Publishers are not evil!

Pitching with wrong logic can be fatal to a new idea. More dangerous than the possibility of it being ignored. An ignored idea can be rekindled, but an idea that dies due to wrong positioning might be gone for good (or for quite a long time).

Self Publishing faces the same fatal danger when it is pitched as a way of getting back at the “evil” publishers who won’t publish newcomers.

Let’s get this straight. There is nothing inherently evil with traditional publishers. Thinking about the business they are in with some common sense at hand should make it obvious. But, intentionally or unintentionally, many people skip this step before pronouncing their ultimate judgment on the publishers.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that make the publishers evil

  • Because they ignore new writers
  • Because they don’t even bother to tell you whether they are looking at your manuscript or not
  • Because they make writers change their manuscripts heavily before publishing
  • Because they are morons to have rejected the manuscript of XYZ book several times, which later went on to become a best-seller. They just don’t know their job.

And now let’s look at the ground reality under which publishers operate

  • Supply of authors has increased and is constantly accelerating. As the literacy, dissemination of knowledge and the general awareness increases, the number of people who have a book in them is shooting up like crazy. Number of buyers is also increasing, but definitely not in the same proportion. More and more people are educated now. More aware too. Ability to write a book is not limited to a very few. It means that publishers are dealing with an increasingly higher number of manuscripts every day. While a lot of them would be promising, a much greater number of those would be crap. There just does not exist a practical way for them to do justice to all the manuscripts received. If they ignore you or if they don’t respond to you, its not because of some great conspiracy against you. Even with best of the intentions, they just don’t have a way to do it right for all!
  • Unless you are talking about a non-profit running on donations, publishers have to run a business that pays for itself and more. Even if a publisher stands for a certain ideology and promotes certain kinds of content, they have to make money out of it to sustain. What this means is that they have to take steps to ensure that a particular book will sell enough because they are investing a lot in preparing, printing and marketing the book. They can not run with author’s whims and fancies. They may not always be correct, but nobody ever is. All they can do is to do their best, like anyone in business will do. No computer program can reliably predict whether a book will be a success or not. Publishers can only go by their understanding which comes from the experience they have accumulated over time. If this means editorial interference in your work, then it has to be done. There is no point being egoistic about it. If someone is investing money in your work, he gets that much of right on it. And an editor may have to reject your manuscript even if as a serious reader she likes it, if she feels that it won’t be a good investment. This has to be understood. Running a business is not evil, nor is taking the business decisions.
  • Nobody can make perfect decisions. Publishers also fail. Yes – they have rejected manuscripts which have gone on to become the best-sellers of all times. Yes – many legendary writers have suffered in their initial days or even their entire life times due lack of recognition. But you know what! The same thing happens in any other business too. All the established Internet players refused to buy the technology that created the company called Google! Whatever is the industry you are familiar with, it won’t be too hard to find similar examples. Point is that any business tries to take best decisions. But there is no fool-proof way of doing that. They go by their business data, intuition and experience. These things may mislead, but that’s how it is. It does not make them evil. Its not that if a different set of people were running the publishing industry, they would not have had the misses. It may have been a different set of hits and misses with a different set of people. But there would always be both! Nothing evil behind it.

Why, you may wonder, would the blog of a company providing self publishing platform be talking so sympathetically about the traditional publishers? There are no hidden evil motives behind it 🙂 There is a very good reason why we want our users to be aware of the reality of the industry.

Self publishing, in an open way at least, is a new concept. And as mentioned earlier, if pitched wrongly it would die a premature death and be gone for good. Self publishing is not here because traditional publishing is evil. No absolutely not. That’s why we have taken the pains to clarify that there is nothing evil about traditional publishing.

Self Publishing is here because there are publishing needs beyond what traditional publishing in meant to fulfill. In our post ‘What is self publishing‘ we have mentioned some of the circumstances where self publishing works very well and the heavy-weight, investment-intensive traditional publishing won’t work. We will talk more about it in this blog in coming days. With this post, all we wanted to convey was that self-publishing as opposed to “evil” traditional publishers is not the right way to look at things.

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2 thoughts on “Publishers are not evil!

  1. Nilesh Trivedi November 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Very well said.

    In a way, you could compare publishers with record-labels and authors with bands. They have very similar business models and similar complaints. They do serve a need of the market and their role couldn’t have been played in any other way. Till now.

    Most authors (and musicians) are motivated by a need of creative expression, not by an incentive of profit. The publishers’ business model is more aligned with the latter. This misalignment is what causes dissatisfaction among the former lot and hence the complaints.

    As a consumer of art (literature, music or otherwise), at least I was pissed off at the situation in the past. I believe art should stand for its own sake and not for garnering the largest market share. A creative work should never be altered just to make it more populist or to pander to the masses – business models not withstanding.

    At the same time, I recognize that publishers are not artists themselves. They are not a charity and they are functioning in the only possible manner – considering their goals and objectives. Selling populist junk is an inevitability.

    Perhaps not “evil”, but I definitely see them both becoming redundant. Publishing and marketing both are becoming more affordable and most of the time, authors and musicians’ motivation is not to make a huge profit but only to make a creative expression. Very soon, artists will be able to publish and market their works themselves without resorting to tampering the artwork just to get “published”.

    And I will be cheering out loud, “Good riddance!”

  2. Nithya November 24, 2009 at 1:44 pm Reply

    True, each player serves a particular section of the market. The bigger ‘n’ older players following a different model needn’t necessarily be evil.

    Also, you are very right about the effects of Wrong positioning!

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