50 Things Publishers Shouldn't Do

By | on November 30, 2009 | 42 Comments

We’ve had so much fun with the 50 Things Writers Shouldn’t Do post (currently up to roughly a gazillion things writer’s shouldn’t do), that we decided to turn the tables, and solicit your help in creating a list of things publishers shouldn’t do.

JE:

  • Don’t try to capture lightening in a bottle—just promote your authors instead.
  • Don’t publish “the next” anything.
  • Don’t look for “the sure thing.”
  • Don’t overpay debut authors—nine times out of ten, you’re ruining at least one career.
  • Don’t publish debuts in HC—TPO is the way to go!
  • Don’t pretend that Bookscan is in any way prescriptive in negotiating author advances.
  • Don’t send royalty statements six weeks late.
  • Don’t publish so damn many titles!
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover of a book as a means of persuading consumers.
  • Don’t put a dog on the cover at all (it’s over, okay, O-V-E-R, dogs are 2006)

JC:

  • Don’t pad the advance print run to buyers to try to get them to buy more. If you’re printing so many of them, I won’t have any trouble getting them later, will I?
  • Don’t use props in author photos. (except hats. I’ll accept reasonable hats (i’m looking at you JE), but nothing that belongs in mardigras, and no indiana jones hats for thrillers about archeologists.)
  • Don’t let poorly copyedited books go out the door. This is a huge annoyance to me. Half the books I read seem to have typos or punctuation errors in them. Christ, give the intern one last go at it.
  • Don’t make the blurbs and blurb authors more prominent than the author or book they are promoting.
  • Don’t publish books you aren’t interested in promoting.
  • Don’t do what everyone else is doing.
  • Don’t pay an advance the book has no chance of recouping.
  • Don’t over-distribute to one channel while underselling another.
  • Don’t tell accounts who can sell your book now that you are “waiting for returns.”
  • Don’t be afraid to edit books by big authors. I love great big doorstop books. 500 pages, 800 pages, whatever, but a lot of books would benefit from a little slicing and dicing, even the big guys.

JR:

  • Don’t publish a well known literary author, and never reprint the book, even after it gets glowing reviews.
  • Don’t sell that well known author in at the chains, leaving almost nothing for the independents, which have to wait for a reprint that will never come.
  • Don’t depend on a talk show host to sell your books.
  • Don’t pretend like you’re too good to read a query letter. You’re a publisher of books. That’s what happens when you hang out your shingle.
  • Don’t publish anymore books about Vampires or Pirates.  I don’t care who has died and left a manuscript unpublished.
  • Don’t pay comedians six figures to write about their life, unless it’s Jim Norton. That last book was some funny shit.
  • Don’t publish a second book from an author whose first book sold well, when the second book is the same thing as the first.
  • Don’t publish books that you can’t distribute.
  • Don’t pretend that the chains will be here forever.  Just because they have all that space, doesn’t mean you have to fill it.
  • Don’t pretend like bloggers don’t exist. When we ask for a review copy it’s because we want to talk about how great the book is. Not sell it on Ebay.

DH:

  • Don’t say in your publicity that you will be working with literary blogs to promote your author and then blow off the bloggers. You have to actually do it if you say that you will.
  • If you want to do an interview between your writer and a Blogger, then step out of the way and let the writer and the blogger talk to each other. Why? A good interview depends on the establishment of trust. Two people can’t trust each other if they have to have a go-between in their conversation.
  • Every legitimate email to a publishing house should be answered. What amazes me is that most so-called marketing departments don’t want to talk. You want word-of-mouth for your book? Doesn’t that mean that you have to open your own mouth? I dunno…but it doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.
  • Now that I got that off my chest…I understand that no one describes a book as “wise and witty”anymore. Thank goodness. But the substitutes for this phrase that involve a double alliteration aren’t any better. Don’t do it.
  • Jump into the pool if you want to use social media. If your writers are beating you to the punch, then what are you there for? I just learned that a writer I like has written enough of a new novel to give some preliminary readings. Now I even know what the title of the novel will be. For a fan this is great. But did I learn this from the publisher? No. I learned it from the writer’s Facebook page. Does Facebook mean that publishers don’t need to have marketing departments anymore? You tell me.
  • Richard Nash has talked about this: Don’t neglect the fans. Don’t hold them in contempt like you do. What are you afraid of? That they won’t kiss your ass? They won’t. Become a fan yourself if you want to please them. Your smartest writers know this better than you do.
  • Don’t inflate announced print runs. Ha…ha…ha. I meant that as a joke.
  • Don’t encourage your reps to read galleys that you won’t distribute to your accounts. I don’t want to hear that my rep has read a galley that he can’t get for me. I also don’t want to hear that he had dinner with a writer that I wasn’t invited to meet or that he went to a great movie tie-in screening that I wasn’t given a ticket for. The bigger the house, the more they do this.
  • Don’t get afraid if writers decide to talk to their fans and vice versa. No harm will come from this. Fans are good, not something you have to stamp out at all costs.
  • As for Jonathan and dogs…I don’t know what’s going on there with his no dogs on the cover. But here’s my cover rule: avoid dark covers, they usually don’t work. They tend to turn off the casual bookstore browser. I am greatly looking forward to seeing the cover of West of Here.

