A small defense of publishers

To begin with the inevitable digression, I love multiple false starts. There are almost a dozen openings, and indeed almost complete posts, tossed in the trash.

I think that a lot of publishers have gotten bad press from writer ignorance. Let’s shift the venue slightly, to mechanics.

Anyone can change their oil. But inevitably you find people who will tell you to do both, yourselves, to save money. After all, when the mechanic is charging you $30 for fifteen minutes of work PLUS the cost of the oil and filters, you just know you’re getting robbed, right?

Well, yes and no. If it were just that fifteen minutes, yes. But it’s not.

First, you’re not accounting for all your time. Sure, there was the fifteen minutes under the car. But there was also the time to pick up the new oil and filter. There’s the time getting the tools out and putting them away. There’s the time spent cleaning up, to include disposing of the waste oil. By the time you add it all up it gets a lot longer than fifteen minutes.

But, you reply, sure if you do EVERYTHING I spent an hour. But the mechanics have everything to hand already, so it’s still fifteen, or even just twenty, minutes. And besides, even at the hour it took me, $40 for simply unscrewing a couple of things, waiting, then screwing them back in? Really?

Yes, really. There’s this thing in a lot of businesses, especially labor type businesses, called shop time.

Shop time is the fixed costs that exist that have to be distributed against not only the work but the time when there isn’t work. The mechanics don’t get paid for the daily clean up at the end of the day. The shop boss doesn’t get paid for doing invoices and filling out receipts, for getting the oil sump emptied and ordering new oil and filters.

The shop has to pay for the oils and the multitude of filters that need to be on hand for the various cars that will come in. It has to pay for the multiple sets of tools, the safety gear, the building. There’s also the bookkeeper, and maybe another worker, who don’t ever touch any of the cars but are essential. There’s insurance, both shop and employee, that needs paid.

Well, you grudglingly admit, I guess that might explain why all those extra costs are in there. I guess that when you start adding them up, $40 for 20 minutes of work is necessary. But why would anyone pay that huge amount? Seriously, it’s still absurd to pay that much when I can do it myself for just the oil and filter? Why should anyone waste their time?

And the answer is that there are several reasons. I may hate having to dispose of oil. I may not like crawling under the car. I may be someone who, if I’m not under the car, can be writing more on my next story. I may not have the tools. The list, obviously, goes on.

Taking this back to publishers, this is why they exist, why they will continue to exist (in at least some form), and why they have to charge so blooming much. They exist to do not just the oil change but the tuneup and the greasing and the tire changes and maybe even some parts replacement … sorry, went back to the mechanic. They exist to provide line, copy, and story editors and provide graphic designers for both covers and layout. They provide marketers and access to bulk discounts. They provide, or at least SHOULD provide, in house or trusted contract workers in all the myriad little things that are needed, at least some of the time, to get your book from written to purchased.

Some of you won’t use them – you’re comfortable doing it all yourself. Some of the publishers out there have waaaay too much shop to pay for, and you are right to skip them. But a lot of them bring a host of tools that can do what you need done better than you, saving you time and aggravation. And quite possibly (and I would argue as base expectation) helping you reach more readers than you could on your own, faster than you can on your own.

I recognize the reaction but it’s a bit excessive.

Now for what it’s worth I think publishers will need to change business. Not least, they’re no longer trying to wedge through a bottleneck. As a result you don’t need them; you CAN do it yourself and do so satisfactorily. You are hiring them, they are not accepting you. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; recognize that they can do things for you, and that it’s going to cost if you want it done right. And help them find the way when possible. In the long run it’ll be better for us all.

Have fun.


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