Friday, January 23, 2009

What in Heaven's Name Are Big Publishers Thinking?

How I love my subscribers. Recently Diane Ward sent me an article on "The New Austerity in publishing" from The New York Times. I thought I'd share reporter Motoko Rich's rundown with you and then let you know how I feel about it. Ready?

Rich says the publishing world's "cushy, schmooze fest seems to be winding down." Before you can appreciate these austerity cuts you have to know that last year Macmillan brought its entire sales and marketing staff from New York to Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Further the partying included spa treatments and wine tastings. If you have never been to that hotel, I need to tell you that it is ultra plush. The new austerity program includes:

~For Macmillan in 2009, no Hotel del Coronado. A Webcam meeting instead for two of its meetings and only one in-person meeting is on the docket. The article didn't say where that one shindig might take place.

~Salary freezes or layoffs or both for HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster.

~Simon & Schuster canceled its usual cushy holiday party.

~Random House substituted a cafeteria pizza lunch for its usual plush cocktail party.

~Across the board editors are being asked to scale back on their two-martini lunch meetings.

~Random House will not be returning to Bermuda for a conference in 2009.

The article states all the reasons the publishing is in trouble other than the current economic downtrend. It also talks about the old days in publishing when executives considered the use of a towncar a luxury.

So, what were these publishers thinking when they were throwing these kinds of parties? I know. You're thinking, well, she's the Frugal Girl. Naturally she'd hate this.

Well, I wouldn't mind a good spa treatment and I might accept one if offered except that I've seen too many emerging authors disappear and despair because these same houses have been downright cheap with promotion budgets for any but their top grossing authors.

I've seen poor, unsuspecting authors assigned editors who can barely proofread.

I've seen authors asked to provide their own booktour funds and do their own or hire out their own indexing.

I've seen editors move from publishing house to publishing house because of what? They couldn't be moving because they are being paid well or because the working conditions are second-to-none!

I've seen fewer and fewer new poets and literary authors published since I've been watching. And catalogs grow sparser. And midlist authors get neglected.

According to Rich, this is an industry that Bennett Cerf was once supposed to have said was "never meant to support limousines" when they have to absorb book returns and should be fostering new talent. So what were these executives thinking?

I'll tell you what. The same thing executives of the now defunct AIG and Lehman Brothers were thinking. It was about immediate profits rather than long term products and greed rather than concern for their own people and their own industry.

It may be too late to tell these giants to watch their backs. I wish them well. I'd like to have a book published by them in spite of all these tales of gluttony, both real and metaphorical. That may be because I was raised up revering these names and words like "literature."

Nevertheless, it's a new world out there. We have new printing technology and entrepreneurial authors (some of who were made that way by the very stinginess of these publishing houses). We have the Web that offers niche opportunities and marketing methods never dreamed of two decades ago. And we have authors interested in giving other authors a hand, in writing and giving of themselves unselfishly (evidenced by my newsletter and this blog in which other authors write and contribute articles selflessly).

It's about the time the big publishing houses got it. If they get frugal and go back to their roots, this will all be for the best. If not, authors will just keep writing--and publishing--without them.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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