When the Sales Guys Run the Company

Lessons from Steve Jobs, part 1

When the Sales Guys Run the CompanyWalter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs has been out for a year and a half, and I finally committed to reading it. It’s a big book! The hardcover is 656 pages and the Audible version is over 25 hours, but worth every single minute. I got so much out of this book that I’ve been taking notes about some of Jobs’s wisdom and how it can be applied to our business. I decided to write some blog posts to open up discussion on some of these points.

Today’s topic came to me when I heard this quote from Jobs:

“When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off.”

That line hit me hard. For the last few years, I’ve been sad to see exactly this phenomenon happening in publishing. If you take out “product guys” and substitute “editors,” you’ll see what I mean.

The major change that we’ve seen in publishing companies over the last several years is that the editorial team—those people whose primary love and talent is acquiring good books—is no longer the final word on which books are chosen to be published. It is now the “sales guys.” Over a period of years, we went from the sales department having a vote, to them having final say and full veto power over everyone else. These days the people whose primary interest is the product—the editors—usually don’t even have a vote in the final decision.

Read a little more from Steve Jobs:

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.” [Emphasis added.]

“It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything. The people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.”

“I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates, and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field. And then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the sales people end up running the company.”

It seems obvious that this is the way it goes in most businesses. Profit is the name of the game. Jobs is saying that to be a truly great company, to be a company that lasts, to provide the world with products that are truly innovative, useful and desirable, we should resist letting the sales guys run the company.

I’ve seen many editors sapped of their strength and passion, because their editorial wisdom and finely tuned instinct about good books have been devalued, in favor of the sales department’s judgment about what they think they can sell.

These editors work hard trying to bring the best books and authors into their publishing house, and in many ways it’s a thankless job. It doesn’t pay a lot, for one, and the editor is rarely celebrated. They do it out of love for books, and most of them are highly skilled and knowledgeable about the type of literature in which they specialize. But nowadays they must take every potential new book and author to the publishing committee, in which the sales department has the loudest voice.

So what is to be done? Surely the publishers will tell us that, in this economy where it is getting harder and harder to make money on books, there is no other legitimate way to run a company. The sales guys MUST be calling the shots, or they’ll be out of business!

But is there room to think of it another way? If the editors were given more room to find truly great books, even those falling outside of what has been “done before,” could publishing be revitalized simply through the quality of the content?

When Jobs was building Apple, he said he wanted to build, “…a company to last, not just to make money,” and his strategy was to focus on product over profit. Could this be a key to survival for today’s embattled publishing companies?

I realize this is controversial, but even if what I’m suggesting is unrealistic, what can we take away from this line of thinking? At the very least, should we all be fighting a little harder to keep the quality of our products (the books) in the front and center of our business model, as opposed to the profits?

What do you think?

 

Tweetables:

Should we fight to keep the quality of books – not profits – at the center of our business? Click to Tweet.

Could publishing be revitalized simply through the quality of the content? Click to Tweet.

When the sales guys run the company, do the editors matter anymore?  Click to Tweet.

 

Quotes are from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, ©2011, Simon & Schuster.

 

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

60 Comments

  1. Ay-me Wok-er on April 24, 2013 at 10:10 PM

    Chris makes a good point–this sales over content drive could result in publishers doing more harm to themselves in the long run. It sometimes feels like the free market system across the board has become overly cash obsessed at the expense of meaningful things.



  2. Anonymous Author. on April 19, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I’m going on Anonymous for this comment because this topic is actually quite close to home, and I agree with everything you’ve said here.

    I am a published author, with a traditional publishing house. Going out on sub with my debut was probably one of the most difficult (and exciting!) experiences on my journey. But I remember my disappointment and sadness about one particular editor. She actually had her own imprint at one of the Big 6 publishers, so she was a seasoned editor. She was so lovely about my book, so excited about the material and wanted to acquire it. She adored the book.

    She took my book to acquisitions, and the sales department would not let her buy it. They had their reasons, of course. All of them I understood. But it was heartbreaking when she came back with a message to my agent and sounded so, well, defeated. Like they had sucked the excitement right out of her.

    I don’t hold it against the sales team at all, and the story does end happily, as my book was able to find a home with a different editor. But it was the tone of her final message that got under my skin. While I understand the business aspect of publishing, this is one that I feel hesitant to get behind.



