Pat Walsh is a former publisher for MacAdam/Cage in the bay area. He is the author of 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never be Published & 14 Reasons Why it Just Might.
RT: I had heard you had an unorthodox start as a professional publisher at MacAdam/Cage, namely, that it began with a book contract. I’d like to hear the story from you.
PW: Well, I had left my job as a reporter for the SF Chronicle to take a job in the PR sector, which was a huge mistake. I met a man named David Poindexter, who had done quite well in the printing business. He asked how my job was going and I told him that I hated it and he offered me a chunk of money to write a book because he was going to start a publishing house. In hopes of writing commercially successful book, I chose to write a mystery/thriller – a genre I didn’t know and didn’t even read. The book turned out to be a piece of crap but I kept hanging around at the office and it turned out that I was better at finding books than writing them. So one day I got business cards that said “Editor.”
RT: You mentioned in an earlier interview that you had issues with the publishing industry but wanted to stay focused on giving advice to the writer. Which publisher do you think handles the short-term sales business model pitfall best?
PW: Every house has a different model but they are all hampered by the same industry methods, whereby a publisher takes all the financial risk and gets the lowest return. In business terminology, this is known as “total bullshit.”
RT: Some criticism of your new book 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published & 14 Reasons Why it Just Might is that the advice is too blunt/harsh, and may discourage future writers. Do you think that sensitivity issues have any place in the creative writing industry?
PW: Sensitivity is a tricky term. Writers have to be sensitive to absorb the world the way it is and the way it should be. They have to be sensitive to know how to forge the written word into a tool that can change the world, one mind at a time. But they cannot be sensitive about themselves and their craft if it makes them too fragile to make use of every available means to improve their work and have a greater impact on the reader. That said, 78 Reasons is NOT a book about writing; it is a book about the publishing industry, which like all industries does not care about feelings.
RT: How is it sitting on a pile of manuscripts from first-time authors? Is there a ratio of good-to-bad books that you’ve noticed throughout the years?
PW: I really like first-time authors. Their ideas are fresher and they generally have been working of the manuscripts a long time. Some are surprised to hear this but most of manuscripts are good. I would estimate that only ten percent are “bad.” Eighty-five percent are “good but not great.” The last five percent are exciting. But even they need work usually.
RT: If a first-time author is sitting on a gem of a manuscript, do you recommend her submitting to a smaller publisher? Or is there a risk not having access to a good marketing budget?
PW: It depends on the publishing experience the writer wants to have. A big house can offer the moon but generally only for a handful of titles a year. And if the book doesn’t do well, for any reason, the author will have a very hard time getting published again. Small houses give a book more attention and generally work harder to make it successful but they have far fewer resources to make it happen.
RT: How important are agents for first-time writers?
PW: Again it depends on the experience. They are very important if you hope to get a bidding war going between major houses and not as important if it’s a small publisher without much money. That said, I have an agent and I depend on her. I guess the more important issue is what kind of agent you want. It is also important to note that a lot of writers spend too much time trying to find an agent and that can take away from the writing time.
RT: We’ve been discussing the future of e-books in America. Do you believe print will mostly disappear in the next decade?
PW: No. I believe that ebooks will expand the market. Fifty percent of book sales are gifts, and I don’t see people giving ebook gift cards the same way they give hardcover books because giving a book as a gift is someone saying “This is how I interpret who you are and this represents how I feel about you and this is how I think you enjoy investing your time.” The only reason that ebooks threaten traditional publishers is because we are greedy bastards who overcharge for our books. A jacketed hardcover only costs 75 cents more to make than a paperback but we charge twelve bucks more for it. Twelve bucks! For what? Two pieces of cardboard and a strip of mull? No wonder people are buying kindles.
RT: Is the e-book business model, where authors receive far more royalties for their work, a good thing? What’s your opinion on cutting out the middle-man?
PW: Publishing has too many middlemen and anytime someone is cut out, it is a good thing to a point. Some have said that the entire publishing industry should be flat, whereby all books are equal and the publishing houses should be done away with. I don’t agree because a filter is needed. Not all books are equal and not all crowds are wise.