Socks, and their need to be pulled up • 18 March 2007 • The SnowBlog
Socks, and their need to be pulled up
Today I feel ashamed. Forget the fact that large publishers are cumbersome and unwieldy; forget the fact that we're doing better work than them in many areas; we're in such a different world to them that it's often irrelevant to compare ourselves. We're a small publisher. Small publishers are known for their nimbleness, agility, lack of bureaucracy, bright thoughts and new thinking. So why do we take 12 months, if not longer, to get a book to market? How come it's not us who had the excellent idea of doing a book for Comic Relief, and getting it done in seven days? I know the real reason why we take so long to get a book out there, by the way. It's to fit in with everyone else. The wholesalers communicate new books to the retailers months in advance. Magazine journalist deadlines need to take into account the long colour printing lead times. Retailers plan their ranges in advance. We'd be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn't try to fit in with the work rate the industry has set.
Good books, for the most part, just take time, too. I've just got Ground Fighting off to print. Taking, selecting, photoshopping and laying out 1000 images, not to mention editing a book, can't be done in a day. Editing and proofreading 400-page novels are hugely time consuming.
But for topical books there is no excuse for following the dumb traditional model of publishing in hardback, then releasing the paperback 6 months later. Er, no one cares, by then.
In fashion retail they design an item and cut three different sorts of fabric. They finish a number of each, put them in store, and see which variant sells. As soon as they see which colour is the bestseller, they finish making the items and ship them pronto to all stores. I wonder if there's a similar model to be found for bookselling?
Maybe we should have a suite of manuscripts lined up just in case the topic they cover happens. Ones for what happens when the world gives up on us, maybe ("Kayaking; The New Commuter Solution"; "Living With Strangers; How To Accommodate Immigrants From Uninhabitable Countries"; "Walking To Italy; A Guide For When Your Town Is Overwhelmed By The Sea"). Ones for government scandal (you could write the book and just do a find and replace on the subject's name.) Ones for new diseases. Then get to market as quickly as the newspapers.
Point is, this industry is lagging behind the real world. In the real world, as soon as something happens, most forms of media are on it immediately - TV, newspapers, magazines, the net - and their treatment of the event becomes part of the story itself. Books are so way outside of that timeframe. At the current time, even if we all switched to ereaders tomorrow, the publishing industry wouldn't have the content ready for five months - it's just not geared up to that way of thinking. There will always be a place for measured, well-written and well-edited content (although god knows the number of books out there that take 18 months to get to market and are still badly edited) but publishing needs to be able to work to all timeframes. And as I say, forget the large publishers - their structure means they don't stand a chance. It's up to the little guys to do it. So we'd better pull our socks up.