What does a publisher do? Is there a point to having one? As a species are publishers dead?
I was just looking at this and even though I’m self published, I agree with pretty much all of it.
So… reading that kind of bears out what I’ve always thought. Ergo that a publisher is something akin to a venture capitalist. They see an idea and they invest. After a number of funding rounds etc, the ‘inventor’ of a product usually ends up with around 10% although I know people who have ended up with about 2%. When a company you started sells for several hundred millions and you get a ‘mere’ two it could be galling, if you looked at it the wrong way. But, in many cases, without the expertise of the Venture Capitalists – sorry I think they call themselves Business Angels these days – that hundreds of millions sale may not happen. Inventors invent something but as I understand it, where they make the money is sharing their know how with, and investing in, like minded individuals afterwards.
So what I’m saying, inarticulately as usual, is, writers have an idea, the publisher is the venture capitalist in that they pour thousands into the venture to get it to the stage where it will start making a return. The writer who has a publisher gets 10% rather than 70% but they will probably get to a break even point quicker than they might otherwise. Well… unless they live on benefits and spend all day every day marketing their work online and elsewhere. The other 60% absorbed by the publisher has probably been spent on design of the book and cover, some marketing, paid reviews in the right places and the kind of contacts and clout that no self published author will have. In short, if you’ve written, something, anything marketable, a publisher is the best bet (or acting the EXACT same way as a publisher – apart from saying no to yourself, obviously).
Unfortunately publishers are not like VCs or BAs, they’re much more cautious about who or what they invest in and there seems to be a lack of creative flair among the big ones. That means a lot of good stuff gets left on the cutting room floor… or the author may have some home life reason that precludes them from writing two books a year – which is what any self respecting publisher will expect (and need).
Those are the people who are going to have to do their own thing and those are the people whose books WILL get written, whatever the article says, and will get published. None of my stuff would ever see the light of day if I had to sell it to a publisher first. That’s partly because I’m bollocks at sales but a big bit is also because I have too much on in my real life to write a book in under 18 months. Even with an advance I couldn’t do that because the sticking points are people who need me, my time and my… well it sounds corny but… love.
So, if publishers could accept China Mieville’s view: “If we try to second guess readers, it’s a fool’s game. Our job is not to give readers what they want, but to make readers want what we give.” it would be great.
Unfortunately a lot of the big ones are trying to second guess what readers want and give it to them. The result is a huge restriction on choice and creativity.
Hang on though! Lots of small publishing houses have appeared in the last few years who are bang in line with Mr Mieville and have stepped into the breach. At this rate the publishing industry will re-invent itself… as it’s old 1960s forward looking, inquisitive, quality driven self.
Let’s hope so.