No to Age Banding
Anne Fine's report
We all know the words of good cheer, that agents have realised this is a real fighting matter for many of their clients; that the Publishing Association have announced that it is "almost inconceivable" that any author's books would be banded against his or her wishes, and that the Society has declared they will support any authors who find themselves having problems.
But we all know things are a little more subtle than that.
When we set up notoagebanding.org, it became clear very soon that we were getting a huge number of responses along the lines of, "It's all very well for the likes of Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett and J.K. Rowling and Anthony Horowitz. But I've not got their clout."
So we invented to gather information. And it became clear that authors fall into all sorts of brackets of how they are, and how they see themselves:
- Prestigious but not highly selling
- Not prestigious and not highly selling
- Been around and quite famous but know from their royalties that they're - to put it brutally - a bit of a has-been, commercially-wise.
- There are the new authors with little or no experience of publishing.
- There are the new authors still utterly in thrall to anything said to them by that wise editor who was foresighted enough to take them on.
- There are shy authors who can't say boo to a goose, let alone stand up to some of the toughies who run publishing houses now.
- There are a huge number of authors who are terrified that actually, for years now, their editors have been itching for an excuse to heave them off the list and pulp what little, if anything, is left of their lovely backlists.
I could go on, but you get the point. No one is alone in a category. Some people straddle several categories. More authors than we had ever imagined are clearly prepared to burn all their boats with their publisher on the principle of no age banding on their books. But no one was exactly confident. Many claimed that they had never felt so bullied in their whole professional lives as they have in the last three or four months.
So we started passing on information and putting people in touch with one another. Of course, even if you have access to Nielsen, you're never quite sure how other people sell. But most authors have a general sense of who they rank below, above or with, and most can also take a stab at factoring in other advantages they might have, like giving legitimacy to a publisher's list by winning prizes, broadcasting a lot, or doing journalism.
The results were quite something. And that makes sense. After all, we're all experts at thinking things like, "If he gets a poster, why can't I ever have a poster?" and, "How come she gets a dedicated web presence and a bloody in-house franking stamp, and I get nothing?" This is the sort of ignoble thinking that most of us authors do in our spare time, right?
So we began to see results. Author X, at Bloggs Publishing, realises that Author Y (who may have no more - or even fewer - sales than her, just more of a stomach for the fight) has won the battle. Author X goes back. "If she doesn't have to be banded, why do I?"
Hard to answer if you're a publisher. Your 'in-house rule' argument has already gone for a burton with your big authors, and now the smaller fry are ganging up on you.
The sheer amount of misinformation that had been flying around did fuel determination. Misinformation like:
- All American books are age banded.
- The research was independent and wide-ranging.
- Bookshops won't accept non-banded books.
- It is a new 'industry standard', like the ISBN.
- We've consulted with everyone.
- Everyone else is quite happy with it.
- Even, in one case, "It's a last desperate bid to avoid redundancies" when the facts are that in the first 24 weeks of this year, children's sales were up 5.2% in volume and 9.2% in value on the same period last year.
I'm not going to bore you with lists of what has happened in each publishing house because, frankly, the results are too across the board to bother. Everyone who has been in touch with us who has gone back with determination to their publisher has won the battle. However small they are. Lots took time to decide what they wanted, or gather up the courage to tell their publisher they'd changed their minds, so will have the currently banded editions around for quite a while. But they have won the battle vis-a-vis future books and reprints. Someone has even managed to get the offer of stickers to cover the age banding out of their editor in what had previously been one of the most determined of the publishing houses.
I am not sure what is going to happen about certain sorts of spin-off, telly tie-in, and multi-authored series books, and things like that, and it would be good to hear about those, and what people think about the banding of those, during this discussion.