Friday, October 7, 2016

Earnings Report

Among your earliest favored publishers were Alfred E. Knopf, while the eponymous Mr. Knopf and his remarkable, astute wife, Blanche, were still alive and running things, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which you still admire today. 

Back in your early coming to awareness of publishing houses, these two seemed even more remarkable than Scribners and Viking because, or so you thought, they were better able to take on a title because of its merits rather than its sales potentials.

You were not entirely wrong about your beliefs, nor were your more romantic notions close to being practical, much less right. A good deal of luck attended the learning curve you might have been more years acquiring. In a sense, your luck was speaking in an accepted code when you were being interviewed for your second job of significance. 

"What is it about your work that will not make me regret I hired you?" your about-to-be publisher asked. Your reply to her spoke to your romantic notions. You spoke of your taste, which she interpreted to mean your track record.

By that time, you'd come to terms with a book "earning out," meaning it had sold enough copies to support the advance against royalties paid to the author, the title itself bringing in enough revenue to cover PPB, paper, printing, and binding, and yet additional revenue to cover such overhead as storing, shipping, sales commissions, and discounts to bookstores and/or wholesale jobbers.

You even knew the intricacies of dealing with a wildly profitable author who believed there was no longer a need to consult with you on editorial matters. You'd come the long way of understanding how your enthusiasm for a particular title was sufficient but not necessary reason for taking it on.  You'd had experience with a publisher who, listening to you describe a book you wished to take on, asked you to demonstrate how he'd do better publishing the book than investing the budget for the title in a Certificate of Deposit.

In time, you came to see a parallel between books you'd taken on as an editor, the consequences of their earning out or not, and the consequences of a project of your own you took on, first from the flash of excitement, then through the times, good and bad, of your work on that project. 

You'd come to be the equivalent of an individual who'd awakened with a stranger in his bed, someone he'd met as recently as the night before. And you had the equivalency of being that stranger, waking up in a strange bed, wondering how to make the most diplomatic departure possible under the circumstances.

Writing has its romantic elements, its sudden, electric connections. But it also has a number of false starts, things begun from loneliness, a fear of loneliness, a fear of having lost the ability to make a significant connection again. 

In order to have your own writing earn out, it must show the profit margins of you having cared at every word included as well as you having deliberated about every word omitted, all the while you doing your best to capture like lightning in a bottle that rapturous notion that got the whole thing started.

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