As you can read from the comments below, my first blog caused only ripples in cyberspace.
COMMENTS; 1) L.P. Don't like the use of the word "digitalia", not dignified. And come on, how about another post? Instantaneous is the word around here. Answer: Okay, okay. I'm new at this stuff. 2) R.A., Wow! Answer: Is that positive or negative? 3) W.H., The dumbed-down quality of books these days may reflect the educational quality of readers in general. Answer: Yes, but we publishers have to live with that unfortunate fact. 4) R.H., loved the story about Kindle, but I can't get to your email to comment. Answer: Try this: email@example.com
I guess I must be more provocative in subsequent blogs to get you scribblers, agentos and fellow publishers to comment. You can say I’m full of it, you can say I should quit and take a long vacation. Just speak up. I need you to get on the digital bandwagon.
An independent press, such as I belong to, is first of all unlike the New York publishing houses. We are SMALL, in finances, employees and the number of titles we publish. Most of us are so-called "niche" presses and a few are like mine, Bridge Works, dedicated to quality fiction and non-fiction. None of us, even the largest Indies, has the resources of S&S or Random House, bankrolled by conglomerates. Not that they are bringing in much dough to the mother ship these days, but they do bring prestige to Bertelsmann, Holtzbrinck et al. So, how is a small press to compete? We eke out as small a living as the average writer. When I started in the business 17 years ago, I was under the impression that quality fiction and nonfiction would rise to the surface like water lilies and with the help of appropriate reviews and advertising, we would sell lots of books. Wrong. Small presses cannot compete in any sort of promotional clout with the large publishers. And promotion sells books. Small press books have been mostly ignored by reviewers of large urban papers and national magazines, and the current recession hasn't improved matters. There's even less space for book reviews. My friend and fellow publisher, Marty Shepard, who blogs at The Cockeyed Pessimist, has not only given newspaper/magazine reviewers unshirted hell for ignoring the small publisher, but has named names.
In addition, small publishers cannot give large advances (more about that queasy aspect of the industry later) and understand that if their authors get buzz, they will, after a two-book contract, move on. We expect that and are happy that we find and nurture writers who are promising but were ignored until they got to us.
Marty Shepard (see above) is positive that if the larger presses are in financial trouble and selling fewer books, that’s good for the small presses. According to him, the little guys will get more online reviews and greater notice. I frankly don’t agree about our advantage, unless we take to publishing fewer stories and more Self Help. And the small presses like ours that publish quality fiction and nonfiction like to publish GOOD STUFF which, in our lexicon, means stories that are adult without being porno, intelligent without being stuffy and very often impossible to forget.
So, how to prove to the world that small is really big??? And cool? And fabulous?
My first BIG idea shifts some of the financial burden of small publishing (editing, typesetting, proof reading, printing, distributing, marketing) onto the authors. Okay, guys and gals, don't give up your day jobs. If a writer feels that he must get published, and not by a vanity publisher (a publisher that demands full payment for producing any author's work), that she has something to say and needs a legitimate publisher, he/she must forget receiving an advance on royalties, and even the time-honored royalties themselves. In my scenario, the writer in effect becomes partners with the small publisher on his work. If a writer is selected to be published by us (and about six out of 2,000 make the cut), she will be asked to kick in an agreed-upon down payment up front. (Certain larger publishers are already experimenting with varieties of this idea, such as Dave Eggers of McSweeneys.) The publisher pays the rest of the costs. After all costs of publishing are paid, the publisher and author split profits 50/50. The lucre thrown into the pot by the author would only increase his/her connection to the publication of the work. Tough love, I know, but if you as a writer are untested and we choose you to be published, we will take the raw and tentative and, if needed, polish it up a bit, tweak the plot, strengthen the characters, and send the work out into the world professionally produced, with a cover designed to entice browsers on land and in cyberspace. And with a bit more money in the till, the small publisher could seek out more opportunities for promotion of the work.
What do you think? Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. And visit the web site of Bridge Works at bridgeworksbooks.com.