  3. Chris Hill on April 16, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Nice post – though perhaps the real ‘product guys’ in publishing are the authors – the people who create the product. The revolution which is roiling around the publishing industry at the moment is about the writers and the readers – and whether they need publishers at all any more.



  4. Split/Sun on April 8, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    […] and wonders if what’s happening in traditional publishing is because this is what happens When the Sales Guys Run the Company; that is, when profits become more important than […]



  5. Blogs | Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing on April 8, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    […] Publishing – Trad and Self From Rachelle Gardner: When the Sales Guys Run the Company From terribleminds: When Self-Publishing is Just Screaming Into the […]



  6. Sexy Saturday Round-Up | Lady Smut on April 6, 2013 at 2:34 AM

    […] Rachelle Gardner on what happens when the sales guys run the company. Great responses on this post. […]



  7. […] Meanwhile, Rachelle Gardner wonders if traditional publishing could be revitalized by letting editors, not sales guys, run the company. […]



  8. Les Edgerton on April 3, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    One more note about sales. One of the chief ways agents and editors determine sales of a particular book is through the figures BookScan provides (for a fee). The problem is, BookScan only accounts for POS sales and with many books, sales don’t show up because of that and there often are thousands of sales of a book that are never reported “officially.”



  9. […] I wrote in Monday’s post, I found Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to be full of insights about life and […]



  10. Linda Gray on April 2, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    You wrote exactly what’s been in my heart for quite a while, Rachelle. Now, with Big Data becoming the buzzword in virtually all industries, the vista is set to be even more sales-driven, with even less attention to varied content that meets high standards. I keep hoping the dramatic differences between the old publishing paradigm and the new one will finally be disruptive enough that they drive the emergence of a new market where there are enough quality publishers (probably small) working with independent bookstores to create a viable alternative.



  11. Abel Keogh on April 2, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    There’s nothing wrong with being profitable. If it’s not for profits then the whole company goes under and everyone (publishers, writers, editors, and sales guys) lose their jobs.

    That being said, the reason traditional publishing is dying a slow and painful death is because there is little or no innovation going on in their products. Publishers are sticking by what they know works. Long term, it’s a losing strategy. Independent publishing is where people are finding new and exciting books and to read that publishers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

    Thankfully books will continue to be published long after traditional publishers are a shell of their former selves.



  12. Sylvia A. Nash on April 2, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    A good and timely post and discussion. And that’s where change begins.



  13. K. Q. Duane on April 2, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    I’m afraid that we will have to totally revamp our public educational system before truly good books can be written, and sold again. We have for 50 years expected less and less of our students and the quality of writing has declined right along with the current crop of reader’s trivialized interests. The system chronically fails our students as indicated by the decline in their comprehension and attention levels as well. Without those personal attributes on the part of the reading public good books will continue to fail to sell, leaving the struggling publishing companies at the mercy of the pitch men.



  14. Candace Gauger on April 2, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    First off, I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and have been taking to heart much of what you’ve said about writing and publishing. You’ve broken it down into layman’s terms so even the slow like me can understand it all but still keep it professional as well as enjoyable to read.

    The whole idea of profit over product is an all to blatant truth in our world today. Very little is built to last like it was when we were little or even in our parents’ day. You can tell that the manufacturers just don’t care anymore and are only trying to get the most out at once.

    We can say the same about books anymore. Too many low quality, barely standard and good books are out and being made into movies. (I won’t mention which popular series as one of these that has come out as a stellar example) Too many times I’ve found mistakes and too much cruft that makes a good plot to slow down and become painful to read.

    I’m all for quality in everything. I want something which will last and become a part of our lives in some form. Sadly, my first book isn’t as high quality as it should be, but there is a lesson to be learned in that, too.

    The idea of quality over profit is probably why I enjoy criticism so much when I ask people to read my work. We can’t improve if we don’t know where to make improvements.



  15. Brendan O'Meara on April 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Perhaps somebody already said this, but 12 publishes only twelve books a year and gives each a solid month of attention and promo upon publication.

    A less-is-more approach may be what sets up a smaller imprint for success. Talent wins. Content wins.



