Common Sense Publishing

I will often use humor as a defense mechanism. It helps maintain my sanity, to some extent.

However, I’ve noticed a number of times what might be considered a weak attempt at humor is actually true. I guess the common statement about most humor having a kernel of truth in it, might be accurate after all.

I’ll frequently respond to someone questioning why something is happening by stating, “Oh, you are using common sense to explain it. That’s your first mistake!”

I think most people who don’t know a lot about a certain field of endeavor, make a big mistake when they apply common sense instead of actual knowledge when evaluating something.

Applying common sense to anything you don’t know much about can often lead to incorrect and frustrating conclusions.

Common sense would lead one to think everyone should get along when working together to accomplish a worthwhile goal or task, but you would have to admit, this is rarely the case. Take churches as an example. They are far from perfect.

In book publishing, common sense rarely works to explain anything.

“Why does it take so long for my book proposal to get a response from an agent or publisher?”

Oh, I get it, you are attempting to use common sense and you are jumping to a conclusion that no one cares about you and people in publishing are dysfunctional. Certainly, anyone can review a proposal in less than hour. It’s common sense.

The truth is, the person reviewing your proposal has twenty proposals to review, each requiring 15-20 minutes of time and they might have an hour to spend reviewing proposals a few days each week, meaning the pile goes down by 10-15 proposals each week, but another twenty-five arrived during that same period.

Oh, and by the way, two writers’ conferences and the flu season caused two weeks to pass without looking at any new proposals.  The proposal pile is now a miniature replica of the leaning tower in Pisa.

“Can’t publishers or agents hire people to review proposals faster?

Do you want your book reviewed by a professional, experienced publishing person with the ability to make a decision to take next steps or do you want to be rejected by the intern or entry-level editor just starting out in publishing?

 “Why does it take so long for a book to be published by a traditional publisher?”

The person applying common sense would think since you can self-publish in two weeks, a big publisher should be able to be a lot quicker.

The truth is, publishers have a limited number of books they can effectively publish and most of the larger sales channels require complete information (including final covers) about six months or more ahead of time.

Christmas titles for this year were settled last year.

Common sense is a dangerous thing, and I regularly identify it as the problem when interacting with people about publishing issues. Using it will often get in the way of understanding.

“Why does a book cost so much? I know for a fact it costs less than a dollar to print a paperback book, so why does the publisher charge $15.99?

Because no one makes $15.99 on a $15.99 book. The bookseller makes from 45-60% of the amount and pays the rest to the publisher or distributor. The publisher takes their 40-55% of the total and pays for everything, with profit margins in the 5-10% range in a good year. Many years are less. And few booksellers sell at full price anyway, so everyone makes less.

And by the way, those increases in healthcare insurance you’ve seen? That money comes from somewhere or people lose their jobs.

Any time you evaluate something you don’t know much about using common sense, it will most likely lead you to inaccurate conclusions. This would be true when you look at everything from the cost of eggs in a grocery store to how tax dollars are spent and certainly most things in book publishing.

Common sense is not all it is cracked up to be.

23 Responses to Common Sense Publishing

  1. Rebekah Love Dorris May 22, 2018 at 6:17 am #

    Thank guess the bright side is that all the “it’s common sense” philosophers keep the experts humble. Or chuckling.

    • Rebekah Love Dorris May 22, 2018 at 6:18 am #

      Wow. And to think I edited that. “I guess,” not “Thank guess.” Whew.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 6:43 am #

        Rebekah, I rather like ‘Think Guess’; you should copyright it, and use it as a logo for everything from T-shirts to bookmarks!

        • Rebekah Love Dorris May 22, 2018 at 7:44 am #

          Ha! You’re a good friend. After your brilliant comment below I was feeling pretty bereft of sense, common or not, so thanks!

          • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 7:48 am #

            Thanks, Rebekah! When you introduce the ‘Think Guess’ t-shirt, could I get one with your autograph?

            • Tisha Martin May 22, 2018 at 8:53 am #

              Thanks for the laughs this morning! Like most, I’m so careful to review my comments before posting, and even more so when I’m replying on my phone because, for some reason, things get awfully mixed up. And common sense doesn’t even work….

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 6:35 am #

    Illuminating post, Dan.

    Personally, I’m horrified when I hear the call for ‘common sense solutions’ to be applied to complex and long-standing social problems. KISS can mean Keeping It Simple’s Stupid.

    If you only want to go back to the 60s, the Warren court’s decisions on the Establishment Clause and obscenity have led to the purging of any religious influence in the public square, and to the forced acceptance of the debaucheries of the last days of the Roman Empire. These, and the embracing of Dr. Spock’s (in)famous ‘Baby And Child Care’ have been major factors in shaping the society we face today.

    For a Christian of my temperament, there are no ‘common sense solutions’, except to live as Christ might expect one to in the hope that quiet work will stem the flood, and to remember that it isn’t as bad as it was under Diocletian and Galerius.


    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 8:35 am #

      To follow up, it can be said that the Warren Court’s Establishment Clause decisions were congruent with the ‘common sense’ prevailing at the time, that, say, allowing teachers to lead prayer in public schools was a de facto endorsement of Christianity, since the teacher was seen to be a mouthpiece of the State.

