From Publishing Perspectives:
‘To Scatter the Good Seed on the Land’
We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
—From the 1782 text by Matthais Claudius, which was translated to English from German in 1862 by Jane Montgomery Campbell
I have been very busy the last few months. You may have seen the five extracts from a book I’ve written serialized here in Publishing Perspectives.
Becoming an author, albeit briefly and part-time, has given me a slightly different perspective on our industry.
The god of publishing may not be the creator of the universe, the worshiped and revered of the world’s religions, but there can be little doubt that God or fate or luck play a significant part in the success or otherwise of any publishing endeavor.
But first we must plough the fields.
A publishing house is a field. It needs to be made ready for its authors (the good seed). It needs to have leadership to establish what crops it is going to grow. Should the farm be mono-cultural—pure science or academic, or poetry, or children’s books, or commercial or literary fiction? (An aside: I was delighted to see that Spare by Prince Harry was classified in Amazon UK as literary fiction, not an obvious description.). Or should the farm be business books, or biography or history or ice?
Or should it spread risk by having a mixture of genres, markets, and opportunities? And does the farm need to be prepared for all forms of media to grow?
The farm and its fields need to have the best editors to ensure that authors’ books are as good as they can be; the best accountants to ensure rapid and accurate collection and disbursement of money for authors; the slickest and quickest production team fully abreast of the latest technologies for manufacture; the best legal advice and support for authors; an infrastructure whose primary function is to enable writers to reach their audience as effectively as possible.
And then clearly we need to scatter the good seed on the land.
‘In the Hands of an Outside Force’
The fruit of the seeds is the book in all its forms. The farm must provide sensitive, imaginative, and effective design in order to inform and attract potential readers. The book must be a desirable object whether in print or in digital form, something its author can be proud of. It must be supported by the highest level of publicity and marketing affordable and this requires intelligence as much as money: the intelligence is to see the angles in the book that will attract media coverage; the intelligence not to follow the traditional route—proofs, review copies, literary editors, launch parties—but to read and understand the author’s aims and his or her readers’ interests.
Marketing must be supported by a motivated and creative sales force, whether through merchandising retailer platforms, finding new outlets, negotiating better terms, or simply supporting traditional bookshops with high-quality customer service. The concept of the sales representative has changed and is changing. What matters is that they represent not just the publishing house, the farm, but also the author, the seed.
And of course this farm needs to enjoy the best distribution so that the would-be purchaser anywhere in the world at any time can pay some money to acquire the book. This sounds easy. It is not. Our industry has made enormous strides in improving the logistics of distribution in many countries but we’re still hindered by over-complicated and inefficient supply chains, government-erected barriers to trade, and an overdependence on CO2-generating transport systems.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
PG notes the OP includes the following statement:
A publishing house is a field. It needs to be made ready for its authors (the good seed). It needs to have leadership to establish what crops it is going to grow.
PG would amend that metaphor just a bit:
A publishing house is like a casino floor. It has lights flashing and the sounds of slot machines. On occasion, an author may win big, accompanied by cheers, bells and the author jumping up and down with delight. However, if you look across the floor, you see far more authors mindlessly feeding tokens into slot machines and pulling a lever or pushing a button to see whether this will be a win or just another in a long line of losses.
One thing is certain, however, the house always wins in the long term.
4 thoughts on “A Publishing House Is a Field”
Not to mention pumping superoxygenated air into the casino to keep people playing, both more rapidly and after they’ve reached their limits. (They even do that at McCarran Field now known as Harry Reid International Airport… so passengers will play the airport slot machines more.) For publishing, I think that translates to “pumping out meaningless awards ceremonies usually given to books that haven’t yet been published.”
Love that casino metaphor, PG.
To be fair, that true of MOST industries. The business that provides restaurant supplies does better than the restaurants. Those businesses providing startup goods and services (assuming they do so on a cash basis, not credit) will almost always be more profitable than those they supply.
Like garbage disposal. You don’t pay, they don’t pickup.
Books, for most people, are not a necessity. They are a luxury good.
Yes. This was also true for things like gold rushes and the like–most of the people who come out richer are the people who get supplies to the prospectors, not the prospectors themselves.
Comments are closed.