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Bewildering Stories

From Reality to Dream

by Jerry Wright

Once upon a time, publishers were in the publishing business because they loved books, reading, and sharing their joy with the public. They felt they had a “calling.” Publishing has never been particularly profitable. In years past, a 3 to 5% profit was “doing quite well,” and the in-joke was: “How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large fortune.”

Publishers depended on high-selling books to support their mid-list and writers who wrote books the publishers felt were important but not monetarily viable. If a book “earned out” the advance to the author, that was great. If it was a best-seller? Great, we’d eat for another month. A comment from the afterword of Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

“Back then, after 121 others had turned this book down, one lone editor offered a standard $3,000 advance. He said the book forced him to decide what he was in publishing for, and added that although this was almost certainly the last payment, I shouldn’t be discouraged. Money wasn’t the point with a book like this.”

This would NOT happen today.

“Publishing today is a business, dominated by stockholders and profit margins, run entirely according to the hard, cold numbers. Investors in the major megacorporations that own nearly all of the New York majors want profit, and lots of it. In a business that traditionally makes maybe 4-6 percent profit in a good year, today’s stockholders are demanding 15-18 percent. Gone are the days when a publisher could nurture a writer with potential through several lackluster efforts. Today’s editors can’t afford a single flop.”

— Jeff Kirvin, “What’s Wrong With Publishing,” January 2002.

It is actually rather easy to become a publisher, either of your own or of someone else’s books. Getting them into bookstores and into the hands of someone who’d like to read them is massively difficult. If you want to your book to be even moderately successful, you must “promote the hell out of it!” Send out many copies to reviewers, visit stores, and push copies. Flyers, visits to radio talk shows, having Oprah as an aunt... It is frustrating. Promotion costs both time and money. Party on...

And even if your books are doing well, you have an established fanbase, you can easily sell 30,000 to 40,000 copies, you may still fall flat on your face when your publisher goes belly-up, as did Meisha-Merlin.

I wish Aidan well, but he is in for an interesting ride.


Copyright © 2010 by Jerry Wright
Publisher, Bewildering Stories

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