Monday, December 16, 2013

Return to the Basics

Greg Statell wrote a great piece for Forbes magazine called HOW PUBLISHERS CAN SAVE THEMSELVES. Although, for the most part, he is speaking of the news/journalism side of things, I do believe his arguments extend well into the book publishing business. I would also argue that, while he is speaking about publishers, many authors can learn a thing or two as they consider their own business side of their writing.

I love his one of his first comments, "Ironically, the way forward isn’t technological wizardry or even innovative business models—neither of which seem to be a major factor in successful operators—but in rediscovering publishing itself." I have said this frequently here on the blog. Writers need to stop and consider what they entered the business for in the first place There was a joy and an excitement about creating characters and placing them into situations that required an artist to get them out of. I do believe that many in publishing, and this includes authors, agents and certainly the editorial side, are obsessing over the models and the distribution and potentially forgetting about the thing that is said time and time again on those editor and agent panels. When asked what we want in a story, the answer is always the same, "We want a story that is amazing." Unfortunately, it seems we have potentially lost sight of that as we obsess over the models.

When Statell also mentions the comment by Peter Drucker that "purpose of a business is to create a customer " he is also driving a point home, especially with the whole print vs. digital argument. To create a customer means that we have to give them something they want. We have to give them those exciting stories, but we also have to make those stories available to them. I am  not going to argue that we are moving to a more digital age, but let's face it. We are also living in a society that is inherently lazy and finding those digital books online is a nightmarish task. We don't have the patience to go and look for those new and innovative authors. That is why we loved those bookstores. We discovered new authors and new loves. I do believe this is why we have seen a rise in so many people watching TV (either on their computers or TV) so much. It is so much easier to just push the power button and watch then to go on a search. In other words, the publishing business is not making it easy to build the customers.

That laziness side of the public is also the factor that leads us into the idea of immediate gratification, which is also something working against those of us in publishing. We want things now! We don't want to wait for it. But, Statell does point out something that is very true, "Yet it is creative output which achieves the core mission, not fancy technology platforms or big ad deals.  Strong creative people take years to develop and it takes years more to build creative teams that can collaborate effectively. ". Yet, if we examine what those in the book publishing business are doing, we see that it is the rush for the now and not the building for the future. Publishers are sticking with their known names because they know they will sell now. Agents are looking more and more for authors that have a product that is ready now, instead of finding someone they can craft and build. And yes, I do to. I remember earlier in this business, we would find an author that had "potential" and then spend a year building that person. That opportunity is gone now.

Writers too are doing the same thing. They write a book and want to see it published now. Hearing that it might take a while to see it out there is something they don't want to hear. It is this reason we have seen such a huge influx in the self-publishing approach. They can get that book out there within a month (and shorter in some cases). What many have forgotten is that the successful authors have taken years to get to where they are today.

I do think I can go on and on about this, but I do think you can see where I am going to with this. With the start of 2014, it might be time for everyone to reconsider and rediscover publishing. This mess we have gotten ourselves into did not happen overnight and certainly will not be fixed overnight. Still, it might be an easier fix than we think"

  1. Let's write the best book out there and forget about selling it now.
  2. Let's remember our customers are readers and for all of us to succeed means we have to get the books into their hands.
  3. We have to remember that things will take time.
  4. We have to be willing to take a few risks. Let me say on this though, taking a risk does not mean taking everything. Yes, sometimes we will have to say no.
  5. We have to increase communication between all in publishing so we can produce those great products.
  6. and most importantly, we have to remember why we are in this business. We love stories and storytelling.

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