  16. Ann Averill on April 2, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    My husband is a design engineer for a manufacturing company. He is a product guy, and is experiencing the same frustrations with his company’s emphasis on sales.
    As a writer, I can’t help but write from my heart. Reading is all about one heart resonating with another through the well-written word. At root that is what makes books matter despite any data punched into a marketing formula.

    Thank you Rachelle for cheering on quality products!



  17. Robin Patchen on April 2, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Great post, Rachelle. Unfortunately, I think it’s true. Seems to me that if publishers only publish hybrids of what’s been published before, they’ll only keep the same readers you had before. And even they will eventually tire of the selection. But great books can bring new readers. Harry Potter taught us that. And, though I hate to say it, so did 50 Shades of Gray. Lots of folks read those books who don’t generally read. So if we only publish what’s been done before, we lose the opportunity to increase the customer base, and eventually cripple the industry. Not a smart business move.



  18. Susi Robinson Rutz on April 2, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Rachelle, this has been a long time coming. In the 80’s, I worked as part of the editorial staff for a major publisher in NYC. Even then, the most important component of a proposal going to the pub board was the sales and marketing section.

    We fed a formula into a computer program that included the total number of potential buyers for the type of book, estimated sales of competing books, total cost to produce the book, etc. We knew that the printout from this calculation was the #1 MOST IMPORTANT concern for the pub board. No matter how good the potential product might be, if this document did not show the profit margins we knew they were looking for, we would not consider bringing the proposal for review and approval.

    It takes a lot of money (sales) to produce a book the traditional way. Lots of people must be paid. The costs keep rising. Many major publishers moved out of high-rent districts like NYC. This is why traditional publishing is more focused on sales now than ever before. The numbers have to be there in order for them to survive.



  19. Les Edgerton on April 2, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Great, honest post! Thank you. The sales department has always exercised great influence on mss buys, but these days it has gotten out of hand. A close friend in publishing told me last year that a major editor who has his own imprint with a Legacy 6 was told by his boss (yes, even imprint editors have bosses!) that if he signed any book that earned less than $30, 000 he’d be fired. Not had the corner office taken away or his expense account diminished… but fired. So, he’s doing what most others are these days–trying to steal brand names away from other publishers, instead of introducing readers to new writers.

    Years ago, a friend of mine, writer Bret Lott had his latest book contract declined by his publisher. Seems his regular editor went on vacation and he was assigned a new one for this book. She went down to accounting, pulled up his sales, found them lacking and cancelled his book. Bret was disconsolate. Once you lose your NY publisher, you’re done inasfar as a career goes. He did some soul-searching and ended up writing an essay for Poets&Writers in which he described how he went back to his very roots as to why he began writing. For the love of story, language, etc. He made his peace with himself and his fate… and then… Oprah picked his book JEWEL as her book and he became the darling again. Lightning had struck, but Bret remembered his journey back to his roots and has always retained that mindset in his books thereafter and knew it was just sales that made him welcome again in publishing circles.

    Today, it’s all about the money and the “platform” and the quality takes a backseat. But, there are smaller independent publishers who are starting to make a difference…



    • Robin Patchen on April 2, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      Les, it’s depressing to think that publishers are only thinking of the bottom line. I was under the impression that publishers used to be willing to take on debut authors and let the bread-and-butter bestsellers pay the bills. Not that the debut authors ought not to eventually turn a profit, but to expect them to immediately is unrealistic.



      • Les Edgerton on April 2, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        Robin, it’s not only debut authors who suffer under the times we live in, but the midlist authors. Actually, the midlist has been pretty much gone for 10-20 years!

        Another disturbing element is reflected by what an agent told me recently about a prominent crime publisher. This one really disturbs me! It turns out he loved a book I’d recently sent in for consideration, but he turned it down because it “might offend readers who subscribe to the mindset of being politically correct” and that would affect sales. It’s not just our incomes that are being affected, but the very spirit of a free press. I’m dying to expose this “lauded” publisher/editor but don’t have the funds to defend the inevitable lawsuit…



        • Robin Patchen on April 2, 2013 at 2:07 PM

          Wow. Unbelievable. So between the sales force deciding they know more about books than the editors and the PC police making sure we follow all their ludicrous rules, regular old authors are, well, out of luck.

