for his book of poetry, Chasers of the Light: Poems from the Typewriter Series, published by Penguin Random House’s Perigee imprint.
I lamented to a friend that his publisher appeared to be unable to see Mr. Gregson’s value and contribution until he had 259,000 followers on Tumblr and 184,000 on Instagram — not to mention his 31,000 Twitter fans. Proudly, the book’s editor was quoted “If we hadn’t had that, I don’t know if we would have pursued it.” According to published reports, this representative of a publishing company that last published a book of poetry four decades ago went on to say, “We definitely look for authors to bring as much of a ready audience to the table as possible when we publish.”
My friend chided me for naiveté, pointing out that I am more a trained businessman than a trained writer and should respect that it is only the profit that counts. Well, I do respect the profit motive, but I think the business model would be greatly improved if it embraced independent judgment, good taste, and leadership.
Mr. Gregson’s example appears to make the case that authors are meant not only to do the author’s job of creating the work, in his case, poetry, but also of inventing and implementing the path to the marketplace. One hears the wail that publishing is dying because of the internet. Fortunately, authors, like Gregson, and including me, have access to the marketplace and the public because of the internet. Publishing companies are dying because of the attitudes exposed by the Perigee quote. Publishing is not dying. It is transforming. In Sheriff Simms’s world, “We don’t give a damn what the other people think, we know what is right.”
Innovation in business starts with, well, the innovation. A vision of what the market needs or wants drives the innovation, but the invention comes before the market. A publisher who views the job as not bringing new products to market (no Apple there) but riding the products that have already found their market may plead profit maximization. Whatever the reason, it is a short-term strategy, a me-too strategy. It is not the long-term path to pre-eminence.
Of course, I laud Mr. Gregson’s avenue to success. I recognize my own path will require much the same attention to proving I have a market before an established NY publisher will decide what I am writing should be brought to the marketplace because it will achieve sales above breakeven. That will happen. Whether it happens before or after the world learns I have 31,000 Twitter fans I cannot say.