Eggs In A Basket

I was reading an email this morning from a friend about a mutual friend who has put all of their eggs in one basket, specifically placed all of his books with one single publisher. I thought my response was going to be an easy “Well, it works for John Ringo”, but then I really thought about the various dynamics involved when it comes to Ringo and just about everyone else out there. I realized that though it may work for authors who are “mid-list and up”, it’s not a good marketing plan for those of us who toil down in the lower tiers of publishing.

Most publisher these days work with a big-name distributor. If they don’t, then there’s no way their books are getting on the shelves. Places like Ingram, Simon & Schuster and Baker & Taylor all ensure that publishers books reach the reading masses. Unless you have a deal with one of them, you are destined for a vicious marketing campaign using word of mouth, social networking and any other available resource at your fingertips. This may include exploiting your friends and their loyalties.

But… what happens when a publisher loses a distributor? What happens to the author whose books suddenly disappear from the bookshelves of stores?

I’m generally against putting all your eggs in one basket. Yes, loyalty is usually rewarded, but it’s not like the publisher is putting all of their eggs into one basket (unless it’s those guys who publish Stephen King and use his earnings to pay off their new writers…). Publishers usually have a small army of writers in their stable. What’s stopping an author from doing the same?

Mostly fear, I believe. I mean, you get that one contract after dozens and dozens of submissions and… you don’t want to lose it. You want more contracts, and the publisher has already shown that they like your work. So you keep submitting, ignoring the rest of the world as you narrow your focus onto what you think the publisher is going to like.

Then one day, poof! Just like that, your publisher is gone or changed from within. Suddenly all those years of toiling for them are wasted because the new editor-in-chief isn’t a huge fan and wants you to resubmit. Unless you’ve been making them a lot of money, you’re starting all over again. And this time, other publishers who have been watching the markets already know if you’ve reached your full potential or not.

Now, if an author had gone and had multiple publishing houses publish his or her work, then one folding isn’t a huge deal. Oh, it’ll hurt, but it’s not like you had all of your eggs in one basket. You had the “risk” spread around, much like the stock market. You had a science fiction book with Baen, a fantasy series with Tor and a young adult series with Scholastic outside of the “failed” or changed publishing house. You’re set, in other words. You pick up your boots and march on.

And when you get the rights to your book back from the other publisher, you can talk to the current publishers about re-releasing your older books. It’s a smart way to ensure that when your publishing world burns, you have a nice fire hose and thousands of gallons of water to protect everything else you have.

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