I am the first to admit, I don’t understand the publishing industry. I don’t get the way they will publish a title, it does quite well, so they publish the next, and then stop. And not only do they stop, they refuse to publish either of the first two in paperback, which means the audience is minute. Hardcover books are expensive for most people to buy, they depend on a new title being available in 12 months in paperback. That’s why so many are behind one book in a series–they’ve paperback pocketbooks.
So, one particular publisher has a habit of doing this, from my personal experience, and it inflames my soap box soul. For anonymity sake, let’s call it, um, St. Paul’s Publishing House. They buy mediocre, to superb mystery novels, pay the authors a pittance, publish the least amount of copies possible and still make a profit, and in many cases, drop the author as fast as they signed him or her. Sure, they have big selling writers in their stable–or did. One I know of left them behind, another passed away. Who their latest bunch of bread winners are, I can’t say. What I can shout from the rooftops is they don’t give a crap about mid-list authors. Which is the meat of their lineup. But then, what publisher does? There must be a few, because many mid list authors are surviving elsewhere. How do I know for a fact they don’t promote the mid list writer? Because the big cheese of the place told me so, to my face, when I made the ridiculous attempt to become a publicist. Granted, they didn’t hire me, which could make me seem like I have sour stuffing, but au contraire–I would have hated that profession–I am not cut out to push authors whose work I can’t stand and ignore those I like. And, I can’t bullshit worth a damn. I have a disease called truthfulness. It has put me into some horrific situations. Once way back in the days or yore when there used to be areas in cities called ‘downtown’ where individual stores existed, I worked a clothing store called Brozman’s. It had been in the building it occupied for centuries, or maybe the air was what made it ancient. That and the way people paid. via air ducts and little missiles. The sales clerk, me, would receive money, place money and sales slip into a little metal cylinder, and pop it into a slot from whence it sped like superman to an invisible human in the bowels of the building, who made change and sent the little rocket back. I worked hosiery, an easy position requiring no prevarication, you have a leg size, you buy that size. Granted, those mod things called Underalls were popular, and you may have to help someone decide what color would work, but generally speaking old women came in to buy roll up stockings with seams to match their stout shoes and straw hats. I may exaggerate a bit here. Their hats were probably regular felt. I did so well at this, they transferred me two feet to the junior department of ladies clothing. Uh oh. Women wanted opinions from me–what looked good on them. E-gads. It was my undoing. I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t tell someone they looked good in those polyester culottes, it wasn’t in me. ( I thought I looked great in them, and the matching vest.) Before they had a chance to fire me, I quit to concentrate on my real love, cocktail waitressing at a disco.
My point is, a publicist needs to take their job with loads of salt. I used to be in contact with mucho amounts of publicists. Some had the job of setting up signings and tours, others like at St. Paul’s were deluged with goofy authors expecting to go on the Today show after penning one mystery about King Tut. The stable of authors were nuisances that had to be dealt with while the main work was promoting the big names St. Paul’s managed to snag.
During my lengthy interview, I managed to bring up the point of their having published an author I thought quite good, whose two books sold well, but they wouldn’t publish in paperback AND wouldn’t sell the rights back to the author so he could take his work elsewhere. I was speaking Esperanto for all that woman’s attention was paid me. She couldn’t have cared less. Minions like the author I was applauding had no bearing on the job of publicist. These writers either sank or swam–swimming meaning they did all their own promotion via online, dropping into local stores, paying their own way to various mystery conventions, etc etc. Which this individual certainly did. Didn’t matter. It was sort of like a factory in China–one assembly line worker drops dead–there are a million more just like him panting to take his place. The assembly line attitude was quite apparent, with the idea that one mid-list author is as replaceable as the next. And the reader has no clue, none.
I had a friend once who while at a cocktail party I was hosting, asked myself and a co-worker from the bookstore I was employed, why so and so didn’t write mysteries anymore. We almost fell off our chairs laughing–a rather rude response, since the average reader isn’t privy to the machinations of contracts, sales data, returns, buyouts. We explained that the author probably had dozens more books in her, but she was dropped by her publisher, and can’t get her backlist from them, therefore no new publisher will pick up any more in that series–without the back list, a publisher doesn’t have the foundation with which to establish that author’s work. Could St. Paul’s sell a publisher a backlist? Of course–but what publisher wants to go into a new collaboration already purchasing a bunch of books probably out of print? Some smart ones know it’s a good gamble if the writing is excellent, but not many will stick their necks out this way, especially these days of self pubbing.
So here’s the dilemma for the male author I spoke of before. He has a third book in the series ready to go, but since the first two are not in paperback, not owned by him, and apparently the publisher has no plans to do ANYTHING with them, he can’t find a publisher for his next chapter.
I can’t believe I am saying this but. . . . This is a clear case where SELF PUBLISHING is not a crime. That took courage for me to write. Ok, I’m breathing normally again. Yes, self publishing may be the only answer to an impossible situation the writer didn’t create. There are established fans out there who would jump at the chance to read a third title starring the detective within, and since St. Paul’s wouldn’t have printed more than a few thousand anyway, the only difference here would be the cover art, which I’d be happy to supply. Oh, that’s right–it would be an e-book–no need for covers, duh.
Seriously, some publishers do not understand nor care about the consumer. They certainly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the rights of writers–after all, his agent should have negotiated the paper back rights at the time of the sale, right? Not their fault she didn’t. There appears to be no remedy for this conundrum. What I simply cannot cannot cannot understand, is why hold on to the rights!!!??? Why keep rights to something you care nothing about, have no intention of publishing, have no intention of buying another title in the series, just plain don’t need the rights nor care! Why?
In the mean time, a perfectly good book is sitting around without me reading it, and that is a damn tragedy, and one that pisses me off no end.
A footnote–much of the behavior of St. Paul’s I described her took place a good decade ago. Just to give a small benefit of the doubt–perhaps they treat mid-list authors better now–I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but I must be honest about time frame, because, dammit, I must be honest period!