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Constant Troyon: The Road to Market (1858/59)
" … worth gratefully beyond measure."

It pays nobody to misunderstand how Publishing works. It does not work like most markets or, depending upon one's ability to swallow experience, it works precisely like all markets, which is to say it works mindlessly. Those who believe they can predict how a particular work might sell, especially if from an unknown author, fool themselves first. Those who believe their book might make them rich and/or famous would be better served investing in lottery tickets, where the odds are somewhat better than those offered by Publishing's invisible thumb. Invisible hands put in their place, one need not necessarily remain naive to engage. Donald Trump, Jr., barely literate by most accounts, produced a best seller, but by the most tried and true method yet devised. The Republican National Committee purchased a hundred thousand dollars worth of the forgettable title "Triggered" the week it was released for use as "collateral," giving away a "free" copy with every donation. Trump's re-election campaign repeated that purchase with an even bigger buy. This market manipulation has become common among some wildly successful authors. You'd readily recognize their names.

Random House must be the most accurately named Publishing house ever, for the markets it serves primarily serve randomness to its players.
The BIG publishers work the law of large numbers, releasing scores of titles with the understanding that only a very few might hit it big. They only need very few to succeed in covering the overhead for their whole operation as long as they can hold their expenses to a minimum. Gone are the days of advances and also the time of promotional tours. The authors are generally left in charge of their book promotions and encouraged to hire professionals for tens of thousands of dollars. This pushes the primary promotional overhead down to the lowest possible common denominator, and the authors often warmly accept this responsibility, particularly if they've already convinced themselves that they've produced an undiscovered bestseller. They might just as well believe that notion since it's the very pinnacle of the encouragement they're likely to otherwise receive.

Most books get produced OnSpec, or On Speculation, under the decidedly unlikely notion that they might eventually become successful. Very few will ever gain financial success. Most will ultimately show negative cash flow, costing much more than they ever returned, but financial success remains just one measure by which a book's success might be assessed. The market might not maintain any common means for accounting for the most successful works, those that never manage to gain mention on any best-seller list or receive even a scathing newspaper review. Yet, even those largely invisible works might change someone's world or offer someone solace. Books need not sell a million copies to make a real difference in this world with their presence. This remains their enduring magic. Each of us possesses a few books utterly unknown to almost everyone yet become central pieces of our existence. I cannot imagine my successes or my failures without the solace my personal library's many worst sellers contributed. I admit that I treasure these unknown and unpopular titles above all others. They leave me feeling like an inside trader.

The Road To Market depends upon what market one's servicing. The road's more often an unpaved path unless some deep pockets contribute some bulk sales in the early weeks after the title's released. I still have cases of my best seller, leftover from when I purchased my obligatory hundreds of copies OnSpec that I'd use them in my soon-to-be-shuttered consulting business. They, too, are my treasures. I might one day offer them as curiosities in appreciation of the readers who stood by me before I became an internationally-recognized best-selling author. Oh, wait. I'm already one of those, but that status does not change the humbling fact that I continue writing and Publishing OnSpec. Those who need the ego-stroking salting the mine might bring do not seem to understand anything about Publishing. It's best done OnSpec, without knowing if a work's going anywhere and with the nagging suspicion that it's most likely to be few people's treasure. The author knows only what a pain in the tail the work proved to be when producing it. It's value beyond accounting. It's worth gratefully beyond measure.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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