Last week while I was following up on a proposal I had out on submission to publishers, I heard back from a senior editor at one of the top six publishing houses. This person is someone who I consider to be very smart and who has great taste. I had sent him a proposal which he acknowledged was very well done and which covered a subject he was interested in. In turning it down, he sounded discouraged and demoralized as he said that the higher ups in his company were no longer allowing him to buy mid-list titles that in the past he had been able to turn into bestsellers. Rather, he said, they were only allowing him to buy “sure things,” which I took to mean books that can’t fail.
This thinking is incredibly narrow minded, in my humble opinion, and could, if it continues, spell the downfall of any publisher who seriously pursues it. Why?
Because (1) publishers can’t be “sure” of that “sure thing” and (2) they tend to overpay through the nose in order to get that sure thing and often end up losing money that could have been better spent.
The other and perhaps more serious consequence of this approach is that publishers who think this way – and there are a number of them – are forgetting that a strong backlist is the key to their continuing success. If they neglect this very important part of their publishing program, they will ultimately fail.
This subject – publishers’ recent inability to keep their eye on that backlist ball – is something I have written about it the past. I am doing so again today because I am so very concerned about the future of this business that I love.
I hope publishers will “wake up” and remember why we are all in this business. You cannot remain successful publishing only front list titles. You must have depth and breadth in your publishing program.
I would love to hear what you think about all of this and whether you can offer any suggestions to our colleagues on the publishing side.