Don’t leave your publisher
if you’re in love with him/her.
Snarkiness aside, I’ve written before about the importance of publishers (or broadcasters, or record labels) as filters: how in a world where anyone can publish a book, we’re more likely than ever to be drawn to titles put out by recognised publishing houses. We simply don’t have time to sift through the millions of options available to us, so a good first filter will be titles we know have been edited by professionals, which a major publishing house has deemed of sufficient quality to warrant making a financial investment. Those of us lucky enough to have a W&N or Harper Collins or Portfolio logo on our title page will automatically hop to the front of the attention queue, both in terms of end readers and the still-very-important book reviewers.
There’s a second – arguably even more important – benefit to the professional-publisher-as-filter principle: authors of professionally published books instantly have more credibility when it comes to securing lucrative speaking engagements, journalism gigs and a whole host of other money-spinners for which knowledgable talking heads command top dollar. Compare the number of professionally published authors you see opining in print and on television (or on stage) with the number of ebook-only authors you find in the same locations. Exactly. In a world where we’re being constantly told that piracy will kill sales and that authors, musicians and the rest will have to rely on live gigs – these bookings become even more critical.
For most authors, though, building up an audience – creating viral campaigns, building up word of mouth, arranging book tours, book radio and TV appearances – falls outside their core skill-set. They need whatever marketing and sales support a professional publishing house can offer. After all, there is only a certain number of times that authors can get attention by writing an article about how they’re – gasp! – abandoning publishing (the exception to this rule is Cory Doctorow for whom the physics of attention don’t apply). It’s a testimony to Godin’s genius that he’s now pulled the same stunt twice – the first being back in 2000, when he announced he was abandoning traditional publishing and instead self-publishing his book ‘Unleashing the Idea Virus” on Amazon.com and BN.com. A short while later, he changed his mind: the paperback was published by Hyperion. Maybe this time he really means it.
For all of the reasons above, there are really only two types of person for whom it makes a jot of sense to tear up their book deal and abandon the professionalism, billion-dollar print market, and immeasurable cachet of traditional publishing. The first is highly skilled self-promoter likes Godin who have successfully identified their entire (niche) audience and who know they will only ever sell a certain number of copies of their books to that same audience. Marketers like Godin tend to make the bulk of their money with speaking gigs anyway – books are just a throwaway promotional tool, full of ideas that even they admit will be out of date by this time next week. Might as well take the money and keep running.
The second type of person is more tragic: authors who, for whatever reason, fear they’re about to be dumped by their publisher (or at best paid a tiny advance for their next book) and who want to save face by using innovation as an excuse. Of course I’m not suggesting for one moment Mr Connolly falls into the category. But, well, I’ll just quote from his Guardian article…
As for me, right now, I feel fortunate to be in neither of those camps, and so there’s no way on earth I’m going to abandon traditional publishing. Did I mention that I love my publisher?