I lived in Austin Texas for over 20 years and during that time I discovered why Austin calls itself the "Live Music Capital of the World." During any Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night there are more bands playing music in multiple venues all over the city, than there are playing in venues in much larger cities and major metropolitan areas. Add to that South by Southwest, one of the largest gathering of media and entertainment people in the world, and you have a relatively small city that deserves the title of “Live Music Capital of the World.”
As I observed the numerous musical experiences throughout the 20 plus years I lived in Austin, I was amazed at the quality of musicianship that existed and I understood a recent comment by Michael Buble, (paraphrasing) “I was just very lucky, there are many singers that sing much better than I do. I just happened to come along at the right time and get all the right breaks.”
There’s no doubt about it, luck plays a major role, as many Austin musicians have discovered to their dismay. However, the chances of a musician being discovered is exponentially better than an author being discovered. The music industry embraces musicians and musical groups who produce their first CD on their own. In fact, an entire area of radio plays music from new groups attempting to get started. They understand that new talent is what keeps their industry alive and well.
This is not true in the publishing industry. The publishing industry is run by elite snobs who believe that they know best and that an author who publishes their book, or uses the services of a vanity press or an author-services company is not worth spending any time on. In this industry you must have an agent, and agents are few and far between, plus they are only interested in those authors who are already known to the public, or authors who fit the description of what book publishers are telling the agents what they need. Of course, the vast majority of authors have no idea what publishers are looking for. In this instance getting discovered isn’t luck, it’s a miracle.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the snobs in the publishing industry have no idea what sells and often take an author’s book and edit it beyond recognition. This happened with Burt Reynolds’ book, My Life, where the editor had the gall to change Burt’s punch lines, screw them up, and then not tell Burt about the changes, which he finally discovered after the book was published. I produced his audiobook, which Burt read, and we were able to correct those ridiculous edits in that version, as Burt told me, “The best version of My Life.”
To give you an example of the inability of book editors to determine which book will sell a decent number of copies, brand new books will sell from 1500 to millions of copies but the average is about 5,000 copies. This average includes the few that sell multiple millions, so you can guess how many sell much less than 5,000. To break even, a new book must sell about 15,000 copies. In addition, are the many fabulous best sellers that were turned down by multiple publishers who had no idea that they were holding new masterpieces by unknown authors.
This record is atrocious and, basically, the result of the elitist attitude of the publishing industry. If they were smart, they’d check out quality “self-funded” books for numerous reasons not the least of which is that they’d be able to skip almost the entire production phase and release basically the existing book with a few minor changes and a new cover. This would lower the number of books they needed to sell to break even, dramatically and shorten the publishing timeline from years to months. But, their elitist attitude makes this process almost impossible to swallow. They believe, wrongly, that a book won’t sell unless they’ve edited it to “perfection.” What hubris!
The result, small, quality, author-funded publishers like us discover some terrific books that deserve national marketing and recognition, but the chances of this happening is extremely rare. Major publishers should be cultivating relationships with publishers like us. They should be asking to see the books that we believe are worthy of a good look from a major publisher. The result would not only be discovering a new best seller, but the potential of discovering a new best-selling author.
The music industry figured this out years ago, they knew that new undiscovered talent was their life blood. Not only that, television has discovered the power behind the search for new undiscovered talent with programs like American Idol and The Voice. Because of this basic philosophy the music industry continues to be very successful, while the publishing industry is experiencing a major disruption and not quite sure what to do about it. They end up publishing the same authors and the same books over and over again.