Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good intentions

An article on the recent disaster in Haiti mentioned a problem that relief efforts sometimes encounter – people who try to help but who aren’t actually doing so.

One such couple arrived in the country with no resources of their own at all, and needed a ride from the airport. Others, less impractical but no more helpful, donated items that weren’t useful. For instance, after the tsunami that hit South-East Asia, some people donated used clothes – stiletto shoes and ballgowns. I had personal experience of this, since I worked in a thrift store at the time, and we packed a crate of clothes to be shipped to Sri Lanka. One of the other employees asked if we should send bathing suits.

I wasn’t very tactful. “Do you really think they’re in a hurry to go swimming?”

Such efforts aren’t just a waste of time. They’re a financial drain, if the items are shipped to their destination and have to be accounted for. It’s all right to not be part of the solution, but there’s no need to be part of the problem instead.

To get to the moral of this rambling tale, the article reminded me a little of publishing. Or, specifically, of amateur micropresses who have good intentions but not much else.

In a discussion on the Absolute Write forums, a writer suggested that such startups be given the benefit of the doubt. In other words, even if they don’t have experience, capital, knowledge of the industry, etc., they have faith in themselves and may be trying to help authors.

What if you establish yourself as a publisher with the very best of intentions, and believe that you have the ability to take peoples' hard work and get it into the hands of readers (whether you have the knowledge/experience is irrelevant, YOU believe YOU can do it)…

I think optimism is a good thing. Believing in yourself and being determined to do your best are both, IMO, indicators of accomplishment. But I don’t for one moment entertain the idea that this is all you need to succeed. Not in medicine, not in sports, not in the publishing industry. Who was it that said, “Faith may move mountains but the whip built the pyramids”?

There’s not much point in a belief without the ability to back it up, especially in a field as competitive as that of the literary marketplace, where POD technology means that more and more books are produced. At best, this unfounded belief will waste the publisher’s time. At worst, it’ll attract inexperienced writers, lulling them into a false sense of security.

Which won’t last for long, since even the best of intentions don’t compensate for qualified staff, startup capital, experience in selecting marketable books, distribution and all the hundred and one things that a publisher needs.

And a desire to help authors doesn’t automatically mean one is qualified to do so. The founder of one such micropress, Dream Books LLC, stated that he was eighteen but claimed to have been editing manuscripts since he was fourteen. His blog is even more, um, interesting.

Some days publishers are just tired especially the small ones. (Yes, high school can be like that -- Marian) Sending them funny things and offering to call this person or that person will go a long way and may even result in a bonus to you.

Some such people may genuinely want to help writers, while others may be indulging in Publisher: The Role-Playing Game, but the end result is usually the same. Publishers may walk away from failed endeavors, but the authors’ rights of first publication generally go down with the ship.

Give me hard business sense over warm fuzzy intentions any day.


Maria Zannini said...

Amen, sister!

Anonymous said...

People donated ballgowns after the tsunami hit?? Um, yeah. I'm sure the people devasted over there were all set to go to some lavish party...

Marian said...

Tasha - it was a way to get rid of things they didn't need and get a tax deduction. Better than what happened in Sri Lanka. Some people donated cans of catfood and cats in rural parts of the country generally eat leftover scraps and whatever they can catch.

So entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka removed the labels from the cans and sold them for human consumption.

Maria - Thanks. :)