…it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me, as the saying goes. And one of my gripes about the publishing business was underlined by something I came across yesterday.
When I had my first books published one of the things that surprised me was that the publishing company didn’t seem to do much to promote it. To a certain extent I could understand it – marketing is an expensive and time-consuming business. But then, most publishers don’t actually put out that many books each year, and they do clearly spend a lot of money promoting some of their output.
(I’ll add an honourable exception here – I did eventually feel that I was very well looked after by Orion Children’s books when I was writing the Sir Gadabout books for them)
I’ve long believed that the publishing industry differs from other commercial enterprises in two significant ways. The first is one I’ve banged on about before: their lifeblood is, like other businesses that sell things, their ‘suppliers’ – yet, it is the only type of business I know where they not only don’t bother to communicate with potential suppliers (I’m talking about ‘rejection by silence’), but often actually treat them with disdain. (I once had an MS returned to me the same day I sent it, with a note saying We have carefully considered your submission… and it reminded me of a story Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told of sending an MS separately wrapped which was returned with a similar note – and he could see that the packaged MS had not been opened!)
The other difference is that publishing is the only business I know of that feels it can’t afford to market most of its products – it just puts them on the shelf and crosses its fingers.
Unless, that is, that product already sells in the millions. The logic of putting all your marketing budget into something that will sell itself anyway while leaving everything else to fend for itself, escapes me – but then I’m not a business or marketing guru.
What brought this all to mind was an article in yesterday’s Times, itself quoting The Bookseller, about the disparity between top authors and others. It said that:
- 0.1 percent of writers are responsible for 13 percent of sales
- Only 11.5 percent of British authors earn a living solely from writing compared with 40 percent a decade ago
- 40,00 writers earn less than £3,000 a year
- The most successful authors have never been richer
- The earnings of the 50 highest earners increased by 21 percent
- “Plenty of publishers will admit they spend pretty much all their marketing and publicity budget on three or four authors, even if they publish hundreds of writers.”
Let’s be clear – most of the writers who sell millions (with the exception of ‘celebrity’ authors, many of whom don’t even do the writing themselves) do so because they are very good at what they do. But is it too much to ask that publishing companies reinvest some of their blockbuster millions into promoting and building the careers of lesser known writers whom they believe in?