I have an unshakeable conviction that the fault for a badly written book lies with the writer while the fault for a badly published book belongs to the publisher’ and the shame is a joint venture. A respectable publisher should never knowingly publish a bad book. Therefore, if a book is badly published, whether in the physical aspects, or the quality of the writing, it is due to the publisher’s negligence.
The reason behind this thinking, for me, lies in the question: What is a publisher’s job? A publisher is a professional organization that offers publishing-related services that include developing, editing, laying, printing and packaging books. The self-respecting publisher will ensure that “all is well with the innards of a book” (writing and editing) before proceeding to wear it “a good cloth” (cover, printing, binding and packaging). What this means is that, if a badly written manuscript gets to a publisher, the first task is to beat it to the right shape (with the writer). If this task fails to take off or land, publishing should not occur.
Now, take note that I have been saying publisher, not printer. The person or service provider that turns your writing into a printed book can be either a publisher or a printer. There is a difference between the two terms. It is simple: The publisher does all the things I described in the preceding paragraph. A printer on the other hand simply collects a manuscript (in a flash drive, downloaded from a mail or typed) and simply prints it without any editorial input. In other words, publishers participate in the process of creating and modifying a book’s internal and external aspects while printers concern themselves with converting the manuscript to book.
It is for this reason that a publisher must accept all the blames for a badly published book. Even where the printing and design aspects of a book are top-notch, if the writing itself is poor, the publisher cannot be absolved of blame. Which is why I sometimes say there is no such thing as a badly written book. The idea here is that a writer can only deliver bad writing, after all, editors and publishers exist to make a book ready. Where the writing is found to be poor, even if a hundred editors have gone through it, it is the publisher’s duty to point it out before creating a disgrace with their logo on the back cover. Following this logic, a book is either badly published or badly printed. The writer’s fault ends where the manuscript was delivered to the professional: the publisher.
Interestingly, many people cross the lines between printer and publisher without knowing it. Let me make it simple. As a writer, each time you leave a publisher who insisted on certain quality control measures for another less-involved publisher, you are slowly making your way into the hands of a printer. Similarly, as a publishing service provider, each time you lower your standards to accommodate a paying writer who feels everything is perfect with an obviously imperfect work, you are gradually becoming a printer and selling your brand for peanuts. It is a two-way traffic: you must decide if you want to PUBLISH a book or PRINT a book.
Understandably, some people will argue that ‘he who dictates the tune pays the piper’. This is untenable, even where the book is published under self-publication/vanity terms. A publisher must ascertain the readiness of a material and/or charge the author a fee to make the book ready before printing it. Doing otherwise makes that publisher a printer. It is like a surgeon listening to a patient’s instruction when performing an important surgery and then later blaming that patient for complications. The doctor knows he has a duty to follow the right procedure for that operation or ask the patient to find a puppet doctor elsewhere.
I have been both an author and a publisher. I know it is not easy. My recognition of the need for a publisher’s touch in producing good books is what made me leave most of my manuscripts unpublished, despite being a publisher myself. Many authors approach publishing with a this-is-the-best-book-ever-written approach and hound the poor publisher into submission. Unfortunately, some publishers bow to pressure because they want to add another title to their tally of publishes books. Most times, they get away it. Sometimes, however, shit hits the fan and we get to have these needless conversations on Facebook.
At my company, Words Rhymes & Rhythm Publishers (WRR), we always carry our authors along, but we also always insist on doing due diligence and a minimum quality standard. Even though what we offer is ASSISTED-AUTHORSHIP PUBLISHING, where the author pays for traditional publishing quality services, we have terminated some publishing contracts midway because the authors insisted on what was clearly below our standards. This is not to say mistakes do not happen at WRR, they often do. However, it is easier to fall into the hands of the Printer’s Devil than the Publisher’s Devil (if at all there is one). We once published 1000 copies of a book with the old title (that was later changed) and we took responsibility, recalled the books and reprinted it. We lost money but it kept our credibility intact.
Therefore, when next the subject of a bad book comes up, the first question we should ask is this: was the book printed or published? If it was printed, we must tell the author to suck-it-up and shut up. If, however, it was published, then we have a printer disguising as a publisher and such a business needs schooling, sanctioning or both.