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42 Responses to “50 Things Publishers Shouldn't Do”

  1. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . .. i don’t get it . . . you post 50 things writers shouldn’t do, and everybody and their chinchilla has got something to add . . . but post 50 things publishers shouldn’t do and everybody’s mum . . .

  2. November 30, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . .. i don’t get it . . . you post 50 things writers shouldn’t do, and everybody and their chinchilla has got something to add . . . but post 50 things publishers shouldn’t do and everybody’s mum . . .

  3. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    In the world of book politics, writers are as harmless as rabbits, so it’s okay to comment on them. But publishers are as vindictive as a roomful of Iagos and most people are afraid to say anything. Anything.

    That’s my theory. Either that, or everyone is recovering from too much turkey!

    But if writers continue to use social media, the effect over time will still be subversive of the established order. And you recall that Iago completes his work by refusing to say anything…not that I mean to make too much of the comparison. 🙂

  4. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    In the world of book politics, writers are as harmless as rabbits, so it’s okay to comment on them. But publishers are as vindictive as a roomful of Iagos and most people are afraid to say anything. Anything.

    That’s my theory. Either that, or everyone is recovering from too much turkey!

    But if writers continue to use social media, the effect over time will still be subversive of the established order. And you recall that Iago completes his work by refusing to say anything…not that I mean to make too much of the comparison. 🙂

  5. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    I apologize for that stupid smiley face on my post above. The system inserted it when I made a sardonic gesture with my keyboard. I hate software that thinks it can talk for me!

  6. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    I apologize for that stupid smiley face on my post above. The system inserted it when I made a sardonic gesture with my keyboard. I hate software that thinks it can talk for me!

  7. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i like the smiley face– i think you should use it on all your posts!

  8. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i like the smiley face– i think you should use it on all your posts!

  9. December 1, 2009

    Jason Reply

    Is there a publisher out there with the “stones” to comment on this post? I seriously doubt it.

  10. December 1, 2009

    Jason Reply

    Is there a publisher out there with the “stones” to comment on this post? I seriously doubt it.

  11. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Re: Smiley faces. You haven’t met me, JE! So you don’t realize that I’m practically incapable of smiling. But I’ll smile when I see you.

    P.S. Do readers know that the four Three Guys live in four different states? Fascinating.

  12. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Re: Smiley faces. You haven’t met me, JE! So you don’t realize that I’m practically incapable of smiling. But I’ll smile when I see you.

    P.S. Do readers know that the four Three Guys live in four different states? Fascinating.

  13. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    yes:

    JR in the state of aggression.
    DH in the state of enthusiasm.
    JC in the state of flux.
    JE in the state of ignorant bliss

  14. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    yes:

    JR in the state of aggression.
    DH in the state of enthusiasm.
    JC in the state of flux.
    JE in the state of ignorant bliss

  15. December 1, 2009

    Jess Reply

    I think that most people comment on the writing post because they know something that ticks them off about books they read, and so have something to say. How many average readers know enough about the publishing process to HAVE a gripe with them? (Being absolutely new to your blog, I don’t know its reader demographic, but could that be part of the problem?)

    I’d like to add – if you change a cover, please make sure that appropriate media outlets get the new one.

    A small/epub gripe: don’t keep pushing release dates back and back and back while you work on the more important books – you may say that’s not what you’re doing, but it sure looks like it. How are we supposed to do promo when we don’t have a solid release date, or you keep changing it on us once we do? (sorry. personal gripe, that.)

