Sunday, September 25, 2011
An Open Letter to Traditional Publishing
James Scott Bell
Dear Traditional Publishing,
You've been taking it on the chin pretty good over the last year, so I wanted to write you a little letter and buck up your spirits. You're an old and good friend. I want you to know that.
We've had great times together and they're not over. We've done almost 30 books, you and I, and we have more in the pipeline. You send me royalties and never once has one of your checks bounced. I appreciate that!
But your head must be spinning like Victor Ortiz's after Floyd Mayweather coldcocked him. With the e-reader revolution hitting harder than virtually anyone predicted, you've really hardly had time to get up off the canvas. I don't want you to be counted out (and I certainly am not one of those in the cheap seats shouting for your demise!)
There is, however, something you need to understand. A lot of my writer friends are suffering right now because you're dropping them. Yes, this is business, and the cold hard truth is you just haven't got the dough coming in you used to. This limits the amount you can spend on new and midlist writers.
But there are lots of writers who signed contracts back in the day, before 2005 or so, whose books you've let go out of print. These writers would like to bring out these old books as e-books to try and make themselves some much needed scratch, but you are in most cases steadfastly refusing to give back any "electronic" rights. You're going to hang onto those forever and just let the books sit there in digital land hoping they bring in a few beans.
Can I make a suggestion? Don't play hard guy on this just because you're bigger. Don't pummel the struggling authors. Let them have their books. You're not going to make a ton of lettuce on these. Being generous at this point would go a long way toward re-establishing some good will.
As for me, I am glad that it's not either/or with us. I have you and I have self-published books that complement what we're doing together. In point of fact, I'm doing what you always tell your authors to do: increase their platform, increase their readers. I'm making hundreds of new readers each month with my e-books, and that will only increase. Any author making new readers who feed into traditional offerings is creating a win-win situation. You can use a little more of that, I daresay!
Well, I know there's a lot on your mind and you've probably got meetings to attend (watch out for those three martini lunches, though. Things aren't that bad), so let me just give you some props and thanks. You let me have my dream. You have treated me fairly, and even though we've had a few disappointments, I am grateful that I get to be a working writer because you once took a chance on me.
Which is why I am hoping for your recovery. Of course we both recognize that things will never be the same. Too much has changed and will continue to change. But we still need people who love books -- yes even books printed on paper! -- collectively working toward the production of quality literature. You've been doing that for a long time and I'm pulling for you to keep on doing it in some form or fashion in the future.
Hope this helps a little. Keep in touch. Maybe next time I'm in New York you can buy me a drink.
a.k.a. K. Bennett