I was raised, and have chosen to continue to behave in a manner such that I don’t just complain about something without trying to offer a solution. In this light, I’ve continually skirted the “publishing’s ills” issue, largely because I don’t really know all the intricate, gory details of what’s at the troubled core of these issues. But I can surmise. I’m not an editor nor am I a publishing exec, but I know what I read and hear.
Antiquated business models.
I don’t have a business degree, and frankly, ain’t really interested in one, but I do have a science degree and a lifetime of hands-on experience analyzing problems and developing solutions. Maybe some of what I present below may appear simpleminded and naïve…but maybe things need to be simplified. Boiled down to their lowest common denominator. Maybe we all–not just publishing–need to get back to our roots. What it is to be human. To work with each other. Make life better. Enjoyable.
So, here is what I offer as my take and possible solutions, and I’ll try to modify them as necessary, and will be happy to consider others’ ideas. I’m just a guy, looking from the outside in, trying to make life a better place for having taken up so much of its time….
Codicils for Publishing:
1) Do the best at what it is you do–the money will come.
We hear this uttered time and again, but who really takes it to heart? Business schools beat into students that the sole object of any business is to make money. Really? So the sole act of any human being is to breathe? Is that really what the soul of any business should be about? Pure, unadulterated accumulation of riches? Does that make the world a better place? Does it positively develop an individual? I thought businesses came into existence because they offered something of value, otherwise they would fail. Of course people want to make money, it’s what we use to keep ourselves alive and with which we manipulate into other items of interest. Don’t let it rule your life–or mission.
2) There are no modifiers to the term “ethics.”
This, above all, surprises the hell out of me. As soon as you start applying adverbs and adjectives to this word, you kill the very integrity of the term. Regain that integrity.
3) Take responsibility for your actions.
Publishers take on works and make them available to the world. That’s what they do. But without an author’s work…none of you would exist. When taking on manuscripts and creating them into books…it seems (from my little vantage point and what I hear) that many houses then wash their hands of the promotional aspects to their responsibility. If an author could do it all, they wouldn’t need you. That’s why we all come running to you! We admit it! But then, you suddenly turn on us and blame us for all promotion. Really? Publishing, at least between the author and the House, is a two-way street. Sure, Publishers have the resources to get things out there, but it’s the author who created those words. Those ideas. One is not more important than the other. They’re different. Complimentary. Most authors are not publishers (or editors or salespeople, etc)…if we were, then we’d be them. Get it? Where’s the harm? It’s a mutually beneficial relationship–make it that way. Keep it that way. We want to work with you–okay, maybe some do not, but should that really be a problem? Throw more resources at that person, since you acquired their work, which implies you like their work. Don’t you want us to succeed? Shouldn’t you? That’s what you’re there for, isn’t it? This is a relationship. And a benefit to both. Don’t dump it all on the author and blame them. Authors come to publishing houses because of your name, influence, and resources. Help them. Give the resources to the books that need the resources, not to the readymade sales–these books don’t need the money–you’ve already spent it on them to make them the successes they are. Afford that same courtesy and respect to new blood. After all, if you’re not going to put resources toward something you’ve acquired–why the hell’d you take it on in the first place?
4) There are no cure alls.
Digital this, e-book that, [Internet-based] social networking for everything else. If publishing practices were as robust as they needed to be, none of this would be an issue, right? Quit looking at the symptoms and look at what we, in my line of work, call root cause analysis. You’ll find your answers there–whether or not you act on them is a whole nother story. But, hey, crying “The sky is falling” sells great copy and gives people something to point fingers at at workshops, conferences, and book fairs. To be honest (and I could very well be off the mark), and to proffer my humble opinion, I feel it’s about power (which directly involves money). Make publishing about the book. It’d be interesting to see what might happen….
5) Put out good vibes.
Intent. You get what you put out there, and what you put out there should make life better. Don’t make it all about the money or numbers, make it about the written word–in whatever form. Make it about making life better. Make it about the fun and joy of writing, the excitement of publishing. Yes, there are bad and terrible things and people out there, but if you focus on the bad what happens to the good? It’s not a case of sticking heads in sand. It’s about putting good out into the world. I study the books that are published and reviewed in Publishers Weekly, and among other things, what absolutely startled me one day was when it dawned on me how many enormously violent story lines were out there. The depressing and the negative. Good Lord, and we wonder where our sense of wonder, amazement, and joy goes?! Like the old noir movies, I don’t believe we have to be explicit about it. In today’s world we’re supersizing the hell out of violence at a time when we especially need to down play it, don’t you think?
6) Develop authors, create relationships.
This should be stating the obvious, but it seems that what “relationship” means today is not what it meant 20 or more years ago. If we all shoot for the “sure thing” (and what is that in publishing, anyway?), it’s like a shallow root system. One good, strong storm, and over topples the mighty empire. I think this is exactly what we’re seeing with all this talk about digital this-and-that. The shallow root system has borne out its logical conclusion. Create those authorial relationships, but also with the readerships. Have that internalized from the top down, not just down in the trenches.
7) No, it’s not really all about the numbers.