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President’s Column:
No More Publisher Victims!

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Adopting a victim mentality offers the small business owner a surefire way to run a money-losing business, to run it badly, and to feel lousy about it all at the same time! Sadly, these are opportunities that too many of our members choose not to miss.

OK. You guessed it. I do have a few thoughts to get off my mind at this moment. So, here goes. I hope that they prove to be helpful.


Gripes Going Nowhere

As PMA President for the past year, I have heard many gripes about how independent publishers don’t get respect and don’t have clout in the book business. “They wouldn’t review my book or even return my call.” “The buyer would only take 100 copies.” “My distributor didn’t get books to the signing on time.” “My distributor only sold 300 copies.” “They put stickers on them, spilled coffee on them, and then returned them to me for full credit.” The list goes on and on.

As with most complaints, these gripes are based on facts. From my 25 years in publishing, I know firsthand that statements like these are often only too accurate. I also know that these situations are maddeningly frustrating. And I have to admit that I, too, have at times been seduced by the strange temptation to stand around with publisher friends telling delicious stories about how the publishing business has treated me unfairly. But this activity perpetuates the problem. How?

As with most complaints, these gripe sessions mostly lead nowhere that’s productive. They simply reinforce the feeling of being victimized by forces outside of our control. Statements and stories that incorporate the “Look what they didn’t do for me; look what they did to me–again” message generate a sense of powerlessness and lead to passivity and inaction–not exactly the business strategies that ensure entrepreneurial publishing success.


Find the Empowering Focus

Here’s an all too common example. I recently heard of a publisher who had sold more than 30,000 copies of her book. The gripe? “My distributor sold less than 1,000 through the bookstores.” What’s the problem with this complaint, even assuming that it is true? This is not a case of seeing the glass half-full or half-empty. It’s a case of wasting time on the 3% of sales that seem disappointing instead of celebrating–and building on–the 97% of sales that came to a total any publisher would be proud to reach.

Every moment spent focusing on what the book trade didn’t do directly reduces the energy and time available to get moving on the joy of selling still more copies and/or the joy of publishing the second book that figures to sell another 29,000 copies through the same market channels as the first. The victim mentality simply stops forward motion. Not a luxury that most independent publishers can afford.

Let’s get back to a basic assumption that can enhance our future. Every element of the book business will respond to us when it sees that what we have will help it make a profit. It’s really that simple.


The Author Illustration

Here’s a metaphor. As publishers, we note how ineffective authors look when they act like angry victims, expecting us to publish their books just because“Publishers publish books and I’ve written one, so you should publish it for me.” We, of course, point out that publishing costs money, and that if they want money for publishing, they might note that banks are in the business of making loans. Of course, banks do have a habit of asking for collateral instead of just lending because someone asks.

We explain to authors that they’re asking us to invest $50,000-$75,000 in their book, and that we can invest that kind of money only where we can reasonably expect a return. Often, as publishers, we don’t understand why authors don’t seem to listen. Why they can’t seem to see the obvious.

I imagine that sometimes the key players in the book trade look at independent publishers the same way, wondering why some of us seem to expect that buyers will make less than prudent decisions. Why we can’t seem to understand that the book trade doesn’t owe us anything.

It’s not our divine right as independent publishers to have the trade help us. Wholesalers, retailers, and distributors are busy running their own businesses. If our books help them do that, they will respond. They will purchase books, lots of books, from us when, and only when, it is to their advantage (read profit) to do so. If our books don’t help them, they won’t buy.

What is our most relevant task for gaining entry into the book trade? Only one. Help them see that when they don’t have our book, they’re losing money.


Remember – Different Ways Work

For some books, that will never be the case. Is that understandable? Yes. Is that unfair? No, it is not. Does that mean that we shouldn’t be publishers? And can’t be profitable? No, it does not.

There are a lot of ways to make our businesses work. But that task is always much easier if we’re not carrying around the burden of a victim mentality.

Let’s each get on with the job of identifying the markets that will work profitably for us, and focus on selling our books to the people who want them–wherever market opportunities exist. Let’s find ways that work and then laugh silently all the way to the bank with our profits. That’s a way to feel creative and in control of our destiny. That’s the way to really enjoy the process of publishing whatever captures our fancy.

Helping you find proactive ways to reach these goals is PMA’s mission.

Thanks for listening.



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