Gaming the Publishing Industry

I was at a writing conference last week and noticed that several times I passed groups of writers who were trying to figure out how to “Game the System.”

In case you didn’t know it, every distribution industry tries to set up roadblocks for creators so that they can’t bypass the system. For example, if you were to make a movie and try to go out and distribute it to movie theaters yourself, you’d find that the theaters have contracts with the major distributors that require them to not show your movie. The distributors want to make sure that the huge movies that they’ve invested in advertising are available at all of the usual outlets.

In publishing, we have two different distribution systems. The traditional publishing industry has its editors, and they have contracts with the bookstores and with the book distribution companies that are designed to keep you from selling your books at bookstores—and these contracts are very effective. If you’ve ever tried to start your own publishing company, you’ll see what I mean. Not only will distributors refuse to distribute your books, but I once struggled for days to get some television and radio companies to advertise a book—but they refused to work with anyone who wasn’t already a major publisher.

In traditional publishing, the publisher typically creates a “list” of books that they want to promote. The #1 book on the list gets most of the advertising dollars. This might include things like in-store displays, money for cooperative advertising so that the bookstores will place the book on certain shelves with the covers facing out, promotion on radio or television or in magazines or newspapers, and of course money to send the author out on a book tour. 

If you’re not #1 on your publisher’s list, you might not get any of these things. Instead, your book is simply put out there and left to sink or swim on its own merits. Your editor might not even send it out for reviews from critics.

And the publisher will actively stop you from doing too much. For example, let’s say that you don’t like the cover that your publisher gives you—either the picture or the typeface. What can you do? You can complain, and you might get some upgrades, but it is the job of the artistic director to make sure that the #1 book of the season gets the best cover and that each month when new books are shipped out, the monthly books look good, but not as good as the anticipated season hit. The reason for this is that the publisher doesn’t want to confuse the buyers. They don’t want a mediocre book to have a great cover.

So as an author, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to “game the system,” how to promote the book that your publisher won’t. In doing that, you might advertise on social media, send books out to book bloggers, set up your own book signings, create a “book bomb” in order to generate some excitement for your release, and so on.

All of that is fine, so long as you remember that the best advertisement for a book is to write another book. Your fans are always eager to see what you have next in the pipeline.

Indie publishers are often even more eager to game the system. In recent years, Amazon has been working to create a “system” that will reward good books with good reviews and promotion, but Indie authors always seem to be bent on destroying that system. I’ve seen them buy favorable reviews (spending as much as $10,000 on a package), creating sock-puppets so that they can go online and create their own favorable reviews while deriding their competition, and of course trading positive reviews with other authors. As a result of such activities—all of which are immoral and some of them even illegal, Amazon has purchased review sites and now blocks reviews that they believe are fake.

In fact, I’ve known several authors who find that if their book does too well, defies expectations that Amazon has set, then their books are simply delisted—taken off of the bestseller lists, and even taken off of Amazon’s sales site.

To be frank, we need our distributors to create a fair and honest system that rewards great work. 

How should we as authors handle this problem? I think that we need to promote ourselves in every way that we can, so long as it is honorable and honest. At the same time, put your emphasis where it belongs: On writing powerful works. If you do that, success will come eventually.

*Announcement*

Did you know – One of the benefits members of Apex enjoy is biweekly call’s you can join in on with David and new industry experts each week! This Saturday we are having Traci Abramson, She is an American mystery and suspense novelist. Her books have received Whitney Awards for best mystery/suspense novel in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Her books often feature characters involved with the FBI or CIA, inspired by her time working for the CIA. Join this live meeting on Saturday at 8:00 AM MST. You can ask questions, interact with the community, and gain motivation and insights.

Click here to learn more and register to reach your Apex!

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