Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: The Face of the Industry

In a follow-up to yesterday's post, I feel obligated to mention this snarky article in The Atlantic detailing what, exactly, the breakdown behind a book's overhead costs looks like. Suffice it to say, Michael Kinsley is incorrect; he has allocated far too little money towards alcohol.

All joking aside, author-acquaintances, I do sometimes wonder whether the public perception of publishing is that the average industry professional does nothing but chomp cigars, swill martinis, and go to fancy parties on the house's dollar. While this may be true of certain individuals and may have been the case in the past, I don't think it really applies to the industry today, especially given the recession and the cutbacks that have been necessary to keep many an operation afloat. We're not exactly giving out million-dollar bonuses over here.

Therefore! Prithee, inform me, gentle readers: do you think publishing professionals are viewed as entitled, possibly wasteful elitists by The Average Jo(sephin)e? Or are we recognized as the dedicated, oft-underpaid champions of literature we generally are?


  1. Eric -

    I don't view publishing professionals or their businesses in this light. This attitude is owed more to my understanding of business in general than any insight I have into the publishing world.

    I think what we may be seeing here is the dripping of populist anger over the "theys" of the world. What began with the largest firms on Wall Street, the blame for our current economic conditions is finding its way down the capitalist totem (water always finds the lowest point).

    Yesterday was Wall Street and the Insurance companies, today is Publishing and other big business. Tomorrow may find us railing against those hated small businesses that determine their own profit and don't pay their employees enough in wages or benefits.

    One can't make the case against another and not expect it to be used against them.

    When does it end? Until society collectively understands that without profit we won't have all the material things we love and cherish and in the quantities we want them, it won't.

  2. I thought this was hysterical. Looks like if I ever become a published author, I'll also need to start drinking.

  3. The article is snarky and prone to be dismissed by anyone looking for an unbiased opinion. And while it's an exaggeration of publishing, it is not entirely off.

    The slave-labor like conditions in publishing editorial and sales departments are alleviated on a yearly basis by the boondoggle that is the yearly sales meeting (or whatever the particular company calls it). Sales managers, publishers, editors, and associates leave the assistants (who do the heavy lifting anyway) at home and fly off to some place to talk about strategy and drink for a week straight.

    One publisher I worked for always had their meeting at exotic locales: Barcelona, Mexico City, etc. For those not on the short list, you spent the year thinking of a reason as to why you needed to be invited. A five minute presentation or some ridiculous thing that would let you put your company credit card through its paces.

    Combine this with regional sales managers and their expense accounts and the high visibility of uber-successful authors that make millions of dollars (usually from movie deals and merchandising, not that anyone notices) and of course the public perception is that publishing is Scrooge McDuck swimming through a mountain of gold coins. They don't see the twenty-something editorial assistants that make 25k a year and do more work than two executive editors combined.

    Put this public persona up against John Sargent crying about how hard Macmillan has it, and they look like crocodile tears.

  4. I don't think the public spends much time thinking about it, in all honesty. Just people in the industry or trying to publish. Oddly enough, I don't think anybody else cares.

  5. I'm a member of the public, as well as a librarian, and I think about this some. No, I don't see publishers as excessive. I see them as backward, isolated, and not necessarily very good at their jobs when it comes to choosing material to publish. *Good editors* walk on water. But publishers are those people who passed on Grisham, but bought... well, browse the remainders next time you're at B & N. I'm not a big Grisham fan by any means, but the dude has turned out to be 'bankable', and his writing so entirely doesn't suck (at least for that one book I heard part of in audio on a roadtrip in 1994, it didn't), that I'm left scratching my head. This makes me think that publishers are not necessarily better at choosing what to publish than that total stranger who was sitting opposite me on the train this morning would be. It also makes me wonder how many truly brilliant authors remain invisible because the jacket blurb isn't obvious, or it can't be imagined into a hot genre by the end of the opening sentence.

  6. I think it depends :).

    For example, if you are outside of the industry and have never tried to get published, you may see the martini-swilling, cigar-chomping image.

    If you've done any research or chatted w/ anyone in the industry, though, you know about the under paid, champion stuff, and love dudes like you for it! Also, sushi. There is lots of sushi-eating.

    The booze part is all true, though ;). Thankfully, most authors love whiskies as much as any industry professional.

  7. Before I started fiction writing and checking out the industry blogs, I had this picture of genteel, tweedy men, smoking pipes, half glasses, reading piles of mss. Maybe a couple of three-piece-suited Max Perkins types in the mix.

    A benevolent bunch, who yes, slugged down the bourbon on the rocks, but never got crudely drunk. Too well-bred for that. And they instantly knew a bestseller when they saw it. A magic circle.

    Now that I've started reading the industry blogs, I have no idea what to think. It looks as if no one reads mss except agents. The industry appears to be in utter chaos, but it's understandable as technology is forcing change on it. On the stock exchange, I vaguely recall, a lot of the big houses appear to be owned by a German company.

    I think the tweeds and glasses might have been a bit of romanticizing on my part.

  8. Elitist. Unfortunately. We are the snobs of the universe.

  9. I believe 1.05 is more than I received for my author tour. Where did I go wrong?

  10. Well, I took a course in chomping cigars, swilling martinis, and going to fancy parties. On job interviews nobody even looked at my certificate, and after my first few puffs they told me to stop stinking up their office. I'm forced to conclude these skills are now undervalued. We've all heard the publishing industry is in trouble. Coincidence? I think not.