Friday, February 26, 2016

What Do Book Publishers Value?

What do you believe are the values of book publishers?  

Most publishers probably struggle to balance the value of pursuing a profit with publishing books they believe deserve to be published.  Sometimes the book you want or believe needs to be published will also be quite profitable, and that is the win-win they all should seek, but often it seems publishers have to choose the book they believe will be commercially viable over those that may be better, more important or more useful to society.  Some will purposely pick the book to publish that is socially redeeming over its commercial counterpart, even at the risk of losing money.  

So what drives publishers to make such decisions?

Before we fully entertain this, let’s ask the same question of writers:  What values do they believe in?  Many writers are driven by their passion and artistry.  They feel they have something to say, perhaps unique and worthy of sharing.  For them, they need to press forward almost out of obligation and need.  But many writers know that it’s an uphill battle to convince a publisher to publish their book if sales potential is limited.  Authors have the option of self-publishing, but that requires some money and more importantly, a different skill set and frame of mind than just pursuing a writing career.

So, to what degree does an author let commercial potential influence how he or she crafts a book?

Money, aside, how do publishers really decide what’s worth publishing? When it comes to publishing books, some publishers have specific restrictions or goals as to what they’ll print and circulate.  The litmus test could be genre -- some may only publisher non-fiction or only poetry.  Others may be wide open but exclude a handful of subject areas, such as politics, religion, or sexuality.  More specifically, certain publishers or editors will reject books on topics like abortion, atheism, or gun control, regardless of which side it supports on these issues.  But what guides these value judgments?

The book marketplace should be big enough so that every viewpoint has representation but on a daily basis, publishers make editorial decisions as to which books will see the light of day.  Their thinking collectively shapes America’s thinking.  Will we entertain all potential ideas, stories, histories and predictions – or will the reading public be cut off from exploring controversial areas simply because the values of publishers conflict with certain books?

We know in the past that we were deprived of books that covered certain viewpoints or topics, whether it be due to prejudice, ignorance, restrictive laws, or intolerance.  Books about black people rarely existed until the 1960s.  Not many on Hispanics, gays, or other minorities existed then either.  Which topics, people, or groups are being ignored today?

A lot of what book publishers publish is influenced by the news media. First, publishers and authors are inspired by the information and ideas circulating in mass media.  Second, politics and media influence each other, both of which impact book publishing. Third, publishers pay attention to what the media covers, in hopes it will be open to giving coverage to their books.

Are there taboo topics that book publishers tend to avoid? You don’t see too many books praising pedophilia or glorifying terrorism.  But who knows what’s missing and what the public has been denied a chance to read, contemplate, and deliberate on.  How many books that would’ve exposed something big never got to press due to the influence of money, violence, blackmail or plain choice of the publisher?

When books with outrageous plots or purported exposes do get published, they often get dismissed because they seem too outlandish. Maybe the public isn’t ready to handle such things.  Do we really want to hear things that shake the foundation of our existence?

Book publishing has its set of values and those values clearly influence what we are exposed to as readers.  What we read is based not just on our own values, but those of the book publishers.

2016 Book Marketing & Book Publicity Toolkit

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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