Robert Miller – A Publisher Who Gets It!

Publishing Savior

Publishing Savior

I’m highly overdue on a geeky publishing post.  I’m constantly tracking the industry and trying to figure out why they continually give me the finger.  It usually leads me to post something off-putting and bitter, so I’ve avoided them altogether.   But surprise, surprise, I’ve found something positive to post.  Read on!

I have been a fan of Robert Miller’s ever since he started the HarperStudios imprint.  He’s created a mainstream publisher that follows an unconventional structure to get books to market.  He avoids the huge advances, gives the author a 50% take of the profits, has convinced retailers to forgo a liberal return policy that cripples most startup publishing houses, and relies heavily on the author’s existing online platform to build a durable marketing strategy.  In short, the guy get’s it.  He’s created something that was virtually unheard of before now, a nimble company that continually experiments with publishing models in order to keep pace with technology.

Here’s an excerpt of a recent article he wrote for Publishing Perspectives:

I don’t think that this solution goes far enough. I believe that publishers and authors should be equal partners, sharing profits fifty-fifty, as we are doing in all of our deals at HarperStudio. The author brings their creative work to this partnership, and their commitment to do everything in their power to help their book succeed. The publisher brings their financial risk (under our model, the publisher puts up the publishing costs, including the advance to the author, from which the author can decide to help the marketing effort if they’d like, or not), their passion for the project, and their staff time (we don’t charge any overhead to the profit split; the authors don’t charge for their time spent marketing the book either).

This financial structure requires both parties to think responsibly about costs, since both parties will be charged for those costs at the end of the day. The result is that the relationship is much less adversarial.

The question each day is, “What should we be doing for this book?” not “What have you done for me lately?” It feels healthier to me.

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Blame Canada – BookExpo in the Great White North in Trouble

As if we needed further confirmation that the publishing industry is in trouble, BookExpo Canada officials are leaning towards canceling this years show.  To put this in technical terms, this sucks the big one.  All the major publishers are pulling out, not willing to pay the exposition fees in order to show off their wares.  Here’s a quote from an article in Quill & Quire:

After confirming that Penguin Canada would not be attending, company director of marketing and publicity Yvonne Hunter told Q&Q Omni that the money that would have been spent on the fair is now going to be channeled into marketing. “We’re looking at the possibility of creating a travelling Penguin showcase to promote our key titles for the year,” Hunter explained. Such an initiative would be costly, she added, but would still be cheaper than attending BookExpo.

Despite this development, I  still think it’s too early to panic.   In the words of Sam Cooke, a change is going to come.   Don’t worry.  It’s a change for the better.  The new publishing industry will be more flexible, and I believe more open to a bigger pool of writers.  The money might not be as big as it once was.  The seven figure deals that are few and far between as it is will be fewer and farther between.  As I said before, publishers will be looking for books that are multimedia friendly.  Authors may have to change the way we approach the pitch, and be willing to expand our skills, but the opportunities will be there for us.   BTW – I don’t really blame Canada.

I leave you with my favorite performance of Sam Cooke’s song “A Change is Going to Come.”  Obama’s first mistake was not having Ben Sollee performing this at the inauguration celebrations that took place this weekend.  Instead, they had Bon Jovi singing it with Betty Lavette.  It should have been Ben and Betty.