Not so Hot Off the Presses

The Guardian newspaper has an interesting story about what can happen when a book from a small publisher wins a prestigious literary award.

This is apparently happening more often, as ec0nomic pressures are causing larger publishers to skip innovative/riskier books and instead focus on that which they are more confident will generate a profit.

The article suggests that this is a battle between quality and quantity, and to a certain extent this is true.  However, like most contentious issues, opportunities abound.  Possible solutions include:

  • Partner with a printing firm to produce a mass-market version of the book.  Keep selling as many copies of your “deluxe edition” as you can print, and when the sales rate drops below that level, stop the mass-market version and keep up with demand from your own press.
  • Do the above, but add additional incentives for the deluxe edition, such as author inscriptions, or numbered copies.  Each of these would likely involve establishing the number of printed copies ahead of time.
  • How about allowing pre-payment for the deluxe edition (whether online or through bookstores), with an e-book edition available to all who pre-pay?
  • Make it part of every author contract to be able to accommodate unexpected success.  Figure out how you can stay profitable and happy while meeting the needs of the author and the reading public, and you will be able to maximize what you love about publishing, and be successful at the same time.  Otherwise it becomes a given that a successful author will move to a larger publisher after winning an award.

These ideas aren’t radical… they should be part of the publishing marketplace.  There are no losers if the right solutions are applied to the right situations.  I know that some of them have been tried, and have been successful:

  • Stephen King wasn’t sure about the market for the first Dark Tower book, The Gunslinger.  He first published it through Donald M. Grant Publisher, inc. and created one of the most coveted King editions around.  He has continued to publish special editions through them.
  • I own a signed and numbered copy of a John Updike novel that was a special edition from a smaller publisher.  It isn’t very rare, but it is nice to have a book that was personally handled by the author.

There is a great deal of stress in the publishing world.  When this happens, the best response is not to get stressed – get creative!

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