Friday, January 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Publishing Industry

I'm newbie writer, but I've been thinking about this industry called publishing lately. It seems so antiquated after I've worked in technology for so long.
  1. Most publishers require you to USPS mail them your work.
  2. They also ask that you enclose an SASE.
  3. They often state that response times are 3-6 months.
  4. Many state to specifically AVOID sending them anything via email... even a query.
Snore. Most of the burden is placed on the writer. Perhaps, the process is intentionally cumbersome so that it wards off those that aren't very serious about it. On the other side of the coin, maybe there just aren't enough people to read articles and manuscripts on the publishers end, so they need to bottleneck to stay somewhat up to speed.

Where's the equivalent of the writer's market for the publisher? Why don't we simply log our work into the database, with the ability to push the piece to a handful of publishers or browse the requests that they have for pieces to be written? It's like we really need a Craigslist for writers and publishers... or an eBay... bringing buyers and sellers together... writers' circles to assist with editing... reputation ratings that work like digg, where the best articles in a genre bubble to the top where they can be auctioned off to the highest bidder?

Let's go people!

3 comments:

Doc said...

hang in there: what you describe has been the standard for so long that the industry is slower to change than others...but it WILL change.

MattKP said...

This is a great idea, but why bother with the publisher at that point? Like if you have a database of available manuscripts, why not just allow them to be purchased directly by consumers? (I think this is sort of what lulu.com is)

The problem though is that the publishing industry is a buyer's market weighted heavily toward the publisher. They don't need any more manuscripts, so making the process easier for writers to carpet bomb the publishers is (I'm guessing) the last thing they want. Literary agencies act in a way as middle-people culling from the 'minor leagues' - magazines, lit journals, etc. - so in a sense what you're describing already exists, just not in one 'writer hub', but I think there's a reason for this since publishers don't really need to find manuscripts - there are way more publishable manuscripts out there than slots for published books. The publishing industry, though, has much bigger things to worry about than finding books to publish in that it's become very hard for them to make any money on books. I think there are many, many reasons why this is true, but according to a NY Times article I read recently (can't find the link!) a big problem is the blockbuster mentality in big publishing coupled with used book sales on Amazon - huge sellers that used to make up for all the clunkers now don't make money because those books can be purchased on Amazon used for a buck or less within weeks of release. The blockbuster mentality, too, with huge advances based on projected sales (that often don't come to fruition) are also hurting. I think the answer is to go back to a mid-list mentality - publish more books, lower advances, smaller print-runs, but NY publishing is no longer set up to run this way. It's a sinking ship!

Check this out:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1873122,00.html

bigBADbobby said...

Good stuff, MattKP. Thank you.

I, personally, don't think that consumers will pay per manuscript... of course, that depends on what type of pieces we're talking about, articles or books. We are beginning to see more use of the Kindle device. But, we've also seen the online pay-per-Times-access model didn't work.

There is still something about a book... new or used... holding it in my hand and smelling the pages... having it on the shelf... giving it to a friend... those are wonderful things in my world.

What I suggest is that by user-rated manuscripts, you actually cut out the cost of the agency. Participating individuals provide the litmus test to determine what manuscripts might become hits.

I'm not suggesting that we create another self-publishing company like lulu, cafepress or zazzle... but that we help the publishers figure out what people want to read, then sell those pieces to the highest bidding publisher. A more efficient process, a capitalistic process.