STATE OF PUBLISHING TODAY
The muse for this article hit me this past weekend after thinking about an article a recent friend posted. It was a bait and switch deal, whether intentional or not. The article was supposed to be about the dismal state of the publishing industry… at least it started that way, but then it devolved into a political diatribe. I should’ve taken the source into consideration.
NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER IS MEANINGLESS
However… and a big however… the author made a few good points before she went on to make her real political point. The state of the publishing industry, especially when it comes to printed books, is dismal. The big boys have a monopoly and they’re in a cycle of self-destructive behavior that’s like a big monster devouring itself. It doesn’t seem to have the intelligence or the capability to stop eating its own tail. Pretty soon, printed publishing from the big publishers (big boys) may become extinct because they’ll not stop with their cutthroat and wasteful business tactics.
I won’t go into these tactics because frankly I can’t even remember or understand half of them, except one specifically. A big reason was because the original author’s blatant political bias muddied the waters. However, that one point stuck with me. How many of you knew that a book can be a New York Times best seller without ever selling a single copy? Yup, apparently that’s true. The magnificent PR machines at the big boys can trump up a books’ buzz and make it a best seller before it goes on sale. I don’t have any proof of this but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a fact. I’ve seen many books with that label and I’ve had serious doubts they’ve ever come close to selling what I imagine are those numbers.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Book blurbs (including the old standby New York Times Best Seller) have no effect on me. Zero, zip, nada. I could care less. I don’t believe it.
IS A BIG PRESS REALLY THAT GOOD OF A DEAL?
As hard as it is to get an agent or big boy publisher to take you, half the time, when you DO get an agent, I’ve heard they will sometimes go for smaller presses anyway. Whaaa? Yup. I don’t go to conferences and just sit around. I talk to these people and things slip out. Though agents always start with the big boys, when they’re sold on a book and get desperate for their client, they aren’t adverse to going to the smaller presses.
What does that mean? That means, you end up with a more expensive trade paperback and of course are e-pubbed like everyone else. You could’ve probably done that with a local legitimate press anyway, without an agent. Sure, the agents have access to a more elaborate PR machine, and they can handle lots of issues that you’d never think of. However, without the big boy PR to back you, what do you have? Hold on, I’m not there yet.
It would be nice to see my books in hardback and then in commercial paperback, which doesn’t always happen with the big boys. However, the hardbacks last for a few weeks to a month or two on the new arrivals shelf. Then they either disappear or end up in the discount bins with the specialty books. What’s on the actual Fiction and Literature shelves? Mostly trade paperbacks, you know, the larger paperbacks that are almost the size of a hardback but with a soft cover? Some of them have pretty crappy covers. If you go to Barnes & Noble out west and east, or Hastings in the middle, you’ll find mostly trade paperbacks on the shelves. Then there are the commercial paperbacks, what used to be the most common format, but what’s becoming the minority.
DO YOU REALLY GET ACCESS TO THE BIG BOY PR MACHINE?
Almost everything is e-pubbed nowadays. You don’t need a big boy to do that and they know it. While they have the big PR machines available, they’re less and less inclined to use those machines on any but their favorite sons and daughters. What are they going to do with a new schlub like you? It’s a well-known fact that even the big boys invest almost nothing in PR for anything but their favorite sons and daughters or special cases (maybe you’re that ONE). They leave it up to you to do our own marketing. Ugly truth. I rest my case.
THE UGLY TRUTH
The ugly truth is the big boys have a monopoly on big name authors, marketing machines and, they think, the bookstores. However, they’re being overrun by independent publishers. With the advent of electronic publishing, anyone can do it. Well… almost anyone and there are a lot of crap books out there in e-form. On the other hand, more small publishers are able to do print books also, and with the more advanced print on demand, which is still only doing marginally (but could be a threat), small publishers can put out quality product. Since the big boys pretty much ignore their small authors and leave it up to them to do their own marketing, they can get just as good if not better deals with small publishers and are not stuck with some of the burdensome trappings and rejections associated with the big boys. Since these authors have to do their own marketing, they can plug their own books and get into the bookstores and get on the shelves, bypassing the system. It’s tougher, but becoming more and more feasible.
As long as the two bookstores don’t fold, there still could be light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of smaller authors and publishers.
If the big boys don’t cut their own throats pretty soon, the public may do it for them.