Blogs About Publishing: Why Should Publishers Blog?

26 Jun

By its own admission, the Booksquare blog’s mission is “dissecting the publishing industry with love and skepticism.” Exactly along those lines is a recent post by Kassia Kroszer called “Why Publishers Should Blog.” In it she talks about the lack of personality in general and even greater lack of enthusiasm in particular when it comes to publishers talking about the books in their own list. She goes on to point out that with all of the social networking and Web 2.0 resources available to authors, fans, book reviewers, and the like, why is it that publishers themselves are strangely silent in the ongoing (and ever-growing) conversations about their own titles? And, even more importantly, what’s to be lost–as opposed to everything to be gained–by directly showing “the enthusiasm that propelled the acquisition of a book and the subsequent investment in getting it to readers.”

But, as I noted in a comment to her post, the answer as to “why not?” may actually be quite simple.

Perhaps publishers aren’t that enthusiastic about the books they publish.

After all, being a fan of books is one thing; making money from publishing and selling books is something completely different. So, I would ask, who says that it is enthusiasm that leads to books (or at least most books) being published in the first place? In the end, to stay in business it sooner or later all comes down to dollars and cents: particular manuscripts for particular markets that published at particular times that will generate—more or less—a certain return on investment. Whether you love your present/forthcoming list, hate it, or—most likely—fall somewhere in between, you’ll continue to publish those titles because there is an expectation they’ll make money.

(For an example of a book that hopefully nobody was enthusiastic about other than its prospects to make money, I would suggest you start with this novel. I mean, really!)

Anyway, all shooting fish in a barrel aside, with the ongoing consolidation of publishing houses by media conglomerates—where the idea of a “book” is more and more synonymous with “widget” or “product” and throwing your efforts to produce one bestseller in the short term is the plan instead of working over the long haul to produce a reliably productive backlist—it seems that this overarching kind of disinterested attitude might become only more prevalent, instead of less.

In the end, though, as I noted at the Booksquare post, I was only wanting to play devil’s advocate about all this. I think her point is well taken that publishers and publishing houses need to remember what (hopefully!) got them into publishing to start with: a love of books. It is, however, easier said than done. As an old English teacher—and that’s how you end up in grad school: liking to read books and hoping to make a living from it—I know that much more of my time is spent writing contracts, examining profit & loss statements, and planing out various development/production/marketing schedules in general than pondering the individual (and real!) merits of any one title in particular. In business speak, I think this is called looking at the big picture instead of the small; in the real world it’s called not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Thanks to Kassia, though, I can repeat to myself: Remember.

Mark

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7 Responses to “Blogs About Publishing: Why Should Publishers Blog?”

  1. Stephen Tiano June 26, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    Well, as usual, Mark, you strike a chord. I think most anyone gets involved with books—after we’re all initially forced to read as kids—does it with love.

    I remember my college “creative” writing courses—as if there’s a writing we want to learn that’s not creative, so we need to distinguish. The first class we usually sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, telling each other why we were taking the course. Generally, everyone but me said they were there because they loved to write. I always said I was there for the discipline, so I’d be forced to write every single day, as if it were work.

    And then when I moved from proofreading into book design and layout, it was to earn a living. But now it comes full circle. i love making books and I want to make great ones that start with great writing. So I guess I’ve learned that there’s room for loving books in publishing. Just maybe not so much on the publisher’s end.

  2. Patricia Fry July 1, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Indeed, from a publisher’s point of view, books are products. But they must be presented to the public with enthusiasm. Publishers must address people who love books in order to sell books. It’s a precarious place to be for publishers today and this is where their authors come in.

    Publishers rely on their authors to promote their own books. Since authors feel the love, they can express it. Hence, a publisher’s greatest marketing tool–savvy, energetic, enthusiastic, creative authors.

    Visit my writing/publishing blog at http://www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.

  3. Erik France July 1, 2008 at 11:28 pm #

    Hear, hear. Darwinian logic suggests that publishers and authors get it together and promote on the cheap and the sly. No need for Werner Von Braun’s “once the missiles go up / who cares v’here zey come down?” — i.e., it’s not rocket science, and it’s not conventional buy a house and guide by Starbuck’s, nor wisdom rarer than a hen’s tooth ;->

    Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill veteran . . . . .

  4. Mark Long July 3, 2008 at 4:04 am #

    Well, back to the original Booksquare post, I think it is that personal investment by authors and fans that make social networking a powerful marketing tool. But for whatever reasons “publishers” themselves certainly haven’t made that communication/interaction leap. (And “publisher” is such an amorphous word to define once you move past self-publishers who are quite by necessity more invested/excited/enthusiastic about their list.) I periodically check in at most of the major university press blogs but don’t read them on a regular basis. Why? Most of them use blogging primarily as a means to post press releases. Talk about something that will kill your blog readership! Certainly, if publishers are feeling the love for their books they should show it but nothing is worth than token/rote enthusiasm, real or not. It reminds me of the old quote from the director Samuel Fuller about acting: “All an actor needs to be successful is sincerity. Once he can fake that he’s got it made.”

  5. Caryn July 17, 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    I work for a small scholarly press, and am responsible for much of the promotional material, whether in a catalog, on a back cover, or on our Website. I can absolutely say that I’m in this industry because I love books (still), and I love to read (still).

    Honestly, although I can find merit in each, I do have varying levels of enthusiasm for the books my press publishes. However, someone at our press is excited about the project, or it wouldn’t have been selected in the first place. Sometimes the ones I like least, others have greatly enjoyed, and vice-versa. (Do you love every New York Times bestseller?) One thing I have learned is how little my personal opinion really matters. Objective criteria, such as the subject matter, and the quality of the writing and research, are far more important.

    A major goal in my copy-writing is to provide an accurate, yet positive synopsis of a given title. The distributors, booksellers, and libraries who buy our books count on that, and based on their feedback, don’t want the “fluff.” I want our titles to be placed in the correct category and on the right shelves. I want the person who makes a purchase to get what they expected (and hopefully, even more). Besides, would you really believe me if I gushed over my own press’ books? I try to expose our books to the market as much as possible and leave it to others, who have nothing to gain, to express adoration.

    I should note that as an academic publisher, we do have a different mission–to disseminate scholarship. Sales potential, although it always plays a role, is not necessarily our top consideration in publishing decisions.

  6. Mark Long July 17, 2008 at 7:11 pm #

    Caryn,

    I think you make an excellent point when you say:

    “Besides, would you really believe me if I gushed over my own press’ books? I try to expose our books to the market as much as possible and leave it to others, who have nothing to gain, to express adoration.”

    That is, I’m a bit wary when what I hear from publishers are a variation of the line from Animal Farm and say, “All of our books our great but some are greater than others.” I think this is why social networking and–in trade publishing–fan/buyer feedback is so powerful because it does come from somebody without a vested interest. But, when someone is trying to make money, I certainly have to take everything with a grain of salt. And, with that in mind, it may behoove publishers to–as you suggest–present the book to the world at large and let the chips fall where they may.

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