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.