November 19, 2007
The Dark Side of Platform
Be careful what you wish for.
Publishing is becoming like real estate. Only three things matter. Platform. Platform. Platform. It seems to be a requirement that to publish a book authors must be well-known or be on the speaking circuit or have a deep network of potential readers to tap into once the book is published. A high-platform author is the dream of every publisher. Or is it the nightmare?
While high-platform author are likely to be able to get books into the hands of readers, they are also likely to be overly intrusive with publishers. One publisher recently confided about an author, "We have 137 employees, and there is one of her. And she is winning." This author is constantly on the phone with everyone in the publishing house, it seems. Not just her editor, not just her marketing contact, not even just the publisher. Everyone. Accounting. Publicity. Advertising. Production. Design. Typesetting. Distribution. And when she leaves a message, if she doesn’t hear back within 60 minutes, she calls someone else in the department and says, “Bill doesn’t return my calls.” She will email five people simultaneously asking the same question and each one will dutifully start searching for an answer, not knowing that four other colleagues are doing the same thing when only one of them needed to. Of course she gets things done and the result is a lot of books get sold—but at what cost?
To start with, no one in the publishing house wants to hear from her. All the employees are frustrated. In addition, every other book being published that season is short-changed due to the demands of the one author. And, if the publishing house is smart, it will never publish that author again--which is often what happens. Be careful what you wish for.
There is another potential down side for the author as well. Sometimes people talk. Everyone loves to hear war stories in the industry. Yes, gossip is not one of the seven cardinal virtues, but it happens. (Our publisher friend told us, didn't he?) And so more than one publishing house may decide not to bid for that next book.
Not every high-profile author is difficult to work with, of course. Many are princes and princesses, and we love them dearly. They are the epitome of graciousness, good will and common sense. Some are also so busy with their day jobs that they don't have time to pay attention to the details of publishing (and often, unfortunately, not even to the major issues).
The problem with the high-maintenance author is not that he or she is a prima donna—though that happens sometimes. The problem is that the author is an entrepreneur who sucks everyone into the vortex of his or her vision and agenda like a black hole. Much is accomplished but along with the entrepreneurial spirit often comes an entrepreneurial personality that uses people up. Yes, it’s a vision. It’s for a good cause. But people are used up nonetheless.
Be careful what you wish for.