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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What publishers should do

Jonathan Karp, of Twelve Publishing, makes much sense in an oped written for Publishers Weekly. After browsing bookstores and finding a plethora of blatantly unsellable books, he recommends they wake up their act.

"We are acquiring and publishing too many books," he writes. "We buy them opportunistically, and at times thoughtlessly. We edit and launch them too quickly. We market them carelessly and ephemerally. Too often, we abdicate our responsibility to be filters, guides, guardians and gatekeepers. And now, as in many other industries, we are suffering the effects. Anyone in a bookstore can see that."

And, with that, he offers a twelve-point guide, which I summarize in my own words.

1. End Kabuki Publishing. You know the book that everyone raves about, and yet no one has actually read? That's the kind of promo he's talking about.

2. Prioritize and specialize. Let your editors acquire and work with a limited number of manuscripts that are close to their hearts.

3. Tell the truth. Don't pretend to your marketing department that a book is great when it's not. Only promote the books that meet the house's standards.

4. Stop the copycat books. This is also known as the Grisham Effect. The public isn't stupid, and lookalike books don't sell.

5. More editorial quality control. Promote only those books that have been edited at leisure, thoughtfully, and with crucial feedback from others.

6. Imprints for everyone. I love this idea -- which is to organize publishing staff into teams, ideally of three, consisting of the editor, a publicist, and a sales/marketing rep., who generate and manage their own mini-list.

7. One bidder per company. Why have your own editors competing for the same book?

8. Pay authors to market their work. The author is the person most involved with the book, and the person who knows their audience best -- so why not earmark part of the advance for author-generated promotion? Excellent idea, in this internet age!

9. Be loyal to the book, not the ego. Why back an author when the book isn't great?

10. Announce all deals -- and not just a few. Again, perfectly possible, in a link on the publisher's website, perhaps. While it might disappoint a few prospective authors, it would avoid the problem of multiple books coming out on the same topic.

11. Downsize. In a digital age, he says, fewer books should be published, with more marketing.

12. Advertise, advertise, advertise. I say, amen, to that. I hate to say how many books I have bought because I saw them advertised on the back of a bus ...

Jonathan Karp welcomes feedback.

1 comment:

Carter said...

Thanks for letting us know about this, Joan. I hope Karp doesn't get fired because of it. I walked through the local big-box bookstore today and shook my head--way, way too much crap. Finding books worth reviewing is a big job for us on the Internet Review of Books, partly because of the deluge.