On Thursday, the Association of American of Publishers and the Authors Guild co-hosted a panel on Capitol Hill about authorial-editorial collaboration, in advance of Congress’s review of the U.S. Copyright Act. “Publishing is an industry that rests on just this one set of statutes,” said AAP president Tom Allen, and this event for Congress’s bipartisan Creative Rights Caucus supported that idea.
Authors David Baldacci and Lawrence Wright, with their editors Mitch Hoffman of Grand Central Publishing and Ann Close of Alfred A. Knopf, formed the panel; author and critic Marie Arana moderated, focusing on the bond between often-solitary authors and editors, who shepherd the work through the publishing process. The topics discussed touched on key issues for the AAP and the AG in the legislative review: digital first-sale rights, new definitions of first use, and online piracy.
Congressmember Judy Chu (D-California), founder and co-chair of the Caucus, welcomed the audience, pointing out that publishing is a growing industry, vital to the U.S. economy, and can help effect “a positive trade balance with the rest of the world.” Traditional publishing, she continued, has a commitment to “quality, diversity, integrity, and innovation.” Publishers’ ability to “make investments in great books” is crucial to authors, who usually live on “middle-class incomes.” Chu introduced her co-chair, retiring Congressmember Howard Coble (R-NC), noting that new co-chair Congressmember Doug Collins (R-Georgia) would arrive shortly.
Arana echoed Chu’s ideas: “Book culture is changing, but the book process hasn’t changed.” Arana elaborated, saying she meant that the process between author and editor has remained largely the same, amid various other shifts in the business. Close affirmed this, saying the new book culture has had “no effect whatsoever” on her process. “There are areas where it matters, like distribution and marketing, but not editorial.” Wright, who has worked with Close on 14 books, agreed. “Now, it’s easy to get published—but it’s a difficult time to make a living [as an author].” Hoffman said that it’s also harder now to cut out all the noise, as an author. “But the book," he said, "is still the thing.”
Baldacci noted that, unlike pilots or surgeons, writers “get better…by doing something different every time.” This is, Baldacci believes, because an author's trust in, and support from, a publisher can be essential to experimentation, investigation, and truth telling. Arana responded: “Every book is a new start-up business.” Wright and Close shared that “every single word” of Going Clear (Wright's 2013 National Book Award finalist published by Knopf) went through Knopf’s lawyer, a process a self-published author might not be able to finance. “Writers have to be able to trust the people who are dabbling in their work,” explained Baldacci.
Without the support of publishers, Wright noted, “people can still publish. I’m actually happy about self-publishing; I think it’s great. But I’m afraid that careers [in writing, as authors] have begun to disappear.” He feels this will result in “an impoverishment of our intellectual environment.” Baldacci said if he published differently he might make more money, but he chooses to work within traditional publishing “because I want a vibrant book world.”
Mary Ratzenberger, president of the Authors Guild, remarked that "writing a book can take years.” And, given author-editor process, advances from publishers can make the difference between a book being carefully written and researched, or not. “Most good books have good editors.”
Allen noted publishers do not often advertise the “nurturing” author-editor relationship because they want to foster “the connection between author and reader.” After Representative Collins arrived, he related that, growing up in Gainesville, Ga., the one thing he always had was the ability “to go away in whatever book I was reading.” He wants to support that. “You can’t have a license without a creator. Strong protection of copyright actually encourages creation.”