          Thanks for the great news. 🙂



  20. Robin Tidwell on April 2, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    This speaks directly to “bestsellers.” We’re TOLD which books are “going to be” bestsellers. Certain ones are marked and made, as opposed to becoming so on their own.

    Kind of like people who are famous for being famous, instead of famous for any kind of actual accomplishment.



  21. Bonnie Lacy on April 2, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    I like it!



  22. Kelly Kuhn on April 2, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    I deeply appreciate this post, and the timing is perfect, after a weekend lamenting the state of affairs in publishing today.

    Like most things, this is a complex situation. Publishers can’t publish excellent books if they aren’t in business, so of course they need to publish money-makers. And, unfortunately, far too many buyers are interested in books by and about celebrities or sensational topics, without any concern for quality writing or meaning.

    There is no quick and easy solution, but we need to keep talking about it in respectful, proactive ways. More importantly, we need to keep doing what calls to us, and create the best products we can.



  23. Connie Almony on April 2, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    Rachelle,
    I agree with you!!! Allowing sales to run publishing is a bad idea. Why are the traditional houses hurting? Because they are now competing with very cheap, self-published e-books. At present, these e-books have a number of advantages: 1) They are cheap; 2) They can be different. Disadvantages of self-published e-books include 1) A reader has to wade through a mass of lesser stories to find the really good ones; 2) They usually don’t have a team of skilled editors, designers, etc. polishing them to their fullest (though this is not always the case).
    If the traditional houses want to stay afloat in these murky waters, it seems they’ll need to compete on these issues, especially since they cannot compete on pricing. They will need to publish HIGHER quality content to distinguish themselves from the self-pubbed, not lower. They will need to look for innovative projects rather than the same, tired (tried and true) stories. If they don’t they may find their readers willing to take more chances to find the diamond-in-the-rough of the self-published.
    I’ve become increasingly disappointed by clichéd stories coming out of the traditional houses, even by my favorite authors. I will read them because the author’s style is engaging, but I am more likely, these days, to throw a couple dollars to the wind to find something new.



  24. Diane Yuhas on April 2, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    I think it takes incredible boldness and courage to go forth in putting the product ahead of profit, but I think it’s a hands-down win for everyone involved. Time, dedication, and highly skilled talent is required, but oh, the satisfaction in the end! The company that chooses this route will have its work cut out for it, but this is one instance where there would be real joy in the journey.



  25. Lauren on April 2, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    I’ve been a graphic designer for 25 years and saw a similar change in that industry when “desktop publishing” made it possible for anyone to be a “designer.” My husband, a photographer, experienced the same thing when photography went digital. We’ve found that there is a very high tolerance for mediocrity, but eventually, the novelty of being able to do-it-yourself wears off and standards start to go up again (a bit). Discriminating readers can tell when they are reading a labor of love vs. someone (or some company) trying to make a quick buck or rushing to check “write a book” off of their bucket list. I think things will improve with time after the DIY novelty wears off. Until then, I pay the bills with my undervalued design work and pour my passion into crafting a book worth reading and shelving. I hope I will live to see the day when artistic excellence is valued and rewarded, but more often than not–it seems the pursuit of profit takes priority in this world. Creative people will almost always be better at creating than selling … so agents like you will always be an important part of our lives (and the salesmen as well). I guess in the end, we each do what we need to to survive and we each have our role in the process. Take away any one of the roles and we lose something. I think we just need to place a higher value on achieving excellence–especially those of us who are Christians–in every aspect of the process. If that suffers … we all lose!!



  26. Stephen H. King on April 2, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    Interesting application of a lesson from the book on Jobs. From the standpoint of an MBA, I’ll wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Jobs–looking at all the great start-ups, we see that they were pushed and managed and grown by the “product guys” (with, of course, significant help from the “sales guys”). You can’t have success without both, but the focus has to be on the product/service. Then again, the highly effective sales guys in my acquaintance know this and work with the product guys to use their data and expertise to drive knowledge of and acceptance of an excellent product farther out into the market than it’s been before.

