In the first of an occasional series of Q & A from Boston based international literary and arts publicist Sandra Goroff, here are her thoughts on how publishing has changed since she entered the profession.
When I first arrived at Boston based Houghton Mifflin Company’s Trade and Reference Division on July 26, 1982, publishing was quickly coming to the end of its “golden era.” Our then CEO described it as a culture vs. a business and the publisher wooed and flattered authors by saying, “we don’t publish books, we publish authors.” This was an environment that thrived on the creativity of its quirky cast of characters and management (loosely defined) gave editors lots of wiggle room in which to invent, innovate, discover, support and publish truly wonderful and talented authors. It was an exciting place to work back then.
I didn’t have a computer or laptop on my desk at Houghton Mifflin in the early 80’s. We didn’t even have a fax machine for a number of years, and when we did, there was one only around the corner on the 26th floor of One Beacon Street in the telephone operator’s office.
I used carbon paper to make copies of author confirmation sheets and we still used interoffice envelopes to deliver information (professional and otherwise). Clearly, the greatest change along with attitudes and the economy, has been technology. The rate of change has been startling; in its wake newspapers that routinely employed book editors and published and review books have closed and/or are publishing periodically online. There are fewer book editors than ever before. Such online sites as amazon.com have made lovely independent booksellers — already at risk from the huge chains — an endangered species (so many of us buy our books online today). Because of the economy, publishers can no longer afford to take on unknown authors (they call this writers without a “platform”) or take as many chances as they used to — nor do they have the money (except for the really big titles and authors) to pay for promotional tours, prominent advertising or substantial advances.
Without question, it is the means of delivery that has changed the industry most. And publishers who need to make money inorder to survive have had to adapt and reinvent themselves along the way. Authors — be they published by big houses or self-published need to understand the climate. While these and other changes have altered the publishing industry forever, those who love the written word continue to write, publish, edit, package and promote books.
The term indie publishing is not used as frequently in the states as it is in other parts of the world. Independent Publishing, as I have always known it and refer to it as, has long been an important part of the publishing landscape. There are many excellent independent publishers and their reputations and capabilities vary. I fully support independent publishing and encourage writers to embrace it when submitting their work. While each publisher has its own guidelines and while most large publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts (work needs to be represented by an agent), independent publishers may have more flexible rules; another reason to give them a try.
There are both benefits and challenges to being published by a smaller “indie” or independent publisher. Because the staff is smaller, editors may have more time to work with you and in a more personal way. These relationships can be particularly rewarding and helpful.
The greatest challenge I see is money and distribution — their ability to get the books into the stores and the resources with which to market and promote them once published. Because money is limited (though this is increasingly the case for all publishers big and small today) production, advertising, publicity, promotion and online savvy and marketing may be very basic. In the states, many smaller independent publishers often join forces with companies such as Ingram who handle all matters related to distribution, marketing and publicity. The expertise and extensive range of services like Ingram and others are making it possible for small publishers — and individuals — to publish on a very professional level.
As in any other business, the quality and reach of independent publishers varies greatly. If you are a new writer and/or being published for the first time, getting into print is what is important (and what feels good) — going with a small or smaller independent publisher provides a great opportunity. In getting published, you acquire a “platform” and something in print to show to agents and other publishers further down the road as you advance your career as a writer.
Many thanks, Sandy. I look forward to hearing more from you later in the year.
Sandy’s website is well worth a look. Her client list is impressive and her Sidebar blog very informative.