I look at the book business the same way I look at the movie business. The people who ostensibly hold the reins are scared to death of making a mistake instead of being enthusiastic about discovering things. As I have said many times, in 1976 a little known movie idea about a boxer got turned down by every studio, until Sylvester Stallone got lucky and caught a break. His groundbreaking movie “Rocky” went on to win best picture.
Subsequently, a slew of Rocky – very rocky – sequels.
But the film industry has always been lazy, relying on blockbuster books to give them their blockbuster movies – and even then they usually messed them up. Even if they do accidentally make something original, they whore it into a franchise. They’d rather do Rocky 9 than risk their cash on anything new again.
With basically NO competition, the movie industry still managed to put out mostly duds. Once they used up successful books and successful Vaudeville acts, TV came along and nearly obliterated them.
I’m sure you know who Tom Brady is, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He was a sixth round draft pick. That means every team in the National Football League (NFL) passed on him five times in the draft. He’s considered the best quarterback in the league and maybe one of the best of all time – and nobody in charge could see that on draft day.
Same thing. The old systems don’t work.
The metrics used in the publishing business have always been wrong. The difference is, when a really, really good book got passed over by a publisher, it had nowhere to go, and so no one ever heard of it. The books they picked, since there were no other choices for anyone else, tended to do well –if they were marketed well.
By that standard, it means those guys have no idea what to do.
How do we know this?
There is a cautionary stat that most traditional book authors will tell you, so they obviously got it told to them by their publishers, which is something along the lines of: advances to authors are low because most traditionally published books don’t earn back their advances.
The translation of that to me has always been, the people who pick the books really suck at their jobs.
Just like the people who pick quarterbacks for the NFL.
Luckily, we have a place to go.
Indie, baby. Avoid the gate keepers protecting the dying world.
Ten years ago, having a title with a traditional publisher was a mark of validation. Five years ago it still was. Ten years from now I’m not even sure the traditional houses will exist. They certainly won’t exist in their current form.
Today, in that in-between phase, where they are not yet the buggy whip manufacturers of our time, they rely on agents to find books with an existing market, to go to retailers with a pre-designated spot in a shelf.
Fill the shelf spot. That’s the game. What’s trendy? Can we get more of it?
The problem is, while trad publishers take two years to fill a spot that existed today, indie authors are stealing the customers and making new spots. It’s a game the trad houses can’t win so they don’t play, and they become less and less relevant. We know this because LOTS of their big names are leaving them.
The writing’s on the wall.
And we’re the ones who scribbled it there.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.