[My Best Friend] : What do you mean they want you to market your own book?
[Me] : They’re cutting costs across the board. Since we now have the ability to market ourselves, they don’t feel it’s necessary.
[My Best Friend] : I feel it’s necessary that you find an alternative.
He isn’t the only one. After another polite/generic rejection letter, I have to ask myself: what the hell am I doing? I’ve spent my adult life going against the norm, yet when it comes to my single biggest investment in time and money, I’m relying on a dinosaur to pluck me out of obscurity. Stupid. Don’t believe me? Let’s do some homework.
In his article at The Huffington Post, William Petrocelli notes a two-fold demise for the publishing giants: sales are down and mass merchandisers are stronger than ever. This kind of leverage forces publishers to make more and more concessions, creating an industry increasingly dependent on what he calls, celebrity best-seller life rafts.
Now, I’ve seen this happen before… in the food industry.
An early sign that a restaurant is facing financial woes is when it shifts its focus from food to pricing. For example, I worked at a restaurant whose original concept focused on quality. People enjoyed the food as much as they did the atmosphere, and so it prospered. After some time, however, the powers that be noticed a decline in sales. Rather than (properly) attributing that decline to their preference for increasingly inferior products, they reacted by lowering their prices and introducing cheap gimmicks. The result? Negative reviews across the board and an atmosphere of transparent corporate greed. Is this the future publishers want? By clinging to so-called guaranteed sells, they’re ignoring what made them successful in the first place: encouraging new talent.
Let’s consider Mark, the up and coming author. After being rejected by multiple restaurants, he’s finally invited into one.
[Waiter]: Welcome to Dino’s, home of big, slow, and endangered cuisine. How may I help you?
[Mark]: Hi, yes. I’m celebrating today, I just finished my first book. So I’ll take the biggest, juiciest steak you have.
Reaching into his sleeve, the waiter pulls out a raw porterhouse cut and slaps it onto the table.
[Mark]: What the hell is this?
[Waiter]: We’re cutting costs. You’ll notice that your table also functions as a grill, so you can go ahead and cook it yourself, and flavor it too. In fact, we also ask that you take care of the dishes once you’re finished. You can pay for your check at the register. Thanks.
The absurdity of this situation is no different from the publishing market today, which is why it’s time to stop visiting the big chain restaurants like Dino’s and to start looking into smaller entrepeneurs, like say, SmashWords. Afraid of the stigma of vanity publishing? Don’t be! People celebrate independent films and indie music, why should print be any different? The market will determine whether or not your writing sucks, and when it does, you stand to reap the benefits. Amazon.com, for example, is now monitoring indie books’ reviews and sales, using those numbers to determine if a book is worth putting into print. Now that’s progressive! Add to that royalties of over 70%, and suddenly vanity publishing doesn’t seem so vain anymore. Lucrative, pioneering, eco-friendly, yes. Vain? OK, maybe just a little.