Publisher. Publication. Publicity.
See the similarity in those words? It’s not a coincidence. Those who hang out the “Publisher” shingle on their little shack are promising, by their very title, to create publicity for the works they print.
And yet, authors, how many times have you been preparing to submit a manuscript, and been deflated by a statement like this?
Over the past ten years, the publishing industry has changed drastically. These changes now mean that authors carry the responsibilities of promotion, marketing, and publicity for their works. Many authors fail at this difficult task, meaning their contract is cancelled, and any future contracts are at risk. It’s a cold, hard fact that an author’s books must become popular for the industry to be able to keep publishing.
This is an excerpt from the submissions page of a small, independent press. I have changed (and, I must say, corrected) some of the vocabulary and sentence structure, in order to keep search engines from locating the exact source. I would credit this publisher, but it might seem I am picking on them. I am not. Such clauses, to some degree or another, are fixtures in most small publishers’ disclaimers these days. That “cold, hard fact” is one that has affected us all.
Here’s the thing, though, about facts: people with power are the ones who create them.
I think most of us would agree that, even now, publishers hold much more power than authors. Who is more likely to embrace this new reality: the party who can save millions on editorial activities and publicity, or the party who is now under pressure to go back to school for a Marketing degree? Which party is least likely to benefit: the one who prints each book only if Amazon sells it, or the one who is now “responsible” for creating public awareness?
All this to earn 20% of the profits?
Just for fun, let’s translate the passage above to focus on the publisher rather than the author:
Over the past ten years, the publishing industry has changed drastically. These changes now mean that we no longer need to create promotion, marketing, or publicity for your works. Many publishers once failed at this difficult task, meaning they went out of business, but now we sleep easily knowing that only authors take those risks. It’s a soothing, comforting fact that an author must make their own books popular, while the industry keeps on profiting from the few who can.
Of course, any author who isn’t willing to partner in the marketing of his or her book isn’t very committed to their stories. In fact, to most, it probably seems like an unachievable dream to be in demand at book signings and personal appearances. The thing is, though, that it’s a lot to expect of a creative dreamer that he also have mastered the sleight-of-hand needed to convince a world of moviegoers to read this book instead of that one. It’s left-brain against right; it’s profit clashing with art. Yet, most of the independents have decided that this is the way to go. The creator can promote or perish.
So, the question arises, as it must: what does an author get out of signing a deal with one of these Indies?
There are a few things, of course (and probably more than I’m aware, in which case I’ll deserve every comment I get). They’ll hire an artist to create a cover that looks nothing like the characters in your head. They’ll make another pass at checking your work, so you can argue about all those pesky commas and apostrophes. If you’re lucky, they’ll even do some content editing—maybe even do it thoroughly—and ask you for changes that will appeal more commercially to your target audience.
That’s a big one, actually. Content editing before the publication stage is really the only way to ensure that our artistic sensibilities aren’t throttling the inner nag who tells us what our audiences want. If an author is lucky enough to sign with a publisher who performs this service, it’s worth a good deal of compromise. It might even be worth polishing up that sample case and hitting the bricks with a silver-tongues sales pitch for your dystopian tome.
Guess what, though? Many Indies don’t provide content editing, either. The only contract I’ve ever been offered, on my humorous thriller, Driven, included only an automated grammar check and the phone numbers of other authors who might be willing to peer-edit with me. Needless to say, I turned them down. I remain unpublished. When friends ask me why, I tell them it’s because my book wouldn’t have been published, anyway; it would only have been printed.
So the changes in the industry, over the last ten years or more, are, indeed cold, hard facts. What the disclaimers on websites leave out is the reason: they are facts because many of the publishers operating out there have decided they should be.
It’s fine, if everyone agrees, to leave publicity in the hands of the author. If a company does so, though, they should be hanging out a different shingle.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being a print shop.
– Some career-suiciding Words from K. Alan.