Dear Publisher

By | on August 10, 2010 | 27 Comments

Dear Corporate Publisher,

Since last year was the worst year in publishing history—that is, the worst year since the year before—I’ve got a few questions for you (along with some unsolicited advice):

Are you publishing all of your authors, or are you just printing most of them? Because if you’re just printing most of them, why bother? Why not re-allocate all those printing and shipping costs into marketing the books you’re actually publishing? Just a thought.

Does the reading public really need a million titles per year? Wouldn’t it be a little easier to sort out the growing demand for a hundred thousand? Don’t get me wrong, I like eclectic, I like many voices, but it seems to me a hundred thousand is a lot of voices. You only published fifty thousand in 1990, and as I recall, the industry was in better shape.

Instead of acquiring books at the budget deadline (books which you have no real intention of marketing beyond a little co-op for 90 days to fill table space at the chains—where your titles are gathering dust in a warehouse, as the demand stacks up at independents), why not re-structure?

Why not give all your titles the benefit of marketing support, publicity budgets, tour budgets? Do you think they might sell more than a thousand copies? Do you think you might have less returns?

Why not make your sales reps lives easier by cutting your catalog in half? Maybe that would allow your reps to push your backlist—after all, you’ve already printed the books, already paid the advances? Hey, and that’s another way to fill those invaluable brick-and-mortar stores without publishing a million titles per year. Maybe if you marketed your books, instead of letting them sit heavy in the chains, you wouldn’t have to pay all that postage on all those returns? Just a thought.

Why not teach your publicists to take bloggers seriously? Have you noticed that newspapers are dying out? Have you noticed that a lot of book blogs are generating serious traffic in the maven market—the one market most helpful in creating advance buzz? Oh wait, and it doesn’t cost you anything! The bloggers come to you, offering to promote your books (because they already know about them because their ear is more to the ground than your publicist), and yet, often as not, you don’t even reply to their e-mails, or interview requests. Maybe you should be aggressively profiling these people and offering them swag? Maybe you should be pitching them. Just a thought.

Why not hire better graphic designers? Most cover designs suck. I’m sorry, but if I have to look at the sweaty withers of another horse running into the sunset, another vintage lampshade, another goddamn dog, I’m gonna’ shoot myself!

Why not boldly target new audiences, instead of mourning the loss of the ones you’ve already alienated? The reason I ask is this: I wrote a book, it sold modestly well due to the forces of luck and a lot of sweat, but I must’ve heard a thousand times: I gave your book to my niece so-and-so, and she loved it—and she /never/ reads. I’m serious, I hear it all the time.

Maybe we could make books cool again. There’s a lot of cool books being written, but nobody’s making them cool (see sweaty horse withers, and publicist with no faith in blogs).

Maybe “Reality Hunger” is more like a “Big Mac Attack.” Maybe you shouldn’t publish books that feed this hunger. Maybe you should just stick to your guns and believe in the tried-and-true novel—put your best foot forward, so to speak, and quit pandering.

Maybe you should start dictating markets again.

I know, I know, you’ve got answers for all these questions, corporate publisher. You’ve got your best practices, you’ve got your market research, but you haven’t got any balls.

XOXO,

je

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27 Responses to “Dear Publisher”

  1. August 10, 2010

    Ben Reply

    Hahahaha. You think publishers have the money to do market research. That’s cute.

    I guess publishers would have money, but then again they had to pay Janet Evanovich $50 mil for 4 books. And the sad thing is, that’s what the market demands.

    I wish I were more acute and offered actual options. But it’s early, sorry. Maybe in an hour?

  2. August 10, 2010

    Ben Reply

    Hahahaha. You think publishers have the money to do market research. That’s cute.

    I guess publishers would have money, but then again they had to pay Janet Evanovich $50 mil for 4 books. And the sad thing is, that’s what the market demands.

    I wish I were more acute and offered actual options. But it’s early, sorry. Maybe in an hour?

  3. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . yes, i say gut the blockbuster mentality and reallocate some of that money to marketing the rest of the list! . . . that may sound cute, but guess what, it’ll probably work . . .

  4. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . yes, i say gut the blockbuster mentality and reallocate some of that money to marketing the rest of the list! . . . that may sound cute, but guess what, it’ll probably work . . .

  5. August 10, 2010

    Keith Reply

    …and the current news about barnes and noble only underscores these points. is it possible things will get worse before they get better? if b&n fails, and costco and wal-mart become the next big bookstores (and i think they will), doesn’t it seem likely they’ll just skip the pub houses and go straight to book packagers, asking them to deliver something “just like book A that sold well last month.” in other words, won’t the next big booksellers view books as commodities that should be driven by market data?

    so i’d add another point: i think pub houses need to begin working hard to forge excellent relationships with the costcos and wal-marts of the world. it sounds crazy, but i bet a reading/signing at a wal-mart would be more productive right now than a reading-signing elsewhere.

  6. August 10, 2010

    Keith Reply

    …and the current news about barnes and noble only underscores these points. is it possible things will get worse before they get better? if b&n fails, and costco and wal-mart become the next big bookstores (and i think they will), doesn’t it seem likely they’ll just skip the pub houses and go straight to book packagers, asking them to deliver something “just like book A that sold well last month.” in other words, won’t the next big booksellers view books as commodities that should be driven by market data?

    so i’d add another point: i think pub houses need to begin working hard to forge excellent relationships with the costcos and wal-marts of the world. it sounds crazy, but i bet a reading/signing at a wal-mart would be more productive right now than a reading-signing elsewhere.

