The past week has been incredibly fun for me. I have a sick fascination with controversy and debate and I especially love seeing it in something I love so much like books, writing, and publishing. It started with the whole Donald Maas thing then bounced over to the Author Earnings report and EVERYONE’S reaction to said report. There has been a lot of argument and I’ve gladly joined in as best I can. Gotta admit, the highlight of that was having Joe Konrath tweet my last Sharing of the Wealth. If you clicked over from there, welcome to my blog, and thanks again to Joe.
It’s also been pretty harsh. The following post isn’t going to be a glowing praise of traditional publishing but I wanted to write something a bit more upbeat.
I am very willing to say that traditional publishing is not going to die. Period. It’s just not going to happen. Why? Look at all the other industries that we ourselves love to cite. Newspapers, news in general, the music industry, other antiquated industries, etc. In those cases, certain big businesses failed but their aspect of the industry has stayed around. Newspapers aren’t doing well, but they still exist (mainly in the places where the newspaper adopted the new technology). Music labels are still a big part of the music industry, just not the central point. Traditional publishing will go the same way, eventually.
And they should. They have a lot to offer. A savvy author can get, literally, everything done that a publisher can. He can hire editors, hire cover artists, put together a marketing plan, advertise, distribute, sell rights to production companies, create merchandise, everything.
But it’s fucking hard.
I’m up to the artist thing and a little bit of the marketing. The savviest authors out there probably do everything but create merchandise, which is fine since there’s so little need unless one of your character’s last name is Potter. A corporation is an engine, the better the corporation the more powerful the engine. It is the combined effect of a) greater resources, whether that be fiscal and/or human and b) focus. A person can only do so much. Some people have more to offer than others, but the more hats you put on someone the more you dilute their skills. Generally, anyway, there are exceptions. I have worked with people who were at their best when they were in three different roles and unable to sleep at night.
When you have a person whose sole job is editing, marketing, accounting, you typically get better results. When you’re a large corporations who has whole departments dedicated to that, again depending on how well that company is run, you get even greater results.
That is what traditional publishing offers.
But here are some things to do it better.
- If you’re so worried about profit, cut costs. You are in one of the most expensive cities in the world.* There are corporations all over the world who have moved their headquarters to save money.
- Understand who your customer is and what you sell. Movie companies do not sell to theaters, they sell to viewers. Your wholesaler is, of course, a consideration but it is not the consideration. With regard to readers, I’m not even talking about story or content. No one except for that particular author, and even then only if they have a sizable enough fanbase to build a consensus, knows what people want to read. But you might be able to find out how they want to read it. Instead of arguing against the value of ebooks or ecommerce, how about take advantage of it?
- Vendor relations. Different companies take different stances on this. Amazon and Wal-Mart are notorious for being the hardest business to work with from a business standpoint. Others make it really easy. I’ve seen businesses shown the right way to do things and appreciate having Amazon as a partner and businesses who’ve been ruined by Amazon’s rules. I’ve also seen businesses grow lazy, inefficient, and sloppy working with partners that don’t have these rules. Publishers have to find the way that works best, for them and their authors. First you need to acknowledge that your days of being the only game in town are over, then respond to that. That means a willingness to negotiate, to respect your partner’s need to make a business, and to behave amicably.
- This is a continuation of the above point, but worth emphasizing. Do not take advantage of your authors. Amazon is a difficult vendor to work with, but they take care of the people who sell there. Even the smaller stores (the ones that only have a few thousand ratings) are making good money selling there. It is a fair marketplace. Your standard terms are egregious and limit your author’s sustainability.
These are just a few suggestions. I know I’m missing tons. The point I want to make is that Traditional Publishing can and should be a resource for authors. Audio, film, foreign rights, translation, these are all things it is difficult for even the best self published author to manage or take advantage of. But for you to be seen as a resource, you need position yourself in that manner.
Here’s what you have to consider. I’ve never had a publishing deal, never even seen a contract from a publisher (though plenty from all over the web). When it came down to it, I didn’t even really try to go your way. I took one roll of the dice and sent a query to my dream agent, the one that represents some of my favorite authors. That query was rejected, and I moved on.
You need to consider your image. There are still plenty of authors out there who want to say they’ve been published by FILL IN THE BLANK PUBLISHING COMPANY. They’re not bothering with research, looking at the best terms or what makes a good deal.
A lot of these authors are one book authors who’ll move on to something else besides writing. Some of them will be lightning strikes that make you a lot of money. The ones that have worlds in them, whole universes of stories to tell, they’ll look for a better way.
Then there are those like me who read everything they could from the beginning.
They won’t look at you at all.**
* Yeah, I know I’m going off cost of living, but that’s a pretty good standard to go buy for general expense for a business.
**So yeah, guess it wasn’t too uplifting or positive, but it’s just the direction it went.