Why is publishing so disorganized?

Dear Writer Guy,

Why is publishing so disorganized, compared to other industries?

Anonymous Writer (from SCBWI North-Central CA)

Dear A.W.,

I agree — from the outside, publishing looks much more disorganized than, say, the office supplies or plumbing industry.  Unlike plumbers, editors seem to take forever to reply to your query (assuming they reply at all).  If you’re lucky enough to land a contract, you could wait three months or more for it to arrive.  And once your book comes out, there’s no way to tell whether your publisher is doing anything at all to promote it.

Frustrating?  To say the least.  You’d think that everything would work faster and more smoothly — especially considering that publishers have done all these tasks so many times before.

So why does publishing seem so disorganized?  Because it all takes place inside a black box, and we can’t see what’s going on. What many of us don’t know is that the publishing business has been subjected to a seemingly endless series of corporate mergers.  Big publishers swallow smaller ones, cutting staffing to the bone to “improve efficiency.”

The result? Everyone in publishing is doing more with less.  Editors, marketing staff, legal department — everyone is overworked, often handling the work of two employees.  When I started submitting stories back in the early ‘90s, it could take 1-3 months to hear back on a submission.  Today, that wait is often 4-6 months or longer.

Editors I talk with feel guilty for not replying to writers sooner.  They read manuscripts on the weekend and on their commuter train, but are permanently playing catch-up.  There are just too many submissions and not enough hours to read them all.

Sure, publishing seems disorganized — and it can be — but with good reason.  Want a perspective check?  Want to experience an industry that truly takes forever to get back to you on your work? Try submitting a screenplay to Hollywood.

Happy writing,
Writer Guy

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