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What’s the Point?

The business of America is business, so Calvin Coolidge has often been misquoted. Nevertheless, the words have a nice ring and have stuck. As an author and publisher, I sometimes ask myself just what is the publishing business. The obvious answer seems to be to publish books. That, however, is not the truth, the whole, truth, and nothing but the truth.

Publishers may indeed publish books, but that, in itself, is a dead-end proposition. The same may be said for writing books. I may have an inner compulsion to write, but doing so is more an act of self-gratification than business.

The real business of writing and publishing is to sell books. The writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, and publishing contracts serve one end—sales. I know many authors who are proud to say that they don’t care about sales. This translates to me as “I don’t care if anyone reads my writing”. That’s one way to avoid critics and poor reviews.

I may have it all wrong. After all, I was beyond middle age when I started writing and retirement age when I began publishing. I have never taken a business course in my life. My writing education consists of a mail-order correspondence course and what I picked up in English class.

To quote Paul Simon, “My lack of education hasn’t hurt me none. I can read the writing on the wall.” The graffiti wisdom I found there taught me that if I want people to read my books (I do, that’s why I wrote them.) then I must either sell them or give them away.

Giving books away, except as a promotion, is poor business practice. More than that, if giving away my books is the only way to get readers, have I really succeeded as an author or were the people who told me I couldn’t write correct? I value readers above money, but you really can’t have one without the other. You certainly won’t be in business long.

The same is true on the publishing side of the equation. I love a good book launch. As with rocket launches, the expectation is that after ignition and lift-off, the thing will not explode in a fireball of loss. That can only happen so many times.

The “bottom line” and those bean counters who watch it are generally classed with lawyers and tax collectors. There is a name for those who ignore a business and its bottom line—bankrupt.

Jack LaFountain

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