Monday, 30 April 2012

Publishers are in it to make money - get over it

Earth to writer: yes, publishers are in it to make money. Duh.
  1. Otherwise, how will they pay their staff and overheads? Etc.
  2. When they make money from your book, so do you.
  3. If they don't, you don't either.
  4. Therefore, if they can't make money from your book, you don't want them to take it. 
  5. Unless you actually don't care about making money.
  6. Which is fine and dandy. But you should not be surprised if a publisher does not feel the same way.
  7. So, when you are rejected by a publisher, do not moan that they are "only in it for the money". You are stating a truism.
Publishers are entitled to have beliefs about what kinds of books they can sell (which will be different for each publisher); they are entitled to take risks only when they wish to; they ought to know how many books they can cope with and of what sort; they are also entitled to make the wrong choice (in either direction). They know what they want because they know what they believe they can sell, and how. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes I also hate the decisions they make. But they are entitled to make them in their quest to cover costs and even - o frabjous day - make a profit. Which they can then use to take more risks. Or, if they don't want to take risks, they don't have to.

Agents are the same.

That is how publishing works.

And luckily, in this crazy world, every sort of publisher exists. Some big, some tiny, some bold, some not, some forward-looking and clued up, some definitely not. Some who make poor decisions and behave badly; some who utterly believe in good books and in treating authors decently. Some who do a great job of selling and others who flap around like moths, with equal effect. Some who like my books and some who like yours and some who don't. And some who even like crap.

If you want to be published by a good publisher, you have to write a book which that publisher believes he can sell enough copies of, and for which that publisher happens to have room on his list. If he doesn't have room because he has already commissioned as many as the budget allows, he would be wrong to take yours on. If the book isn't the sort he feels knowledgable about selling, or passionate about selling, he would be wrong to take it on. He needs to believe it will sell and that he can sell it.

Perhaps you are not interested in money?
But a publisher must be at least a little bit interested, as he has people and bills to pay in the quest to sell your book. He actually has a duty to be interested in money.

Understand this and get over it, dear writer. Understand the markets, understand your book, understand your readers. And if you feel you've written a book that publishers can't publish but you can (because you have vastly fewer costs than publishers), self-publish as an ebook. You may well make a useful bit of money.

But then you're not in it for money, are you?


DT said...

I look forward to being in it for the money!

Stroppy Author said...

I'm in it for the money, and I'm still poorer than I would be in almost any other job suited to my level of education and skill.

Everything Crabbit says is true. But a success does not mean a bestseller. So be in it for the money AND the love of it, because the money is pretty insecure even if you're successful. Sorry. I'll go and grumble in the corner and do my VAT return.

JO said...

How wonderfully sensible. And a great rebuff for all the writers who insist that it's only publishers' lack of insight into their wonderful words that stands between them and fame!

Katherine Langrish said...

Hear hear - and Stroppy Author is dead right, too. Having a book published is not usually the highroad to wealth. I was rapidly able to convince a class of sceptical 12 year olds of this simple fact (they thought all authors were Rowling in it) when one of the boys asked, 'What car do you drive,' and I replied, 'A Ford Fiesta.'

Anonymous said...

What? You mean there actually isn't a conspiracy of the gatekeepers to keep out all that talent?
Back in the PP days (Pre Publication) I used to think it wasn't Writer's Block that I had, it was Publisher's Block and that they were blind/stupid/misguided. Older and wiser I can only be grateful that they didn't take my outpourings then.

Great, sensible post, Nicola.

Anonymous said...

This is something new writers need to get to grips with, and they start from a position of childlike innocence. In fact, that's true of most things about writing!

However, there are reasons to be concerned at the current time, even though publishing is always apparently on its last legs.

If you are looking for a publisher, and pick up Writers and Artists Yearbook, you will find that most of the imprints lead up to one of the Big Six publishers. The mainstream print market is contracting. Like any industry, publishing is facing a tough time in the recession, so these contracted corporate organisations will follow basic business principles and invest in known products or key markets. This means existing and popular writers, or the next big thing. The business world is very risk averse and trying to get a decision to follow a new opportunity is very difficult.

