From April 5, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
He is the one publisher who has engaged.
I have worked at publishers large and small–two Big Six houses, a literary indie, a university press, and currently a house I’d describe as mid-size. Never, ever, at any of them, have I heard authors discussed with “loathing.” At all of them it was fully understood by editors, marketers, and management that the author is, in Jonny’s words, “the primary mover” in the publishing firmament. The whole enterprise would not exist without authors. To put it another way, as one of my colleagues says, “the author is our customer.”
And it’s London agent Jonny Geller’s Manifesto to which he’s responding. (The original essay is now released from a temporary pay-walled status so you can read it free of charge — my thanks to The Bookseller for this).
Delivered with all the assurance and precision Geller brought to his own piece, Ginna’s response cordially but firmly condemns bad practice in publishing where it occurs, and asserts that incidents of the wrong kind reported by authors are rare, regrettable and, at times, inexcusable.
I have made clear elsewhere on this blog that I’m fully aware publishers often fail authors (and themselves for that matter)–for all sorts of reasons. One is simply the tendency of any complex organization to screw up from time to time. Another is that most publishers are under-resourced. Trade publishing is a chancy and low-margin business, and there’s rarely enough money and man-hours to lavish on each title–on any title–as much as it deserves. In the hustle to get things done, there can be a temptation to take shortcuts–and one of the most ill-advised shortcuts is to discount the author’s input about jacket design, flap copy, or marketing ideas when they are at odds with the publisher’s. This does sometimes happen, and sometimes with the arrogant justification that “we’re the professionals.” I have no hesitation in saying this is simply bad publishing, and any author who experiences such treatment is right to resent his publisher for it.
It doesn’t get much more forthright than that, not in any profession.
As author Roz Morris tweeted quickly on reading Ginna’s piece, “You sound like a complete delight.” And as Ginna pointed out in his piece, Morris’ own indictment from her insider experience in publishing, Why do authors get treated so badly?, was even more severe than Geller’s.
Ginna’s willingness to spar with Geller and defend other publishers, not just himself — the fact that he cared enough to write this — makes me wish more of his colleague publishers step forward as he has. Their silence hardly becomes them.
Granted, major publishers today are on the receiving end of a blistering amount of bad news, relentless scrutiny, and loud condemnation, this is true.
But newly empowered authors — including traditionalists — can read in Ginna’s meticulous comments, as in Geller’s and Morris’, a way around what Steve Pressfield (later in the Ether today) calls “the role of a child.”
And here’s Ginna, going the extra mile to include his absent counterparts:
To the charge of disrespecting authors, on behalf of all the publishers I know, I plead not guilty.
Ginna’s words may not be earned by his peers but they’re needed by authors.
I’m grateful to him, Geller, Morris, and the many others whose comments on their articles have played into this two-week exchange, corps-à-corps…even as the wider, battered industry apparently is too caught up in its daily hysteria to mount anything but a passata-sotto, a dropping out of sight, an evasion, on the knotty issue of publisher-author relations.
Silence doesn’t pay. Not anymore. Maybe it never did. Ginna knows that. And since I don’t have that OEE to offer, let’s tweet him off the piste in style: #PorterEndorsed.