Predator or Editor?

by Marcus McGee

The “New” Traditional Publisher

Let’s face it: the publishing paradigm has changed. The definition of the “traditional publisher” simply cannot mean the same thing today as it did during the 1960s, some forty years ago, when manuscripts were typed on 20 lb. paper, bundled with twine and mailed off to agents or publishers, who often took two to three years to render a title. Those who believe that traditional publishing is some static institution that cannot change in the face of innovative technology and a new generation of writers who are not necessarily Ivy Leaguers (who are sometimes just common people with incredible stories to tell) are unwilling to face the reality driving the ongoing transformation of the publishing industry.

For those invested in the old publishing models, for companies trapped in thirty-year commercial property leases and twenty-year commitments to pay for expensive equipment and machines that are rendered outdated, for those who have monthly payroll obligations in the tens of thousands of dollars, this transformation is disconcerting. These publishers and adherents are resisting the transformation, which is running right over them. In the sequel, they can only take sure bets. They cannot afford to take risks, even on well-written books they know will have respectable sales. On the books they do publish, the reality of their present peril forces them to do less for authors and expect more, so that in the end, the eager authors who have bought in to the outdated definition of traditional publishing end up disappointed and disillusioned at a time when authors should rightly prosper.

As a writer, I came onto the scene at a time when traditional publishers were all-powerful, when a publishing contract had much more to do with cronyism, pedigree, quid pro quo and sheer luck than it had to do with good writing and good stories, at a time when savvy literary agents “gifted” respected book reviewers with box seats at the Met and exotic family vacations in exchange for consideration and favorable quotes in newspapers and magazines. And who can blame them? They were all in on it and they were all making good money. Predators or Editors? But where did that leave me and literally thousands of other dedicated writers in America and across the globe? Scratching our heads, we read automated rejection slips as we wondered how some of the books on the bestseller lists were ever even published!

I became a publisher because I liked good stories and clever, creative writing. Beyond that, I wanted to take up the cause of the rugged, ordinary, “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” author. When I launched Pegasus Books, I was determined that I would find talented writers and inspired writing wherever I could discover them, and I decided to publish written works and life stories that I thought the entire world would stop a moment to consider—even if I could publish no more than one book a year.

Yet our dedication to being “straight” and “honest” does not work for everyone. Over the years, we have had some authors who have been unhappy with us and have made their complaints public, but these have been authors with unrealistic ideas about their writing ability, appeal and about how publishing works. Any success requires hard work. Publishers cannot simply turn books into best-sellers—interested readers do that—and so writers who are unwilling to work with the publisher at marketing their books to these all important readers cannot be successful, and no publisher would continue to invest in and coddle such authors.

I thought that if an author with an interesting and well-written story needed help with grammar or continuity or some other area that did not doom the book and rule it un-publishable—that I would not automatically send out a rejection slip. Instead, I thought it better to work with those authors to help make their books the best that they could possibly become—whatever it took—and then publish them. So the thought that if, by working with these authors, if by helping them improve and hone writing skills to develop solid professional careers, if somehow that made me a “predator” rather than an “editor,” well then, the very definition of traditional publishing would have to be rewritten to reflect the current state of the industry.

For the record, Pegasus Books does not and will not charge authors fees for editorial services or any other expenses included in publishing their books. When considering your work, our copy editors make one of three determinations:

  1. The manuscript is viable and ready to be published;
  2. The manuscript is viable, but would require moderate to substantial editing, as opposed to proofreading, in order to be publishing ready; and
  3. The manuscript is not viable.

If the manuscript is viable and we want to publish it, we will offer a publishing contract. If the manuscript is not viable, we will send a rejection slip—sometimes with helpful comments. We love you, aspiring authors, but we cannot publish uninspired and poorly-written work. Our book editors do not make money on book publishing. Rather, they make money on book sales. If the manuscript requires editing, we offer authors one of three options:

  1. Correct manuscript issues yourself (we are always more than willing to provide resources and assist authors who choose this option);
  2. Correct manuscript issues by sending to an editor of author’s choice; and
  3. Correct your manuscript issues using an independent editorial service that we have worked with and we can confidently recommend. For the record, we only recommend independent contractors, who pay us nothing for referrals, allowing us to maintain our commitment not to charge authors for services we provide.

The alternative would be to reject manuscripts that simply need editorial assistance and to deny writers the opportunity to join the global community of published authors. While we cannot control what any editor might charge you, at your request we will review their proposals to you and let you know if we think what you are being charged is fair and reasonable. Our resources are limited. If we could perform moderate to extensive editorial services for free, we would, but editors (even those we know and who like us) charge for their services. Our principal concern is to get your manuscript to the point that we can publish it.

In the old days of traditional publishing, book editing was a tedious and cumbersome affair on manual typewriters and typesetters, involving weeks or months, depending on the back and forth and the services provided. After the editing was done, the writer had to send the work back to the publisher and wait for more weeks or months before the edited manuscript was received, reviewed and approved or sent back to the editor for additional changes. In today’s paradigm, however, the entire project can be completed in less than two weeks so that authors and publishers can get about actual publishing and promotion.

So I am proposing that the entire industry should suspend this whole idea that a publisher who is willing to work with authors is somehow predatory, I am proposing that we all embrace the ongoing changes that give many deserving authors the opportunity to enjoy all the benefits of traditional publishing, including higher quality final production output, professionalism, global distribution, publisher support, a greater community and financial rewards.

At Pegasus Books, we believe we are on the vanguard of the ongoing transformation of the publishing industry, which we believe is no less than remarkable. Join us as we work to include more authors into our publishing community.