What is a Print Run, Grandpa?
I wrote this as a start of a blog in 2013… Projecting what I thought might be the future. Wow, took less than thirty years, except in traditional book publishers. Here is what I wrote eight years ago…
I can imagine myself in thirty years sitting in a bar, my cane nearby to fight off any unwanted advances from elderly women while Kris sits there laughing at my delusions. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a young writer walks up to me and asks “What is a print run, Grandpa?”
And I’ll have to answer that back in the days before the oceans came up… back in the days when writers had to trek both directions in the snow to beg publishers with a tin cup in hand to buy our books… back in the days when agents kept our money and wouldn’t tell us what we had earned… back in those days a print run was the number of books a publisher guessed might sell.
And the young writer would ask, “Grandpa, why would they do that? Isn’t a book just produced when a reader orders it?”
And I would answer in my grandpa (get off my lawn) fashion that yes, they are. And bookstores only order a book when a customer wants it. But back in the dark ages when we had to beg and plead and hope royalty statements (even years after publication) were right, publishers just guessed as to how many books would sell and then stuck to that guess even if they were proven wrong.
At that point the poor young writer would walk away thinking I had lost my old mind. No publisher would ever do that. (Thank heavens he didn’t ask me about paper form rejections.)
Fade back out of my dreaming-of-old-age-bliss to the present day of 2021.
From all my sources, it seems that standard old profit-and-loss statements are still being generated in the decision process based on a projected sales (print run) for a book in traditional publishing. In other words, they are still just guessing and basing author advances and promotion and so much more on that guess.
Yes, I’m still talking about print runs. Yes, traditional publishers still just make a wild guess as to projected sales and then base all decisions forward in the book publishing process on that guess, including how many books to print way ahead of any reader buying it.
Here in 2021 I have no idea why any writer would spend years and years chasing agents and the few remaining traditional book publishers just to toss their book into that mess and lose all their rights forever in the process. And then get ripped off by the publisher and by the agent. It just makes no sense, yet over the last week or so, I have come across three different writers still headed down that path.
I said nothing to those three writers, nothing I can say because they were so excited, one about getting agent known to be one of the biggest scam artists working. The movie quote that applies is “Stupid is as stupid does.”
And two of them have already spent years at it. Years!!! Their writing does not consist of writing new books and publishing them, their writing consists of polishing their one book and working on writing better pitches to agents.
So on this Friday night, when things are dead and I finished my word count for the day on a book I’m working on and am now going back to laying out Issue #48 of my own monthly magazine, I thought I would bring just the opening of that old 2013 post forward. Amazing how accurate it was.
And sad that all writers haven’t finally caught a clue. A lot of great books and talent being lost.