Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Five: The Publishing Diner!

Captains ChairBlog

Ahoy, Mateys!

Today’s post will have a galley theme. In addition to the nautical theme, which, when you think about it, only lasts for the first few lines of the post. So let’s just go with the galley theme. Which, when you think about it, is actually still a nautical theme.


Publishing is like the food service biz.

There. That wasn’t so hard.

I’ll let that metaphor sink in. Many of you will now start rolling that around in your brains, trying to find the weakness, but you will not! Find the weakness in the metaphor, that is. I can’t speak for any weakness in y’all’s brains. I mean, you do read my blog, so you’re pretty suspect from the beginning.  But as for the publishing as the food service biz? It’s a pretty solid metaphor.

There have been lots of comparisons of publishing being like this or like that, but those have all fell short. Why? Because they are compare to something that is objective. Writing, like food, is 100% subjective no matter what side you are on, whether reader/eater or writer/cook.

Food service has every conceivable variable you can think of, from concession stand nachos to 3-star Michelin restaurant. Maybe you write as a hobby (home cook) or make a living at it (line cook). You could be mid-list (Applebee’s manager) or blockbuster bestseller (Iron Chef). You could be a writer that writes in all genres (buffet style) or a only focus on one genre (burger joint). Maybe you love writing short stories (food cart)? Or you don’t consider a novel done unless it hits 200K words plus (12 course dinner)?

Or as a reader you like only thrillers (spicy foods). Perhaps just some romance (wine and chocolate)? You like a little from this genre or from that genre (tapas!). Or dig the graphic novels (food trucks).

Whatever your poison as a writer or reader you have an infinite amount to choose from. You can write/cook this or that; you can read/eat this or that. It’s all defined by skill level or palate. Maybe you mastered the art of the Philly cheese steak. Sweet. Or maybe you eat yogurt and a banana every single day for lunch. You write one series about ninja koalas from outer space. While your buddy reads only novellas set in the wilds of Nebraska circa 1837.

Doesn’t matter, really. You get to write/cook whatever the hell you want. Same for readers/eaters.

Do you get where I’m going with this? It all leads to one answer and one answer alone: quality is what matters. And quality is defined ONLY by personal taste. It’s subjective. You like what you like.

I detest plain, raw tomatoes. Will. Not. Put. One. In. My. Mouth. I will eat a tomato with some salt and balsamic vinegar. Or on a sandwich with other stuff. Does that mean plain, raw tomatoes suck? To me, yes. To you? I don’t know. You tell me.

I don’t really read fantasy. I watch it on TV and film, but I rarely get through a fantasy story or novel. Just doesn’t grab me. But does that mean George RR Martin isn’t any good? No.

I love street food. Mmmmm, food trucks rock! Yet, they aren’t (usually) run by classically trained chefs. They are many times self-taught cooks that make what they are good at. Then perfect that. Great. Just like there are some self-published writers that have really nailed it. Good on them.

What about Big Publishing? Is that like chain restaurants? It could be. And some of those are good. I totally dig a Chili’s black bean burger with chips and salsa on the side. It’s not going to change my life, but sure does hit the spot at times. Then again, I’ve had some crazy good food at Moe’s. I once had a burrito that was made by a true artist. Loaded with everything, all evenly spread, and in the perfect ratios. It was genius. At Moe’s.

I could go on and on about the comparisons. No need, y’all are smart, I think you get what I’m saying. Each meal, like each book, is different.

If you consistently get crappy meals from a place then you won’t go back; same with reading crappy novels. If a publisher/writer keeps sucking then you walk away. You probably tell others too. Which makes the metaphor just right: word of mouth. The food service industry, like the publishing industry, runs on word of mouth. You like it, you talk about it.

Now, where does this leave self-publishing versus traditional publishing? It doesn’t. It’s a non-issue. Just like you could give a shit about what company made the tortilla that holds that fatty burrito together, you don’t give a shit what editor worked on the novel in your hands. You just want it to be good and worth the money you paid.

And here is where the metaphor will disappoint those that thought this was a manifesto to be able to write/cook whatever you want and the reader/eater decides quality. There are standards. Typos are cockroaches. Bad prose is burnt food. A shitty book cover is never washing the grease off the front windows or a flickering neon sign that induces seizures.

And do we need to get into the whole health code aspect? Sure, you can only eat grilled cheeses from the hippie in the Phish concert parking lot. Good luck with that. I’m not above it, but in general I spend money on something where I can see the health department rating displayed. The seafood joint got a C-? Fuck. That. I see anything less than an A- and I’m outta there. I don’t have the time or funds to be bothered with a sub-par product, whether food or writing.

So what does this all mean for a writer? It’s pretty simple, actually. Writers these days have to think what they want to be. As a writer do you want be a 3-star meal or a grease soaked hamburger wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper? Do you want people’s palates to come alive or do you want to deaden their tastebuds? You have the power to be amazing, you have the power to shine, you have the power to get people to talk about what you put out there. It’s just a matter of what you want them to say.

As for readers? Reviews! Ratings! You know how they influence you as a reader/eater. Just like when you find a great new cafe or diner, tell someone! Tell your friends, family, co-workers.  Do the Yelp thing for books and write a review on Amazon or B&N. Go on Goodreads and chat with others. Spread that word of mouth. And the same goes if you hate a book! Writers need to be told if their book is the equivalent of hospital food. They need the feedback so they grow, get better, change, understand that Jello is not a side dish for EVERY SINGLE MEAL!

Okay, I have beat this dead horse of a metaphor into French hamburger meat. Do me a favor and after you read this keep looking for the weaknesses in the metaphor. I have been wracking my brain for the breakdown and alll I come up with are even more similarities. Plus, it’s a great exercise for understanding the infinite complexities of publishing. Just like food, there is, and never will be, any clear answer.

Go forth, my hungry hordes! Choose an appetizer, a main course, a little dessert! And be honest when you are done!

Bon appetit!


Disclaimer: Views From The Captain’s Chair are just that: views. These are not laws. These are not set in stone. I could be totally wrong. I could be off my rocker (shut up). I could be full of S-H-I-T. I could change my mind next week. All of that is possible. Who knows? But if even just a little of this helps you then I’m happy with that. If it just makes you stop and think then I’ve done my job. Which I really need to get back to. Blogging don’t pay for the bourbon! Oh, and the whole Captain’s Chair thing? Yeah, I write in a captain’s chair. It’s true, Mateys! Got a question? Need some one on one? Shoot me an email, a DM, a PM (no BMs) or comment below.

Jake Bible lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and two kids.

A professional writer since 2009, Jake has a proven record of innovation, invention and creativity. Novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, Jake is able to switch between or mash-up genres with ease to create new and exciting storyscapes that have captivated and built an audience of thousands.

Posted on February 5, 2014, in Views From The Captain's Chair! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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