This week’s question comes from Jason Kraus. He asks …
What is the most challenging part of dealing with the publishing industry (besides actually getting published)?
Shawn: I’ve got a question here Steve. It’s from Jason Kraus. “What is the most challenging part of with the publishing industry besides actually getting published? So what is the thing that is most frustrating for you as a professional writer who gets published by the major houses book after book after book? Is there one thing that you just say ‘oh my gosh, I just can’t handle this’?”
Steve: I have an answer to that. It goes back to the famous meeting you and I had at Crown. I think for me, it’s that the publishing houses don’t support the book and don’t really have a marketing plan or any way of kind of beating the bushes. It’s like in the old time model from maybe 15 or 20 years ago was based on book reviews. Back in the days when the NY Times and every paper in the country had book reviews. And that was how you got the word out that your book even existed.
I was reading an article by Michael Connelly, the novelist. He wrote an op-ed piece and he listed all of the newspapers across the country that have stopped having book reviews, and it made your blood run cold because it was like a list of every big newspaper in the country; the Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning-Herald, the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And it just went down the list; boom, boom, boom. There are none of those anymore.
And the publishing industry has just not picked up the slack. Part of the reason why we started this blog was just as a way of kind of an attempt at least of getting the word out about stuff that we’re trying to do. So it is very frustrating. My most recent book The Profession, they spent a lot of money getting that book, and when it was released it just went out and sank without a trace. The only tour of use it got from the Washington Post and the LA Times came out three months after the book was out, and the publisher didn’t really do anything about it. In fact, I was on a book tour for that. I had to pay for it. I had to book the whole tour myself. So that’s the big frustrating thing. What would you say, Shawn? What’s your…
Shawn: Yea, that’s. I think it’s a lack, I don’t think this is just in publishing industries, and I think Seth Godin speaks about this a lot. When you get so large and you’re such a being of mass and the big five publishers have so many imprints, they have so many editors, they have so many production people, the higher levels that you get, the more difficult it is to spin on a dime.
To think of something new and to try something new is much, much more difficult than it is for Steve and Shawn to throw something at the wall and see what happens because they’re turning this huge ship and there’s ramifications like for instance, say I’m the CEO of Random House, and one of my publishers comes to me and says “Look, I want to try this thing where I’m going to do my own blog and I’m going to collect as many people who are interested in book publishing as I can and answer their questions. What do you think about that?” well the CEO is going to be like “I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea because you are representing not only your imprint, but you’re representing all the other imprints in my organization, so I really don’t think that’s a good idea”.
So innovations and things that are, I hate to say outside the box, but these are the things that the big organizations have a really difficult time with, and it’s the David and Goliath element that Malcolm Gladwell writes about. Everybody thinks it’s really terrible to be on your own, and if I only had that really great middle manager job at Exxon, everything would be okay. But the truth is, is that you’re so free to be so creative when you are as you say, betting on yourself, Steve.
Steve: Yea, and here’s an example that we went through, Shawn, which was we have a little book called the Warrior Ethos that I wrote and we brought out maybe two years ago or something like that. And we originally, well it’s kind of a long story, but sort of the bottom line of it was, was we printed up 18,000 copies of this book at our own expense and we gave them away for free to the troops and Marines and Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and here in the states. And that’s the kind of a thing that a mainstream publisher would never, never in a million years do. We tried with one particular publisher to give away eBooks that don’t even cost any money, just as a way of getting the word out that a book exists, and they wouldn’t do that because they have this sort of scarcity model in their mind which is that every book that we give away is a book that we don’t sell. So they won’t let you do that.
So the nimbleness of being a small independent or just being your own self-publisher is that you can do things like that. You can give away. And we wound up, it cost us I think about $14,000 all in, including shipping and all that sort of stuff. And I think it took us maybe two years to break even, but we finally did break even and finally did get into the black on this, and it worked.
Shawn: It did work.
Steve: Giving something away is something that a mainstream publisher will never do, but if you’re on your own, you can do that. And there are a million other examples like that.