Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Before I begin (yet again), a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate Publisher for Renaissance E Books.
Now, with that out of the way (one more time)...
Wanna hear something scary? The build-up might be a bit slow but, believe me, the punch line is more than worth it.
It begins like this: I'm in the middle of my all-time favorite part of writing – publicity and marketing (and, yes, that was sarcastic) – of a new book of mine called Stroke The Fire: The Best Manlove Fiction Of M.Christian, which is basically my own personal best-of-my-very-best queer erotica, and I'm doing one of those round-robin guest blog things and a question comes up, "How long did it take you to write the first draft?"
Well, without going into the silly details of how I work I answered that, since the book is made up of stories I've written since I first started writing, technically the book was started in 1994.
Got that? Well, here it comes: that basically means that the book was 18 years in the making ... now that is a terrifying thought.
What this has to do with this Streetwalker is that it got me thinking a lot more about publishers and publishing – and, believe me, after (sigh) 18 years I've had more than my fair share of them. That, plus the wonderful comments I got on my previous installment, really got my wheels turning.
One of the big revelations I had as my wheels cranked was to agree with many of the comments my first publisher Streetwalker got: a publisher should, naturally, be considered on the quality of its materials and presence. After all, if a publisher is sloppy with its contracts and site and so forth that doesn't bode well.
But I also have to say that a misspelling here or there shouldn't necessarily be enough to make a writer walk away: typos, do, after all, happen to the best of us. Some have suggested doing research on a publisher before signing and while that may, on the surface, be a good idea I can't help but think of all the great books, films, etc., that have gotten petty, spiteful and – let's use the word – stupid comments on places like Amazon, Netflix, and all the rest.
An excellent reason to use the word stupid, by the way, is that the world of writing, editing, and publishing is extremely small and it is far too common for a person to jump from one publisher to another – so venting bile at one target may, actually, hit a lot of targets ... and too often targets that you might not want to have hit sometime in the future.
So reviews are not a good judge of a publisher – though I do think chatting with other writers who may have worked with a publisher is a good idea, if just so you know what to expect – what really does make a good publisher?
A very common mistake a lot of writers make is that they feel a publisher should be a writer's best friend. That's not to say that that a publisher shouldn't be supportive and enthusiastic about their authors – that's actually extremely important – but just that there is a big difference between being someone being a friend and suggesting that you swim in shark infested waters. A good publisher should be encouraging but also have the experience and business sense to know what is good for their writers – and so be able to tell them things like: "We love it. We think it's wonderfully literary. We want it. But don't expect it to sell a lot of copies."
I've said it before but those cranking cogs have brought up how important it is that a publisher, beyond anything else, is a business – and the business, so to speak, of any business is to make money ... not just for the company itself but to be able to pass along that success to its authors as well as allow it to grow through things like expanded marketing and advertising. By the same logic, a bad publisher is one that doesn't take responsibility for a book's failure: after 18 years I still have nightmares about giving a publisher exactly what they wanted – only to have the book bomb – and my craft being blamed for its failure. A mature and professional publisher understands that while they may know a lot there is still a universe of things that can happen – good or bad – to a book, and that tossing away an author only shows insecurity and irresponsibility. A good publisher should be there to pat a writer on the back when things go wrong and tell them to keep working. That's not being a best buddy: that's just understanding that writers are resources -- and that keeping a resource is simply good for business.
The ebook revolution -- no duh -- has changed everything, but it's sad that a lot of publishers out there haven't changed the way they operate: they put pressure on writers like every book could be their last – when the financial risks and stress are now considerably less; they focus on trying to make one book a best seller – when a single title is far less important than having a good quantity (and quality) of books so when one sells they call do; they are pathologically addicted so social media to the point where the writer ends up spending more time tweeting than writing – when it's clear than while social media is important it is not the only way a book achieves success ... and that, once again, sometimes it all the social media in the world won't do squat.
A good publisher understands and encourages their authors to do marketing – but never at the cost of writing the next book. Readers, after all, can only buy a book once: so putting a few royalty eggs in one very small basket makes no sense – far better to put a few royalty eggs in a lot of very small baskets.
18 years ... it makes my blood run cold but I hope what's come out of all this time are some pretty good stories, a few book books, more than a few scars -- and what I hope may be a certain degree of wisdom.
Part of being a writer – especially a professional one -- is being able to grow and learn. Who knows where you may be in 18 years but I hope that my reflections here and in other Streetwalkers may make your own journey a bit smoother.