    Somehow I always thought it was different in traditional publishing, though. I mean, it’s been demonstrated over and over again that you show me a great book, and I can show you a perfectly intelligent, knowledgeable editor who’s rejected it. The market is segmented as heck, and none of the segments can even agree amongst themselves what “great” means in a work of prose. Seems to this MBA that in a market environment like this, the “product guys” NEED the “sales guys” to help them figure it out, because, frankly, nobody really cares what Editor A at PubHouse B thinks of a book.

    – TOSK



  27. Dineen Miller on April 2, 2013 at 4:08 AM

    Maybe I’m too idealistic but the focus of the two sides is so drastically different. One side trying to produce value that will benefit the customer (the editors, the product guys, etc.). The other side (sales guys, etc.) are more focused on the company (understandable to some degree). It needs to be a partnership.

    I’ve lived in Silicon Valley long enough to see the complete truth to what Jobs said. It’s almost the same thing as serving others and being self-serving. When I seek to serve others, I receive so much more than if I’d tried to gain similar benefits on my own. Call it God’s economy (which I do) or karma or whatever you want, but it’s a truth I’ve seen over and over again. Sure, it seems to work for a while. The profit margin will hold for a time, bu then the customer gets wise and realizes the “company” is more interested in their own gain than offering anything of true value. Then the decline Jobs explained is inevitable.

    It’s so frustrating to see businesses do this and squander potential and talent all for the sake of the bottom line. More often than not, that bottom line is as flimsy as spider silk and disintigrates in the light of truth.



  28. Cindy on April 2, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    Someone mentioned that we need a paradigm shift so that readers need/demand editors. We all know the value of a good editor, but readers do not. The time will come, however, when it will be obvious to anyone who downloads books that they need a guidepost through the tens of thousands of self-published ebooks. It is so “easy”, anyone can do it, but not everyone should.

    Readers are inundated with options, but the quality is uneven (to put it nicely). As time passes, the number of available ebooks (self-published and other) will rise exponentially. There will be too much information, too many books and not enough time for the average reader to determine which is worth the money. That’s where editors come in.



  29. Jan Cline on April 1, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    This may be a dumb question, but how might writing for hire be a more viable option for publishers and authors? I mean, if an author and publisher are both taking risks to put a book on the market, would it make sense to offer more write for hire books with some creative compromise on rights? This way the author gets paid at least something, the publisher doesn’t have to dole out royalties and the book is at least out there – similar to self publishing. Or would it negate the possibility of an author making a lot of money on a book if it actually becomes a hit? Just looking at future possible solutions.
    Jan



  30. SC Author on April 1, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    Yes. Yes yes and yes. The publisher who picked up LOTR said to his dad or someone (I forget who) that he thought LOTR was a work of genius, but he expected to lose money on it. The dad or someone said if you think it is genius, go ahead and publish it. We need more people like that. Awesome, awesome post (I rarely ever comment, only lurk, but this post made me want to comment!).



  31. Jan Thompson on April 1, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    If publishing is a type of business, then the bottom line is money, not material. If the publisher wants to keep its doors open, it will have to sell books that bring profit.

    At some point, if this goes on, IMHO the book market will be saturated with run-of-the-mill books, not anything of lasting literary value. It reminds me of the 19th century when dime novels sold because people wanted to buy them, not because they were well-written.

    However, if readers speak up, and demand better quality books, and if editors understand the pulse of readers, then the perhaps the paradigm will shift to where editors have a bigger say-so in what’s what.

    In other words, if editors become the readers’ best friends in providing value, perhaps via the authors, then the sales department would have to listen to editors. Really, we readers don’t go asking the sales department what we should read. We are more apt to get recommendations from authors we like.

    As for Steve Jobs, it’s sad that after he passed away, quality shook a bit — Apple had hiccups in its products. Mountain Lion OS still has intermittent bugs. Recent Apple map hiccups caused the CEO to tell people to use Google Maps (what? go to the competitor? LOL) until they fixed Apple maps. But sales are still up. Such is what is.



  32. Melanie Schulz on April 1, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    I hope, at least for me, that quality always wins over the bottom line.



  33. J. F. Smith on April 1, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    This might be controversial, but I’m almost comfortable with SOME of the “sales guys”-driven content. That’s only because I think that understanding that very concept is part of “success.” It’s not even close to writing a great book – it’s learning to be marketable. It’s not just coming up with a “novel” idea (pun intended), it’s understanding “the people” as a whole – which can probably make you a better author, right?

