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.


  1. As a Law Enforcement communications professional (ie. Dispatcher) let me just say that oftentimes we’re out of the loop. Sometimes it’s the public that won’t tell us what’s going on (Just send the officer/ambulance/fire truck! – I will. When I know what’s going on I may even send them really, really fast. But if you don’t tell me what I need to know, they’re coming really, really slow, like after parking complaints and stray cat slow), sometimes it’s the officers that don’t tell us what’s going on (Create me a call for a traffic stop and clear me as warned. – WTF are you doing stopping vehicles without telling me where you are at? You may know where you are, God may know, but if I don’t know then you and God better be on good terms because you aren’t going to get any back up if something goes down), sometimes it’s the administration that doesn’t tell us (This is Jane Doe with The News, can you comment on the consolidation of your dispatch center with the other dispatch center? – Huh? Last I heard it wasn’t happening). I try to pass on all the information I can to the people that need it. But it’s hard to do when nobody tells me anything. I’ve worked in departments that hold everything very close to the vest, even trivialities like where a camera is pointed, because they don’t want it showing up in an open records request.

    Communication between departments is often the problem.

  2. Kid time comes first.

    I had a non-fiction work delayed for six months because another entity that used the same publisher pulled rank to “squeeze in” a book that was running behind. No my editor’s fault, not mine, but it rankled because I missed the window for some reviews and awards that could have really boosted the book’s sales.

    1. Aaand we were informed of the “minor change” three weeks before galley proofs were supposed to be released. No, not happy.

  3. It is apparently required for those in traditional publishing to hold as gospel truth that they take the raw barely formed clay of your manuscript and lovingly craft it into a finished product. You are in their estimation merely a purveyor of raw materials while they do all the hard work.
    Yet at the same time, as you carefully point out, should the book tank it is always the author’s fault.
    One cannot help but feel some sympathy when an author is forced to watch the rollout of the story that they poured their soul into for often months stumble and fail due to incompetence, on a few occasions even malice, on the part of the operation which they have absolutely no control over.
    And add as a crowning glory the attitude in traditional publishing that for every author they drive off with such treatment there are a hundred just waiting to take their place.
    It does perhaps explain their state of abject denial as regards the increase in the independent publishing arena. And similarly so with the advent of e-books in that an electronic product depends so much less on a publisher’s input as compared to the content of the story.

    1. I hate to point it out, but it’s the overwhelmingly FEMALE dominance in publishing that promotes this – women are notoriously bad at accepting blame for what they have screwed up.

      They will go to ANY lengths to blame someone else. God help the author who points out that THEY are the problem – they will DESTROY him.

      1. No, it’s *Human* to shift & avoid blame, there’s a reason “The Buck Stops Here” is a famous quote, & that’s not because it’s a common thought or behavioral pattern.

        1. I have to agree. I’ve worked for lying, brown nosing, sap sucking individuals of both genders. It’s true that my personal worst was female, but so are a couple of my personal best. Nothing you guys relate about trad pub makes working with it attractive. Sucks, because I love paperbacks and really don’t like reading on a device.

  4. Dave, you are describing the “not my job” thing. Any time something not 100% routine needs doing, everybody says “that’s not my job.” So things do not get done. This is very bad.

    This is why I am self employed. When you are self employed, -everything- is your job. You can delegate, but its on you if it falls by the wayside.

    But on the bright side, unless I am lazy, everything gets done. Added bonus, I don’t spend much time suppressing the urge to kill. The peace inside the old cranium is blissful.

    And a good thing too, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get all this work done. ~:D

  5. That’s the thing about traditional publishing. It’s a lot like the movie industry because your success can hinge on factors beyond your control. You might do the best work of your career, but some idiot editor/studio executive might chop it up and release it with a lousy trailer/cover and everyone will assume you’re an incompetent hack.

  6. Some time ago my doctor informed me that one major contributor to stress is not being in control of the thing that is stressing you. With Trad Pub, you are not in control of anything once you’ve signed the contract and handed over the manuscript. With Indie, you got the control. Maybe not the expertise, but the stories I hear, that’s a bit iffy in Trad Pub.

    So while I was sending out manuscripts . . . as soon as KDP became available, I stuck a toe in to check the temperature, then jumped in the deep end.

    1. Some time ago my doctor informed me that one major contributor to stress is not being in control of the thing that is stressing you

      Someone once observed that I tend to stress / handle too much, and seem to ‘need’ to have everything under control or at least ‘handled’ by my standards, then really, really stress over things I have no control over. I replied that if it’s something I handle, at least I know if things go wrong, it’s either my fault or it’s not, and I can handle that. The things I have no control over tend to not just ‘go wrong’, but go wrong in the ‘inter-state train wreck with 20 car pileup and a neighborhood of houses destroyed by derailed train’ bad. It’s such a trend that when things have been going well for a while, I find myself bracing for Things Going Horribly Wrong.

      (The housemate has now also picked up the latter sense of suspicion. And yes, it’s always something completely outside our control too.)

    2. That’s what I was told in the Air Force, ages ago – that stress comes from having responsibility without control.
      Which explained to me quite nicely how every AFRTS station manager I ever worked for had cracked up in some spectacular physical or mental way…

    3. Not being in control is bad enough, but for *pro* level stress a person needs to have no control and all of the responsibility.

  7. Yet one more reason for me to NOT go trad pub… If there is a screwup it’s on me, and I CAN fix that. Go enjoy the time with the kids, that’s what really counts!

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