Publishing: Mentors vs. Newbies: Who Profits and Who Loses?

Don and Derek

The Book Kahuna and his Corgi, Derek!

I read with interest Jeremy Greenfield’s article on the Digital Book World website: Tender Words For Publishers From Self-Publishing Success Story and the supplemental interview he conducted with Sylvia Day, What Publishers Need To Do In The Era Of Self-Publishing and thought to myself, authors are part of the publishing process, but they do not know publishing.

Publishing:  A Mentor-Based Industry

In deference to Ms. Day, she has published 40 titles and been successful at selling copies, but the internal workings of a publishing company are not fully understood by someone who has never worked for one of these companies.  Having worked for a few New York Publishing companies, I would like to give some information that might be controversial in nature, but is true and thoughtful at the same time.

  1.  Successful Trade authors are treated like Superstar Athletes at the individual publishing houses.  They are catered to and treated with deference even when they may not be pushing avenues that are in the best interests of the house in question.
  2. Some of the internal foot soldiers of the Publishing Houses are becoming more and more devoid of knowledge and professional job ability, that outside vendors are coaching and teaching internal employees how to do their job functions successfully. (This is not universal, but I have had more than one sales person tell me this story in the past year!)
  3. Publishing Houses are driven by cost considerations that continually see houses beat their vendors down for pennies in cost savings, while cutting loose employees with vastly higher experience levels to save on salary requirements.  This means that there is a “brain-drain” within the publishing industry and anyone over 50 who has a vast array of experiences to call upon to reliably answer questions and troubleshoot problems are replaced by staff who are younger and less experienced or, and this is the real kicker in this equation, replaced by Finance people who can count the beans correctly, but couldn’t tell you a sheet-fed from a web press if their lives depended on it.
  4. The employees who are younger and less experienced are hurt in their careers by not having access to their older supervisors and mentors.  Publishing is an industry where the knowledge and information are passed from the people who have been in the industry for long periods of time to the next generation of publishing professionals.  When you weed out the older, experienced employees to save some money due to the implementation of “Obama-Care”, you in effect have cancelled the educational process that gets handed down from publishing generation to the next publishing generation.

“Now Playing Left Field, CC Sabathia, Left Field”

The allocation of functions to internal staff “playing out of position” as a former supervisor of mine liked to imbibe, means that although products reach the market, they may not be at the highest quality possible due to the experience constraints of the people tasked with getting them out the door.

God forbid there is a problem somewhere along the way to the Marketplace (signatures upside down, left out, or duplicated in sequence!).  The resolution may have a very simple answer, but end up costing the publisher a fortune due to lower levels of expertise at the helm.

Experience Trumps Cost Savings Every Time!!

In conclusion, Ms. Day is right in her summation, the traditional publishing establishment needs to remain a constant in this ever-changing world of content delivery, but the teachers, mentors, and coaches who are the “Old Guard” and sentinels of knowledge need to remain a viable part of the equation to keep the products consistently at a high level of quality while ensuring continuous training for the next publishing generations.

Follow me on Twitter at:  Donald Schmidt@thebookkahuna


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