Voices that don’t matter all that much

This post is primarily intended for authors, and those who intend to become authors, especially if your area of interest is broadly technological. It’s about choosing a publisher wisely — or, more to the point, about the perils of not doing so.

As many of you know, in 2005 I started framing out the book that would eventually see the light of day as Everyware. As a first-time author with no track record, proposing a speculative work on what was then still very much an emergent area of practice, I assumed that there would be, at best, limited publisher interest in my pitch. So I settled for the first one willing to invest in my proposal, the New Riders imprint of Berkeley-based technology house Peachpit Press. (You should know that Peachpit is itself a subsidiary of the SOPA-supporting Pearson Education, but that’s a story for a different day.)

In retrospect I clearly could and should have held out for not merely a different publisher, but a different kind of publisher. New Riders has never had the foggiest idea what to do with Everyware, from the original editor they assigned to the book — a mommyblogger! — to this entirely-serious proposal for the cover to the slapdash way they handled converting the book into an electronic format.

A lot of this, in naked point of fact, is nobody’s fault but my own. I chose poorly. That’s all on me, and properly so; consider me chastened by the experience.

But New Riders continues to have responsibility for Everyware, and they continue to serve it poorly, in ways that undermine its chances of making money for them. There’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of thing. What’s that? That is how Everyware shows up on Readmill, an exciting new social-reading application. That’s how your book would show up on Readmill, too, if you entrusted its publication to New Riders.

You see the way there’s no cover image for the book, like there is for every other book on the service? You see the way Readmill thinks “Mobipocket” is part of the book’s title? These artifacts are not Readmill’s fault. Nor are they Amazon‘s, or any other vendor’s. They’re part and parcel of the way the publisher has hamfistedly treated the digital edition: as an afterthought, as something not even worth the few minutes’ effort fixing these blunders would have required.

None of this might have mattered, particularly, in the days when digital books were niche propositions. But given Everyware‘s subject and target audience, I have to imagine that the overwhelming majority of people who’d be interested in the book in the first place would be inclined to engage it digitally. Wouldn’t it make sense to treat these people — these paying customers — not like second-class citizens, but like the valued, appreciated readers they are?

Like I say, I’ve learned my lesson. But if there are any among you who are contemplating authorship, please try to profit from my mistakes. Seek a publisher who understands and will support your work — and, just as importantly, who displays some capability and intention of investing in you. If you can’t find a publisher who meets this description, better you launch your title yourself. You have Kickstarter, you have Amazon, you have a ton of great tools and distribution channels that didn’t exist or weren’t fully robust even a year ago.

Trust me on this. New Riders may well be a poster child for everything that’s wrong with the publishing industry, but they’re not alone. If you believe in your ideas and have invested effort and craft in expressing those ideas in the form of a book, you deserve better…and so does your book.

4 responses to “Voices that don’t matter all that much”

  1. Preston McCauley says :

    Thank you for the advice. It’s always good to see what happens to authors after a book has been published. There is some money to be made but it won’t make you rich most likely.

    I’m still planning to go the e-book route.

  2. Eric R Shinn (@eric_shinn) says :

    @Adam – New Riders does suck (from a customer’s perspective). I’ve got a couple of books where the binding has given way and clumps of pages are falling out. “Web Redesign 2.0″ is the book that’s suffering the most. It’s cover is little more than a folder holding loose paper. At least the pages are still numbered o.O

    @McCauley – I’d still make sure the publisher knows what they’re doing in that field. I’ve purchased a few ebooks where essentially the words and illustrations were just dumped in. There have been lots of instances where illustrations are on one page while the caption is on the next (by itself + a lot of white space below). Usually the illustrations are shrunk down to illegibility.

  3. Leeleblanc says :

    Appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this experience.

  4. Leeleblanc says :

    PS read Everyware as soon as it came out. Totally dug it. Learned a lot.

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