Here’s a serious question for you.
What do you – as a reader – want from a publisher?
Do you even notice who has published your favorite books? Here I’m talking about the original publisher, not reprints of classics.
This is becoming a serious question in my field as publishers are forced to face that whereas once upon a time they were the sole way for readers to get books, this is no longer the case. With self-publishing losing its stigma, with writers racing to put their backlist up as electronic downloads, the role of the publisher may be becoming less central.
(Backlist is industry slang for books an author has written but are no longer new. Often a “backlist” book is also out of print and therefore unavailable except from the author or used book sellers).
As someone who has worked as a writer within the publishing industry for over fifteen years (my first novel came out December of 1994; my first short stories were published longer ago than that), I’m seeing a lot of uncertainty on the part of publishers.
For one, they seem unwilling to take a gamble. Over and over, I hear from writers that they’re being asked what “market” their book is meant to target. Or they’re being asked to write something that will fit into what is perceived as the latest “hot” thing. Or an established writer is told – not asked – to write a book set in a specific series. This goes hand-in-hand with an implied, “and don’t bother to try to sell us anything else.”
Experimentation or stretching the limits does not seem welcome.
Never mind that many of the most notable bestsellers of the last decade or so were rejected by those with a safe mind set. I’m thinking of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” books, which were widely turned down as either containing too much romance to be time travel or containing too much time travel to be romance. I’m thinking of Stephanie Meyers’ “Twilight” books. I’m sure you folks can think of others.
I’m not denying that this is a trend that has been around long enough to spawn a host of legend lore about famous books that were repeatedly rejected. Hunt up a copy of Rotten Rejectionsif you want to read what those “in the know” said about books that have become cultural icons, such as Moby Dick.
Tony Hillerman never grew tired of telling how the first of his best-selling mystery novels featuring Navajo tribal police officer Joe Leaphorn was rejected because it had too much of that “Indian stuff” in it. Now there’s practically a sub-genre of mysteries featuring Native American protagonists.
Hmm… But I’m getting away from my main question. Do you look for books from a specific publisher? Does a publisher with a strong focus (an example would be Baen Books, which does mostly SF, often with a strong military element) register with you?
You see, the reason I’m asking is that I’ve been considering that the only way for publishers to survive is for them to make an impact on their readership. The one drawback of all this self-publishing and electronic publishing is that soon it will be hard for readers to figure out what suits their tastes.
However, my feeling is that as long as publishers play it safe – hunting for the next Harry Potter or “Twilight” or whatever – they’re going to “safe” themselves right out of business. What they need is to make themselves (or even sub-groups within their publishing house) places where readers can go to find that next great read.
They need an identity other than “SF/F” publishing house.
What do you think?