On Business: Printing Meh Books

By | Monday, December 22, 2014 1 comment
I see all sorts of recommendations for comics and graphic novels I should try. Some are directed to me specifically, and some are just towards everyone. In many cases, my interest is piqued enough to consider them but not enough to buy them straight away in lieu of some other books that I'm already excited about. In those cases, what I'll typically do is add the book to my cart on Amazon. Then I'll consider it again the next time I'm making a purchase there. "Oh, yeah, this was the book that so-and-so recommended."

What inevitably happens is that I wind up with a cart with any number of books shunted over into the "Save for Later" section. And while I do scan through those before each Amazon purchase, I eventually get to a point where I no longer remember why I might've been interested in the first place. At that point, it's kind of a crap shoot whether I ultimately opt to ever buy the book or not.

As it happens, I received a number of Amazon gift cards from my employer as a sort of end of the year bonus, so I was finally able to pick up many of those seemingly perpetual Saved for Later titles. And I have to say that a unusually high percentage of them have been disappointing. Not in the "didn't live up to my expectations" sort of way since I'd largely forgotten everything about what I'd heard about them originally, but in a "geez, this really just isn't very good" sort of way. There was one where the story was okay, and the art was good, but there was zero characterization. There was another where the art was really good, but I couldn't figure out what the story was supposed to ultimately be about. (The scene-to-scene narrative was cohesive enough, but there didn't seem to be a broader direction where anything was headed.) There was still another where the art was okay, but the story just made no sense whatsoever.

I'm okay with reading not-great books. As much as I prefer really high quality material, I don't mind when I occassionally pick up something that doesn't seem to fire on all cynlanders. I think there's plenty to learn if you're willing to figure out precisely why you didn't like something, and what might have been done differently to improve upon it. But I'm always left wondering how books like that get made.

I mean, I don't doubt that the creators did what they could to put together the best story they were able. And maybe they ran up against a deadline of some sort, and didn't have time to make it as well as they'd like. Or maybe they were fighting off a bad illness, and couldn't function at their best capacity. Or maybe the artist and writer were working at cross-purposes for some reason.

So from a business perspective, if an editor or publisher sees the work, they almost certainly recognize it of lesser quality, how do they go about with the decision to publish? Do they think it's not bad enough to discard entirely, and they might at least make back the money they spent to have it created? Do they have deadlines or quoatas they need to hit? Are they so oblivious to the creation process that they don't even recognize it's not very good?

I'm sure that every not great book has it's own unique set of circumstances; I'm just honestly curious about the business decisions that lead to their actual production. Anyone have any insights or anecdotes they might be able to share?
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This will make many perfectionists itch (and I don't actually write a comic book, exactly, but I think that in publishing in general there are similarities that apply). In my view, if you are not blessed with resources that allow you to aim for perfection, you aim for what you can do, publish, and move forward.

I know people who HATE, HATE, HATE this view, and I have nothing comforting to say to them. Publish, go to the next, publish again. Whatever flaws are in your product are flaws you'll have to own, take on the chin, etc. It may be that some of the flaws actually wind up working in your favor ("happy accident") which you can then intentionally leverage next time. It may be that actually seeing the flaws in the final form help you fix or at least mitigate them next time.

Again, there are people who strenuously object to this point of view. That's life. I'm sure I pay for it.