Two Months and You Are Pulped: Corporate vs Independent publishers

Just a few weeks back, I was at the Hay Festival – the most popular literary festival in the UK. It was both interesting and saddening to hear the plain-speaking CEO of literary agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop (PFD) Carolin Michel as she talked about the life span of a typical published book.  After two months, if sales are low, the book goes straight to pulp or remainders.

The basic fact is that the industry is now dominated by large corporations, for whom quick profit and bestsellers overrides all other consideration. The problem is that the publishing industry cannot generate sufficient revenue as quickly as the corporations would like.

It is ironic that publishers would spend almost a year and sometimes more to produce a book and yet only give it two months to survive.  If you think that the best publicity for a book is word of mouth, two months is too short to ensure that people get to hear about it. What does this mean for African writers in the Western market?

The reality of the matter is that only one or two African writers actually get to make it in the game.  Those are the ones who are not only aggressive about promoting themselves, but also, their publishers have decided to put their publicity machine behind them.

This means that if you an African writer, it is important to take publicity seriously rather than just waiting and hoping that the publisher will make your book a success.  Large publishers know that out of 100 or 200 books they’ll publish maybe one or two of them will become a best-seller. It is the one or two best-sellers that will allow them to recoup their losses on non-performing authors and make the whole process worthwhile. The chances are that your book might not be that best-seller.

Where I am going with all this is that sometimes an author is probably best placed with a small, independent publisher, for whom their back list (older titles) is just as important as the front list (that’s the new titles).  More importantly, independent publishers are probably in a better position to keep an author and their book alive long after the first print run.

Big is not always best!!


  • Reach out to me. I have a book to publish soon.

    Posted by Dr. Enemugwem on March 11, 2010

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