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Where to put the entrepreneur in publishing?

31 January 2014

From FutureBook:

It’s a word I had never heard of before starting out in business – four syllables that I have apparently become rather than something I aimed for. However, these four syllables are now everywhere – in the press, on TV (see Dragon’s DenThe Apprentice etc. etc.), in books (see autobiographies from those on aforementioned TV shows etc. etc.), and Twitter appears awash with entrepreneurial advice.

And more than having begun embracing them, the publishing industry is calling out for them. The need for urgent change is now, in the majority of places, accepted, as is the understanding that much innovation and new drive comes from entrepreneurs.

. . . .

I also want to mention authors in this, in particular self-published authors. The boom of the self-published market has been unmistakable and a look at Amazon will see more chart entries than Cliff Richard. But look through the huge sellers and a pattern will quickly emerge – often they have been driven upwards more by entrepreneurial zeal than unforgettable writing ability.

We are seeing authors, who are great promoters, tireless in their engagement on social media and peer sites, relentless networkers who, aided by the low price points dominant in the ebook charts, sell their books in the tens of thousands. I do get concerned by the quality of writing, the skew away from reading a book that will stay in your life forever, and often think about what will be read from this generation in 100 years’ time? It would be very wrong and a waste to try to crush this entrepreneurialism, but how best to handle this trend?

One suggestion is we should get these entrepreneurial authors to stop writing and start working in publishing – after all, the sales numbers, in the current market, will appear almost utopian to a lot of publishers. I would say if writing is their true passion they are often better focussed on their own work than that of others, but the industry should certainly learn from how they promote and drive sales of their work – the attachment to and understanding of their market is something most publishers urgently need to be better at.

My answer would be that the trend is going to handle itself as the self-published market becomes more regulated, particularly by peers, as the mainstream media and booksellers finally give due attention to self-published work and as authors, rather than being sold a dream, become clearer as to what is required to find the pot of gold. I think three groups could develop – the entrepreneurial writers pushing their books, those publishing as a hobby and those of memorable quality that are pulled (by readers rather than their writers) from the ranks.

Link to the rest at FutureBook


15 Comments to “Where to put the entrepreneur in publishing?”

  1. Nice essay, but:

    What’s the benefit to *the entrepreneurial self-publisher*? The essay is about how the publishing industry can benefit from bringing entrepreneurial SPers into the fold.

  2. Written by a guy who runs, among other companies, a vanity press. Enough said.

  3. I question the notion that big self-publishers are largely successful based on sales technique over talent. Have they suggested that the high-selling trad pub authors that aren’t producing high literature should also stop writing and become publishers?

    • Yeah. This “self-publishers succeed via self-promotion instead of quality” is another BS industry meme.

      The opposite is actually true.

      Self-published books which rise to the top do so on their own merits, without the benefit of a huge publisher’s high-dollar marketing thrust.

  4. Same old tired unsubstantiated assumption/presumption that traditional publishing somehow is any better at identifying and publishing True Art and Literature than self publishing writers. Readers and time decide what is true art and literature, not the establishment and vested interests.

    Theodore Sturgeon summed it up back in the 1950s with his famous revelation/law (quoted here from Wikipedia):

    The first written reference to the adage appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture, where Sturgeon wrote:
    I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.[1]
    Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

  5. It might be wise to entertain the other form of this question, which is, what will the entrepreneurs do with us? The industry already missed its chance to ask that question about one entrepreneur. His name is Jeff Bezos. The next one might not be so nice to the established players.

  6. Tennessee Williams wrote pulp fiction before he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire.

    Am I the only one not particularly fussed about the quality of self-published books?

  7. Didn’t Hugh Howey say the success of his books was completely unexpected and it wasn’t from social networking? Amanda Hocking leveraged social networking, and maybe a couple of others, but all the rest just wrote a story people wanted to read.

    • Where to put the entrepreneur in publishing?

      Someone should tell this poor guy that the entrepreneur gets to decide that. Not him.

      And if he’s lucky, the entrepreneur may even leave him a small place he can keep pontificating from…

  8. I do get concerned by the quality of writing, the skew away from reading a book that will stay in your life forever, and often think about what will be read from this generation in 100 years’ time?

    I’m pretty sure 90% of the traditionally-published material I’ve read over the decades hasn’t stayed in my life for more than a few weeks, much less forever. Not every book needs to be a timeless classic I reflect back on in my dotage.

    On, and much of the traditionally-published material I’ve read that DOES stay with me, are the old pulp classics cranked out back in the 20’s and 30’s, or the 60’s and 70’s, and I’m certain no one who was writing it then thought people would be reading it and loving it generations later.

    • I reread Edgar Rice Burroughs for fun. Not only is it a hundred years out of date, racist, and ridiculous, I have multiple college degrees and am under no illusions whatsoever that any of these things are true.

      Nonetheless, I read them. Because they are fun. Sherlock Holmes is fun. Mark Twain is fun. Shakespeare is fun. Dumas is fun. Literature departments may do their best to knock the fun out of the classics – And they have had a lot of success, how many people can read Shakespeare and not think of boring English classes instead of the near-slapstick level farce of his comedies, which live and live forever? – but what remains ever green is that which people enjoy.

      • What? Are you saying that Pellucidar, Barsoom, Amtor, and the Mangani aren’t real? Cry… Kreegah! Bundolo! 🙁

  9. As an entrepreneur myself, the problem is that as soon as you know enough about business to become one, you realize the corporate publishing and distribution model as it exists makes no sense, so you decide to operate pretty much as far away from it as you possibly can.

  10. Why in the world would I want to share my entrepreneurial skills with another company? The whole point of being entrepreneurial is I get to work for myself while writing those “forgettable” novels he laments. 🙂

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