The Top Five Dumbest Business Practices in Publishing
From the real world perspective, publishing is really, really, really known for its head-shakingly stupid business practices. But inside of publishing, these practices have become so common and set in “the way things are done” as to be defended by otherwise sane business people.
So I figured I would honor Dave Letterman’s departure with a quick top five list.
I’ll give the real world equivalent of the publishing practice, then the actual publishing practice, working down to the most stupid publishing practice of them all.
There are many others. I try to deal with a lot of them in the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing books.
And if this little blog helps you wake up a little and realize you have fallen for one of these “the way things are done” practices, great. But if you keep on doing this stuff, just be warned that what you are doing really, really is flat dumb when looked at from the light of real business.
Real World: Say you are a carpenter and are building a house. You want some expert help on the project, so you start looking for some help. Would you hire someone who has never built a house? Someone who has no degree in architecture. Would you hire even a contractor with no experience and no license and who is a person who has never had a successful project of any sort completed? Of course not. You would go to someone with experience and a license and you would check out the other projects they have done that are successful.
Publishing: You are a writer looking for some expert help with your novel, so you hire a book doctor, someone who has never written a novel, has no experience at all in commercial fiction writing. The book doctor’s only education is from English teachers who could never write a book either. You hire someone who wouldn’t know what would make a book sell if it slapped them. And you pay them a lot of money. In the indie world, this is called hiring a “freelance editor.” Apply common business sense and never hire anyone who had never written a commercial fiction novel to help with your novel. Duh.
Real World: You walk up to a neighbor’s house you don’t really know, but at a neighborhood block party you met them. You ask the neighbor to give you legal advice about a legal contract you have been offered. The neighbor teaches English at the local high school and is not an attorney. Plus it is against the law in your state (and all states) for someone without a law degree to give legal advice. But since the neighbor on his last trip stayed at Holiday Inn Express (remember those commercials?) he agrees to give you advice on the contract and negotiate it for you. Would you ever do that? Of course not. You would go to a lawyer who knows the area of contracts you have been offered.
Publishing: Recent graduates of college with a bachelors in English who have a business card that says “agent” think nothing of giving legal advice to writers and negotiating the contract for them. And writers let them without a second thought. Apply common business sense and hire an IP attorney to handle your contract and negotiations. Duh.
Real World: You sold your house to strangers five years ago. You got all your money and walked away happy, signing over the rights to the home to the new owners. But then you decide you want your house back, so you walk up to their front door and bang on the door and demand they give you your house back for free. Would you ever do that? Of course not. You would make them a fair price offer to buy your house back if you felt you really wanted it back.
Publishing: Writers, even though they sold “life of copyright” to a work in a contract, get angry when the publisher just won’t give them their property back for free. This shows no knowledge of copyright as a form of property or the fact that the writer signed a “life of copyright” contract. Apply common sense and if you want your book back, figure out what the company is making on it and make them a fair business offer. Duh.
Real World: You meet some person on the street that you don’t know at all. You don’t bother to check out their criminal history or their credit reports. Just because they smiled at you and said nice things, you offer to have your employer send that person all your money and all the records and paperwork for that money. And then you hope they get around to sending you some of your money from time-to-time. Would you ever do that? Of course not. If you ever hired someone to work with your money in the real world, they would have to be with a reputable firm, bonded and certified and licensed. You would check out who they are, get their criminal history, their credit reports, and then make sure you got the paperwork and money before they did. Then you would pay them.
Publishing: A writer will meet someone on the street and get a business card that says “agent” on it and then let that person have all their money and all their paperwork for that money. For bestsellers, this totals up into the millions and millions. Apply common sense. Either not have an agent, or if you feel you must have an agent for some silly reason, then make sure you get your money direct from every publisher and all the paperwork on that money. Remember, agents are not licensed or regulated. They are just people off the street. Duh.
The absolute dumbest business practice in all of publishing…
Real World: You hire a gardener to mow your lawn when it needs it. In exchange for that simple task, you offer your gardener 15% of your property for the life of the property, plus seventy years past your death. That means the gardener’s grandkids would be getting money from your grandkids because the gardener mowed your lawn once or twice. Would you do that? Of course not. You would simply pay your gardener by the hour or the project.
Publishing: Every agency agreement, both from agents and inside of publishing contracts, gives an agent on a project 15% of the property (remember, copyright is property) for the life of the copyright which is 70 years past your death. And often the agent gets this for a couple hours work one day and a phone call. Apply common sense. If an agent won’t work for a set fee per property, then hire an IP attorney who is licensed and who can do all the same things an agent would do, only legally. And you only pay one set fee or hourly rate. Duh.
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