machine for 1989. At the time, I worked for a company, now long-defunct, called DCA. The management decided to give themselves a free vacation, and sent themselves to Hilton Head for a “strategic planning conference.” Uh-huh. They were out of the office for two or three weeks… and things ran more smoothly during that time than at anytime they were around. Imagine what would have happened if they’d just sent all the administrative assistants off for a couple weeks, let alone all the other employees: the place would have ground to a halt by Day Two.
Now, just a couple days ago, a link to The Passive Voice turned up in my Google+ feed. There’s a lot of gems in this post, like “At this stage in the disruption of the traditional publishing business, publishers need authors more than authors need publishers. Smart authors already realize this…”
Yes, indeed. Just like any company bigger than a mom-and-pop needs its employees far far more than it needs managers. After all, without authors, what would publishers have to publish? But the crowning glory comes at the end of the post, with a suggested “submissions” policy:
Publishers wishing to submit proposals for publishing any of author’s books should send them to email@example.com. Proposals should be no more than 250 words and include the amount of the proposed advance, royalty rates for hard copy and ebook editions, the number of years of publishing rights requested and the amount of the guaranteed promotion budget for each book. Proposals that ask for rights for a period of longer than ten years or include ebook royalties of less than 50% of net revenue will not be considered. Regretfully, Author does not have time to respond to proposals that do not meet these requirements.You can quibble about the details, but this is pretty good. Me, I’d give them more than 250 words to describe what they’re going to do for me. Other commenters said they’d reject proposals that weren’t strictly for print rights (ala Hugh Howey). Seriously, though, publishers are already cherry-picking the blockbuster indies—when they, like they did for Howey, make an attractive enough offer. But there’s a very finite number of indies who have that blockbuster pre-packaged for publishers to poach, and some of them aren’t interested in going traditional at any price. So the bravest and most forward-thinking publishers may soon start looking down-market, hoping to discover authors who haven’t “broken out” yet. They’ll find a hungrier crowd down there, authors that might be willing to jump at a mediocre or worse contract, and many works that require a minimum of preparation (i.e. already edited).
I suspect that will be a future version of the original Hydra/Alibi-type of publishing contract, tempting indies who are willing to trade control of their destiny for an up-front advance or that ephemeral “validation.” Perhaps, like Random House modifying those “e-publishing house” contracts after all the negative publicity they got, there will be a period of adjustment as both traditional and indie authors (and agents) have the opportunity to vet them. Agents will still be relevant, for vetting contracts and keeping everyone honest, but the whole “querying” process might get tossed out the window—if publishers are already expressing interest in an MSS, after all, that would eliminate the need to decide whether they could sell it to that publisher.
These are interesting times. And, as others have said, no better time to be an author.