On the one hand, I recently listened to someone big from Big Publishing speaking at a recent event, telling about the time they signed two unknown new writers, who went on to do well. They weren't... they were both established journalists. Safe bets, with marketable profiles.

On the other hand, the egregious example of popular market-chasing is the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon. I read the first chapter on Amazon. It is rubbish. It's attracted a fair whack of 1-star reviews, literally "love it or hate it." Gatekeepers of quality...hmmm! But, that's money for you!

Wail! Doom and Gloom! Not really. The technological developments that allow self-publishing (Lulu and Kindle) have also unleashed a generation of small presses. Some will fall by the wayside, others will trundle along serving genre markets, but you just need to look at Cargo Publishing to see what can be achieved in the face of a stagnating mainstream market. There is even a small press publisher who pledges to read *every* submission. Few (none) of these are in WAY and it is a case of Google and word-of-mouth. So there are ways to get published, with that endorsement that your work is acceptable to someone... but then the hard work starts.

Cameron said...

What? There are people that write books for money? Not just for the fun of writing and seeing their name on the cover? How bizarre.

JeffO said...

Great post. It's very easy for people to forget that the business of business is to make money. There may be other motivations in there as well, but without the money, it doesn't happen.

Sally Zigmond said...

I love it when you're crabbit. If I hear any more writers go all 'I deserve to be published' on me, I'll send them your way.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I guess the real problem - if the earnings of your average midlist author are anything to go by - is that publishers don't believe writers are in it for the money.

Laura Mary said...

Cameron I love your comment! :-) Any time I mention my ambition to 'make a living' from writing I get frowny faces and a lot of 'but don't you just do it because you love it?' Well yes, but love don't pay the rent!
Unless you're in a differnt job altogether...

Nick Green said...

Ah, but... there is still a valid complaint to be made here. There is a difference between 'being in it for the money' (they should be), and slavishly following the last commercial success story in the hope of repeating it. That I think is what most authors mean when they complain publishers are 'in it for the money' - they mean that publishers are getting so averse to taking risks that they won't consider anything that doesn't conform to their pre-existing criteria.
Now this might not be true of all publishers, or even most, but it exists. One should not confuse 'being commercial' with 'playing safe'.

Katalin Havasi said...

From the Bookseller:

'We publishing professionals are the ones who bear the risk - agents with time; publishers with investment; retailers with space. Authors risk only their whole life, self-esteem and their babies.' (- Jonny Geller, agent)

The whole article is here:

Pseudo Super mum said...

What a great blog! I've bookmarked it to my Diigo account so I can share it with our staff/student community.

Nicola Morgan said...

Nick, I disagree - I don't think that's what most writers are thinking when they say that. Sensible writers, such as you, would, because it would indeed be a valid criticism. But trust me: in my work with writers trying to become published, I over and over and over again hear them talk about not caring about sales, just being happy if even three people read their books, just wanting the joy of holding their published book regardless of whether it sells, and berating publishers for actually wanting decent sales. Profit doesn't happen without decent sales at a decent price and I think far too few people (yourself excluded) realise this. My message is purely: be business-like (without ever losing the heart of your writing).

Nicola Slade - hooray for older and wiser!!

All - thanks for your comments. I'm afraid I was floored all day by a horrendous migraine and couldn't lift head from pillow, let alone visit my blog.

Cameron said...

"just being happy if even three people read their books, just wanting the joy of holding their published book regardless of whether it sells," good point Nicola and for those happy souls there is .... Self Publishing

Nicola Morgan said...

Cameron - yup. A perfectly valid choice.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cameron - yup. A perfectly valid choice.

Joe said...

Thanks for these no nonsense pearls of wisdom. My agent has just started submitting my debut to publishers, and she made it very clear that it's not about whether they personally like it or not. It's all about where they envisage placing it on the market.

That's just how it is folks.

Ness Harbour said...

Very valid and important post. Again a post I will be sharing with my students. Thank you

catdownunder said...

I want to be published because I want a LOT of people to read what I write. If I wanted only two or three people to read it then I could give it to them myself - or put it up as a serial on my blog!
The challenge is to find someone else who believes in it...that's the hardest part - well apart from writing it!