Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why Traditional Publishing Is Having Problems Defending Itself

Considering what we call "traditional publishing" has been around for roughly seventy-five years, you would think they would know what they bring to the business table. If folks in the publishing houses do know, they are having a very difficult time articulating those points.

The first major problem is how publishers and editors regard writers. They say they treasure writers, but in reality, they view us as needy, whiny pains-in-the-ass. Even Kris Rusch mentioned writers who go into hysterics over changing a comma, and she's an author so she's very much PRO writer.

Another example is a discussion over at The Passive Voice when a Kensington author anonymously mentioned that her editor didn't edit her books. Rather than checking out the writer's story, publisher Steven Zacharius castigated Anonymice on the public blog, which kind of proved why this writer didn't go to him in the first place.

This brings me directly to one of the major services publishers claim they provide--editing.

Barry Harbaugh, an editor at HarperCollins, was trying to refute an essay by Andrew Martin in The New Yorker that talked about MFA vs. NYC. He really stepped into steaming pile when he insisted that editors do edit, but added that he only edited about fifty to one hundred pages a week. Of course, it's all Amazon's fault that editors get a bad rap.

I'll give Barry credit that he does do some editing, but the amount?

Excuse me? The night before I saw Barry's piece, I had edited a fifteen-page short story that I'm about to submit and twenty pages of novel prior to posting the sample online. All of this was done the forty minutes while I ordered and ate dinner at a local Mexican restaurant because I needed to get out of the house and away from Alter Ego's current wip.

Many more trad authors are coming out of the woodwork and talking about no editing, or even worse, abusive editors. In the same link to Kris Rusch's blog above, she talks about an editor who was downright psychotic and gives good advice for dealing with difficult people in the industry.

So what about cover art?

This is the notorious cover for Barry Eisler's book, Fault Line, issued by the French trad publisher. All cultural differences aside, does this look like an international, jet-setting thriller?

And if the writer gets a bad cover, can they do anything about it? Generally, no. The publisher complains about the cost (if the writer is lucky), or simply ignores you.

Not too many writers can turn a bad cover into a plus, but Christina Dodd did. Go ahead. Count how many hands the lady on the cover has. Dodd used the screw-up as a marketing gimmick. But a bad trad cover can't always be changed into gold so easily.

One of fabulous pluses as an indie is the ability to change your cover on a moment's notice. Like when several retailers decide out of the blue that your erotica covers are too risque. *wink*

Another factor is that the writer is blamed for the editing and the cover art, not the publisher, because it's the writer's name on the book.

The publisher doesn't care. There's a million writers banging on their doors, so they'll chuck the one that complains and grab another serf writer at the gates.

So what about promotion, publicity, and marketing by the publishing company? These should be the publishers' biggest strengths, right?

Fuhgeddaboudit! Seriously. Nearly every mid-list writer I personally know who signed a contract within the last ten years spent their entire trad pub advance on getting word out about their books. And with advances getting smaller and smaller and costs rising, that means more money out of a writer's pocket.

Even worse, trad publishers seem to have no marketing savvy in today's world (though they will command the writer to participate in every social media known to humankind).One of the selling points they brought to the table when they tried to woo H.M. Ward was their 2K e-mail list. Ms. Ward has a much bigger e-mail list already. MUCH bigger.

And heaven forbid if you ask the trade publisher to put specific marketing efforts in the contract!

These are the three big things that trad publishers could bring to the table for writers, but they refuse to do so. Here's the thing--it really wouldn't cost them a lot to do even one of these three. Do it cheap. Do it right.

Because indie writers are doing it every freakin' day!

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