    Someone up top mentioned EL James. That writing is terrible. I did read the first of the trilogy, but I couldn’t push myself to the second two books, because I wasn’t impressed. But as a writer, I study everything that “works.” EL James is smart in that she understood what her audience was looking for, right? I think that something probably has to be said for that.

    My guess is that self-publishing will drastically change at some point, too. How might that happen, do you think? While there are of COURSE gems within there, I find that most of the self-published samples I download to my Kindle are garbage.



  34. Keisha on April 1, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    It seems ironic that you brought this topic up, because as an aspiring author I too ponder many questions how certain books get the opportunity while others remain in the abyss of slush pile…okay a tad dramatic for example everyone knows the story of how Stephenie Meyer made it, I won’t go into my opinion of her YA series what I will talk about is her latest movie her name was splashed across the advertisement via TV trailer and also posters to sell her latest book to screen, rather than in my opinion the focus should have been on tightening a okay concept so that it would generate a wider appeal. Also changing the target audience to make money because TWILIGHT did so well beyond so many people expectation the marketing decided to change things make the characters in the movie teens. So the jury is still out whether marketing triumphs and the movie rises to a better monetary gain for all involved.



  35. Colin on April 1, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    First, I read Isaacson’s biography a little over a year ago. It’s one of the best bios I’ve read. What’s particularly good about it is that he gives a 3D view of Jobs, good and bad. Jobs’ character, his passion, and his genius shine through. I highly recommend this book.

    To your question, Rachelle, I think it’s patently obvious that for those whose driving concern is to make money, sales is all that matters. That’s why we have a thriving porn industry in this country, and why books like 50 SHADES sell like hot-cakes. The producers of these things are under no illusion that they’re making great art. They are appealing directly to base desires. Instant, cheap gratification. That’s what sells. It always has. I’m not saying this is a good thing. But it’s a fact. And it’s a fact that quality art will always have to compete against stuff that “sells.” No matter how great TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is, Hugh Hefner will continue to make more money than Harper Lee ever will.

    What do we do about this? Keep our integrity and try to find as many innovative ways to bring the good stuff to the attention of readers. I like the idea of editors and indie publishers forming stronger alliances. Also, we need to keep the big picture in mind. Instant gratification is just that–instant. People will move on from that to the next thrill. But TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is still checked out from libraries and sold in bookstores fifty years since its publication, and will continue to have a place in people’s hearts for many years to come. Even if it doesn’t sell as well.

    You did ask… 🙂



    • Jamie Beck on April 1, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      I really agree with your remarks. Sadly, consumers seem more and more attracted to the quick thrill and less willing to invest the time and effort needed to work through a good story. But I believe a market/audience for quality still exists (although smaller than the mass market).

      Authors have a choice. If one primarily wants money/fame/whatever…then write what sells fastest/easiest. Otherwise, write the story he/she wants to tell and recognize that it will take longer to find a buyer (from an agent to an editor to a reader).

      The good news for those not primarily motivated by sales figures is that we have options thanks to the relative ease of self-publishing, and the access to readers created via technology/social media, etc.

      I’d love to find myself working with a well-reputed publisher/editorial staff, but if it doesn’t happen, then I am committed to getting my stories out there on my own. In any case, wasting my time whining about the state of affairs is the least likely route to success!



  36. Jay Faubion on April 1, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    FRIEND Me, my first contracted book, will be released in March, 2014.

    I mention that because:
    (1) I’ve never talked to a publisher’s marketing person.
    (2) All my contacts have been with editorial staff.

    Now, I don’t know what’s going on in the background. But I had enthusiasm from the editors from day one. If Sales and Marketing has had a vote, they sure haven’t told me about it.

    On the other hand, I dearly want the sales team to buy in, be motivated and really push my work. Why wouldn’t I? But they wouldn’t have heard about it unless they’d heard it from an editor.

    When’s the last time you saw a publisher’s sales team at an ACFW conference? Writers still sell to editors, not sales and marketing people.



