Friday, July 31, 2009

conventional wisdom

publishers' conventional wisdom--an idiosyncratic sense of knowing what the reading public wants and how to reach it; a series of reasons publishers give for taking on some projects and not others; reasons mainstream publishers give for removing mention of oral sex from YA novels; rationale behind enormous advances given on celebrity titles.

Publishers have their individual conventional wisdom, which is their pole star. Similarly, writers have their individual conventional wisdom. This is as it should be. Occasionally the two overlap and a partnership is formed. This is precisely as it should be. Neither should adjust his conventional wisdom to conform to the other; what happens should be of a sincere feeling of chemistry or, better yet, the remarkable symbiosis achieved when particles in a nuclear accelerator crash into one another and produce a reaction.

Hint: It is one thing for a writer to research a publisher so that the odds of colliding particles is enhanced, but it is yet another for a writer to alter or diminish his own conventional wisdom to suit a conventional wisdom of a particular publisher that is entirely supposition. One of the reasons Kenneth Millar (aka Ross Macdonald) submitted his Lew Archer private eye novels to the publisher Alfred Knopf was because, at the time, Knopf had no mystery list. The best conventional wisdom to follow is this: The more unlike others you are, the more likely you are to find a readership. It may not happen as soon as you wish; it may not happen at all, but you knew that all along and, somehow, the knowledge of it fueled your work.

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