Just read this article in Publisher's Weekly.  If I was a tradtional publisher I think I'd start to get nervous.  This has all the feeling of a small snowball rolling down a mountain side turning into a massive avalenche.







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" . . . (and advances) in the low five digits."

That I could be so lucky.
You're absolutely right that there's no middle ground on publicity. With as many books as there are out there nowadays (competition), very few books are going to sell more than 20K copies. Even with promotion and publicity. And even 20K copies does not create a large profit for a publisher or an author. I can pick on publishers for a variety of things, but it's hard to make the case that if they spend $5000-$10,000 on promotion for midlister/new author, they will on average get it back. Trying to pick or create bestsellers is their best option from a current list of bad options.

But, I still wonder if the whole model has to be the way it is. It strikes me that the biggest problem from a business standpoint is that publishers take the vast majority of the direct financial risk. Agents take some as well, and they also suffer from the "bestseller" problem. Everyone in the process risks the value of their time of course. and some authors kick in their own money for promotion. But on the whole, the risk is with the publishers.

All of us who aren't taking the risk - readers and authors in particular - are paying a risk premium. On a high level, if the risk can either be reduced or spread around more, it should benefit everyone, even publishers as long as they are willing to adapt. I'm not sure of the exact form spreading of risk should/will take, but that seems like the high level direction we need to go.
One could make the case that authors take enormous risks--in the form of opportunity costs.
They certainly do. And those risks are not priced into the current system very effectively, at least partially because most of us will take. My point about the financial risks was to suggest a place where change might result in more money for both authors and readers.
An author's time is also a factor. Few of us make even a modest living while putting in full-time work over many months before and during production.

Why not just work with no publicity for anyone. Let the books all start the race even, instead of hobbling some horses and giving others hormone injections.
I politely disagree with the idea that authors are not taking risks. Most authors must 'push' their books by attending author-signings, etc. That means they have to lay money and time on the line to get it done. And for most of us/them, means laying off work to go get this done--more loss of monetary means.

And I might add big publishers frankly have a bad reputation of doing the PR work for anyone less than a James Patterson or Stephen King.

And if you're one of those authors who is published by a small publishing house, the responsibility/financial costs of promoting your book falls squarely on your shoulders.
But how did James Patterson or Stephen King get to be James Patterson or Stephen King?

Right now I'm published by a small press in Canada and a big publisher in the US. There are similarities and differences, good and bad. One thing is clear, if your book comes out from a big publisher and for whatever reason (your own doing, a little well-placed promo, good reviews, you get in a car accident with Brad Pitt) you start to get a little traction, they'll jump in an dpush it over the top. The small press and self-publishing don't have the resources to do that quickly enough.

The only thing I can say for sure is that yesterday the big American publisher sent me a box of books and they look so good I don't care about anything else right now ;)

Except Bruce Willis is shooting a movie in Toronto so I may go and try and get in accident with him...
In the came of James Patterson becoming big--by his own words--he forced his publisher into advertising by first spending his own money to create book trailers and buy advertising space. When his publisher saw it working they finally, and reluctantly, joined in.

Patterson was already an Ad/PR man so he knew what he was doing. Yet I would daresay that most big-named authors worked the system and spent their own money to get to where they are now, in the beginning.
One thing is clear, if your book comes out from a big publisher and for whatever reason (your own doing, a little well-placed promo, good reviews, you get in a car accident with Brad Pitt) you start to get a little traction, they'll jump in an dpush it over the top.

Not. At least in my case. Both books got scads of free pub (the first one was in the NYTBR and WaPo bookworld the same weekend, followed shortly by the ChiTrib, raves all, the second one featured on NPR), pushed into the low 100s on Amazon, and my publisher responded by letting the print run on #1 sell out before printing 1000 new ones, then letting THAT run sell out. After gaps of two weeks or more with no available books and no additional push of any kind, the momentum died out, as you can imagine. #2 did about the same thing--six minute spot on Morning Edition, again sold down to something like #300 in books on Amazon and below #100 on Kindle, and SM/M responded again by saying "nice going." No additional push of any kind. I don't know if they just didn't have the budget to do anything, or if the run both books made was so unexpected that they didn't know what to do about it, or if the whole idea that any book that shows signs of life will get a big push is yet another publishing myth. I'm thinking probably the trifecta, but I can't say for sure.
You are of course correct. And definitely polite. I totally agree that publishers do very little promotion for less than bestselling writers.

I specifically referred to financial risks. And yes, author with small publishers choose to spend their own money for promotion - even authors with large publishers do sometimes. My point was simply that publishers ALWAYS have to spend a certain amount of hard currency to bring out a book, and 80-90% of the time they don't get it back. It represents by far the biggest financial risk in the system. Everyone else in the system pays for that risk. I recently came across a small publisher that is trying to have every aspect of book production done on a royalty basis, thus minimizing the financial risk. That may not be the best model, but it is an intriguing attempt to address what I think is one of the core problems.
Umm, rumors have it that the numbers are so much in favor of the publisher and facts are that production costs are modest, so that "earning out" is not to taken as "breaking even" for the publisher. By the time a book earns out, the publisher has already been making a good profit.
Well, I would be interested to see more details. I've never seen anything to suggest that large publishers don't lose money on most books they print. Whether it's 80-90%, I certainly could be wrong there.

I don't think it changes my main point - in fact it may support it. Compensation for taking financial risks - while an integral part of the free market system - often leads to inefficiencies.


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