  37. Heather on April 1, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    I’ve seen it a lot in stores. When the accountants and sales people get involved in the store, the merchandise suffers and they lose customers, which means they lose business. People are fickle now. If they find you’re not living up to their expectations, they generally leave and you’re left with negative feedback, which is so much harder to overcome. I really like that in Michael Hyatt’s book Platform, he says you have to start with a wow product because you can’t overcome the negative press. Maybe publishers should think of that. Social media now means a bad review will get severely amplified, so if they’re turning out garbage books, they should expect to lose readers exponentially.



  38. Meghan Carver on April 1, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Money vs. Art. It’s a delicate balance. The money guys will try to convince us that whatever they are selling is art, even when it isn’t. But the artists need money as well for those little things like rent and food and clothing. I definitely agree with you, Rachelle, that it should be quality before profits. Dan’s comment about TV and movies brings to mind 1 Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Thanks for tackling a difficult topic.



  39. Cheri Gregory on April 1, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I just returned home from the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference having interested several agents and editors in my book concept.

    I was feeling pretty good about myself until my first coaching call with my mentor, who skipped all the congratulations and went straight for reality:

    So what if I impressed agents and editors who love words and concepts? HOW am I going to grab the sales and marketing guys?

    We wrestled with this for almost our entire call, and in the days since, I’ve been so grateful that she’s challenged me to take on multiple perspectives.

    Objections are going to come at any product, that’s a given. I would far rather anticipate and deal with them in the concept development phase rather than get blind-sided later on.



  40. vrabinec on April 1, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I’m a sales guy IRL, and I can’t imagine letting one or the other dominate the conversation. The sales department has a lot more interaction withy the customer, and the tech guys know the product and what’s doable better. They have to work hand in hand. Books should be the same way.



  41. Dan Wright on April 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    Great article on the “crucible” of today’s publishing environment; at least where conventional publishers are concerned. Its a huge topic. I’m going to speak up for the “sales guys”. I’ve been that Sales VP in countless pub board meetings, and I offer this…

    1. I did my best to try and find the sellable and marketable points in books brought to us. We commonly found ways to help books succeed in ways over and above what was found in the writing itself.

    2. We were product guys, too. You don’t rise to that level in a publishing company without having good instincts regarding content. But we are more keenly aware of its likely impact on retail gatekeepers, their marketing devices, etc. And that determines a lot of what will happen to a book when it arrives in stores.

    3. Publishing is highly complex. Any breakdown in a single link between the content creation to the shelf, can be fatal to a great book. Some of these are out of everyone’s (everybody’s?) control.

    4. Sales people have excellent and very informative data at their immediate disposal when evaluating projects. We use it, because the gatekeepers have the same data and more. Your book is evaluated in that context.

    5. I sympathize with writers. Great books get declined. No one likes to see that. I recommend writers and their agents keep touch with the process to enhance your chances of being published OR increase your level of success at self-publishing.

    DW



    • Rachelle Gardner on April 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      Thanks for your illuminating perspective!



    • Donna K Rice on April 2, 2013 at 4:24 PM

      Perhaps a good way to integrate quality with sales potential would be to have a few of the sales people from publishing houses develop workshops for writing conferences. The list Dan presents makes me want a better understanding of what the sales team looks for in a successful proposal.



    • Dan Wright on April 3, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      Good manuscripts often need “crafting.” I was immensely blessed to have worked with Kip Jordan. Many know who I’m talking about. He was craftsman when it came to publishing. He not only crafted the book itself (title category, subtitle, etc.), but he helped sales/market craft their approach to the market. Selling a Kip Jordan book was often like describing a hand-built piece of wood furniture. Is there still room for that today? Yes! In fact, it would stand out from the crowd that has come to rely on PR/marketing budgets to “drive” books onto the shelves. I challenge my clients to sell their book to me in one breath. At first they can’t. But they soon realize the power of simplicity and resonance in what a book offers to a reader. Make sense?



  42. Cherry Odelberg on April 1, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Maybe it is time to form relationships between quality editors and independent authors/publishers.



    • Kathryn J. Bain on April 1, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      Great comment. I love this idea.



    • Stephen H. King on April 2, 2013 at 7:29 AM

      Great thought, but as in many other industries, it won’t happen until people get past the prejudice that Indies aren’t professional, quality writers. Which is most likely to say–never. Humans are most comfortable in “us vs. them” mode.



