Writing a book is hard enough, but getting published can be even harder. A recent trend for the Big Five publishers has left the little guy in the dust. The tendency is to spend a lot of money on a few big books that the publisher thinks will do well. For example, Penguin Random House paid $2 million for Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire. It is great that books are getting enough attention for deals like this to occur, but not every writer can have such an opportunity.
Typically, even for great books, the pay day would be closer to $500,000. So, in theory, instead of having four separate book deals, Penguin will quadruple down on one big book. Business is business, and if that strategy works then we can’t blame Penguin and other publishers for making that decision. The effect however, is that lesser known authors will have a harder time getting published.
The Big Five is more focused on authors who are more likely to establish a stable career. This is based on how likely the book will be adopted into a movie or how many different nationalities might want to read the book. This type of thinking, not necessarily wrong or immoral, prevents one hit wonder type books from getting the attention they deserve. Which is understandable because sometimes it is impossible to tell when you have the next To Kill A Mockingbird on your hands.
Here is where independent publishers come in. When certain books such as Citizen by Claudia Rankine or The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson are not epic enough to fit the Big Five’s criteria, independent publishers have the opportunity to shine. Both books were succesfful even though they were not accepted by the Big Five, this should bring hope to those who don’t have a chance of securing that $2 million dollar book deal.
Small publishing houses are much more agile than the lumbering Big Five. This allows them to bring life to more abstract, creative, innovative forms of literature. Society must always have an outlet for people who want to push the boundaries of what is normal and traditional. So, even though the indie crowd may seem pretentious and unapproachable, remember that they are doing important work, no matter how annoying their diet and lifestyles may be.
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