Well, okay, a buch of excuses, and then catch-all.
I actually do this for fun. No, honestly, I've been enjoying this immensely. I'm thinking out loud, and my thought processes are over-focused, repetitive, and digressive (if that's a word). I'm happy to do this until the cows come home (which is one of those phrases that makes no sense, considering that I don't own cows. Or maybe it does, in that it implies that I don't shut up). One of the high points of Confluence, for me, was talking to Sally Kobee about -- you guessed it! -- bookselling. I sort of wish I could drag Alice Bentley into this as well, because she certainly saw things about the industry that I did -- but also has her own take, and she does LJ. Or Tom Whitmore. Then again, they may not like to go on at length.
I've been using these posts as a spur to get real writing done; wordage first, LJ post later. I answer quick comments as I can during the day. But having done my writing for the evening, I'm about to launch into answers for a bunch of disparate questions.
I meant she took a class on *publishing*. *G*
Given by a man who had self-published. Yessirree. She didn't say a great
deal beyond the fact that...hrm...I could dig this up if you'd like, but
in general, as I recall, she talked about
1. There are only 9 major publishing houses and trying to get published
is futile. (?!?!!) 2. She had the money to spend. 3. She only had to sell
300 books to break even. 4. She knew how to advertise herself.
If you can dig it up, and you don't mind, that would be wonderful. It would give us all a few points to address more specifically. There are a number of published authors lurking here, some of whom have already taken the time to speak up. Vanity Presses are very often a hot button for us -- so having specific points to refute -- if your friend reads these posts -- would be the most helpful.
To the general points, I have a few comments.
There are fewer major houses than there were. I think nine is off, but I could be wrong. (Simon & Schuster, Time Warner (which is Warner books), Random house/Ballantine/Bantam, Berkley/Penguin USA, St. Martin's -- I know I'm missing a number, but these are off the top of my head. In genre, Tor books is affiliated with St. Martin's now, although St. Martin's has its own paperback imprint; Baen is distributed by S&S, which has the Pocket line of mass market books, and ibooks is also distributed and possibly owned by S&S; Roc is part of Berkley/Penguin, as is Ace Books, and DAW is distributed by them).
Each house does have several imprints, and each imprint has its own editorial department. It would depend entirely on what your friend wants, or thinks she wants, from being published in the first place. Self-publishing is not the same thing as a vanity press, and you can often publish for less than a vanity press will charge when everything is said and done.
But self-publishing is useful only in certain situations, and none of them are for fiction. Yes, we've all heard the stories of people whose self-published books were eventually picked up by a "big house", but those are exceptional cases, and as janni always says, why not start with the big houses first, and then work your way down if they reject your book?
Futility is not the same as evil, however. Unless it's evil not to publish everything that comes in over the transom, in which case, yes, it could be easily argued that publishers are evil -- any publisher. But the point in breaking into publishing as a writer is that you want to make money, not spend it. You want your book to be out there, on the shelves, where readers can find it.
And knowing how to advertise yourself? I hope he had a lot to say about that. I hope that some of it was even relevant.
And I hope that she didn't pay for this course.
I'll note that there is a set of publishers between Vanity Press &
Coporate "Evil" Publishers.
Namely: Edited POD books/Small press.
Meisha Merlin is not a big publisher. Niether is Golden Gryphon. Nor
Wheatland Press. All have editors in charge, and the books those
publishers release are edited manuscripts. They reject people and in fact
may be more picky than some corporate publishers as they don't have the
resources to support a huge flop.
And yet, they are respected Genre publishers. Their books appear in
some independents & Amazon & on websites. They won't be found in chain
bookstores. Unless there is a kind soul in the community donating, they
also won't found in the library. Which is unfortunate. What would you say
about those publishers?
I'm not entirely certain that Meisha Merlin is exclusively POD, if that's how their books are done. I could be wrong about that, but their hardcovers certainly look more professional than POD books generally do (I have one in hand at the moment). I've mentioned Meisha Merlin before, when I mentioned the career of Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. Meisha Merlin was started by Stephen Pagel & Kevin Murphy, the former a major buyer for a major chain for many years. He was a damn good buyer, had a good eye for what would sell, and we all wept to see him leave. He was an SF reader and fan, and he's a bright, bright man.
I believe he initially left his buying post to work for White Wolf and their book division. It published some terrific books (Zod Wallop in paperback being my favourite), but it never quite got the hang of publishing books as a business; it made money & reputation by publishing RPGs -- Vampire the Masquerade. Tie-in novels for RPG games sold well at one point -- the Weis & Hickman and Salvatore books are the most obvious examples -- and they continue to sell, if not at the high numbers they had before they were publishing quite so many titles. The then TSR titles were distributed by Random House, however, which did understand books. The game model is different -- you publish a gaming supplement, you advertise it, you sell it, and then you move on to the next supplement. Books are about backlist and about the availability of backlist, about keeping things that sell in print. At least from the perspective of our store, White Wolf -- which did start some very ambitious projects -- had problems with the concept of backlist.
