Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Publisher as Casino

To answer some of the questions that have come in about the book project:

"Which do you want to do?"

I want to write a book that will sell. I already have unpublished, unpublishable manuscripts in my desk drawer (or hard drive). In this case—on this occasion—I'd like to write a book that people actually want to buy.

"When will it be done?"

Well, it won't be, as things stand this second, because it's not going to be a book. It's going to be a book proposal. Then if an agent can persuade a publisher to part with an advance, it will acquire a timetable. At that point, it will have an estimated time of completion. Until then it's not even a project, really.

The work of writing books is way too front-loaded for a guy in my situation. Which would be fine if there were a reasonable guarantee of a payoff eventually; law school is expensive too, with a lot of front-loaded effort, but the law school student who is putting in all that money and effort up front has a pretty reasonable prospect of a payoff down the road. You don't have that with a book, which is why it's more reasonable for a large corporation to undertake the risk.

So why demand that a corporation take on a risk that that I won't take on myself? It's like this. When a publishing company takes on the risk of a book project by funding it with an advance, it's functioning sort of like a casino. It places a great many bets, some of which pay off and some of which don't (about 70% of published books lose money), but it can usually manage its odds so that it comes out ahead overall. A casino doesn't really care if it loses or wins any one particular bet. A person making one single wager is not in that position, so the risk in the case of a single wager is a lot greater if the person placing the bet can't handle the downside (i.e., losing).

Bottom line is, either a publisher will have to be persuaded to help amortize the risk or the project won't go forward.

But at least now I have an answer for the publisher who asked, "Why not do a book on how to choose a digital camera? That sounds like it might sell." I have a little more ammunition now for saying, well, maybe, but probably not to people like my blog readers.

"Before you write another book, where's my copy of The Empirical Photographer?"

If you paid for but have never received a copy of The Empirical Photographer, please contact me by leaving a comment that starts "NOT FOR POSTING." But you must leave your email address in the comment or I won't have any way to get in touch with you. Please don't forget to include your email address.


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