I wanted to share one more, very recent story of working with a "Big Six" publisher.
HarperCollins has published several of my YA novels in the past, and has made good money on my titles, especially Memory Boy. If you really want to hear about it, they've sold over a million bucks worth of my books over the years. Keep in mind that royalty rates are around 5-7 percent (my cut). In short, I've been good for HC. And I love the people there. Nothing cooler than heading to 10 East 53rd Street in NYC, the HarperCollins building, and afterward having lunch with the most literate and interesting people (editors) you can imagine.
So this year I sent an HC editor my new, YA novel. It's post-apocalyptic, in the style of Memory Boy, and occupied me a good part of two years. It's the real thing, some of my best work, and the readers at HC picked that up immediately. My editor, Alyson, loved it. The larger, editorial board loved it. Things were sailing along toward a book contract, and after that revisions, and an eventual hardcover release.
But then things slowed down. My editor went silent. I had a very bad feeling, and I was correct. When the novel reached some department called "Acquisitions" (i.e., sales and marketing, I learned), it stalled. The head of marketing opined that "Post-apoc has peaked, was on the wane, and by the time the novel came out, it might not sell."
"Post-apocalyptic fiction is on the wane," said no one, ever. Except for this marketing honcho. And that was enough to kill the deal. My editor was completely apologetic–felt terrible–but had no say in the matter. Which is the scary part.
This scenario illustrates a near complete reversal in the structures of publishing. It used to be that Marketing worked for Editorial: editors decided what books to published, and marketing people then sold them. But no more. Nowadays, marketing types are in control. It's they who decide what books get published.
The implications of this are profound and dark. It encourages "safe" story lines, and books that are "like" other books (my case notwithstanding). It eliminates any "oddball" book that becomes an unlikely bestseller. At the far extreme, it means that book lovers, browsing for some new and different and surprising, will no longer find such titles.
I wish I had some good news regarding the current state of publishing. The only thing positive I can think of, is that it has never been easier to publish independently. An ebook directly to iBooks or Amazon. I'm reluctant to do that, because I've had a good career in the the "old school" paradigm, but it may be, finally, that the worm has turned. As I've written in posts below, each author has to be ready to adjust, adapt, pivot (whatever) in terms of keeping an open path forward. I've got some serious decisions to make.