I don’t talk about the state of the publishing industry too often on this blog. I’ve had maybe three or four entries. Considering this has been going since February, that’s a pretty sparse output. I just don’t feel the need most days to criticize or comment on how things are progressing. I mean, better people maintain blogs about the publishing industry and the changes that are going on. I keep my eye on those blogs and try to stay current, but I try to maintain a divide between that side of my interest and my writing. One day I may start a website for my “publishing” company, which would cover some of this in more depth, who knows.
However…every now and then, little issues bubble up to the surface. Today it’s this post about how an author who has signed on with a major and, anticipating this and trying to help promote the book, released a collection of previously-published award-winning stories. The publisher flipped out, for lack of a better term. They essentially fired her and are now demanding their $25,000 advance back (pretty good in this day and age – $1000 are far more the norm). You can read the whole post about what the publishers are claiming and the counter-claims. That’s been talked about ad nauseum and that’s not what I’m interested in talking about here.
What I’m thinking about – and something else that I’ve picked up from some comments, is related to something that I’ve talked about here before: the lack of creativity and innovation coming out of the Big Six these days. I don’t know what sort of level of support was given for this book, market-wise, but I do know that most authors who aren’t the Stephen Kings of the world handle the bulk of their own marketing. So she was likely expected to handle a lot of things. And she went to a marketing technique that has been proven to work. Maybe not in publishing, but definitely not in other venues.
I’ve mentioned I’m a gamer, and I’ve seen this happen time and again in video games. For example, the horror series Dead Space – kind of a riff on Alien and Event Horizon. Great series, highly recommended for horror fans, but that’s beside the point. Every time they’ve released one of the major games in the series, in advance they’ve released a DVD with a related animated movie AND two smaller side games to whet consumers’ appetite for the big release. This has become a standard marketing approach in gaming and has proven to be effective.
To me, her approach here is basically the same: smaller, bite-sized stories equal to those side games, designed to whet the appetite for the big kahuna coming down the pipe. It’s not a gamble, it’s proven. But this publishing company saw it as competition. Not only that, but an agent was blind enough to back the publisher’s approach on this:
The author’s conspiracy-theory conclusion that this is about the publisher versus Amazon seems wrongheaded. If these were print books we would understand in a flash that publishing two books prior to a contracted-for work would constitute a breach of contract. These books change the picture of where the author is in her career– and give potential consumers additional buying choices. Things the publisher did not anticpate when making their offer for the novel. The author clearly changed the landscape a bit; and the publisher thought that landscape was now more hazardous…
Seriously. That logic makes no sense to me at all. Wouldn’t a publisher want a writer to raise their profile some, build an audience? I don’t know. I tried to be fair. I looked at this from a self-publishing point of view, if I had signed on another author and they did something like this. While I might want a bit of a cut of what they’d done, the fact that these stories had been previously published would mean you have no right to the cut. So instead I’d satisfy myself with the boost that it would give to the book that we’re publishing. No matter how many mental gymnastics I do, I just cannot see that collection as a threat or competition. Not in this context. In that “conspiracy theory of publisher versus Amazon”? Then it starts to make some sense, but that’s not the rationale we’ve been given, so speculation down that road is ultimately pointless.
Once you accept the publisher’s decision at face value, it just makes no sense. In the context of other decisions by the Big Six lately, that’s not such an unusual thing. There’s so much desperation to cling to the old model that if an author comes along with a new idea, they lose it. Farther, they seem to be distancing themselves more and more from eBooks when they should be embracing them.
None of these are new things. I’ve talked about them before, but I think it’s important to look at the big picture on this one. A publisher is punishing an author for helping to market the book – it would not only help the release but is proven to work in other venues. Not to mention that it seems her contract has nothing forbidding her from issuing what is basically a re-release. She’s a previously-signed author. It’s hard to believe that someone who has had dealings with the Big 6 before would willingly violate their contract. That also makes no sense.
I’m also…well, frankly, astonished by the agent’s reaction to this. For so long, I had a different idea of what agents did for writers. In general, I had an incredibly positive impression of agents even if my impression of publishers was so-so. Some of the elitism and detachment that I’ve seen regarding this has lowered my opinion of the profession in general, especially since the guy quote above is on the BOARD OF DIRECTORS of the Association of Authors Representatives and giving that opinion of his own volition, even where he’s not involved. It just doesn’t look good, and it’s not the sort of thing an industry wants to do when it’s struggling.
Alas, we continue down the path of the RIAA and the MPAA, two organizations no one should emulate. This whole debacle does make me appreciate the smaller publishers a whole lot more. Maybe one day, once I’ve become more established, I can align myself with one. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m going to be following this very closely.