Tuesday, September 05, 2017

I’m back, I’m back, I’m really, really back!

by Rick Blechta

The past few months have been really busy with the design and layout of the program book for the upcoming Bouchercon. Should I have volunteered for this job 4 years ago when I raised my hand up to volunteer? Probably not. It was a matter of being willing to help and not putting a lot of thought into the ramifications of my decision. As an example of the dangers of speak first and think later, there was dealing with all the photos submitted by attending authors (742 of them). That alone took days of work.

Anyway, this morning at 12:30 a.m. I pressed “Upload” on my FTP software and sent the whole thing off to the printer — right on schedule, too.

Along the way with this project, I learned a number of things about the state of the publishing industry in general and the crime writing community in particular, things that certainly raised my eyebrows a number of times.

First, publishing houses don’t know much about the timeliness of responding to requests. I’m not talking about the “please read my manuscript” kind. I’m referring to requests for things like proper high-res promo shots of their author who happens to be a guest of honour at the largest crime writing conference on the planet.

I contacted one very large publisher on six different occasions (2 phone calls and 4 emails) requesting a promo photo. To this date: nothing. Not even an out-of-office response. The author in question also contacted his publicist at the publisher and got no response. My response was “Huh? They can’t be bothered? They’re too busy? What? This is the sort of thing that’s very likely a daily occurrence, and is a matter of pushing a few keys on a computer, not something that takes up hours of time.

Second eyebrow-raising story: poor ad submissions. Several, again, large publishing houses (or their design department) couldn’t be bothered reading the ad submission requirements I put on the ad rate sheet (with the title in red so they’d notice it). I had ads come in that were the wrong size, the incorrect colour space (for web use instead of print use), wrong information, and other very normal and needed protocols ignored completely. Can’t these people read or don’t they care? In one case, someone even got snooty with me and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. The tune changed when I sent them a proof of what their ad would look like if it went ahead as submitted. But there was no apology.

In another case I was told to “Fix the ad yourself. That’s what you’re getting paid for.” When I pointed out that I wasn’t getting paid and had no time (or inclination) to do this, the charming correspondent told me, “Well, that’s your problem.” I responded, “Are you serious?”

The final thing I’m going to report is authors tend not to read very thoroughly or for comprehension. Of the 742 author headshots that arrive in my Inbox, only about 35% gave me what was asked for. The requirements were quite clear and I went so far as to suggest if the respondent didn’t understand something, I would be only too happy to help them out. Maybe a couple dozen people asked for help or clarification (happily given). Most just threw me some sort of photo and fully a third of them were far too small for print use. I even explained why I needed photo files of a certain size. My main suggestion was that a photo file be about 2 megabytes. I actually received one photo that was 8 kilobytes! I responded that this photo wasn’t usable and why. The author’s response was “But I’ve used that for other Bouchercons and they took it with no problem!” I had four recent program books here for reference, so I looked up said author. It was the same photograph — and it looked truly awful.

So my takeaway from my experience with the Bouchercon program book is this: Don’t trust your publisher, no matter how huge and important, to do the job correctly. My guess is that they have a lot of inexperienced people working for them who don’t know any better. The only way to be sure something is done and done right (not to mention in a timely fashion) is to do it yourself. It’s not difficult nor particularly time-consuming and it will earn you brownie points.

And if you’re an author, take some time to understand the business. It’s very important! Don’t put things off. Respond in a timely fashion. Read instructions thoroughly, especially if you don’t have much experience with what is being asked for. And by the way, I’m happy to tell you about images you may need to send to conferences or newspapers or magazines. You only need ask. (Leave something in the comment section and I’ll get back to you.)

As I told all these people, “I want you to look good in this presentation. That’s my 100% goal.”

I was only trying to save them from themselves.


Sybil Johnson said...

Welcome back! Sounds like quite the "journey" you had with that program book.

Rick Blechta said...

Yeah, you could say that. The saving grace is that the B'con committee are all really good people who are easy to work with.

I just don't get why people are so sloppy with their commitments. Having a crummy-looking photo in a book where everyone else (well, most everyone else) has a really good photo says something about who you are and how you view yourself. Like I said, I often felt I was trying to save people from themselves.

Sybil Johnson said...

I don't get that, either. Or people not following directions.

Rick Blechta said...

I go back to my post from earlier this summer about exigence.

Or Yoda says in one of the Star Wars, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”