Publishers, We Need to Talk
There are very few things in life that make my blood boil more than someone tearing down the industry I work in with false accusations of collusion, underhandedness, and evil doing. So when I see a headline like ‘Why Book Publishers Hate Authors‘ in the Huffington Post, it’s all I can do to stop myself from going into a blind rage and throwing my computer into the ocean, finding the nearest rocket, and blasting myself into the face of the sun. Because what the hell, guys.
I’m not going to go into why the article is wrong, because that really doesn’t matter. It is wrong, as all of us in publishing know. There’s no conspiracy to drive down advances, there’s just a changing market. But what this highlights to me is something way worse than simply a couple of incorrect facts and conclusions that don’t reflect reality. This is a prime example of what publishers suck at, which is talking to people outside the industry about the industry. And when other people go out of their way to do it for us, it becomes really, really necessary to start talking about what we do.
I’ve tried to find examples of publishers blogging about the industry. There are quite a few, like Melville House, Futurebook, and here on Book Machine as well. But these are industry channels. It’s pretty rare for us to be in the mainstream press in a way that isn’t a) defensive or b) based around sales/industry statistics. These are helpful, to a point, but don’t really explain changes that authors are noticing in various areas before authors go on the attack.
One example of non-industry facing coverage comes in the form of the Life In Publishing Tumblr, which has popped up in the last few weeks and seems intent on making us seem vapid, shallow, boring, and critical or sarcastic about everything our authors do. This is the state of things. Personally, if I were an author and I thought this was the way publishers talked about me behind my back, I’d assume everything they did was to wring the most amount of money out of my shrivelled carcass as well.
Someone on Twitter told me they tend to go to the Absolute Write forum and talk with authors about what publishers are doing and why. This is the sort of channel we should be covering – helping instill trust and understanding in authors, both current and prospective, about the way our business is run and why we do the things we do.
Our public image consists of not much. Our authors may try to disassociate themselves from us in public, like we’re the embarrassing parents wearing lyrca at the school gates, which we really sort of are. We can’t pretend to be cool in the same way they are, because we’re organisations not individuals, and our job is to sell them and not ourselves. But there’s a problem here and it can’t be remedied by simply being good at our jobs.
If we stay silent, people will assume we have something to hide. If we only speak in our own defence, our voices will be far too quiet and come far too late. I don’t know where the right channels for this are, but we need to find a way to discuss the changes that are happening that affect our jobs and authors generally before they become a point of contention. As soon as popular opinion reaches a point where in authors’ minds we’re the thing preventing them from making money, we’re screwed. More screwed than if Amazon bought Penguin.
Any suggestions welcome.