Saturday, June 02, 2007

Supporting Your Publisher vs. Cheerleading

I have been noticing recently that some of the most widely praised and recommended epublishers are those whose sales performance is relatively poor and whose conduct is at times questionable. A new author will be online saying they were thinking of submitting to Harlequin, 'no,' a more experienced author will say, 'go with tiny-little-epress-that-opened-last-week they are much better!'

And yet again I find myself playing the part of the Internet grinch by raising the average sales figures for ebooks and the average life span of a new start-up epublisher. It is suggested by the occassional observer that I am anti-ebook, anti-small press and an all round mean girl.

My name is Emily, and I am not a cheerleader.

The role of an author is to write the best work they can, publish with the best press they can and support that press to the extent it holds up its part of the deal by selling a respectable number of copies for that genre and format and behaving in a reasonable and fair manner. When a publisher is honest and competent, or supportive and superbly competent -- yes you should mention it to other writers. If they put out books that you have read and honestly admire, you should mention that to readers. But writers should have standards. Just accepting your manuscript does not, per. se., make a publisher good. Recommending a publisher before you have seen the sales figures, or after they prove to be poor, is a disservice to fellow authors unless you specify what they have done so far that you considered praiseworthy.

Yes, we have a duty to behave professionally in our author-publisher relationship. There is no good reason to run around dissing a publisher you have books with. However if a publisher requires active, absolutely positive press from you at all times, this is a warning signal. This is not a publisher, it is a cult, this publisher may expect your loyalty and support regardless of their own efforts to deserve it.

Personally I appreciate publishers who:
* Are objectively excellent in at least some measurable aspects of their craft.
* Recognise and acknowledge when you do support and recommend them but don't require it.
* Support authors who mention out-of-house books occasionally when it is relevant, even in their own loops. And yes, some presses even encourage this. You support their brand (all their books) they support your brand (all your books).
* Acknowledge writers sometimes have their own agenda and do not attempt to stifle those activities so long as they are constructive, honest and tactful.

I have learned some lessons along the way, and I have made mistakes. Minor annoyances are not a good reason to snark your publisher in public. However serious, chronic and unresolved short-comings make some degree of comment justifiable to raise the issue either with other authors at that press or in extreme cases other writers in general. Or at least there can be good reasons for an author to remain silent rather than say something postive but insincere.

If I recommend a publisher I give reasons, I am trying to send the writer to the right press for them, and to send the press a good writer for them. When I praise an epublisher, either as a writer or as a reader, I mean it. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for my publishers and they have earned it. In the end erotic romance epublishing needs more publishers who find a need and fill it, more writers who research the market and find the best press for their work, more readers willing to take a chance on books from small presses, more transparency, more honesty, more courtesy, more excellence...

...and fewer pom-poms.


Jules Jones said...

Hear, hear.

The current uproar over RWA changing the rules on PAN yet *again*? While I have my opinion on the motivation behind that -- it's relevant that my latest book was less than ten dollars short of that $2000 requirement within the first six weeks. I think that a publisher that can offer that is likely to be a much better publisher for me than one that offers $20 -- and there are such publishers out there.

Pepper Espinoza said...

I think the reason there are so many cheerleaders when it comes to epublishers--even ones that are new, untried, or poor performers--is the same reason people defend Publish America. NOTE: I am NOT comparing any epub to Publish America. I'm just saying, some of the rhetoric I've seen surrounding the issue ("They took a chance on me!" etc) makes it seem like the cheerleaders view publishing not as a business, but some sort of social club...

Anonymous said...

I don't cheerlead for anybody unless there's sufficient bribery involved, usually in the form of paper with dead presidents printed on them. And not some pitiful Washingtons or Lincolns, either. No, I start with Grant and work my way up.


If a publisher treats me right, then I've got no problem letting people know.

Stacia said...

Excellent post, Emily, and a point I agree with you is not raised nearly often enough. It's heartbreaking to see writers cheerleading for their publishers only to find out months later when the royalties come in that their cheering was misguided.

And as Caitlin Kitteridge said on her blog, it's unconscienable for authors who know about the unprofessional behavior of their publishers to continue to cheerlead and go on the attack.