Monday, September 28, 2009

Observations about mainstream publishing

Last week I read this insightful, sobering insider look at publishing here by Daniel Menaker, former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House. His experience is with adult publishing, and I do view children's book publishing as a happier world, but his is still an authentic view of publishing in general. Especially true is how negative a culture it can be. For example:

You're more likely to be "right" if you express doubts about a proposal's or a manuscript's prospects than if you support it with enthusiasm.

I'm often disappointed that our acquisitions team doesn't get more excited about projects. Sometimes it seems that the best praise we can get is "I liked it fine" or "I would be okay if we published it." Hardly glowing endorsements. True, when those rare moments come along where everyone gets excited about a project, it's wonderful, but people seem to be more critical than ever. It's a tough business.

More negativity:

And this is only the beginning of the negativities that editors must face. Barnes & Noble doesn't like the title. Borders doesn't like the jacket. The author's uncle Joe doesn't like the jacket. The writer doesn't like the page layout and design. Your boss tells you the flap copy for a book about a serial killer is too "down." The hardcover didn't sell well enough for the company to put out a paperback. The book has to wait a list or two to be published. Kirkus hates the book. Another writer gets angry at you for even asking for a quote. The Times isn't going to review the book. And so on.

*Sigh.* So true. And the following observation is something I particularly agree with:

It's my strong impression that most of the really profitable books for most publishers still come from the mid-list -- "surprise" big hits with small or medium advances, such as that memoir by a self-described racial "mutt" of a junior senator from Chicago. Somehow, by luck or word of mouth, these books navigate around the rocks and reefs upon which most of their fleet -- even sturdy vessels -- founder.

Anyway, read the column. It's fascinating. And I'm glad I'm not as jaded so far in my career--I still see many more pros than cons. But it's good to recognize the challenges in the hopes that maybe aspects of the business can change.


Libby Koponen said...

I liked that part of the article, too, and found it encouraging....also I think it's good for writers (or me) to realize what editors have to put up with!

I don't think it was meant to be funny, but his comment on writers made me laugh: something like "Even though they're very needy, some writers can be stimulating and even fascinating company."

Frankly, I don't think ANY of the BRGs are needy, at all, nor would I describe any of the other children's book writers I've met that way.

Are adult authors different? Am I prejudiced?

Anna Alter said...

That article had a lot of really interesting points. In particular I think it acknowledged what we've all come to realize over the years- the success of a book to some extent is largely due to timing and luck. You can work very hard at publicity and make the best book you are capable of and still, nothing guarantees sucess. Publishing is unpredictable, more so than a lot of other industries I think. This can be kind of depressing, but also encouraging- who knows when the stars might align for your book!

Anonymous said...

Definitely a fascinating (but depressing) column. Are there are solutions to the negative sides of publishing?

michelle said...

I found the article fascinating, a real insight into the publishing world, but also quite depressing...
I'm not ready to give up yet though!
Thanks for posting it, I would never have found it otherwise.