Open Letter to Society of Authors - full text. Response to 'Is it a Steal?' SoA Report.
Dear SoA & WGGB,
It is with regret, and a burning desire to criticise this report that causes me to write.
I am an author published by Red Door - the best independent publisher I could ever wish to have been signed by. Your report singularly fails to examine this type of small independent publisher, which comprises two very experienced former mainstream publishing house professionals, Clare Christian and Heather Boisseau, now joined by marketing and rights professional Lizzie Lewis, a role formerly occupied by Anna Burtt who is now part of Jericho Writers. All very experienced and passionate publishing professionals.
A small enterprise like Red Door, comprising three passionate publishing ladies, cannot possibly fund the publication of 20-25 books annually, and therefore has to charge to cover the costs of production, editing (providing work for freelance editors), cover design (providing work for book cover designers), and associated costs. The editor who edited my novel Dust, although freelance is a highly respected editor, much in demand from major publishing houses, and has now edited my forthcoming novel Eternal City, to be published by Red Door on 8th September. The standards set by Red Door are as rigorous - indeed, in my view, far more rigorous than the major publishing houses as their rejection rate is about 97%. The major publishing houses, in my view, possibly from necessity, but, cynically, probably from 'easy money' publish whatever drivel is written (usually ghosted) by 'celebrities'. Our national obsession with the vacuous product created by media and social media means that very many new authors simply cannot gain access to agents, or publishers - one of the major reasons Clare Christian passionately cites as her reason for setting up Red Door - as a platform to publish and promote great writers who would otherwise never see their work on a Waterstones shelf.
I for one spent many years, having written what eventually became Dust, in a revolving door from having had the enthusiastic response 'do some edits and we will publish your fabulous novel' from Citron Press (promoted by Martin Amiss), a company which, like so many independents, went into liquidation due to burgeoning costs - luckily before I finished my edits as that could have been the bitter end of Dust. There followed a succession of agents' responses 'it's fabulous, but not my style, I suggest you show this to X', which continued on and off over a period of years while I continued to work full time. Finally, I read an article about Red Door in The Independent newspaper in 2015. I was so enthused by the writer's description of Clare, Heather and Anna's passion for great writing - which also stated very clearly that in order for Red Door's concept of traditional publishing standards to be met, and to survive and publish, publication costs were met by the authors themselves, a rather revolutionary concept in my view.
I could not have met, and become involved with a more passionate, honest, or inspirational group of publishers, whose integrity is so far above the cynical trade in 'celebrity' books that mainstream publishing in the UK is now so tarnished by. The simple reality here is that the mainstream industry is not ripping off the author (although it is by paying 7% royalties - Red Door pay me 50% royalties), but ripping off a gullible public by mass-marketing drivel which would, if the 'authors' were not 'celebrities' never see the light of day in most cases - a situation which means that marketing budgets, and editorial decision-making is driven by profit - the thing that you tarnish fantastic independents like Red Door with such a broad stroke of your pen, thereby depriving real authors of opportunities to be published.
My novel Dust, published by Red Door gained foreign rights sales to highly-respected German publisher, Mare Verlag (and subsequent German audiobook sale to Parlando Verlag), and to Donmay Publishing (East / West) in Complex Chinese. The German edition featured heavily on German radio book reviews, and a large article in Weiner Zeitung, Austria's national serious newspaper (founded in 1703), one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, and was Book of the Month at a chain of English bookshops in Sweden - all the result of Red Door's hard work. I have also been interviewed on BBC radio regarding my lengthy journey to publication, which at one stage involved a major UK agent stating that as my novel was literary fiction, and rather difficult to badge, although beautifully written, that if I wrote a badge-able thriller or crime novel, that she would represent me, stating that Sainsburys and Tesco would then order 20,000 at a time. I was initially ego-fed here, but after walking away from that meeting, I thought long and hard about my own integrity, and my belief in Dust. I chose to pursue Dust, and I have not one single regret about that, although knowing what I now know, if I had done so, maybe then a mainstream publisher would have published Dust subsequently - in that case, I would never have had the honour, privilege, and pride in being published by Red Door, the 'hybrid' publishers who changed my life, and that of so many other authors.
While I sympathise with those responders to your survey who have experienced financial loss due to unscrupulous practices by vanity publishers - there are plenty of resources online which list vanity publishers by company name and decry their existence - I know, I did much research around this field, and had decided to self-publish, before I found Red Door. Yes, I had to pay for publication costs. I was made fully aware at meeting with Red Door about what my part would entail, and what I could expect in return. I have made incredible returns on that investment, but best of all, I have been able to go into Waterstones and independent bookshops across the land, and see my name on the fiction shelves, next to Hunter S. Thompson. An honour indeed.
SoA and WGGB Report: Is it a Steal? Frankly, biased, poorly researched, and quite simply misses the point that there are excellent 'hybrid' publishers out there. I wrote this having read Clare Christian's blog at Red Door citing her attempts to engage the SoA in discussing regulation and standards for this type of much-needed publishing, to be met with little or no response. In my view, SoA is failing authors here, and really needs to accept the blinkered failings of this report, and to put matters straight, and engage with reputable independent 'hybrid' publishers.
Mark Thompson SoA Member 62984 16th May, 2022