    I definitely agree about giving advances that are too high to debut authors – you create hype that even the best novels can’t live up to and shoot a career down before it starts. (Not always, but can be.)

    Don’t hype the author more than the book. Bigname Authors, this is for you. So many people pick up the latest by Bigname Author BECAUSE it’s by BA, and are let down. Your product is books, not people. Yes a brand is a good thing, but not when it is used to the exclusivity of the actual content, ie, the books.

  16. December 1, 2009

    Jess Reply

    I think that most people comment on the writing post because they know something that ticks them off about books they read, and so have something to say. How many average readers know enough about the publishing process to HAVE a gripe with them? (Being absolutely new to your blog, I don’t know its reader demographic, but could that be part of the problem?)

    I’d like to add – if you change a cover, please make sure that appropriate media outlets get the new one.

    A small/epub gripe: don’t keep pushing release dates back and back and back while you work on the more important books – you may say that’s not what you’re doing, but it sure looks like it. How are we supposed to do promo when we don’t have a solid release date, or you keep changing it on us once we do? (sorry. personal gripe, that.)

    I definitely agree about giving advances that are too high to debut authors – you create hype that even the best novels can’t live up to and shoot a career down before it starts. (Not always, but can be.)

    Don’t hype the author more than the book. Bigname Authors, this is for you. So many people pick up the latest by Bigname Author BECAUSE it’s by BA, and are let down. Your product is books, not people. Yes a brand is a good thing, but not when it is used to the exclusivity of the actual content, ie, the books.

  17. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Don’t worry, Jess. We’ll put you in some sort of witness protection program to guard you from publisher reprisals.

    Yes, I agree that information and order fulfillment are spottier for small publishers. They have more limited resources. Big publishers have all the breaks working for them…except that they don’t always have the most interesting books.

    What’s the best way to keep up with small presses, I wonder? It’s amazing that I’m asking this, right, since I’m a major book buyer. But I generally buy just the bigger houses. Someone send me some good small press books, please.

  18. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Don’t worry, Jess. We’ll put you in some sort of witness protection program to guard you from publisher reprisals.

    Yes, I agree that information and order fulfillment are spottier for small publishers. They have more limited resources. Big publishers have all the breaks working for them…except that they don’t always have the most interesting books.

    What’s the best way to keep up with small presses, I wonder? It’s amazing that I’m asking this, right, since I’m a major book buyer. But I generally buy just the bigger houses. Someone send me some good small press books, please.

  19. December 1, 2009

    Jason Reply

    I just need some attention JE. Someone to say, “you’re not wasting your time.” Is that aggressive? Maybe. Needy more like it.

  20. December 1, 2009

    Jason Reply

    I just need some attention JE. Someone to say, “you’re not wasting your time.” Is that aggressive? Maybe. Needy more like it.

  21. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . of course you’re not wasting your time!

  22. December 1, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . of course you’re not wasting your time!

  23. December 1, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    If you are a self publishing agency, please do not send a letter promising the moon, the stars and the sun, then overcharge me for using your services while not letting me know that many major bookstores have policies on not working with self published authors and at the same time take a lion share of each book that I sold at various festivals. Also don’t send any letters to my address at all. I got burned so I learned.

  24. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Patrick,

    It’s almost impossible to make a self-published book work commercially at major bookstores. Most major bookstores won’t touch such a thing. The most they might do is ask a third party, like a distributor, to buy the book on their behalf since they don’t want to deal with the costly accounting issues of dealing with a one-title vendor which are just a waste-of-time hassle. But even that is rare and often they will just say that they will buy from a distributor in order to get the self-published author off their back.

    There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. They tend to be non-fiction…like a self-help book or guide of some kind that fills a need that the major pubs aren’t covering. As a rule, self-publishing is an exercise in despair and financial disaster.

  25. December 1, 2009

    DH Reply

    Patrick,

    It’s almost impossible to make a self-published book work commercially at major bookstores. Most major bookstores won’t touch such a thing. The most they might do is ask a third party, like a distributor, to buy the book on their behalf since they don’t want to deal with the costly accounting issues of dealing with a one-title vendor which are just a waste-of-time hassle. But even that is rare and often they will just say that they will buy from a distributor in order to get the self-published author off their back.

