This week I was informed by yet another writer that he’s being dropped by his publisher.
In every single case, it has never been a matter of the writer not earning-out — that’s industry-ese for making a profit — it’s always been a matter of the writer not making “enough” money.
What the hell is “enough” money, exactly?
Publishers love to whine about how they have to — allegedly! — prostitute themselves by publishing shallow and crappy books that are the equivalent to spectacular Hollywood blockbuster films.
They whine about how spreading their legs like that allows them to do what they’d really rather — allegedly! — do: publish real writers. The (potentially!) big-selling crap, they say, subsidizes all the real writers whose books don’t make any money.
And yet here is one publisher dropping such a real writer.
And that writer is making them money.
Just not “enough” money.
So what the hell is really going on here?
None of these are beginner writers, either. They have each had more than five books published. All of which earned out and made profits.
So what the hell is really going on here?
I think I know.
Print publishing has given up.
It’s doing a silent surrender, sloughing off writers and books, while attempting to parasitically hold onto a writer’s property as a long-term bet. (None of the writers have been granted rights reversions.)
Unable — unwilling! — to adapt to the digital future, behind the scenes the upper echelons are planning for a day when they will do some massive layoffs, shrinking considerably from their present size.
Somewhere out there is a mad bastard of a consultant who has hammered home to them the Hollywood Model.
The sales pitch probably went something like this: “Look at the movie studios. How many films do they put out a year? That is your future too. You concentrate your limited resources on a core set of blockbuster bets — and when you see something someone else has done, you do what today’s studios do — you do what they call a “pickup.” You license the rights. And you can get them for a song. The downside is small with a big upside for you.”
The trouble with this is that it’s inevitably doomed to failure.
What such a shyster consultant leaves out is the massive money spent by Hollywood on marketing, marketing, marketing. And not only that, movies have stars.
In the book world, the writer is the star. And the director. And the … writer.
And a self-published writer doesn’t need a publisher to come along later for any “pickup.”
Books aren’t like movies, where large corporations have a stranglehold on distribution and viewing outlets.
Hell, in extremis, a writer can turn to Smashwords — which can get a book into the Sony eBook Store, the Apple iBookstore, and even the Kindle Store.
And when that writer’s solitary hard work has struck gold, why the hell would he want to share it with someone who hates writers? With someone who, in fact, either rejected or dropped him?
Until recently, book publishing did not pimp writers. It pimped books.
It was probably Stephen King who was the first writer to be pushed as a brand name (hence his reason for writing under a pseudonym).
Now we’ve seen it with Clancy, Grisham, and the AntiChrist of writing, James Patterson.
Hell, even J.K. Rowling wasn’t pimped as J.K. Rowling. It was Harry Potter that was the brand.
Still, that’s a lot of power to invest in a few “blockbuster” hands.
And the marketing of these branded people is nothing like the money spent on movies. A blockbuster’s marketing budget can approach half of the movie’s budget itself. Try that with a blockbuster book and you wind up with something that’d be a rounding error for a movie’s marketing budget.
The entire scheme rests on nothing. It’s all a Sethworld-like delusion.
It’s nothing more than a cheap appeal to the vanity of Suits who measure output solely by money without any regard for the thing that produces that money.
Let me make something clear for those who seem to have missed the damned point of some of my past posts. When I said publishers are information engines, that was stripping them down to their naked function, to get to the heart of things. Technologists in publishing should be a handmaiden to — not the overlords of — print publishing.
Because publishing is about publishing, dammit, not discrete and contextless information. It’s about stories. As I said once before: Books sell dreams.
A book is not a damned Google search result. It’s the information behind that search result.
And for that matter, print publishers, do you ever see Google saying, “No, we won’t crawl your site for our search engine because you never got ‘enough’ hits”? Google understands that more equals more. It understands the economics of crowds.
A book is not a movie, either.
And a digital book is not a movie, either.
Print publishing needs writers. It needs every single writer whose books have turned a profit, no matter whether or not it’s deemed “enough” profit.
You editors who are being instructed to drop writers, I’ve got news for you: you’re being asked to slowly slit your own throats.
Fight back, dammit, before your job is dropped next!