Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Exact Formula for Success

So over my vacation I decided to put my money where my mouth was and read up on how the publishing industry works from a more general and financial viewpoint. I've never worked in a publishing house, but I thought, "Well, I have a web log about it; maybe I should find out how it operates."

This was a last-minute decision and I just went to B&N and picked up the publishing book that looked the most professional - The Art and Science of Book Publishing by Herbert S. Baily, Jr. It had a certain air of distinction that the other books on the shelf ("How to Get Published in Thirty Days") didn't quite have.

Five pages into this book, I realize: I do not understand anything about book publishing. This book was so amazingly technical that I don't understand who would possibly read this other than an experienced manager in a publishing house looking to verify his numbers. For example:


What? Man, I'm glad my job is just to read query letters and edit manuscripts. Fortunately the book enables me to answer this question:

I have a question for you. Just something I've been curious about, particularly with the continued "chick lit" craze. It seems if you write about a twenty-something in PR/fashion/event planning/publishing, there is no end to the crap that can end up on the shelves (although let me say, I do read quite a lot of it when trapped in an airport...). So here it is: In your experience, when it comes down to why a book is published, what percentage is based on "good writing" and what percentage is based on marketability?

Since there's no way for me to answer the actual question (I would just have to make up a number - it's to abstract a concept), I'll just reinterpret the question as, "What determines why you choose a book? How can you tell it will be profitable?"

Well, folks. Here it is. The actual formula to determine the profitability of your coming-of-age yarn or your Vietnam memoirs. Are you ready?

...You sure?

Here we go.



I think that should answer any questions anyone will ever have about publishing.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

LMAO.

Simon Haynes said...

No no no, that won't do. You forgot to amortize your depreciation.

Just Me said...

Pah. Let alone calculate the Net Present Value of your future revenue stream, discounted of course, at the proper rate....

What fun.

Kim said...

Argh... I bet pi is in there somewhere as well...

I knew I should've paid more attention in algebra/geometry/calculus

my head hurts ;)

Dave said...

PI?
PI?
The number, PI, is a Transcendental number.
The only thing Transcendental in this discussion is the Trance I'm in while getting Dental work.
(just like an etude on high EEEEEEEEEEE)

Anonymous said...

Figure 27, yo. Dig it.

Of course, after two degrees in iħ(∂Ψ/∂t)=(-ħ²/2m)(∂²Ψ/∂x²)+VΨ, a mere graph isn't going to faze me.

Tattieheid said...

Simple economics. Applies to any industry. Did that at school (long time ago)never did me any good, though at least I understood why I was repeatedly getting made redundant.:)

BuffySquirrel said...

Looks like a break-even curve to me.

What? What?

Kanani said...

This is exactly why I'm not a technical writer! Did you know there are MFA programs in technical writing? Doesn't that seem ghastly?

I much prefer this bit of technical writing:
*@$&(*#%*&!!

Anonymous said...

These are the formulas in an Economics 101 textbook. What I think writers want to know is who chose to publish that, and can we all have his number?

Richard said...

Trying to impress people with formulas, graphs and dry text is simply being ostentatious (note, I have not read the book, I see little reason to read the book, I am not involved in publishing and I can read math).

I read the reviews (all two of them) for it over at Amazon, none of them inspire me to want to pick it up. A book described as Excellent achedemic treatment of publishing sounds dull and leaden. I want something practical, with a dull summary at the end.

December Quinn said...

Lol!

Oh, I get it now!

Susan said...

This is really basic econ and finance. And I can see the value of anybody in any business knowing it--understanding things like what that graph *represents*. (It has to do with the fact that producing more, or even selling more, does not necessarily mean making more money.)

I'm a would-be novelist with an accounting degree in B-school with a strong interest in personal finance, of course, so I'm always a shill for people understanding how the business they're in works even if that's not their job. If you can get past the math, you can make a lot more money and be a lot more successful in the long run.

(I do hate it when that ratio is called "profitability." It's a lot more appropriate to call it return on assets, and it's really only appropriate to use on a wider level to evaluate a company, for example, not a single product.)

LadyBronco said...

Well finally...
The answer all of us have been waiting for!
D'you suppose that the answer to "What is the meaning of life" is in there somewhere?

resurrectedwarrior said...

Everything suddenly becomes clear to me.

Therese Fowler said...

Even if I could get my brain engaged with that formula, it's useless to me as a writer.

The "formula" for getting published, in layman's terms, is this:

Write something people want to read, and write it well.

Which is to say, good writing ALWAYS helps, no matter what the genre.

writtenwyrdd said...

I kinda like the formula that Profit = input(i.e. sales)-outgo(expenses). Subsets I leave to the accounting geeks.

Rashenbo said...

Well... now that we have this formula all our problems are solved! Woot... I just wonder where we'll find an interpreter.