Archive for May, 2010

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Quantity Equals Quality?

By E. P. Ned Burke

The other day I came across an article online quoting some ivory tower NY book publisher who said that his firm would not even consider accepting a self published book that had not already sold at least 25,000 copies.

I found this statement both arrogant and asinine.

In the first place, if I had a self published book out there that sold 25,000 copies I wouldn’t seek out some big NY publisher. It doesn’t make sense. Why settle for 7% or less when I’m already getting 100% of the profits of sales? Besides, what is the big, bad publisher thinking when he accepts this book, knowing he can’t sell it again to those same 25.000 people?

Who can figure the corporate mindset of today’s big NY book publishers? Mostly foreign-owned now, staffed with bubblegum-popping prima donnas and horn-rimmed bean counters who never heard of Maxwell Perkins and have no memory of the glory days of book publishing when a book manuscript was judged solely on merit (quality.)

These Neanderthals of creative thought and talent look at a book submission much like today’s Hollywood film studio bosses who judge each script in terms of potential ticket sales. Come on, can you say honestly that Avatar is a much better film than Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, or even this year’s Blind Side simply because Avatar sold more tickets?

Well, that’s the mindset of today’s big book publishers. Much like Elmer Gantry, they are out preaching their sermon of “quantity equals quality” to the mesmerized masses. “Be like everyone else, folks! Put your money in the basket and buy this book.”

Just as in Hollywood, book publishing today is all about hype and promotion. It’s all the same, whether selling Avatar or selling the latest book. Bestsellers are picked and promoted with huge sums of money behind them. Big name authors like Stephen King and James Patterson sell millions of books each year, much more than say James Lee Burke or the late Robert B. Parker. So does that prove King and Patterson are better writers than Burke or Parker?

The quantity-equals-quality publishers expect you to believe it.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy both King and Patterson. My home library contains nearly every one of their books. But I wouldn’t say they are better writers than Burke or Parker, solely because of the quantity of books they have sold.

You may recall reading several years ago about a group of publishers who got together and bet that they could take any unknown author’s book, throw a pile of money behind it, and it would become a bestseller. Did it work? In the words of Sarah, “You betcha!” Not only did that book sell, but all subsequent books from that once unknown author also sold well. Proving? Money can almost always ensure quantity. Whether it is the sale of books, movies, and, yes, even elected officials. But does it guarantee quality? Hardly.

My cynical view may be due to my years spent in the newspaper field, but if you take a close look at big publishing today you will discover I am not that far off. However, my disdain against this particular pompous NY book publisher is how his misguided words may affect new writers. For instance, one wannabe author made a remark in the comment field that he was “glad of the advice” because now he was not going to self publish his book but rather he’d submit his manuscript only to large publishing firms.

My response? “Good luck with that!”

In actuality, the chances of any unknown first-time author being accepted by one of these big boys today is like being struck by lightning twice … on the same day. Yes, it can (and does) happen. If you are young enough and patient enough, give it a try. I mean, people play the lottery every day. But don’t kneel at the altar of this pompous publishing god, awaiting acceptance. Open your eyes to other opportunities as well. And, yes, publishing your own book is one of them.

If you choose to self publish you will be following in the footsteps of Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, John Grisham, L. Ron Hubbard, Walt Whitman, T.S. Elliot, Carl Sandberg, Gertrude Stein, Upton Sinclair, D.H. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Tom Clancy, Stephen Crane, and others.

And you better believe that the advent of computer print-on-demand publishing and the growing acceptance now of inexpensive e-books has these big-boy-bean-counter NY publishers shaking in their handcrafted Berluti shoes.

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