Hatchett Publishing Tries to Validate Itself

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A huge legacy publisher. A leaked memo. What does it mean for us? Still, pretty much nothing, but it’ll be fun to poke around and laugh.

So, without further ado, let’s get after it.

Here are the contents of the memo which was circulating around Hatchett, and my comments are in-line:

“Self-publishing” is a misnomer.

Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing. Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it.

Oh, my. The process is so complex, apparently, that I must be a prodigical superhuman, a freak of nature, that I was able to release my latest book in hardcover, paperback, electronic formats, and create a deal to make an audiobook with a talented voice actor. I was also able to find an editor and proofreaders and design cover art while still managing to hold on to 70% of the list price. (Sarcasm aside, no, it’s hardly impossible. People do this every day.)

As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors:

 1. Curator: We find and nurture talent:

Legacy publishers find and nurture a few people, nothing more. Legacy publishers are responsible for rejecting Harry Potter about 9 times (I’ve heard it as high as 12), Stephen King’s Carrie around 30 times, and Frank Herbert’s Dune at least 23 times. Surely, these are flukes. Surely, they can automatically see, identify, nurture, and spread-like-wildfire everything with merit. Wait… J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen, isn’t she?

• We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG  discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.

Legacy publishers purchase lottery tickets known as “authors”, and they hope they hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, they’re still rather unwilling to admit this fact.

• We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf.

Content collaborator? Editorial advice? I can (and do) get those for a flat fee, and happily so. Tackling a huge variety of issues? Like what, exactly? Probably more of that “vastly complex series of engagements” referred to earlier…

 2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process:

Now, this I can’t argue with-especially if you can live for a year off the paltry 4-figure advance they often offer unknowns. Some people get a good deal, but it’s much like the lottery analogy used above.

• At HBG we invest in ideas. In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write. In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner.

Again, depends what you can get done for well under ten thousand, and that advance is spaced out over a year or so in small amounts, and the agent gets 15% off the top.

3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience:

So does Ingram’s Lightning Source (for print), Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! service, and Smashwords distribution. They pay higher than 17.5%, too. Alot higher.

• We get our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions). We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.

Unless you decide otherwise, right? Once the ink dries, you can put a book out of print at will. You can even refuse to actually do print runs altogether.

• We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.

I’ve found out how to do distribution, too.

• We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks).

So, you’re an “idea man”? I thought the authors wrote the books and came up with the ideas. Looks like other ideas-oh, let’s say eReaders, online bookstores, new retail channels, faster to-market technologies, and etc.-got picked up by the real idea folks. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “We’re lottery specialists” ?

• We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).

You’ve learned how to promote a sale? Cut it with all the jargon.

4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property:

Copyrights cost $35, and I’d be interested to see this watchdog group described above. Are they like the CIA, all around-the-clock surveillance and everything? Didn’t think so. And I find that you didn’t actually list a way of how you “watchdog”, either:

• Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out.  We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.

Sure, and that’s probably the only benefit as an author–and only if you’re lucky enough to be selected for a decent promotional budget. Best of luck!

• We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.

Hmmm… again, if you’re lucky enough to get a decent promotion budget.

• We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

Ah, DRM-the one thing that most readers hate more than a terrible book. And territorial controls? As thin as the paper they’re signed on. Tell me, dear Hatchett, will you go to Russia and personally arrest the pirates distributing the books across the remnants of the Golden Khanate? No? Didn’t think so. Territorial controls work in countries that respect/have time to enforce such things, and those countries will work with anyone when rights are infringed. In other words, you go through the same process as everybody else when rights are violated.

I don’t hate Hatchett or the other big publishers. I just hate when they do things like this, try to muster up validation where none exists. Yes, they produce good products, and they have good authors in their stables; however, they will never convince me that an eBook should be priced the same as the hardcover or that authors–the ones who create the products they sell–deserve the lowest share of the return on each sale.

 Until next time.

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