Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mistakes the Publishing Industry Has Made in Recent Years

1. Assuming for way too long that e-books wouldn't catch on. Then, assuming that they were like paperbacks, charging way too little for them, instead of thinking of them as something that might eventually replace hardcovers and acting accordingly.

2. Forgetting that they have always catered to a tiny market and trying to expand their market in ridiculous ways. Readers are rarities. Publishers have forgotten about us in their greedy efforts to make more money and have tried, unsuccessfully and at great expense, to do things like create hybrid print and digital books in order to cater to nonreaders. People came up with the damnest ideas: "Let's have web sites associated with our books." This is a better idea with the advent of the tablet, but really, back in 2005, did any reader want to get up from a cozy seat by the fire to have to go boot up the computer and look up something on some book's associated web page? I hate print books that refer me to web sites. Or how about: "Let's let the reader create his or her own ending." If I want to create my own ending, I'll write my own beginning as well, thank you. Finally, there's "Let's create series in which readers get a cliff hanger at the end of a book." Cliff hangers are fine for weekly T.V. shows. They're a horrible idea when one has to wait 2 or 3 years for the next book to be published (and they create shoddy writing, because the pressure is just to get the book out, no matter how badly written it might be).

3. Ignoring the midlist. Do I even need to elaborate here? I'll just say that the publishing industry seems to have adopted the mentality of a fifteen-year-old basketball player who thinks he's going to be the next Michael Jordan without having to practice at all, and he's basing all his potential future wealth on this assumption.

4. Putting "book club guides" in the backs of books that feature the sorts of questions that made life-long readers like me hate English classes when they were in high school. It might come as a shock to publishing consultants (do they ever talk to real readers?), but those of us who love to read enough to have formed a book club in order to discuss books with others who also love to read, are quite capable of coming up with our own -- far better and more insightful -- topics for discussion.

5. Speaking of consultants: cutting staff and paying authors less money in order to hire consultants who come up with brilliant ideas for "branding" the company. Books aren't soda or cars or jeans. Readers don't find one brand and stick with it. The authors are the brands. Have you ever heard anyone ask, "Did you read the latest from Random House?" Of course not. And ask your average reader who publishes his or her favorite author. My guess is the reader quite likely won't know. Forget branding the company. Pay the authors to stick around. And keep the editors they love to work with, so there's the possibility they might stick around even when other publishers offer them more money.

6. Hiring CEOs from other industries who aren't biblioholics. What happened to the days of publishing CEOs who could read, write, and run publishing companies? Those are the people who know a little something about their market, and knowing your market is more than half the battle when it comes to staying alive.

7. Worrying more about profit than giving your audience what it wants. I want a good book to read. I want it to be well-written. I want evidence that it's been edited and proofread. In other words, I don't want to read some unoriginal, newest fad based on someone else's odd, once-in-a-lifetime success (wizards! vampires! wizards in love with vampires!) that some unknown author has rushed off in six months. I don't want a book that is chock full of awkward, run-on sentences and typos, just because you, Mr. Publisher, have decided to cut your staff and have shipped all production functions overseas. You know what that sort of book does? It leads me to buy used books, written back when plots were original, and copyeditors and proofreaders were people you, (again) Mr. Publisher, might actually have known, people who possibly even had on-site, full-time jobs inside your building. Losing sales from the likes of me hurts profits, too, you know.

Anyone want to add some more mistakes to the list? I'd be happy to hear them. Meanwhile, I'm heading back to continue reading Pushkin Press's wonderful book The Break, which has an original plot and not a single typo so far (despite being a translation). Thank God for small, independent presses!


Stefanie said...

You go Emily! spot on. I'd add the mistaken belief that Americans don't/won't read books in translation.

litlove said...

I completely agree with you. There's an anecdote that always sticks in my mind about the consultant who cost a publishing company thousands of pounds and who came up with the foolproof formula for success: only publish bestsellers.

I don't even know where to begin with that.

gollygee said...