Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 8: Communication

As a chubby Cockney used to point out ad nauseam for money, "It's good to talk."

What he neglected to mention is that sometimes it's even better to be talked to.  Like, oh say, in the publishing industry, for example.  Because writing - especially when you're learning the trade - can be the very definition of working in a void.  The average writer spends a great deal of time on their own, trying to create something of worth with little outside guidance to tell them whether they're on the right track or barking spectacularly up the wrong trees.

Once you start being published, it's easy to assume it will all change - and something of a blow when it doesn't.  Selling one (or ten, or twenty) stories is unlikely to get the world talking, or to draw in the praise, criticism or bare acknowledgement you've been craving through the long lonely nights.  You might get lucky and win an award or some such, but there are just so many damn stories published every year, and it takes a hell of a splash to make ripples big enough to notice.

Surely, though, if there's one person it isn't unreasonable to expect a little communication from, it's the editor who's picked up your work?

I'm not talking about rampant praise here, or rampant criticism either for that matter.  All I'm saying is this: a lot can happen between the point of a story being accepted and the point where it's been released and any last threads, like payment and contributor copies, have been neatly tied off.  A lot can go wrong or off track.  A lot can get delayed, juggled about, replanned at the last minute.  Those are the sorts of thing an author will be glad to be told about - and made nervous by when they're not.  Heck, for that matter it's nice to hear when things are going right, too.  Regular progress updates or even a brief note of landmarks like that crucial publication date edge things towards exciting and fun and away from nerve-wracking, and also give writers more opportunity to do that all-important word-spreading stuff that helps get people reading.

I've said before that, in the absence of copious quantities of cash, one of the surest currencies the Small Press can pay in is showing appreciation to authors and valuing their work.  But nothing makes someone feel less valued than being ignored.  Similarly, there are few more dispiriting tasks as a writer than chasing up a publisher for basic information - asking for late payment, wondering why an issue's come out without the story that was supposed to be in there, wondering why an issue hasn't come out at all and when, if ever, it will.

How does this relate specifically to the Small Press?  In theory, it shouldn't.  In my experience, though, it's something professional editors tend to nail far more often than Small Press editors.  Of course, that's partly because the Small Press is more vulnerable to the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune, more likely to get knocked off course by a lack of resources.  I think most writers will understand that and accept it.  It's when things go wrong without a word of explanation, or when things go right in deadly silence, that the alarm bells start clattering.

This stuff can't be that hard to get right.  Other industries nail it as a matter of course.  But it takes a little thought, and more than that, it takes planning.  Not supervillianesque world-domination levels of planning, though, let's face it.  A few mailing lists here - one of every author in a given issue perhaps, one of everyone owed money maybe - and perhaps a few form e-mails to cover different exigencies.  Beyond that, I suspect the main requirement is getting into a certain mindset; one where you think of your contributors as partners in a shared enterprise that they'll probably appreciate being kept up to date on.   

Which, I suppose, is my point.  Think of publishing as a collaborative endeavour, you and a team of authors joining together to make something great, and communication should come naturally even when everything else is going pear-shaped.  Think of it otherwise - as, say, a favour you're doing said authors - and it may not seem like quite so big a deal.

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