Friday, November 27, 2009

The importance of publishers

I have been keeping a close eye on what is going on in the book industry, as I am sure other book stores have been doing too. I can tell you there are a lot of blog posts and news articles out there that are preaching the death of the book and publishers and how the ebook is going to open up the world for self-publishing authors.

No matter what the delivery system, publishers are important for books. Unfortunately, there has not been enough talk about the importance of publishers and the role they play.

If you have ever wondered how a "unsolicited manuscript" gets picked by the publisher to become a book you need to read a great post by The Rejectionist titled "A Good Author Is Hard to Find Memo from Inside the Publishing Industry". Here the The Rejectionist explains the term "slush pile". Anyone who's worked in publishing for longer than five minutes, likely has an expression of utter horror on their face right now. "Slush pile" is a term used to refer to the masses of unsolicited manuscripts and letters that flood the offices of agents and editors throughout the industry.
Which gets me back to a post by Arvind Narayanan Livejoural page titled The death of the printed book is closer than you think. You can read the article if you click on the title, what I wanted to share here is a reply by a blogger called descartes_rock who quite nicely explains the importance of publishers: Enjoy :)

"Wow, that is an impressive piece of research. There are a lot of problems with self-publishing though, and I doubt we will ever cut out the publishing industry altogether. The most important reason for this is the publisher's gatekeeper role. Publishers generally only print a very small fraction of the manuscripts they receive. As a result, when you buy a book supported by a publishing house, you know it has already undergone a pre-screening to ensure it meets some basic standards of quality, and more often than not, the publisher has also worked with the writer to advance the work from its original manuscript version. I know some people will say that this editing process interferes with the crative vision of the author, but I know a number of authors who will tell you differently, and who thank God for having access to a talented publishing house editor. Editors generally improve books. Bottom line, when a publisher takes a chance on a new manuscript, it provides a really high degree of legitimacy to that manuscript, which you simply cannot get from self-publishing.

Self publishing also has many other issues. In Canada, very few people read literary fiction. As it stands, the industry can only support a small number of new books each year. In other words, there is a pretty severe demand side limitation. Self publishing will increase supply, but not demand. The result is that you will have a lot of self-published books that nobody reads. For my part, there are a lot of pretty promising books that come out each year that I do not have the time to read. I would need to get through those books before I would even consider touching a self-published work. I suspect many other avid readers feel the same way.

Then the other element that enters into this situation is consumption behaviour. History suggests that as new mass media are introduced, there is a restructuring that occurs, but generally, the previous media find a new niche in the restructured environment as opposed to perishing. Everyone said radio would replace newspapers, and then they said TV would replace radio -- but today we have all three media coexisting.

I have a lot of respect for publishers. They don't make much money and it's a tough business. Mostly they are not in it to get rich. It's more a labor of love. While it's true that many writers complain about the gem manuscripts they send out that get rejected, generally these gems are not really gems at all. Publishing houses wade through a lot of crap to get to that one new manuscript that merits their attention. That's crap I don't have to go through, and I'm thankful for that. "

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