The weakest link
It’s been one those days, which, shall I say, has not gone well. We spent 7 hours sitting in our airport waiting for my younger son’s flight to leave (and him with connecting flights and business meetings to get to). The plane never ever arrived, and the Sharp – the airline company – don’t seem to have figured that telling their local front desk what is going on (let alone those saps, the passengers, who are paying more than a flight to New Zealand for this trip) is a really, really, really good idea. It’s not just good business sense, it is near essential for the little local tourism industry – which provides their customers and is our second biggest income earner and employer. Being unreliable is a problem for tourists and visitors. Sometimes that is unavoidable. Telling them they have 6 hours to spend at the beach, beats the trousers off leaving them sitting in the airport, guessing, getting angry, frustrated and upset.
Let’s be clear, the local staff do a great job and are very popular with the islanders. The pilots are exceptionally competent – flying a small ‘plane (16 seater) into a small, windy roaring-forties airstrip. If you have been on this run, you’re a skilled pilot, used to dealing with exceptionally bad conditions, in an old-ish aircraft, without the modern tools to make easier. One fondly assumes the ground-crews and mechanics do a good job as none of the planes have crashed. But their communication – presumably one person — suck, letting all of the rest down.
The end result is my older son and daughter-in-law are now leaving a day early, just in case, because they have international flights. An already too short and very expensive visit, just got made shorter and more expensive, and slightly harder to justify and to do again, besides wasting 7 hours of their time and mine, as well as the younger son’s time in the airport. I’m not a happy dad, even if I have to admit it is the wise thing to do.
This certainly has its parallels in the Trad publishing world, where, almost every book I have had published… has had links of the chain that were outstandingly good… and the usual idiots who couldn’t manage to organize sexual congress in a house of ladies of negotiable virtue – where the visitor had plenty of money and ladies were to his (or her) taste, and eagerly available. Publishing seems to attract these ‘competent’ and ‘reliable’ people. And, yes, communication is one thing they almost always fail at. Like in airline example, it’s often a little, relatively easy and cheap step, which would pay handsome dividends – telling authors (the equivalent of local front desk) when a book will be released, for example. Giving the materials they actually have (covers, blurbs for example) to the authors. Not hard – but not happening either.
If you were a gambler, you can bet that something will go wrong with one or another or several links of the chain of responsibilities (at one stage I was ready to swear the Baen was wall-papering their office with the maps they asked for – a job I was bad at, which took me a lot of time and effort. I learned to make multiple copies). I’ve lost count of the number of times various publishers got hopelessly behind schedule and I was asked then to my bit double-quick to fill in for their slowness. To pick up and beg to fix blurb errors, cover errors, or editing mess ups, or proofs not put in, or contracts not sent, payments late… and these are the ones an author CAN catch. Your biggest problem of course is that you can’t check most of the process. I’ve never had any idea for instance, if publicity and marketing, ever did a single solitary thing, at all. Your editor may, possibly, do a good job of riding herd on the whole process. Or not. You’ll never know.
Look, writers screw up too. Often. But it’s your book, wearing your name. You’re not going to often get readers saying an author is great but their publisher is stuffing up. I’ve yet to of an editor admitting the problem – any problem – lies with the house. Every single crash, bar none, is always an author error. The warehouse didn’t dispatch timeously so the book wasn’t on the shelf for its 6 week book-store window? You bad author! Your story is terrible and sold badly. The cover – which you have no control over or input into and looks like a dog puked on your homework – doesn’t appeal? You bad author! Your story is terrible and sold badly… and so on.
Doing Indy well is really hard, and potentially quite expensive. But at least the errors, the dropping of the ball – are something you can control, can be aware of, will be communicated to you, and you will be able to check and watch over every stage. You may lack the expertise of good stages of the chain… but you’re unlikely to make no effort at all.
And if there is a crash, fair enough, it is author error.
So: forgive me, but I am off to spend some time with my kids.