Showing posts with label trade publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trade publishing. Show all posts

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Heart's Desire

You do not expect to be asked so directly, and so you more or less carry it about on ice, preserving it, sometimes even worrying about its use-by date. But then she sends you an email and flat out asks you, in so many words, What is your heart's desire for a publisher for this project?


The answer is there of course, and it quickly swims up to the surface for air as you react to the import of the email, reminding you how you carry it about with you, how you are reminded of it every time you enter a book store, how there is always a wind chime tingle sounding in your idea box when you come upon the publisher's name on Twitter or see an announcement for one of their titles.

Most of the time, it is swimming underwater, an abstracted yearning mixed with visions of future projects dancing in radiant succession,like a surprised school of exotic tropical fish. Sometimes, when you least suspect it, the name emerges, energizing your need to work, to find the focus you so often experience when the work is going well.

You keep it nourished by work, by practicing the craft, by reading, by attempting to make connections between things not obviously connected.

The obvious heart's desire is to produce something you feel worthwhile for publication, something emblematic of you and, of course, of you truthfully with it.

"I don't know anyone there," the agent tells you after reading through the two lists you sent her, one for trade publishers, the other for university presses, "but that's not such a big problem. Isn't it interesting that you feel so strongly about them?"

Interesting? Back in the day, when what is now called BEA, Book Expo America, was called ABA for American Booksellers' Association, and always held at the Shoreham in Washington DC, you were presented to Roger Straus. And in a scene reminiscent of that photo of a young Bill Clinton grinning with admiration at JFK, you told Straus that some day, his house would publish you. Meanwhile, your number one choice for a university press rang a bell, recalling someone who'd worked for your agent when she was editorial director at St. Martin's and who'd moved over to Oxford and had since moved on yet again. Nothing unusual in that; in publishing, promotions are accomplished through job changes. You'd done that a few times yourself.

Being reminded of your submerged hopes and pleasures for this project was the end in itself,the lagniappe was in your feel for it being shared by someone who represents you to the book trade. Your true heart's desire goes one layer deeper than Farrar, Straus and Giroux, into that wide Sargasso Sea of the wisdom of Sam Becket, when he spoke of failing again, only failing better next time. You want always to love the work to the degree that you always do what is best for it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sting Like a Bee, Write Like Dan Brown

 There is nothing so likely to cause the flag of conspiracy theory to fly over the castle of your writing ambitions and intentions as the appearance at great hoopla and subsequent sale of a truly remarkably awful book by a person who has little or no writing skills.

Even when you were receiving regular paychecks from publishers, you saw numerous signs of the conspiracy theory coursing about the streets like a pack of bored dogs chasing a car with a noisy muffler.  One enterprising dentist offered you deep scaling for an entire year if you would assist him in bringing a book on the history of teeth to publication, yet another, non-dental, author was convinced that two martinis at lunch would relax you enough that you would tell all, showing him the ways through which the conspiracy of exclusion could be banished.  You remember reacting strongly to the two martinis but not in the way the presumptive author intended.

Yet another writer, actually a writer who had published twenty novels, accused you of being a traitor to your friends when, after asking you what you were looking for as a new senior editor with a new publisher and you told him, something that would hold your interest for three hundred fifty manuscript pages.

The facts relative to the conspiracy are Zen-like in their simplicity.  The publishing industry, which is to say the American Book Trade, does not run on a rational plan.  Individuals at high-echelon publishing stature try to make it seem rational by injecting such buzz words as profit stream, pricing decision, returns policy, niche market, and genre promise, but these words and terms stir up the hornets of the irrational, leading participants toward the one thing that will positively stand in the way of a--to use another term--buy in, that being an attempt to account for the rational element with a hefty editorial nudge.

Never works.

Or to put it in the way that is most likely to reinforce the conspiracy notion, it never works for you.  It works for your friends, relatives, and for complete strangers.  It even works for your students.  The minute you try to put in profit points or demographic tags, it all comes crashing down on your manuscript.

It means Dan Brown can do that stuff but you can't.  It also means Dan Brown is happy doing that stuff and you are frustrated, appalled, mortified, and nobody cares.  What they care about is that Dan Brown is getting away with it and even though you went through his last three books with color-coded marking pens, prising out the tropes, memes, and plot points, nobody cares.

What you want, if you are in that game, is for one of your titles to slip through the cracks to the extent of drawing an audience, at which point perspective writers will be buying copies of your books and sets of color-coded pens with which to deconstruct them.

Deconstruct.  Now there's a nice word for you.  There are those who say it was all part of a great hoax, but hey, that was an academic hoax, an academic conspiracy theory, founded by Derrida and Focault, and they're busy with text revisions, too busy to mess with trade publishing.