My blog subscriptions are a funny collection of who I am, what interests me. I’m sure everyone’s collection of interests has a few odd pieces.
One of the places I visit regularly is Seth Godin’s blog entitled, uh, Seth’s Blog. Seth is marketing guru, a guy who is constantly looking at and rethinking the ways business works (and doesn’t work) in this modern age. I like his approach, and I’ve found over time dozens of posts that bring up ideas that can be applied to *ahem* authors looking to increase their visibility in the marketplace.
A recent post, however, brings out a very interesting factoid about publishing and reviewing.
If you want to get reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, don’t even consider self-publishing. Don’t write a how to book. Don’t write something particularly funny, either. But it sure helps to be published by Knopf. Literary fiction by respected writers published by Knopf is the sweet spot (history comes in a close second).
He’s not reporting fact so much as he’s providing statistical documentation. Finding the “sweet spot” — that mythical place that allows for an extra advantage — often appears to be the analysis of practical data and applying it judiciously. The Writer’s Market books will tell you which publishers prefer what subjects, and in doing so indicate their bias in terms of interest which they can measure and calculate into earnings. Part of this equation also has to do with what can be generated from reviews, good press and exposure.
The bias probably isn’t so much intentional as it is institutional. Over the years the folks at Knopf have become close with the folks at the NYT Book Review and, naturally, those books gain favor as a result. Not as a favor, but by proximity and availability. A publicist builds a relationship with a particular critic or media host, that publisher gets more books in front of that one person, the scales are going to tip that way. I saw it happen at the radio station I worked at. It isn’t conscious, it just happens until one day someone goes “Say, we’ve seen a lot of people from Running Nose Press lately, let’s try and open things up a bit.”
That said, I’m now wondering how these things play out in children’s publishing. I’ve seen smaller houses with exceptional books get barely a sliver of the coverage that mediocre (and worse) books get from the bigger houses. It underscores how much harder smaller publishers have to work to get heard above the din, equally highlighting the fact that larger publishers can “take more chances” (i.e. be lazier about selecting better books) because in the end something is bound to hit. The old quality versus quantity thing again.
I don’t write with hitting a publisher’s sweet spot in mind, but I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t how a lot of books get on the shelves.