Wednesday, October 7, 2009

This Is A Business

I haven't forgotten my promise to you that I'd share my profit-and-loss knowledge once I'd obtained it, so be on the lookout for that next week.

The concept of the P&L, however, as well as the slight brouhaha in the comments section of one of Nathan's posts and the post following that one have reminded me more than ever of one of the central tenets of the publishing business:

This. Is. A. Business.

I've gotten my fair share of scorn and derision (not from you, fair readers) for expressing this sentiment before, but I stand by it. If you think art and industry are irreconcilable, don't shop your book to agents or editors. If you decry the publishing industry for trying to make a buck, don't participate! I think this also touches on my main argument against self-publishing, that being: you can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want no part of the Great Big Publishing Machine, don't expect to make a ton of money. If you want to make a living as a writer (which is no small task), you're going to have to write something that's not only good from a literary/aesthetic standpoint, but also salable, and you are probably going to have to go through the publishing industry to do it.

Publishing houses aren't charities or libraries or Foundations For Ye Olde Publick Goode. They are businesses. If they don't make money, they close, and if we publishing folk don't make money, we don't eat. Sad, but true. So please keep this in mind: yes, you as a writer are practicing a form of art. Yes, it's always tricky when art and commerce get tangled up together. And publishing houses really do care about selling good, engaging, entertaining, well-written books. But they have to make money doing it, and if an agent/editor/publisher/&c doesn't think (s)he can turn a profit on your book, (s)he probably won't acquire it.

I mean, think about your current job: would you make an acquisition or other career move that you thought would bleed money everywhere? How would you justify something like that to your colleagues and superiors? And, if you're nodding along with me now and admitting that you couldn't: what makes that any different from buying a nice book that just won't sell?

17 comments:

  1. You're totally right. I don't get those "art is inviolate" type people. Not being able to accept a basic truth like this means you're not ready to play any big kid games.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nicely stated, sir.

    Some would say there is nothing more artistic than a big pile o' cash.

    ReplyDelete
  3. STOP! You're making too much sense! The self-published masses are going to freak out!

    ReplyDelete
  4. After reading the comments you linked to, all I came away with was "Someone wants to regulate the internet? and blogging? What happened to vetting sources before taking advice/paying for goods? Or developing a BSometer?"

    I've always known publishing is a business. Industry blogging is just an extension of it and, as always, caveat emptor.

    --12stargazers

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yay for working production side! I don't have to worry about buying the turds that sell, only making sure they look good on the page. My conscience is free and my check is cashed. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well said. For me, writing isn't my art, it's my trade. Sometimes I'm just banging nails and sometimes, I'm creating art. And for the past 20+ years I've been making a living from writing, which is much better than some of my "artistic" writer colleagues who in truth, write on the side while working at a "real" job such as teaching, administration or in retail.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nicely put. I never thought publishers were publishing for the sheer sake of helping poor little writers. This is America! Moola R Us.

    I love writing but I also am in it, some say foolishly, for profit. If I won the lottery manana, bye-bye publishing aspiratons. I'm off to Puerto Vallarta, to sit by my infinity pool, overlooking the Bay of Banderas, sipping margaritas, reading other people's wonderful trash, um, novels.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Yes, it's always tricky when art and commerce get tangled up together. And publishing houses really do care about selling good, engaging, entertaining, well-written books. But they have to make money doing it"

    I think, as a writer, that that's part of the conundrum as well. Do you crank out a nice story with vampires to try to cash in or do you write for you, consequences be damned? I prefer the latter, but can see the allure of the former. It would seem that our egos are tied up in being published - the ultimate validation.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love St. Martin's Press and don't expect them to be my social worker. I do my part by writing the best possible book in my power, and then letting people know that it's going to be out there.They do their part by editing well, copy-editing well, making an engaging cover, and then letting people know that it exists. A proper symbiotic relationship, right?

    It can take a long time to find an agent, to find a publisher. But turning that exasperation on publishers can end up as bitterness that may impede the goal.

    ReplyDelete
  10. THANK YOU for such a great article. This is a great point that all authors need to keep in mind. Yes, what you're doing is creative, but if you want to make it your JOB then you need to be professional and treat it as such. If a software company makes a product that no one buys and then goes out of business, does anyone lament the loss of that avant garde software? Uh. No.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hear, hear! I've heard many writers and journalists say that writing is an art and that the business of it is really no concern of theirs. The point they're missing, though, is that (the art of it aside) writing IS a business. It's just like any other art (i.e., painting, and music). If you can't be bothered going through the motions of editing, querying, marketing, etc. your work, then you probably shouldn't be in the business. Anyone can be an artist; what sets you apart is how and if you can sell it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Well said. Writing was always going to be commercial the moment people starting paying for books. Rejection slips are no more than a well intentioned risk management strategy, even though the risk is double edged. In Australia for example, JK Rowling was rejected by all but one visionary publisher.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think it was better in the pre-web2.0 days when newbs had to figure everything out for themselves without everyone else having to read about it. Not just for writing, mind oyu, but for everything. the whole web is just about watching dumbasses try to figure things out for the first time. yawn

    ReplyDelete
  14. Couldn't agree more. These agent blogs are like watching wannabe's bash their heads into a wall!

    In the old days, the market WAS the answer to newb's quesitons ("should I do this? should I do that? Does this suck, is it good?) Nowadays' the Internet reading public is subjected to the collective learning process of impatient aspirants, 99% of which will never be published. It's like watching the creation of the slush pile in real time as opposed to just reading it. yeeeeck

    ReplyDelete
  15. The best place for freelance projects is freelancing sites. Freelancing sites are the best option for part time home based business and freelance jobs. There are many types of work available at freelancing sites


    www.onlineuniversalwork.com

    ReplyDelete