Frustrated With Publishing

About a year ago I started working for a publishing company. I was hired as part of a push towards creating quality digital products in house, doing them the right way (like the opposite of this). But things have turned out to be pretty mixed in that regard. Some projects have relied on outside vendors too much and design has really suffered. At the same time, one where I worked closely with the developers on implementation went really well and people were very happy with it.

My interest in working for this company was to be involved in a time of change in the industry, to fix the things that I see as being broken. In practice it is not like this, there is a lot of half-assed attempts where projects come out “good enough” or where “we’ll fix it next time.” It is incredibly frustrating for me when something I have worked on for 6 months comes out terribly. So, should I stay here fighting the good fight, trying to make things better? Sometimes I really think that I should stick with it. But like David Byrne said:

“If your work isn’t what you love, then something isn’t right.”

You’re in a very interesting predicament, and one I find particularly
fascinating. My wife and father are both authors so I’ve watched from the
sidelines as traditional publishers have struggled to adapt to the digital
age while companies like Amazon are creating new opportunities that cut
publishers out of the picture entirely.

Why, for instance, in this day and age do authors still only get a royalty statement every 4 or 6 months with sales figures that are months old? Empowering authors to better track their sales seems like an obvious way for a publishing house to create a competitive edge.

And why aren’t authors and art directors working together instead of communicating through editors? We figured out how to make that partnership work in advertising right around the time the current season of Mad Man is set.

But I digress.

As far as your situation I’m not surprised it’s been a struggle. Any time you’re helping a traditional company figure out how to thrive online there is bound to be friction. This is true in publishing, advertising, medicine, education, and just about every other field. Changing an entire culture and breaking down decades-old patterns and institutional beliefs doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a year either.

So I’d say pretty mixed so far is actually pretty good for the one-year mark. I bet a lot of people trying to do what you’re doing have had a much harder time, as your hyperlink bears out.

It sounds as if you like and believe in your job, you just want the end products to turn out better. So let’s first dig in to try and make that work.

The mix bag is pretty easily sorted into good and bad. It goes well when you retain creative control and collaborate with the developers, and sours when a job is handed over to a vendor. So what’s the plan for the next few projects?

Are you and your team going to be able to own them from start to finish, or are they going to be handed over to vendors who aren’t going to play nice?

If it’s the former, hang in there. Things are looking up.

But if the problem isn’t going away are there some fixes you can push for or enact? Can you change the dynamic with the vendors? Hire better, more collaborative vendors?

I suspect it might be a matter of too much going on and not enough of you to go around. You’ve clearly earned some respect and accolades based on the successful project you closely oversaw. So see if you can’t leverage that to your advantage.

Have an honest conversation with your boss or bosses detailing the ways past projects have gone. If you’re the kind of person that gets a little flustered talking to the higher ups a simple PowerPoint or presentation deck might help. Maybe even throw some funny images in there to illustrate the success of the project you led, and the failure of the projects that were handed off.

Once you’ve made your point, level the boom and ask for what you want. Fewer projects so you can spend more time on the projects you think have the highest chance of success, or a budget to hire a developer or two on staff. Or more money to hire vendors that collaborate better and have a more refined design sense.

Or maybe something else entirely would make you happier. Time off to recharge, or permission to travel to conferences where you can meet new vendors and see what other companies are doing, or even a chance to fix some of the past projects that turned out terrible. If money is the problem ask for a raise.

It never hurts to ask. All they can say is no.

See how that goes. I suspect things will improve.

But if things look bad for the foreseeable future and the higher ups won’t empower you to improve the situation, then it’s time to move on.

I’d recommend lining up something else before you make your move. As freeing as quitting might feel, I’m going to assume you’re in living in New York if you’re in publishing, and not independently wealthy. Assuming I’m correct, throw some irons in the fire and let them heat up before you leap.

Maybe there are some other publishing companies that are further along, or struggling even worse, that could use your expertise. Or maybe you jump into a start-up or existing tech company wading into publishing that doesn’t have to shake off their old beliefs.

Or maybe there’s something else entirely out there that you suspect you’d love doing. PowerPoint art, perhaps? It worked for David Byrne. And me.

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