Do you remember the story about David and Goliath? The publishing industry is a bit like Goliath in that it is big, slow, dominant and runs the show, all the time. Authors are like David but without the slingshot.
It is not personal
Would-be authors could save themselves a lot of heartaches if they were to take on board from the beginning that publishing is only about money. If you happen to have something that will make them money, then they are interested. If you don’t, then it’s not personal but there is no reason for them to do business with you.
From a publisher’ perspective, this is totally reasonable because publishers are companies. But authors are people, and this existential difference causes a problem
Goliath in transition
There are small changes afoot. Authors are realizing that they can retain creative control – have made valiant attempts to do so and self-published. Some have even been successful, right to the point where they get approached and become a pop-culture touchstone.
Publishing houses have woken up to the idea that digital printing has shifted the balance slightly. E-books now represent as much as 20% of a big publisher’s revenue and so all aspects of the publishing business are now subject to investigation.
The need for cultural relevance
The biggest worry is that the world will pass the publishing house by. If they are not creating things that people want to read, there is no longer any need for them. It sounds dramatic, but now anyone can publish what relevance does a publisher really have?
They do know how to publish a book
Which sort of brings us back full circle. The people who know how to publish a book are the publishing houses. With the weight of a publishing house behind a book, an author can go from pipe-dreamer to J.K. Rowling faster than you can say Hogwarts.
If experience and the money to back a project have any relevance at all, a publishing house just has to reassess its methodology not its specialist skills.
When the stakes are high, the publisher carries the risk
The risk for a publishing house has always been high. They bear the costs of paper, printing, of marketing. They may have to provide huge advances for books which don’t exist and are riding on the hope that the next one will be as good as the last. The ensuing losses on even an average performer by a best-selling author can be considerable. For every top-selling author, there’s a stable of also-rans whose job is to offset the risks. At least that is their job in the mind of the publisher.
The market is still settling down. At this point, things are far from clear and for all the sabre rattling between publisher and reseller, they still need each other. But these are companies. When it comes to people, there’s only the author and the reader who matter.