This post, from author Charlie Stross, originally appeared on his Charlie’s Diary blog on 2/23/10.
I’m back home, I’m over the jet lag (for now), and I’m looking for something to write about.
It struck me, reading the comments on my various postings about the Amazon v. Macmillan spat in January, that many people don’t have the first clue about how the publishing business works — or even what it is.
Publishing is a recondite, bizarre, and downright strange industry which is utterly unlike anything a rational person would design to achieve the same purpose (which I will loosely define for now as "put authors books into the hands of readers while making a profit, to the satisfaction of all concerned"). So over the next few blog entries I’m going to make some notes about what’s going on …
Misconception #1: The publishing industry makes sense.
Most discussions of publishing take it as axiomatic that there is a thing called the publishing industry and that the entities within it look similar and work pretty much the same way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As an author of commercial science fiction and fantasy novels, which is a highly restrictive category I mostly deal with a very specific type of publisher: a mass-market commercial fiction publisher — as opposed to, for example, a University press, a small press, or a vanity press. (NB: the word "press" is often used to mean "publisher", even in this day and age when almost all publishers have outsourced the inky job of running a printer to someone else.) Here’s how the mass-market commercial fiction publishers are structured: