On Publishers And Platforms

Hunter Baker offers his thoughts in an open letter to publishers:

Your best route to survival will be to identify big talent early and get their first couple of books. Editorial discernment should be your stock in trade, not shooting fish in a barrel. The value of an editor is not really in judging such things as whether a prospective author has 100,000 twitter followers or can post to a high traffic website. Rather, the value of a good acquisitions editor should be in picking good books.

If publishers want to avoid the fate of almost all middlemen in a world which ruthlessly destroys them, they will find a way to make their imprint mean something such as excellence in fiction, religion, history, etc. Nobody needs them for printing. No one needs them for distribution. And the established authors don’t need them for advertising.

Makes sense to me but there seems to be a growing feeling that this ship has sailed.  Publishers seem less concerned with finding great books and more concerned with finding big markets and books that connect with them. Quality copy editing and editors with strong personalities and opinions on literature seem to be a thing of the past.  We live in the world of buzz and vibe; at least on the surface.

Of course, this is a gross generalization based on little more than some reading and conversations.  I have talked with a number of authors who were frustrated with the “you must have a platform” mantra of so many today.

Scott McKnight has some thoughts from the Christian publishing angle (which might have sparked Hunter’s letter).

Writing is hard, hard work; finding a good idea even harder; putting a really good idea into a really good book form the hardest of all. There is no correlation between big platforms and good books; there is a correlation between big platforms and sales; it’s time for good books to get the upper hand.

What do you think? Is publishing more about marketing than good content these days? Is having a platform a natural thing for publishers to want from their authors?

Any folks in the publishing world want to weigh in?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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