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Writing #7 : Myth about what "Publisher's used to" do


Myth about what "Publisher's used to" do

The story goes that once upon a time, publishers supported authors. The story goes that publishers did all the heavy lifting -- all the proof editing, marketing, dealing with irrate readers, and all the nasty bits that authors hate to do. Authors were free to wander out to the peaceful writing sheds in their beaucolic backyards and write for hours at a time.

Every time I hear this story, I wonder when exactly in time did publishers support authors to "just write."

Let's start with the first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible in 1450. Gutenberg decided to print a Christian bible because he knew he could sell it. He didn't produce this particular bible because it was so well written or would make the authors so much money. He printed this work because he knew he could make money.

From it's inception, publishing is about making money for the publisher.

Not the author.

What author had a great time with their publisher?

Mark Twain? No. In Notebook 28, he states:

"If ever a publisher gets a non-terminable contract with an author, that author can never buy his freedom from that slavery on any terms. A publisher is by nature so low and vile that he -- that he -- well from the bottom of my heart I wish all publishers were in hell."

James Joyce? No. When he had a publisher, which was rare, they butchered his prose. He was constantly fighting with them to publish the purity of what he actually wrote. However, due to his ill health, he was completely dependent upon them to support his writing through monetary grants prior to publishing the book.

How about Stephen King? No. In On Writing, King details the affectionate relationship he had with his editor, who supported King and exploited him at the same time. In 1997, King left Viking and looked for a new publisher. Oh, the publishers whined at his price tag.

''It's pretty impossible to make money at that level,'' said Paul Fedorko, the publisher at William Morrow.

''We're fed up. I just feel that we're doing all this work for a poor bottom line." said a "top publisher."

Charles Dickens got so sick of his publisher that he started his own publishing house. He's the inspiration behind our creation of Cook Street Publishing. We figured we cut out the phase where the publisher screwed us over and just start with our own publishing house. It's worked well so far!

I can name the experiences of authors that I've met, but I can assure you they are not much different. Of course, women struggle more then men.

Publishing is about making money for the publisher. In modern times, publishing has become more and more about making money for the High Frequency Trader - but that's a tale for another day.

Publishers do the minimal they can, spend as little as possible, in order to generate the most profit for themselves.

There was never a time when publishers lavished support onto their authors. The publisher-author relationship has always been a fight about who gets wet (looses money) when there's only one umbrella.

If you wonder if music companies -- the publishers of music artists -- are any different, listen to Macklemore's song Jimmy Iovine. The lyrics are on the screen so you can see read what he went through with Jimmy Iovine.