A LETTER TO BEWRITE BOOKS’ AUTHORS
(Circulated October 11, 2012)
This is the most difficult blog I’ve ever had to write. Certainly it’s the most painful.
I’m afraid that, after thirteen years’ demanding work and unwavering dedication, some successes and many hard knocks, BeWrite Books must now wind down its operation with imminent closure in mind.
Although we’ve always been at least one step ahead of technological and marketing trends, have ploughed in the cash and effort to quickly adapt to this century's abrupt and dramatic industry developments, and by virtue of rigorous manuscript selection and the highest editorial standards, made respectable headway in an up-hill but fair fight with gargantuan legacy houses, what we did not see coming was the massive impact of easy self-publishing on the ebook field in 2012.
BeWrite Books’ authors represent the cream of those talented few who try the hardest and are world-class in anyone’s terms, but by applying months of intensive editorial, design and technical work to their manuscripts, our tiny team can publish our meticulously selected titles at a rate of no more than a dozen or so a year. Self-publishing authors cut traditional corners and quality controls to use push-button means of instantly releasing their offerings as ebooks at the rate of thousands each week – realistic projections in the trade press suggest several million new titles will see the light of day this year. Already millions of ISBNs have been assigned by official agencies in 2012, and it must be borne in mind that the biggest retailer of all – Amazon and its Kindle bookshop – doesn’t even use ISBNs, preferring its own ID codes. Many self-publishing authors don’t trouble themselves with any identifying registration numbers. Just think of the sheer volume of output!
Some of the biggest and best established houses in the industry have now jumped onto the bandwagon with self-publishing divisions of their own to cash in on the trend. All major retailers are at it. This is an easy, cash-spinning option BB has always strenuously resisted and, we feel, a sloppy and uncontrolled publication method our old school team members refuse to adopt. But the genie is now out of the bottle.
It must be understood that the professional editorial, design, technical and distribution effort that goes into every BB publication is invisible pre-purchase, pre-read. Confronted by a bewilderingly limitless choice, the book browser has now become price- rather than quality-focused.
At a break-even cover tag of $5.95 to pay basic standing overheads, our unknown authors compete against an overwhelming deluge of an infinite number of other unknown authors whose access to costless international publication allows them to offer their wares at 99 cents or even to give them away free for the sheer thrill of saying they’re ‘published’. Not by any means all self-published authors are worthless, of course, but far, far too many are. My experience of random reading over the past few years would suggest the vast majority fall into the embarrassing catastrophe category. And a browser will not recognise raw manuscript drivel until s/he’s bought into it and attempted to read a page or two. The reader must now sift the slush pile.
The result is inevitable … the cheapest holds the greatest appeal. Only star names and books with big-buck hyper-hype are exempt.
Even though no member of the BB team has ever claimed a salary and, for some years waived personal royalties, always carrying his own operational expenses, the standing cost of maintaining BeWrite Books now falls very much short of our 20% slice of sales income; author royalties and retail sales commissions constitute much of the rest. In a nut-shell, the sweeping, worldwide new craze for amateur self-publishing is the one unforeseen thing that we find impossible to compete with.
The situation has become so acute that Tony Szmuk – proprietor of BeWrite Books, Canada and USA, with exclusive access to the company’s accounts and revenue and sole responsibility for all BB’s financial commitments – took me by complete surprise this week with shocking news to the editorial team that he’s struggling even to pay royalties currently due. However, he does pledge that they will be paid in full, if unavoidably delayed in some cases.
Tony, my editorial teammates, Hugh McCracken and Sam Smith, and I have, therefore, agreed a policy to gradually wind down the house with, hopefully, minimal disruption and no financial loss to our excellent and loyal authors.
Here’s what we propose:
*Existing BB titles already fully distributed and on sale will be supported for the duration of written contracts with on-going royalties paid. However, those authors requesting an immediate return of all rights will be accommodated without quibble and royalties rounded up to the date when their titles are removed from sale by our retail outlets and from the BB catalogue. They will be supplied, on request, with a fully workable and complete file to offer elsewhere or for self-publishing purposes. All BB input – editorial, design, cover, book notes, promotional articles, review material, etc – will be freely offered for use with none of the usual copyright encumbrances.
*Authors of books in the pipeline – whether ‘officially’ contracted or merely agreed informally by any member of the editorial team – will be fully worked, editorially and technically, published and distributed, unless an author requests otherwise. However, Tony Szmuk can no longer offer his time-consuming in-house cover work, so books released under this system will remain with a text-only cover unless the author supplies what is deemed acceptable art.
*No unsolicited submissions from authors not already published by BB will be considered now. However, the editorial team has volunteered its usual pro input to established BB authors with works-in-progress. Tony will also freely handle the technical side of books as they move through the several editorial stages to publishable perfection. Whether the result is returned to the author for self-use or released by BeWrite Books for the duration of its existence will be at the discretion of the author and subject to Tony’s final approval.
*BeWrite Books will cease to exist as a publishing house no later than three years from today unless spontaneously adopted by a responsible, full-service publisher within that time. BB would ask for no financial recompense from a third party. In the unlikely event of this happening, remaining authors will have sole choice as to whether they and their titles will be included in a takeover.
So, there you have it folks. You’ll now understand why I said, in opening, that this is the most difficult – and heart-breaking – piece I’ve had to write since BeWrite was conceived for a new millennium by my son, Alex, and I (originally as a website to freely assist developing authors) at midnight on December 31, 1999, branching into publishing some months later.
I was warned by my cardiologist earlier this year that I can no longer physically support the long hours, general workload, heavy responsibilities and pressure of BB, so I’d intended to quietly retire from the front line anyway in 2013. But I had hoped to leave behind a healthy and happy house I’d helped establish and with a competent new addition to the editorial team in place to fill the slot I would have to vacate. Sadly, I can’t. Long-time editorial friends Hugh and Sam are similarly devastated by the decision we’ve had to jointly make. And Tony – who’s shouldered an unbelievably heavy burden since taking the reins four years ago to meet all known challenges head on – perhaps hurts most of all.
We can only hope that you feel BB has been of value to you and enhanced your work and careers … and that we’ll remain friends as well as former colleagues.
Very best wishes. Neil Marr (with the approval of Tony Szmuk, Hugh McCracken and Sam Smith)