    • Connie Almony on April 2, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      Ooooo! I like that!!! :o)



  43. James Scott Bell on April 1, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Ironically, the most creative, innovative and vibrant fiction is coming from self-publishing (admittedly, along with mountains of slush). Without the need to write for the “sales team,” which increasingly has to prop up the tent with A list authors and risk-averse product, the writer with guts and gusto can make a mark and some money with experiments and a sense of adventure. I am writing a series of vigilante nun novelettes (have you seen that section of the bookstore lately?) I write them because I like them, and they have, in turn, generated real and devoted fans.

    And we all know that this sort of thing will, on occasion, be picked up by a traditional sales team because, well, they’ve seen the sales. Then the author simply has more options.



  44. Dan Meadows on April 1, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    One of the consequences of sales guys taking over can be seen clearly in newspapers. The sales guys gradually took over most newspapers over the years through corporate consolidation because the profit margins were extremely high for decades in that segment. But when it came time to adapt to digital, the creative side was generally left without a voice, leading only to “adaptation” that tried to replicate print on a computer screen. The industry spiraled out of control, losing nearly half of its total revenue in only five years largely because the sales guys weren’t listening to the creative side and actively stood in the way of the creation of new products they could monetize. It also directly led to “cost savings” built on purging large portions of the creative/editorial staffs at many papers, turning a bad situation even worse. Sales guys may be good at what they do, but they’re generally slow to adapt to change, and usually try to keep that change within their comfort zone, which can be a killer when a major disruption happens. The way many book publishers have been acting the past few years has me very worried about their long-term health, especially when pitched against a company who very successfully puts product, service & innovation ahead of sheer profit margin like Amazon.



  45. Julie@comehaveapeace on April 1, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    I almost find it comforting (not almost … I DO!) to hear someone in your position make this point. As a writer, it’s discouraging to realize that the quality of writing is no longer what matters most when it comes to publishing. That fact has been stifling to me personally, and as I talk to and encourage other writers (even young ones) I sometimes find myself fighting the urge to be cynical. So appreciate you sharing nuggets from those 656 pages and tuning the wisdom to writing.



    • Sue Harrison on April 2, 2013 at 8:12 AM

      I completely agree with Julie. I find comfort in the fact that one of the CBA’s most respected voices is speaking out about this situation. Prior to reading this post, I really didn’t understand what the Publishing Committee or Board was all about. Now I’m having one of the “ah ha” moments.

      I wish you had the final say on what was published, Rachelle!



  46. Chris Hamilton on April 1, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Is there another way? EL James found out there was. In fact, there are more other ways now than at any time in my life. Not that EL James is quality, but maybe the next EL James will have higher quality.

    The ability to go around the sales guys is the ability to find another way. Problem is, it means the author has to take care of a lot of things other than the book. It means the author becomes the agent, hires an editor (or tries to self-edit), and so on and so forth.

    And to the question about poor quality not having legs…EL James. There’s apparently a movie in the works. Sure, people won’t be reading her in 50 years, but by then her grandkids’ lives will be changed.



  47. Dan Erckson on April 1, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    I think the sales guys only think they know what the people want. Look at TV and movies. Do we really want reality TV and films loaded with violence and sex? I have an M.A. in communication studies, and studies show that we don’t want that type of programming and entertainment. The sales guys are great at convincing people of what is good entertainment. In fact, they’re so good that people actually believe it’s what they want after awhile.

    We’ve been sold a bill of goods for products we didn’t really ask for. The best quality writing, programming, entertainment has and will always come from the content-producers who create content for the sake of teaching, sharing love and life lessons, testing the boundaries of the art and pushing to become better at their craft.

    The sales guys can never truly understand what will unexpectedly break through and sell, because they don’t understand what it means to truly create from the depths of one’s creative center and share creation without fear of failure.



  48. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on April 1, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    One way to fight this might be to look for good books to deliver more product, in the form of licensed web access to special features and bonus materials. Include a DVD with each book that registers it – and lets the buyer have an advance look at works in progress (and a discount for purchase when it’s released), interviews with the author, ‘interviews’ with the characters, travel or history featurettes (as appropriate for the genre) – things like that.

    The reassuring thing about poor quality is that it doesn’t have legs. Who reads Jaqueline Susann or Harold Robbins today?

    And who hasn’t read Herman Wouk?