    There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. They tend to be non-fiction…like a self-help book or guide of some kind that fills a need that the major pubs aren’t covering. As a rule, self-publishing is an exercise in despair and financial disaster.

  26. December 1, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    If you are a self publishing agency, please do not send a letter promising the moon, the stars and the sun, then overcharge me for using your services while not letting me know that many major bookstores have policies on not working with self published authors and at the same time take a lion share of each book that I sold at various festivals. Also don’t send any letters to my address at all. I got burned so I learned.

  27. December 2, 2009

    Patrick Kilgallon Reply

    Yeah, I really regret self publishing and really learn my lesson. My bank account is still hemorraging money. I wish I had posted it on my website for publicity beforehand like I am doing with my second book instead of losing money that I could have spent on strippers and booze and have some left over for a penile operation. It is enough to make me weep with rage on various occasions. :'( Then again I got burned so I learned.

  28. December 2, 2009

    Patrick Kilgallon Reply

    Yeah, I really regret self publishing and really learn my lesson. My bank account is still hemorraging money. I wish I had posted it on my website for publicity beforehand like I am doing with my second book instead of losing money that I could have spent on strippers and booze and have some left over for a penile operation. It is enough to make me weep with rage on various occasions. :'( Then again I got burned so I learned.

  29. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    got another: if you’re a publicist and i contact you requesting a galley for a book i have every intention of covering, by an author i have covered in the past, don’t say to me: “but don’t cover it too soon! . . . hello, THERE IS NO TOO SOON! . . . the blogosphere is MOST EFFECTIVE as a means of getting word out EARLY, as in EARLY early . . . we’re not going to impact your sales in any substantive way (directly) on this blog, the whole point is we put the title and the author on peoples tongues– ie help build word-of-mouth far in advance of a release . . .

  30. December 4, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    got another: if you’re a publicist and i contact you requesting a galley for a book i have every intention of covering, by an author i have covered in the past, don’t say to me: “but don’t cover it too soon! . . . hello, THERE IS NO TOO SOON! . . . the blogosphere is MOST EFFECTIVE as a means of getting word out EARLY, as in EARLY early . . . we’re not going to impact your sales in any substantive way (directly) on this blog, the whole point is we put the title and the author on peoples tongues– ie help build word-of-mouth far in advance of a release . . .

  31. December 7, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I think I smelled another new topic, a “50 Things a Publicist Should Not Do.”

  32. December 7, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I think I smelled another new topic, a “50 Things a Publicist Should Not Do.”

  33. January 20, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . JC, i’m laughing about your print run comment . . .

  34. January 19, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . JC, i’m laughing about your print run comment . . .

  35. January 20, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . saw this blurb on an arc i’m reading (and really really enjoying), but this made me want to throw the book across the room:

    “Poised to be this year’s____________!”

    . . . i think this kind of pigeon-holing does a disservice to everyone involved . . . luckily, i doubt it’ll be on the HC relief, so mostly it’s just an insult to booksellers and reviewers . . .

  36. January 20, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . saw this blurb on an arc i’m reading (and really really enjoying), but this made me want to throw the book across the room:

    “Poised to be this year’s____________!”

    . . . i think this kind of pigeon-holing does a disservice to everyone involved . . . luckily, i doubt it’ll be on the HC relief, so mostly it’s just an insult to booksellers and reviewers . . .

  37. January 20, 2010

    DH Reply

    How about this hack copy chosen by opening a catalog on my desk AT RANDOM: “in a seamless and absorbing narrative…” What on earth does that mean? I could say that about toilet paper.

  38. January 20, 2010

    DH Reply

    How about this hack copy chosen by opening a catalog on my desk AT RANDOM: “in a seamless and absorbing narrative…” What on earth does that mean? I could say that about toilet paper.

  39. January 20, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .ha! that’s pretty funny, DH . . . how about “in this quilted, three-ply narrative” . . .?

  40. January 20, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .ha! that’s pretty funny, DH . . . how about “in this quilted, three-ply narrative” . . .?

  41. January 22, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . just remembered one: don’t tell your author his release date is july 21, then release the book on may 15 . . . makes planning the old tour a little difficult . . .

  42. January 22, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . just remembered one: don’t tell your author his release date is july 21, then release the book on may 15 . . . makes planning the old tour a little difficult . . .

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