Thursday, November 02, 2006

Discussion is a Good Thing

Recently, Karen Syed of Echelon Publishing ran across the most recent post in this blog and felt the need to produce a rebuttal of sorts. I enjoyed reading her response, enough so that I felt the need to rebut back. With any luck, this might actually transform into a conversation of sorts. Without these kinds of discussions, the industry will not change.

Karen points out that there is still an investment involved in printing “a couple thousand copies of one title.” Perhaps there is. But in a world where a couple thousand copies represents both an enormous investment and extremely optimistic thinking, wouldn’t a Print on Demand option make more sense? Lulu’s prices are very reasonable and there is no reason to believe that other small publishers couldn’t make the same kinds of deals with Lightning Source.

For the individual author, however, the price of publication is still essentially free. Not free, but close enough. With the right self-publishing company, the author does not have to pay a set-up fee for the book. Next to the marketing budget, this is often the largest expense.

Still, Karen is adamant about the fact that publication is not cheap. Unfortunately, some of the examples that she uses (editing, marketing) are not what I define as publication. In order to clarify my point, I made sure to define publication very early on – in the first sentence of my original post, in fact. Karen even reprinted that line: Publishing is the printing and distribution of bound books.

Karen disagrees with this definition and actually points out that I am “confusing the issues of production and publication.” To which I ask: How can editing, proofreading and graphic design be considered “only mildly important” to production? In my world, these are not just central to production. They are production.

It takes no especial skill or effort to turn a Microsoft Word document into a printed book. This is the lesson that Publish America has taught us and is a lesson that we should pay attention to. Publication is easy. The difficult part is publishing a quality product – hence the differentiation between publication and production. All of the important parts of the job fall under the heading of production, which is still technically pre-publication. (Marketing, not so much.)

Karen also takes issue (rightly so, I might add) with my suggestion that editors could be paid a bonus percentage of sales. True, the work of an editor is entirely behind the scenes. However, my experience with photography has taught me that if someone does good work that he can be proud of, he is more likely to promote that work independently of the main marketing push. If there is an incentive for the editor to do this extra marketing (a percentage of sales, for example), more editors might be willing to promote their work. In a world where self-published material often suffers from the perception of no editorial oversight, having an editor prominently bragging about his involvement might actually be a good thing.

In the same vein, every other professional in the production chain might benefit from a similar deal. It cannot possibly hurt the author to get additional marketing exposure. This is exactly the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that the publishing industry should be exposed to and that self-publishing excels in.

When I was reading Karen’s point about authors not earning out their advances, I thought for a moment that I had made a typo. On a reread, however, I remembered that I was trying to give authors the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that there is a good chance that an author can earn out his advance. Unfortunately, that is probably over-optimistic and Karen pointed this out, making my case for me in the process.

She makes my points for me quite a bit more often as her rebuttal goes on, whether she knows it or not. It just makes me wonder if she had bothered to read the rest of my blog or just stuck with the single post. If she had, she would have probably run across my Nine Step Guide to Artistic Credibility, which makes some of the same points that she does.