Charlie Stross clears up misconceptions about publishing

In the wake of the Amazon/Macmillan e-book pricing affair and the reader comments it stirred up, Charlie Stross has decided to tackle some common misconceptions about the publishing industry on his blog. He has made two posts so far.

The first misconception Stross covers is simply that “the publishing industry makes sense.” He notes that a lot of discussions about “the publishing industry” treat it as a more or less uniform entity where every part works about the same as every other part. He goes on to explain that this is not quite true.

For the rest of the post, he lays out an explanation of the multi-tiered structure of publishers, going top-down from the megaconglomerates such as Holtzbrinck or News Corporation, through the publishing houses, through the publishing houses’ imprints.

So: for my American SF titles, I deal with the editor in charge of the Ace imprint, within the Berkley publishing group (division) within Penguin Group, which is owned by Pearson PLC(who also run educational software companies and publish The Financial Times). It's turtles all the way down!

And this, Stross explains, is just how commercial publishers work. There are a number of other types of publishing house, which he promises to cover in another entry.

How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

Stross’s second entry deals with the misconception that writers “don’t need publishers”—that all they do is leech money out from between the writer and the reader. Stross explains:

To be direct: a manuscript is not a book. The author’s job is to write the manuscript. The publisher’s job is to turn a series of manuscripts originating from different suppliers into consistently produced books, mass-produce them, and sell them into distribution channels.

He then goes into a very thorough step-by-step recounting of the 17 steps that a manuscript goes through on the way to becoming a book. If you have ever wondered why books take so long to publish, this goes a good way toward explaining the reasons.

I recommend checking these posts out. I’m certainly going to be looking forward to future entries in this series.

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