Lipskar: smaller lists not the passport to the Holy Kingdom of Books That Have Big Marketing Budgets

I don’t have much truck with critics’ charges that too many books spoil publishing. And now the complaint has spread beyond reviewers to booksellers and even writers themselves.

Simon Lipskar, an agent with Writers House, summarizes and evaluates the “too many books” argument at Book Angst 101:

Too many books. Among the laundry list of the problems afflicting publishing today one hears enumerated, none is so popular as the notion that too many titles are being published. It seems so logical, so transparently obvious, so quantifiable — just look at all the deals for first novels that were posted, just last week, on Publishers Marketplace — that nobody even gives it a second thought. In an industry where the results of what we do baffle virtually everyone involved — Why did this book succeed? Why not that one? Who knows?! — there’s comfort, perhaps, in being able to say one thing confidently. And so we say it, again and again, like a mantra. Too many damn books.

The various and sundry disseminators of this little maxim come from a variety of vantage points. Readers, bemoaning the veritable avalanche of books for sale, complain that they don’t know how to choose amongst the panoply of offerings. Reviewers, kvetching about the number of glossily bound ARCs the publishers send them, complain that publishers don’t even bother to try to understand what would motivate them to cover a particular book in a particular venue. Booksellers, caterwauling about the overwhelming number of titles on each publisher’s list, complain that they can’t possibly take a real position on more than a few at a time, resulting in a “my hands are tied” shrug and an “order to previous book’s net” mindset that kills authors’ careers, causes more unearned advances than any other single factor and drives publishers, agents and authors to the point of literal insanity.

Acknowledging that these constituencies make viable, if not exactly airtight, arguments, Lipskar turns his attention to writers who blithely jump aboard the “too many books” bandwagon and starts asking questions:

what is it that you, as an author, hope to accomplish by complaining about there being too many books? Are you hoping, indeed praying, that publishers will start to listen, and that they’ll buy fewer first novels next year, maybe prune a few low-selling standbys, and thereby have the time and money to pour more attention and cash into promoting the books they publish (such as, and let’s cut to the case, your own)?

If that’s the case, I’ve got some bad news for you: it just might be your book that they’re going to trim off their lists. Do you think, somehow, that yours is going to be the last one through the door, after which your publisher is going to barricade the gates and proclaim, in loud, lusty tones, “These books and these books only shall pass”?

And then your book has entered into the Holy Kingdom of Books That Have Big Marketing Budgets — is that it? And thus it will find the readership that you and your spouse and your parents and your friends and your agent and your editor know you deserve?….

Alas: I don’t think so.

Your thoughts are welcome, in the Book Angst 101 comments, or in email.


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