Sustaining Literary Publishing | Reflections on #AWP18

One could reasonably argue there were TOO MANY publishers at the Bookfair when you think about the relatively small markets they cater to for literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as the often myopic focus on a single magazine, ignoring or discounting other ways they could serve their community while ensuring a sustainable future. The relatively low barrier for entry into (and expectations of) literary publishing “let’s people wade in a little over their heads,” as Creative Nonfiction‘s Hattie Fletcher noted during the Literary Innovation session, and many publishers often find themselves living on the brink of insolvency, one time-consuming fundraising pitch away from failure.

Facebook Isn’t The Problem, YOU Are

Facebook doesn't view publishers as valued partners and never has, despite so many helping it grow and engage a worldwide audience, handing over tons of invaluable data along the way, not just from engagement on Facebook itself, but from their own websites too. All for free! Facebook has transformed that invaluable data into billions of dollars of advertising revenue every year while steadily throttling publishers' ability to reach their own audiences without becoming paid advertisers themselves. It's an objectively and diabolically brilliant model that I simultaneously admire and despise.

What’s Good, Publishing?

For an allegedly liberal industry, publishers do a much better job of packaging and peddling the worst aspects of conservative punditry (along with celebrity memoirs and coloring books), while truth, history, and “diverse” perspectives and experiences are often dismissed as having limited commercial potential regardless of their cultural value. Many are sitting on a treasure trove of great content and access to a roster of truly creative people with timely and compelling insights and ideas that could literally change the world, but we’ll most likely just see a few anthologies cranked out to modest acclaim, with minimal marketing and zero cultural or financial impact.

Data-driven Storytelling

Over the years, I've worked with salespeople across a variety of industries and the best ones were always those who combined deep knowledge of our markets and products or services (backed by actual data) with an innate ability to identify their client's or (prospect's) real needs. They didn't rely on fancy media kits or elaborate PowerPoint decks, nor discounts or hefty expense accounts—all valid tactical tools to be used, or not, as each situation calls for—and personal relationships were just the icing on the cake they got to have and eat, too because they instinctively grasped Kaushik's underlying concept: understand a client's needs and challenges better than they do themselves, and then help them understand how to achieve their goals.