Dangerous Trends in Publishing

Karen SyedI’ve been frequenting several blogs lately (my favorite is JA Konrath’s http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/).  The topic of racism in publishing has become a much more visible hot button lately.  We know it has always been a problem, but I can’t help wondering what has made it zoom to the top of the things to worry about in the publishing industry.  I despise the whole concept of racism and prejudice of any kind, can I change it?  I will certainly keep trying, but it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. 

The topic has gotten me to thinking about some of the other things that are becoming dangerously prevalent in the industry. 

Every day, I learn something new about the industry and I am constantly faced with some new drama threatening to overload my professional and personal senses.  As a publisher, it is crucial for me to be aware of what is going on along the front lines of the industry, and it is equally important for me to know what is happening among the ranks.  Part of my education is to pay attention to what the authors in the industry are facing and to evaluate whether or not I can do anything to make a difference. 

Below are the issues I feel are becoming dangerously prevalent in the industry. 

1. Raging Racism.  There seems to be an uprising on the horizon where ethnic books and authors are concerned.  If you spend any time reading author blogs, you may have noted that someone has pushed this big colorful hot button.  Implications of racism and prejudice are flying among authors of all cultures.  Do publishers actually contract authors based on the color of their skin?  Are entire marketing strategies based on the same?  Is there some subtle form of profiling going on behind the closed doors of editors and marketing departments?  When entering a bookstore, you expect to find the books organized according to genre; mystery, romance, fiction, etc.  Merriam-Webster defines a genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”  There is no indication that this would include race or ethnicity.  So, why then, are we finding more stores segregating their “African American” authors off on their own?  Where should publishing houses draw the line in their marketing?  What role should the retailers play in this?  We’ve come to expect the nuances of racism in the media, but in the publishing industry?  It gives new meaning to judging a book by its cover. 

2. Apathetic Authors.  The author who is proud, and committed to what they are doing is quickly being replaced by the author will write whatever anyone tells them to for money.  I’m an author, I would love to make money, but I do work very hard to maintain some control over what I write.  These authors who will write anything for money are in high demand with major publishers.  They just don’t really care.  They just want to be published and make money.  Fair enough, but where does it end?  If you’ve written a book, don’t just sit around and wait for people to buy it.  How will they know you have a book if you don’t tell them? Rejoice! Celebrate! You’ve done a remarkable thing and the more people you tell with the pride glowing in your expression, the more books you will sell. 

3. Marketing Manipulation.  The marketing indicators provide data that says “this” is selling; let’s publish ten more exactly like.  Okay, that could be considered good business, if only they weren’t limiting the market.  If ten authors write ten books and they are all the same story with the same stale characters and drab setting, what makes them sell?  Jacket blurbs.  Marketing departments have learned the fine art of manipulating the back cover text to portray a fresh twist or new exotic location.  You read, you are hooked, you buy.  You just bought into the manipulation.  You’ve been had.  It goes back to the author.  Give us that twist, don’t make us fork over $10 – $20 and then realize we just read this story by last month’s author.  Think creative.  Give the marketing department something to get excited about, so they can give readers something to get excited about. 

4. Failing Fans.  Where are the fans that used to love attending weekend book events?  What has happened to the idea of going out and meeting your favorite author at your favorite bookstore?  Again, the authors.  Now some may argue that the book signing has fallen by the wayside because booksellers won’t set them up.  I say, phooey.  If a bookseller won’t take you up on your offer to make them money, then you haven’t done your job.  What is the first thing you learn when you begin writing?  You’ve got to have a hook!  Same thing goes with events.  The bookseller has to feel your enthusiasm or they won’t get enthusiastic.  Don’t offer to go sit at a table and sign books.  Offer to charm their customers, hell, offer to bring them customers.  So many independent bookstores are fighting to get the consumers out of the chains and back in their little stores.  They would be thrilled if you offered to bring them 1oo people on a lonely Saturday afternoon.  You’ve obviously got something to offer.  Put the readers back into the equation.  They are why we are here. 

5. Publishing Pirates.  For all that is right with the industry, so much more is wrong.  What do you want from a publisher?  What do you need from a publisher?  Why should you even give this any thought?  These are the same questions we ask about authors.  We want enthusiasm.  We need commitment.  For five years I have been arguing the fact that Echelon Press is a legitimate publisher.  There are those who will argue that because we pay small advances or that we used to utilize POD to print our titles made us less credible.  I have given up fighting these people.  I know what my company stands for and what we strive to accomplish.  We don’t do it alone.  We work side by side with our authors.  There are those who say we are not as good as the New York publishers, not true, we are simply smaller.  Unfortunately, there are those who are out to scavenge whatever they can from unsuspecting or uneducated authors.  They prey on those so desperate to see their work published that they will pay any price or make nay deal.  Do not fall into this trap.  The time to begin researching potential markets and publishers was the day you decided to write for publication.  Take pride in what you have to offer, and don’t let anyone snatch it away from you for a song and a dance.  Chances are you won’t get a goodnight kiss when the music ends.

Author’s Note: This was originally posted 2/2006, but the same problems still linger in the industry

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