  7. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .thanks for sounding in, keith, great points!

  8. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .thanks for sounding in, keith, great points!

  9. August 10, 2010

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    Hoo, harsh. While it does help my ego to assume that the publishers tend to choose books to market the way Jughead picks where the Archie gang travels to next, it depends on the writer himself as well to learn the rules of the literacy world, in terms of promoting herself. It would mean writing four unpublished books and writing more than four hundred short stories before you even make it midlist, something that I don’t want to accept that since doing that is overwelming to me.

  10. August 10, 2010

    Maria Semple Reply

    Go, JE go!

  11. August 10, 2010

    Maria Semple Reply

    Go, JE go!

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Himmer, Jason Chambers. Jason Chambers said: Dear Publisher: Dear Corporate Publisher, Since last year was the worst year in publishing… http://goo.gl/fb/lMNGM […]

  13. August 10, 2010

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    Hoo, harsh. While it does help my ego to assume that the publishers tend to choose books to market the way Jughead picks where the Archie gang travels to next, it depends on the writer himself as well to learn the rules of the literacy world, in terms of promoting herself. It would mean writing four unpublished books and writing more than four hundred short stories before you even make it midlist, something that I don’t want to accept that since doing that is overwelming to me.

  14. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . as much as my guns are blazing in this post, and in all fairness to the many wonderful people i know who work in a corporate publishing environment, the model is just broken . . . i think everybody understands this . . .part of the problem is that a big beast of a corporation is just a hard thing to mobilize . . . i know lot’s of people at big houses who understand how to publish more effectively, but they’re simply trapped in a system that won’t allow them to take the necessary risks it takes to publish with balls . . . that’s why the indies are at such an advantage right now (at least the way i see it) . . .

  15. August 10, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . as much as my guns are blazing in this post, and in all fairness to the many wonderful people i know who work in a corporate publishing environment, the model is just broken . . . i think everybody understands this . . .part of the problem is that a big beast of a corporation is just a hard thing to mobilize . . . i know lot’s of people at big houses who understand how to publish more effectively, but they’re simply trapped in a system that won’t allow them to take the necessary risks it takes to publish with balls . . . that’s why the indies are at such an advantage right now (at least the way i see it) . . .

  16. August 11, 2010

    DH Reply

    Talk, talk, talk…that’s almost the worst thing. Publishers that won’t talk.

    What’s worst than that? Publishers that don’t know how to talk. You’re in the book business and you don’t know how to talk about books. Amazing.

    Book bloggers know how to talk. That’s our chief virtue. “Talk” rules in our social media world, don’t you know.

    Okay Jonathan, now I got that off my chest.

  17. August 10, 2010

    DH Reply

    Talk, talk, talk…that’s almost the worst thing. Publishers that won’t talk.

    What’s worst than that? Publishers that don’t know how to talk. You’re in the book business and you don’t know how to talk about books. Amazing.

    Book bloggers know how to talk. That’s our chief virtue. “Talk” rules in our social media world, don’t you know.

    Okay Jonathan, now I got that off my chest.

  18. August 11, 2010

    zoe zolbrod Reply

    Hear, hear! And what about thorough editing of those million books? Art Edwards suggests that’s getting lost at the big presses, too.
    http://artedwards-layindownthelaw.blogspot.com/
    (A self-serving link, but totally relevant.)

  19. August 11, 2010

    zoe zolbrod Reply

    Hear, hear! And what about thorough editing of those million books? Art Edwards suggests that’s getting lost at the big presses, too.
    http://artedwards-layindownthelaw.blogspot.com/
    (A self-serving link, but totally relevant.)

  20. August 12, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .did art edwards just call macadam cage a well-run indie? . .

  21. August 12, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .did art edwards just call macadam cage a well-run indie? . .

  22. August 12, 2010

    Art Edwards Reply

    Jonathan,

    Shows you what I know.

    Art

  23. August 12, 2010

    Art Edwards Reply

    Jonathan,

    Shows you what I know.

    Art

  24. August 12, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .ha! still, point well taken . . . just replace MC with, say, akashic . . .

  25. August 12, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .ha! still, point well taken . . . just replace MC with, say, akashic . . .

  26. September 3, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i guess i’m compelled to answer ben’s first comment, here . . .if corporate publishers are not engaging in any marketing research, how do we know that roughly %80 of literary fiction consumers are college educated women? how do we know that men read almost exclusively non-fiction, with a particular taste for historical? why do we have bookscan (for all it’s flaws and inaccuracies, and why do publishers treat those numbers as though they are prescriptive? . . . sounds like marketing research to me . . .

  27. September 3, 2010

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . i guess i’m compelled to answer ben’s first comment, here . . .if corporate publishers are not engaging in any marketing research, how do we know that roughly %80 of literary fiction consumers are college educated women? how do we know that men read almost exclusively non-fiction, with a particular taste for historical? why do we have bookscan (for all it’s flaws and inaccuracies, and why do publishers treat those numbers as though they are prescriptive? . . . sounds like marketing research to me . . .

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