Saturday, September 11, 2010

Okay, Here's Your Chance!

One moment some time ago, after a particularly interesting encounter at the day job, I remembered thinking, "If I ran a publishing company like this one, it'd be truly author-friendly. They'd all tell me that couldn't be done, but I'd like for us to at least try."

And then I started thinking...what if I did run a publishing company?
What would it be like?

If I ran a publishing company...I wouldn't start it until I could pay everyone market-rate, fair advances against royalties. Yes, I know publishing companies are running away from that like an attack of paper wasps. Tough. It's the right thing to do. Publishers should do this. The advances don't have to be huge, but they ought to be there. An old sage once said, "Anything you get for free is usually worth every cent," and they're right. If you're not risking at least a nominal sum on the book up front, you're less likely to do anything to make money back. This isn't an insult; it's human nature, and it's a fact.

Yes, I know it costs money to produce a book in the first place. But that's why you're not starting your business until you can treat it like a business and respect the author's contribution. It cost the author to produce that work, too. In terms of creative ideas, discipline, equipment, no doubt more than a few tears, moments sacrificed with family and friends, and hours of sleep...and sometimes, a whole lot of self-esteem. Those contributions are not valueless; they should be honored accordingly. 

If I ran a publishing company...I'd love agents, because I'd consider we were on the same side. Heck, in reality--we are. If my company doesn't make money, neither does the agent, and neither does the author. So I'd do my best to work with agents, rather than considering every single person wearing the "a" tag to be, by definition, an adversary, as some companies inadvertently--or deliberately--seem to do.

If I ran a publishing company...everybody would be subjected to editing. I don't care if your last name is Roberts, King, Clark, Meyer, Rowling, or whomever is the latest "flavor of the month" and publisher's darling. You're still going to have an editor, and you're going to listen to what she says.

For all the talking some authors do about how "We're all just learning the craft, none of us is perfect, a good editor's worth her weight in gold, yatta, yatta, yatta..." we all know differently, because we've seen it in their books. No, you don't get away with writing a good book only every second or third or fifth time out of the chute--unless you're willing to give the other books away or take diminished royalties for them not being as good. And no, you do not have the right to subtly threaten that editor "under the table" when she suggests changes to your deathless prose or throw hissy fits during the process. Be a professional, like you expect the rest of us to be. Everyone, no matter their level of artistic achievement, can develop bad habits and/or complacency. A good editor won't let you get away with it, and you'll be the better for her cracking the whip.

If I ran a publishing company, there'd be no such thing as "superstar" authors who can't write a lick. If you get a ghostwriter, her name's on the cover "as told to," or "with," or you go somewhere else. If you can't write your way out of a paper bag, don't lie to your public and pretend you can. Chances are the thing that got you to celebrity status in the first place had a lot to do with pretending, smoke, mirrors, airbrushing, or a really good sound man. In the case of "your" book, that buck's gonna stop here. And yes, I'll lose some celebrity authors that way--maybe. Or maybe that'll just impress the socks off the ones who really matter, and they'll be glad to share the glory with someone who helps them shine.

Want more of these? I've probably got a million of 'em. But I'll bet you do, too. So..

Tell me. If you ran a publishing company, what would it be like?
Don't worry. The sky's the limit here. We're painting the picture we'd like to see, not what we think is possible. This is the publishing company of your dreams...Have at it!


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