C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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A Few Things Publishing Has Taught Me (#1 of a series)

1. They’re called deadlines, not livelines. Ignore them and you only make yourself miserable and worse, less productive.

2. Publishing is not a romantic pursuit 99.9% of the time. We think of cocktail parties and rubbing shoulders with the glitterati. Mostly it’s hard slogging, alone at a desk developing hemorrhoids.

3. Authors aren’t entitled to a sense of entitlement, but we need it. We should be humble considering our real place in the grand scheme of things. However, we must have a sense of entitlement. We must not be humble. Otherwise, we wouldn’t dare do this (and expect to be paid for it!)

4. Publishers and agents say they aren’t cynical. Many (most?) are. They say, “If we weren’t cynical, how could we be in this business?” Actually there are several answers to that, #1 being that many of them are english majors who are otherwise unemployable. (Many agents are way too snotty to be baristas.) However, much of the time, heavy skepticism serves them. Why? Because I’ve worked a slush pile and know that most manuscripts are not ready to be considered for publication.

5. It’s not just the bad writers who get rejected. People who consider themselves “real” writers delude themselves. Good writers get rejected, too. Shrinking budgets. Smaller staffs. Corporate giants have swallowed publishers up so there’s a greater emphasis on quick returns. Being a midlist author with a track record can be worse than being a newbie with no sales figures to drag down a publisher’s hopes for your next manuscript.

6. Publishing is always, and has always been, a business first. We talk about art on NPR and CBC Radio. At the sales meetings we do not talk about art. We use another word: “Product.” Yeah, that’s right. I said it.

7. Bookstore owners got into selling books because they loved books. (Past tense.) In practice, they spend more time calculating the GST on their (shrinking) sales than reading. This makes some of these disenchanted survivors—these noble few—stargazers with unreasonable hopes for the future and an enduring love of books. For many, their love of books is bittersweet nostalgia for when they were still freshmen. A whole whack of bookstore owners and staff are also some sad ass, cranky mofos.

8. Publishers often don’t know what they’re doing. The big publishers today won’t necessarily be the big publishers of the future. They aren’t agile enough or willing to change. A friend who worked for one of the largest Canadian book publishers confessed to me once, “I can’t find anyone in this office who can tell me what a book actually costs!” And that publisher went away. What a surprise. No other industry tolerates such a high failure rate as does publishing. Many of the reasons for that (to be explored in future posts) are out of the publishers’ control I don’t blame them for that. I do blame them for not fixing those faults which are under their control.

9. If you want to see innovation, watch the smaller publishers. They change fast because they have fewer people between now and a decision. They also adapt faster because there’s no money cushion. They have to change.

10. Changing publishing is like trying to herd cats. At a recent publishing conference I watched a publisher wring his hands about the ebook future. It’s coming. Instead of worrying about yes or no, the question is, “How are you going to ride the wave? Swim or sink!”

11. Publishers as a community should be organizing and lobbying for one epub format. Multiple formats cost more money for an industry that can’t afford inefficiencies. That change won’t happen soon. (Though, like gay marriage, it will eventually be the universal rule, so why don’t we just get on with doing the right thing from the get go?)

12. Your advance for your first book shall be pitiful. Doesn’t matter. It’s all going to the publicist you will hire.

13.  Prioritize. Authors spend too much time thinking about the health of the industry and not enough time on the health of their manuscripts…uh-oh. Gotta go.

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