Adsense

Downsized and Laid-off Publishing Employee Retraining

So you've been working at publisher X for the last ten years and the axe just fell. They're sorry to have to let you go, but your job has been made redundant through mergers and downsizing. The number of titles is growing but the bookstore business is stagnant and anybody who keeps a job at a large trade in the future will really be working for Amazon. Well, here's your chance to leave the dark side and join forces with the children of the light working in independent and self publishing.



I've known some really competent people who worked for trade publishers and I've known some real clowns, but one thing stands out. You can develop valuable job skills during a career in trade publishing, but unfortunately, most of them are essentially corporate get-along skills. Out here in the non-corporate world, dressing to impress, yessing to say "yes", making a great pot of coffee and giving good meetings are non-marketable skills. Wait, I take it back about the coffee. Mastery of spreadsheets can only get you in trouble and a fine appreciation of "the right way to do things" means you're a dinosaur, and not one of the scary ones.

But if you've watched your laid-off editor friends drop out of the industry one-by-one as they bang up against the invisible age ceiling, or if you're tired of going home to live with your parents every few years, it's time to get off the trade publishing merry-go-round. While I'm fond of pointing out to new authors and publishers that it's a tough business, that's where you have an advantage coming from the trade world. You already know that publishing is a business where only the strong make money, and you probably know quite a bit about market research. Let's face it, trade publishers excel at market research, if they were also good at acquiring and producing and marketing books that met that demand, you wouldn't be looking for a job right now.

As part of my outreach program to former developmental and acquisitions editors, I want to stress two points. First, you can't plan to replicate the business model that you're used to, but on a smaller scale. It's employees that are easy to downsize, not business models. You've rewritten or finished enough books for deadbeat authors, it's time to write one yourself. The great thing about being laid-off in America (so I hear) is collecting unemployment, so don't waste the chance by sitting on the couch and watching TV, or by blowing the money playing at being in business. Launch your publishing website today, and figure it out as you go along. Nobody is looking over your shoulder anymore, you can mess up all you want. But it's time to get out of corporate gear and shift up to self-employed gear, and if you can do it without coffee, you'll live longer.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I needed the reminder about going through a lot of money fast. Funny, the list you gave about how this happens, is exactly what I've been spending way too much money on lately: PR, author advances, and conferences. I know better. But I blew through a large wad of cash lately doing this and it probably isn't worth it. I think part of my motivation was growth - how do I keep my company growing?

Now, I have backed off on the spending but still have the growth question. If anyone has any advice on how to grow a small publishing company that is bordering on small-midsize (9 titles in print now), I'm all ears!

Bryan
BioMed Publishing Group
http://www.lymebook.com

Morris Rosenthal said...

Bryan,

It would be a good subject for a post sometime, though it would be third party observation on my part. In a way, the paper world works like the virtual world, the best growth is organic. When you have to start buying growth, it comes down to a numbers game, and often, the "successful" company turns out to be a shell when the credit runs out.

It's also common for publishers to overestimate the size of their niche. I always got a kick out of people telling me that I had it easy because I was publishing computer repair books. It's such a dead niche that it barely has room for a couple trade and self published titles! Doesn't matter that everybody has one or more computers at home, everybody doesn't try to repair them and of those who do, the vast majority don't buy books anymore.

In that sense, the most important part of expansion has to be market research, and that's where I figure the ex-trade editors have a huge advantage. They aren't shy about imitating titles that are working for other publishers because they know that it's the best indication that there's demand.

Morris

Kim Greenblatt said...

Bryan,
Stop spending money and take a step back. If your lyme disease books sales are similar to my Rett books and I think you sell a lot more of your books then I do mine, it goes in cycles and spurts. It is like all of a sudden somebody in the media has Rett Syndrome and boom, I get some sales. Then it cools down for awhile. Then some other books sell. It takes time.
Good luck!
Kim

Anonymous said...

Morris,

I have always been keenly aware of the limited size of my niche (and also my limited ability to reach them). Hence, previous growth strategies that have worked for me include developing new revenue that is not dependent on a larger audience, e.g., advertising revenue (AdSense as well as other advertising accounts), selling other authors' books (I sell 26 products, of which only 9 I published), and branching into new areas/niches.

I see this strategy leveling off a bit, and I am wondering whats next. In a sense I had hoped that one day I would get a "breakthrough moment." Although my company is doing good, I don't foresee any breakthrough into "the next level." By "next level" I mean - some type of monstrous growth sprining from one "ah ha" moment.

Maybe I just need to accept what I have and forget about the ah ha, but I still have the growth bug in me and it won't seem to go away.

Bryan
BioMed Publishing Group
http://www.lymebook.com

Jon Reed said...

I thought it was interesting that the folks that responded to this posting are all established self-publishers, whereas your advice was directed towards those trade publisher desk jockeys who are either vulnerable to downsizing or already looking for work.

I guess the topic of understanding the leanness of the Internet-driven POD publishing model appeals to a range of perspectives.

Personally, I thought this was one of your most entertaining videos. I hope that some trade publisher folks make their way to this blog.

As you know I write about this topic of using the Internet to free yourlelf from a corporate desk, but not solely limited to publishing. It's always impressive to me when someone is able to connect to a target audience online, but more importantly, to find a way of "monetizing" that audience that still leaves a sense of mutual value on both sides with no sour taste.

You've done as good a job of doing that as anyone I know, which is why this blog is good reading!

Charlie Duane said...

It would be interesting to have your take on how/where Amazon's CreateSpace and BookSurge will affect the POD industry. Is the POD pie simply a growing pie, or is Amazon going to elbow out the "little" guys. What services will the little guys offer to compete with Amazon? How about some numbers, trends, and charts?

Anonymous said...

Morris,

Love your humorous take on this whole business. I'm about to launch a small internet-based press, starting with ten titles simultaneously released in a niche arena (Buddhist Canonical English translations from the Classical Chinese) and expect that, given the quality of the titles (part of the Canon already for 1500 years), they should endure fairly well.

The question: Is there any real upside to bothering with the "Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data" headache? Or can I just skip it with no downstream negative professional fallout?

Thanks,
Mitra

Morris Rosenthal said...

Charlie,

If I understand what numbers you are asking for, they don't exist in the public realm. I know from the questions I get that some people believe that all the sales data for various businesses has to be available somewhere, but they don't have to make it public.

My overall take on the CreateSpace/Booksurge situation is unchanged from my March post:

www.fonerbooks.com/2008/03/reality-of-print-on-demand-publishing.html

Morris

Morris Rosenthal said...

Mitra,

I don't believe there's any upside in including any of the LOC data. I did the pre-publication cataloging for one book that had an academic interest, didn't see any effect. Also, I'm suspicious that the Library of Congress hides the employees that they can't fire (being a government entity) in the Cataloging in Publication department. They struck me as real clowns who wanted to avoid working for a living at any cost:-)

Morris