Publishing & the Profit Motive

I just read a justifiably indignant NY Times article criticizing the wrongdoings of the publishing industry. The quote below summarizes author Timothy Egan’s complaint:

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

As an impoverished, struggling writer, I more than empathize with his point. However, the one thing that Egan is forgetting is that book publishing is a for-profit industry. If Barbara Bush’s dog will sell more books than a struggling artist’s poetry, then a publisher is wise to favor the former, even if it hurts our personal sensibilities. Or look at it the other way, that dog book just bankrolled 10 garrulous memoirs. Without the best-selling fluff, the publishing house couldn’t afford to take a loss on you.

In these tough economic times, it’s very important to remember the profit motive. Though it’s not romantic, I highly advise considering potential readership before launching into 10 years of toil. But that’s only if you want to get published.

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2 responses to “Publishing & the Profit Motive

  1. People don’t seem to understand how there is literally no money in poetry until I ask them how many poetry books they bought ever.

  2. That’s a big reason why I don’t write poetry. Of course, the art vs. income struggle is as old as time. I can imagine that the “practical” cave men were yelling at the cave painters for wasting their time.

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