Airing our dirty laundry

Disagreements between authors and publishers are as old as the printing press. Authors concerned about the fidelity of their craft often feel that publishers are too eager to distort their material for commercial appeal. While publishers often complain that authors don't understand the delicate balance between artistic concerns and their primary business of selling books. Then there’s the perennial problem of marketing where authors often feel their publishers are doing too little while publishers feel authors demand too much.

No matter how heated these arguments got, though, it was understood that neither party was to take these disagreements public. An author could complain to friends and family and publishing professionals might trade stories during a book fair or a conference, but these conversations would rarely enter the public realm.

Enter the social media age and what may have once been a private conversation between friends or colleagues can now take on the gravitas of a global declaration. True some authors’ are taking their complaints public to force changes in the industry. And some talented authors have made successful media personas out of being “uncompromising.” But I believe that there are more drawbacks than advantages to airing your dirty publishing linen on the world stage.

Part of the problem is that a lot of authors don’t always realise just how large their audiences are. As business educator, Eddie Obeng notes, the internet has made every company with a website a global corporation. So it goes with people. Anyone with a profile on a social media site is the equivalent of a mini-celebrity. This means that no matter what you say, there’s always someone listening. And it could well be the person who has the power to decide your next publication.

As the internet has given publishers more ways to find talent, the chances for an author to find a home at a “legacy publisher” have grown smaller. Even micro publishers are swamped with more manuscripts than they can hope to evaluate in a timely manner. So anything an author can do to stand out can be to their advantage. But an author who has gained a reputation for slagging his or her publishers – or even for slagging other authors – should be careful. More publishers are taking author’s temperaments into consideration alongside their writing talent. There are so many talented writers out there that few publishers want the headache of working with a diva - no matter how good their work is.

The same is true for publishers. If enough authors complain about a publisher’s practices – lower-than-average royalties, slow publication times, or poor editing – it could affect the quality (if not the quantity) of manuscripts that are submitted to them. The best authors and their agents will go elsewhere.

So I think it’s prudent to remember that while social media is a great marketing and communications tool, it has its unique limitations. It shouldn’t take the place of more private correspondence like email or phone calls. Remember: if it’s not something you’d want the world to see (and remember forever because internet content never really dies) don’t put it out there.


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