It’s very common for writer’s sites to grill a new publisher because they want to know if that company is made of meat and ‘taters or grass sprouts and yogurt. In order for a publisher to advocate their company’s foundations, they need to have solid reasons as to why their company is a good choice.
What I invariably see is what I call the “Typical Yogurt Answer,” meaning that it’s light on calories and taste. So today’s post is about helping writers discern Meat and ‘Taters to Grass Sprouts and Yogurt.
When asked what makes their brand-spanking-new company a good choice over a Big Gun publisher, the Yogurt answers are almost always the same. Here’s one I pulled off a writer’s site:
One of the main advantages of a digital/small press over a New York publisher is the personal attention. I read each submission and provide a personal response in a timely fashion. I also work with authors on improving their craft. I think there’s a closeness that develops between the editors and authors and the authors themselves when working with a smaller press rather than a larger one, simply due to the numbers involved.
So the basic premise is they offer personalized attention and develop a closer relationship. It’s a straw man argument whose intention is to deflect the larger issues of publication. Let me pick this apart.
One of the main advantages of a digital/small press over a New York publisher is the personal attention.
This is such a sweeping statement that it has no real meaning. What do they mean by “personal attention”? Let’s face it; you can’t publish, or even edit, a book without personal interaction with the author, so this is just a throwaway statement meant to flatter the author into thinking that Big Guns are automatons and should be avoided. It’s blatantly false.
I read each submission and provide a personal response in a timely fashion.
This is simply an issue of volume. The small publisher doesn’t get the large number of queries and submissions that the Big Guns do, so they have the luxury of doing the reading themselves. So what? How does this equate to being a Meat and ‘Taters company? How does this benefit an author?
I also work with authors on improving their craft.
This is a double-edged sword that begs for better clarification. The implication is that Big Gun editors don’t help authors hone their craft. The mere act of going through the editing process teaches authors boatloads about honing their craft. Editors don’t come in and simply change everything and do their own rewrites on an author’s manuscript. They send out a whole buncha pages called developmental edits that pinpoint areas that need further attention.
Authors are likely to see things like:
Chapter 3 is good in that it exposes the plot. You do a great job at keeping the writing tense and fast-paced. However, I don’t have a solid feel for your main character yet. Suggest digging deeper into his psyche that explains why he’s compelled to blow up the Twinkie factory. There needs to be a connection between his backstory and the main plot.
And this goes on for pages and pages. It picks apart the story with editorial suggestions on how the author can rewrite certain scenes to make the story stronger. If that’s not honing one’s craft, then cram me full of cream and call me a Twinkie.
Now, if the Yogurt publisher is implying all publishers should provide basic writing instructions, then no…no editor in their right mind would tackle such a beast because it isn’t our job. As writers, that’s your responsibility.
The other side of that sword deals with the editor’s competence and experience. Does that Yogurt editor have the skills to actually know how to edit? What is their background? What is it about their previous experience that suggests they know the difference between a well-written, marketable story from one that isn’t ready for prime time?
These are far more important considerations than “I’ll help you hone your skills.” In truth, it’s not our job to hone your skills. It’s our job to ensure you have the best story possible, and that we have the talent to make it happen.
I think there’s a closeness that develops between the editors and authors and the authors themselves when working with a smaller press rather than a larger one, simply due to the numbers involved.
To quote my daughter; “Duh.” The question is how this translates to being a successful company that can sell loads of books. I really enjoy the editing process because it’s the only chance I have to work closely with our authors. Where the personal relationship does come in handy is grabbing up marketing ideas.
There have been any number of times when, during the course of a casual conversation, an author will say something and it’ll hit me that it would be a fabulous marketing idea that we can exploit. But I would never use that as a selling point for our company. It’s simply the process of doing business. It’s like saying someone should buy my car because it’s so clean, when they should be asking whether the engine is any good.
Meat and ‘Taters
Rather than making vague statements about how nice and personable and helpful they are, Yogurts should be talking about their distribution, marketing, and promotion. Those are selling points and the specifics authors should be looking for. After all, you can be as sweet as a banana cream pie and not have the ability to sell any books. And believe me, sweet and nice only takes you so far.
If a Yogurt can’t sell your books, then I daresay your opinion will be, “Nice, but clueless.” Meanwhile, you’ve lost that book. Rather than taking the chance on going with a Yogurt, look for the Meat and ‘Taters.