Ethical publishing – now wouldn’t that be something?

UPDATE : Ghostwoods Books hit their target with 9 hours to spare. Woo-hoo!

Contrary to rumour I don’t hate publishers. I understand that publishers are businesses, and as such they operate in their own best interests. The flip side of that is I feel it’s not just fair, but essential, to point out when the business interests of a publisher work against the interests of the writer. Which is often.

Ghostwoods Books are arguing – I think rightly – that there is a role in publishing for the ideal of fair trade.

That doesn’t mean writers are better off without publishers. The indie publishing scene is amazing, and the Amazon Kindle store now provides a superb new income stream for new and established writers alike. But the bottom line is that writers need time to write, and at some point that means handing over to someone else the numerous other tasks needed to publish a book. Division of labour and economies of scale dictate that writers will always need publishers – or something very much like publishers. What would an ethical publisher look like? This might be the most important question writers can ask at the moment. How would we re-shape the publishing model to ensure that, in this digital era of such great change, publishers continue to support writers instead of startling to exploit them? Across the entire publishing industry, the only people I see putting forward a serious answer to this question are London based indie publisher Ghostwoods Books. What does it mean to be a “fair-trade publisher”? You’ve probably seen Fair Trade stamps on tea, chocolate or other goods from the developing world. How could this possibly apply to a publisher working with writers? Fair trade companies are profit making businesses. But they recognise that their position in the supply-demand chain gives them far greater power than their suppliers. So while these businesses have the power to force down the prices of their suppliers in the short term, they choose to pay a much higher price in order to ensure the well being of their suppliers. They choose to trade fairly.

The Bone Clocks is the brilliant new novel from David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas.

Ghostwoods Books are arguing – I think rightly – that there is a role in publishing for the ideal of fair trade. Major publishers, as businesses, pay as little as possible for books. They spend as little as possible on editing and marketing, and only enough to maximise their return. Great for publishers, much less good for writers. Ghostwoods Books aren’t alone in thinking there is a better way, with writers like Chuck Wendig, Seanan McGuire, Warren Ellis and many others putting their support behind the idea. Ghostswoods Books are turning to readers for the second stage of their development, with a mid-size Kickstarter coming in to it’s last 48 hours as I type this. That Kickstarter will fund a year of work for the publishing industries only fair trade publisher. I think that’s a goal worth supporting. And I have a feeling, you will too.


4 thoughts on “Ethical publishing – now wouldn’t that be something?”

  1. The pressure to self-publish, to do all the necessary steps to actually make money on a book, can be tremendously distracting, overwhelming, sometimes seemingly impossible. The unwritten 5th book in my five book series haunts me. Cat Dreams 2, Tashi, Mystery of the Crypt, Many Gods, Black & White, Bangkok Bride and so on, all wonderful stories, sit begging for attention. New book ideas pop in, dismissed while I spend time in the process of self-marketing. These days authors almost need a Master’s Degree in Marketing to sell a book. You’re right, Damien, mainstream Publishing is a business out to make money, but sometimes a whole new look at the business model is required. Things change. Before it chokes itself to death with its grip on old-school greed, they need to get with it. I hope more Ghostwood’s pop up, and create partnerships with deserving authors. Publishers, as a business, should be as creative as the people they represent. Dream up something different. We’re well into this cyber age. I think its about time for the Publishing Industry to wake up, grow up and find a better, a win/win/win, way to do their job. It really isn’t fair that the writer with the better marketing skills wins. There is a much better way begging to be found, and I hope whoever finds it will succeed, and replace what no longer works.


  2. Thanks for bringing my attention to this noble endeavor. I have recently been in contact with two women who have started a digital literary platform called “Rooster Reader” that helps promote current and traditional literature for the modern commuter: fifteen minute installments custom fit for the phone. They work directly with publishers, and not at odds with them as is the case of Amazon. Interested to see how this all plays out: after all, as writers we are going to be dependent on whatever form publishing takes.


  3. I finished my first novel a couple of months ago and have been trying to go the traditional route by querying agents, because I have a big dream of going into a bookstore and finding and buying my novel, and maybe signing a couple on the sly. I want a real, physical copy that I can write in and give to my kids. What is tragic about this however, is that after the agent gets paid and the publisher takes their piece, I expect to make nearly nothing as far as payment is concerned.

    The Ghostwoods Books model is by far the best that I have run across and by all reports the company is run by passionate and well meaning people who love words and think authors should get paid for their work.

    Those poor masochistic saps like me that feel compelled to write for some reason and who love to read great books by creative and unique voices need to support ventures like this to help keep great writers writing.

    I’d send them money if I had any to give (I did say I was a writer, right?) and my book if they wanted it (which according to their call for submissions page they do not).

    They deserve attention for their good work and commitment to writers and writing



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