      This is arguable, but subsequent rulings in lower courts have used it as precedent to build a secular and atheistic society, completely missing the point that atheism is itself a belief system; its premise of the nonexistence of God is utterly unprovable.

      Common sense has thus inverted the intent of one of the basic tenets of the Constitution, by actually imposing a state ‘religion’.

      Weirder things have happened. But not many.

      • Carol Ashby May 22, 2018 at 8:48 am #

        With a couple of facts from molecular biology that have been known from at least the late 1960s and how we calculate the probability of rolling a particular number in dice, I can prove the impossibility that life started accidentally. In less than 5 minutes, I can prove the necessity of a designer to start the process.

        The refusal to believe in the existence of God might be based at first on ignorance. But given what science has discovered about the operation of living systems and the math we learned in 6th or 7th grade, it’s mind boggling to me that anyone could persist in that belief unless they were deliberately choosing to ignore the scientific facts so they can embrace a philosophy that violates common sense. But that philosophy does allow a person to define their own right and wrong, so I can understand its appeal for many.

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 8:50 am #

          Brilliant, Carol. (Or may I merely omit the comma for an accurate description of you?)

          • Carol Ashby May 22, 2018 at 9:07 am #

            The comma is definitely needed.

            • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 9:09 am #

              But knowing you as so many of us do, Carol, to use said comma would simply not be comma sense.

  3. Faith McDonald May 22, 2018 at 7:06 am #

    I understand that my proposal is one of many that editors are looking at and I don’t know the ins and outs of the publishing world. Here’s my challenge: 3 editors from different publishing houses have agreed to look at my proposal. They have had it for months. I sent polite inquiries. All 3 responded that they intended to look at it. I have heard nothing since. What is an accepted response? I’m up for anything… sending coffee and cookies and a reminder note? Another email? Just waiting? When does just waiting become a no, we’re not interested… is already that?

    • Dan Balow May 22, 2018 at 7:25 am #

      Unfortunately, in publishing a no-response is most often a “no” response. While I assert it takes little effort to send an email saying so, this type of activity is not limited to publishing.

      Send twenty messages about bringing some food for a social event and you get 5 responses and 15 no-responses. I recently sent a request for feedback to a group of over 100 people at my church and received 19 replies over a three week period.

      Authors send proposals to agents, agents routinely follow up on proposals sent to publishers, often receiving silence in return, so you are not alone in this venture.

      Common sense would say this is not acceptable, but reality speaks loudly.

  4. Jennifer Henn May 22, 2018 at 7:32 am #

    I love to understand things and when they don’t match up to my common sense understanding, I tend to ask a lot of questions. Often this drives the person in the know a little crazy. So, blogs like this are great, even though authors still hate the wait.

    • Tisha Martin May 22, 2018 at 8:56 am #

      Jennifer, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who asks a lot of questions! 🙂

  5. Sy Garte May 22, 2018 at 7:54 am #

    One of the more surprising, yet very common applications of the misuse of a common sense approach is in science. While many people think that scientific research makes use of logic and a sensible way of thinking, almost none of the most important (and more trivial) discoveries in science make any kind of sense at all (until they are widely accepted).

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 22, 2018 at 8:02 am #

      So true, Sy! I worked in seismic engineering for awhile, and there’s a huge disconnect. Common sense says, ‘build stronger!’ But this isn’t the way; the earthquake will always be stronger than the bridge or building, and the trick is to build in ‘fuses’ that can permanently deform (‘yield’, in the parlance) and dissipate the earthquake’s energy while leaving the structure standing.

      It’s kind of like aikido; take the punch, and you fall, but step aside and trip the dude as he sails past, and you’re using his energy to save yourself.

  6. Tisha Martin May 22, 2018 at 9:04 am #

    You threw me for a loop there for a minute, Dan, and I nearly fell into my laptop. “What?? He’s saying NOT to use common sense? Why…?” And I reread. “Oh, yeah, mhmm. That makes sense now.”

    In life matters, best to use common sense. In matters of publishing, it depends.

    It’s crystal clear! 😉 And even clearer to really make sure that proposal(an manuscript) is spit-shiny bright and gleaming, so that it resonates with the reader, compelling them to send a rapid reply because they won’t be able to sleep at night if they don’t.

    I’m not assuming … I’m asking … is that the goal when dealing with reality and common sense in publishing?

  7. Tisha Martin May 22, 2018 at 9:05 am #

    * (and manuscript)


  8. Judith Robl May 22, 2018 at 12:08 pm #

    I cannot tell you how much I love eavesdropping on this conversation. The value of these blogs and this community is beyond words. Thank you all.

  9. Sheri Dean Parmelee May 22, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

    Dan, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I am new to the whole of publishing, so I really appreciate your explaining this to us. Bless you!
    To me, patience is people in need of medical attention, so thanks for sharing the amount of time publishers have invested….

  10. Cindy Burger May 22, 2018 at 2:39 pm #

    Thank you! Excellent point. I appreciate this reframe.

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