Some time after the publishing program began to wind down, Meisha Merlin was born. Starting a publishing house is always difficult. I think, given that, they did a great job. But distribution is a key element. If a small press can get distribution through a major house, it's handled and accessible in the same way that the house's general titles are. But the distribution agreements cost money, because you're then paying for reps, overhead, warehouse stuff, etc. As well as all your own overhead.
I believe that you will see Meisha Merlin books in the chain stores in the future. It's a tricky proposition, though; the chains have a higher rate of return than independents, and they really don't buy non-returnable books. One or two small presses who did manage to get into the chains found the fallout of returns hard to absorb or budget for. Lee & Miller are probably their big stars, but they just published the new Janny Wurts novel in hardcover, and they're publishing Mike Resnick in future.
This doesn't, of course, really answer your question -- its my take on the company itself. My disclosure: I have sold them a collection of short stories. I think you'll see their list undergrow some changes with time. And I do think that they're a decent publisher.
Golden Gryphon is the same, although it focuses on hardcovers, and mostly single author collections (there have been a few anthologies and a couple of novels; a recent Nancy Kress comes to mind).
For short story collections by most authors, the small presses are the way to go because larger presses are often not interested in collections for most authors. Some -- like Gene Wolfe or Connie Willis (there are others, of course) -- are exceptions; I would argue that Connie Willis's form is still the short story, although I love some of her novels. Ted Chiang would be another big exception, for obvious reasons (his body of work is highly, highly respected, and is entirely short fiction).
Do I think these companies are evil? Absolutely not.
There are others as well; I confess that I'm not familiar with Wheatland. Let me be clear: I do not consider these small presses to be vanity presses. If they don't pay a huge advance, they do pay an advance; they don't ask you for money. What they do is serve a niche market. They publish books that people want to read -- the number of people who want them isn't huge, but it's enough to keep the companies going, and enough to make the readers of those works happy.
I think Meisha Merlin is making a push to broaden its mandate; I don't think Golden Gryphon or the other small presses are doing the same, which is why MM is interesting. But I have some respect for these publishers, and yes, I do consider them publishers.
For the reason you stated above -- that they can't afford the flops -- they often tend to work with established authors, which is why the short stories are prevalent. Short story collections cost far less to acquire, but they'll appeal to the fans of that author. And for that reason, I would, if asked, tell people to submit to the larger or better known genre houses first if they have a first novel in hand.
But again, the example of Miller and Lee prove that that "niche" market can grow and become a significant career factor if the major houses in the end choose to pass.
At a tangent--how guilty should I feel about buying
used/bargain/remainder books? :-] I just came home with a couple tonight,
including a fantasy novel. And I thought of your posts and wondered,
where do all these "bargain" books at Hastings come from? I do buy new
books semi-regularly, and I get to sample more authors/books for less $$
this way. But am I doing harm? Now I wonder. :-/
There's no point at all in feeling guilty. No, the authors don't make money on those for the most part, because many remainders are sold below cost. The bargain books of which you speak are the books that publishers choose to sell as remainders, rather than pulp. Some houses will send a list, along with the number of books for each title, to interested buyers, and they'll take bids on the title as a lot. Sometimes they set a price, and sometimes they don't.
But this crosses into grey territory. Used books, for instance. People who buy used books are not enriching either publisher or author in any way. Yes, the book was payed for once, but when you buy it used, there are no royalties, and no accounting to the author/publisher. The margin for used books also tends to be much, much higher than for new.
However… because we're a specialty store, we do sell used books. And what I've noticed with those sales is that very few people buy only used books. Used books are their personal 'library', if you will. Instead of taking the book out of the public library system, they buy a used copy. It's a cheap way of sampling an author one might not otherwise want to spend the 8.00 US to try. I've certainly seen people then come back and buy everything new if they liked the book.
I prefer new as a reader, but that's my thing. I hate pre-cracked spines and pre-dog eared covers; I scream in pain when I see people crack spines instead of using bookmarks. If I know I'm going to reread something, I buy the hardcover.
Should you feel guilty about this? I don't think so. There are authors who hate used books, though, and for the reasons I've mentioned: they don't get paid. Having seen the give and take (and also the number of O/P books that you can't get any other way), I'm less hard-line about it.
The Amazon trick of listing used books on the same page as the new books is a slightly different thing, for me. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I especially want to cry when the used books are available for sale before the new ones are released.
But I write for two reasons: One, as a career, and two, to be read. And the part of me that writes to be read doesn't care how, as long as I am <rueful g>.