fiction or fact

So you think it’s all about loving your publisher? You’re wrong

A writer tells his fraternity why being on the best of terms with the publisher is only an illusion.

I love my editor. Deeply. She gives me homemade erissery whenever I’m in her hood. And her husband’s good whisky when he’s not looking. Actually, I love all editors. I love them so much I married one. Before that, I substantive-dated a couple of others.

I also love proofreaders, typesetters, lamination film, paper jelly and new-book smell. Let’s say I love everything about publishing. It’s sort of a family weakness. Several generations of us have had long, meaningful relationships with publishers. Our ulcers and unsold stock are proof.

So, please, pay heed. For a change I may actually know what I’m talking about.

Cut to the present. My Facebook newsfeed, to be precise.

As far as the literary world goes, this is all I see: writer declares undying love for editor, writer shares publisher’s post about publisher’s new cat, writer forms cosy, cutesy girlie group with publishing staff, writer sends hearts and balloons to copy editor on birthday, writer takes selfie hiding in the bushes outside publisher’s house, writer writhes and moans with pleasure that editor has shared her review, writer and publisher walk off into the sunset leaving respective families ...

You get the drift. It’s all about loving your publisher.

Here’s the thing, writer. Sorry to break your little heart but your publisher is not your friend. Never was. Never will be.

Here’s why.

The moolah

How does a publisher make money? Much as today’s lot would have you believe it stems from their scintillating comments on social media and their phenomenal schmoozing skills at cocktail parties, their money comes from one thing and one thing only: selling books.

How does a writer make money? By getting royalties on his work. Where do these royalties come from? When I was little, I believed Goddess Saraswati asked Goddess Lakshmi for a dhanavriksham which she planted in my publisher’s backyard which my friend, the editor, would shake vigorously just before my royalties were due. Apparently, that’s a myth. I hear my royalties come from the publisher’s turnover.

So, basically, from the publisher’s point of view, the writer is an “expense” cutting into their profits. And it is their vritti dharma to whittle down this expense in however many ways the fine print in the contract allows.

So whether you like it or not, as you pose cheek-to-cheek for your FB profile pic, dear writer, please understand your “friend” is devising new strategies to make sure you get as little money from them as legally possible. Because they’ll have to downgrade from Blue to Black Label at that great big sales conference in Bali if her thoughts are about what’s good for you.

The favourite kids

If you’re a writer and actually bothering to read this piece, I’m pretty sure you’re a small writer. How do I know that? Because most big writers don’t read stuff by small writers. And the rest can’t read. So, my teensy-weensy-writer sibling, this is especially relevant for you.

While your earnings are the royalties on your book, the publisher’s earnings come from the sale of all their books – written by writers big and small. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that advance on royalties is not uniform. Big writers get big advances. Small writers get tiny advances.

The publishing truth today is that neither big writer nor small is selling. So from where do you think that obese, has-been writer continues to get the fat advances he’s used to? C’mon, dude. You think it’s coming from what’s been apportioned for the Bali sales conference? It’s coming from you.

Both your books are priced the same. Both your books are selling badly. But he’s getting more money. Please think about it before you promise your new best friend your only kidney.

The middleman

You have the writer and you have the reader. In a utopian world, that’s all you’d need. But you have publishers, too. And writers need them. But not as much as they need writers. Good, bad or infra-dig, writers today actually have platforms that can do away with the conventional publisher. Publishers, on the other hand, haven’t as yet found a way to circumvent the writer.

Believe me, it isn’t because they haven’t tried. (They are still secretly working on that monkeys-on-typewriter thing.) That you, the writer, are the building block of this beast called publishing is your new best friend’s greatest open secret. Even if the life of the Labrador puppy you gave her as a birthday gift depended on it, your editor will never tell you are needed.

For what if you up your ante? Much better to allow you to continue believing what a giant favour they are doing you by publishing your book. So much for friendships.

You vs them
Don’t you love it, new writer, when you’re included in all those cool book dos by your publisher? Even though most have nothing to do with you. Goodie, they love you so much they’re calling you anyway.

What about the casual dropping by at the publisher’s office? Or the lunches and cocktails with your charming young editor? You’ve made so many new friends because of your new book, right? Wrong.

Try testing that friendship. I dare you. Bring up an issue, and you will have some of those, and see how far your “friendship” takes you. In my experience, leave alone rolling of heads, not one strand of highlighted junior editorial hair has been yanked out to redress a writer’s genuine, heartbreaking concern.

In conclusion, yeah, go have that drink with that editor. Post a pic or two of the marketing head. Be friendly with your publisher. But don’t mistake it for friendship.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is the author of How to be a Literary Sensation: A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family & Facebook for Financial/Artistic Gain. He is expecting to be unfriended any moment now by his publisher. Sigh.

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