the perils of publishing

First, the good news. In the twenties, my Grand Maman wanted to write romance novels. And she would have been great at it. But in that day and age it was a no go. To write or publish you needed to be rich and powerful and in her case, English. She was neither of those things.

Almost a century later, I might speak English but, for for the rest,  I am no more rich and no more powerful than my Grand Maman was in her day. But I can publish. And publish I have. Four wonderful books. However, just my luck, I happened to enter the real world of publishing just as the whole flippin industry is collapsing, page by page, book by book, store by store, publisher by publisher. Am I crazy? Maybe. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

I’m no business guru but I know a failed business model when I see one. And I see it every day. There are so many structural flaws in traditional publishing it’s a wonder a single book is ever printed, sold, never mind profited from. Amazing really. It defies logic. There are days where I feel like I know how the last guy to produce 8 track tapes must have felt. But I’m not giving up, not by a long shot and here’s why.

Our stories need to be told. Everyone I meet who knows I publish books always tells me they have a book in mind. Everyone has a book in them, I truly believe that. The problem is that the way in which we transfer stories – in a commercially viable way – is horribly broken. Why? Because of the following.

1) The disneyfication of culture

This is my major concern. We’ve changed books from the public “partage” of powerful stories to a powerful form of commodity marketing. The books, especially for children, that sell the best are the ones that feature the toys and products of the giant entertainment corporations. Our children are being fed a steady diet of crap merchandise disguised as books. Dora, Diego, Spiderman, Pokemon, Bakugan, Thomas – the list goes on. These are not books. These are marketing pieces with ISBN numbers. Ask anyone who gets a scholastic flyer from their local school every month. Corporate monopoly in exchange for free happy face stickers for the class.

2) The unreasonable expectations we have of traditional bookstores (and the bookstores unreasonable expectations of publishers)

When you go to the bookstore and they don’t have the book you wanted, what do you do? Order it and wait or order it online and have it delivered. Point made. We expect our bookstores to carry every title we want or we’ll get it on or, thank you very much. That’ll teach the local bookstore for not carrying the latest and greatest obscure novel that you heard about at bookclub.

And the bookstores have a pretty sweet deal themselves. Most independent bookstores order titles on consignment for 40% off the listed price and only pay upon the sale of the book. Which means a publisher could have thousands of books all over the country that could be returned at any time without question for a full refund. We’ve received cheques from bookstores for as little as $10 for the sale of one book 90 days after delivery . Seriously, if I ran my other business like this, I’d be renting out my house and living in a tent in the back yard.

And don’t get me started on the big online chains. They’ll take 55% off the top and charge you for processing the order. At that rate, I’d have to pay them to sell our titles and even I’m not that stupid.

3) The subsidization of culture

I bless and curse Canada Council who funds publishers to the tune of millions of dollars each year. It’s a bit like telling experienced drivers that they qualify for BMWs while us beginners have to buy our own GEO metro and drag race the beamers. We’ll get a BMW too. All we have to do is win. That seems fair, right? Now I’ve got nothing against BMWs – a nice ride. But how can I expect to compete? It’s not a level playing field. We applied for a Canada Council emerging publisher grant and, but for a technicality (which I won’t bore you with at this particular juncture), we might have actually got. But until then, I can’t send authors on tour, I can’t afford translations, I can’t compete. Therefore, the likelyhood of my titles even having a chance of success is seriously compromised when the BMWs are loaded with the pedal to the metal.

Am I bitter? No. I’m realistic and oddly grateful. Technology has given me access to publishing books that 100 or 50 or even 25 years ago, I could not publish. But publish I do. And I’m happy for the chance to do so. So, on I go, obstacles and all. Taking a chance that was not available to my mom or my Grand Maman. It’s a chance I’ll take for my kids. Call me crazy – I’ve been called worst. Our stories need to be told.

What can you do? Buy a book. Any book. Especially from a local bookstore. Or better, ask your library for the titles you want. They are the unsung heroes of publishing. A public resource for the equitable share of story “partage”. And that’s all I have to “partage” or share with you for the time being.

Bonsoir et bonne histoire. (history and story is the same in French – coincidence? – not so much…)



3 Responses

  1. […] Wallace’s latest post the perils of publishing over on The Blahgg Blog looks at the power and perils of publishing – as a passion and a […]

  2. Lu too bad about book publishing these days; your piece explains why books have become so cheap at Chapters. Huge 800 page historical tomes for $10 etc etc. I guess the old fashioned “book-redin” is going the way of Canada Post. ( Wha bout book lerning ?)
    Nonetheless for me there are few things better than a good book and comfy chair far away from electronic noise. Maybe better chairs are the solution; chairs that block out all wireless signals and promote cat naps from time to time.

  3. Remember Tom Wayman’s assessment: “E-books are hula hoops.” Books will endure, and good books will always find an audience, especially when promoted by creative publishers like you.

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