A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Few Good Writers:

Let’s flash back a couple of years to the movie, A Few Good Men when Jack Nicholson is on the witness stand being grilled by Tom Cruise and he uttered that now famous phrase, “You can’t handle the truth!” I think of this when a writer says, “We just want a peek into what really goes on in publishing.” No you don’t! It’s best that you stay fat, dumb, and happy.

But being the sadistic bastard that I am, I’ll give you a little peek:

When dealing with publishing, at least major publishing, one must think big. Think General Motors—think The Ford Motor Company—think huge, multi-national corporation, oligarchy big. What happened recently to a couple of thousand white collar workers at Ford kind of keys you into the mentality that you are dealing with in publishing. These poor bastards were silly enough to believe that The Ford Motor Company had their best interest at heart. The shock that much have reverberated though those cubicles when they received their pink slips. Fired! How dare they just fire me! Why I’ve given this company . . .blah—blah—blah.

Some of you have probably received copies of queries sent to you by your agent that read something like, “ … I loved your book, but it was shot down in the final stages by marketing.” Yes, I know that 007 said this is what editors say when they run out of standard reject phrases. But they do, sometimes, take books into meetings only to have them shot down by marketing, finance or the publisher him or herself.

Profit dictates what publishers publish. They could give a big fat fig about how good the book is or isn’t. Money is their only concern—the bottom line. What the editor wants is always secondary. This is why books that might become best seller, in the publisher’s eye, usually fall flat on their asses and ones that do make that coveted list are surprises to everyone—except the reader, who, because they loved the book, spread the word and MADE IT A BEST SELLER (I really don’t know what happened in Dan Brown’s case).

Multinationals must protect the bottom line because their stockholders control them. Stockholders care less if this or that book is fit to sit on bookstore shelves or is be added to our American body of literature. Their only care is that their stock climbs in value.

Something that escapes publishing is that many writers get better. The more they write and the more they are guided by good editors, the better they get. This is something lost on a publishing world that dedicates itself to profit only. There is no room or time for nurturing, no time for growth, no time for anything but making more and more money from the same old tired horses.

If you have been paying attention and studying the publishing industry, you are probably aware that over 80% of the volume of fiction novels sold (not titles) comes from just a few top authors. All other books come from that small percentage left over. So where do you think you fit in here? You are delusional if you think there is room. It has also been said that you are in competition with every other writer in the world. Believe it or not, you are. These are some of those truths that you can’t handle.

For more, take a skip over and look at a report called, Best and Worse of Times—The Changing Business Of Trade Books, 1975-2002. It’s online and Google can find it for you--amazing what comes up when you type in "monkey sex" and "tapioca pudding."

To emphasize what I’m saying here, read page 23, column 6 of this report—in fact, read the whole damned page—no the whole friggin’ report. Read, memorize and then stop asking silly questions.


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