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Understanding the publishing model and why luck matters

Phil: After the Literary festival session, while everyone else rushed to have books signed, we had an interesting chat with Gareth Howard about the publishing model. Earlier in the evening, the idea of publishing as a business was touted. It’s an uncomfortable fact for most people gripped with the urge to write that if you want to see your words in print then you need a marketable product. Not just a good book, but a book that will sell.

One way, as we have discussed, is to be famous. If Alexa Chung (a name I picked out randomly from yesterday’s Metro so I assume she/he is famous) writes a book then it’s on the shelves. Pippa Middleton has publishing advances on offer that would allow most of us to give up work. Cynically I suspect that this isn’t because she is the new bard but more to do with having a nice bum at her sister’s wedding.

The other way is to be pushing something people want. Gareth was relating how he had worked in TV commissioning. In that industry, producers wanted certain types of programme and if you had them, you got the money. The same idea works with books. At the moment, even the owner of a pert derriere couldn’t flog a story about a boy wizard or teenage vampire. The world has been there and done that.

“But what do they want ?” I hear you cry. Dunno. And if I did, I’d probably have a go at writing it myself and become fabulously wealthy. That’s the problem.

However, it is also good news. Have you sent your novel off to a thousand agents with only rejection slips to show for it ? Worry no more. It might not be that you can’t write. Maybe you don’t need to spend hours agonising over every single word. Your problem is that you don’t have what they want at this moment in time.

You need to be lucky as well as good. A mediocre written story and agent knows they have a home for will be more readily accepted than a super one that’s unfashionable. OK, so you might start a new fashion but very few business people are going to bet on that. Far easier to tell your boss you’ve hauled something out of the slush pile, especially if it is headed “by Selena Gomez” (apparently the most searched for celebrity online. No, I don’t know who she is either. Presumably that’s why people turn to Google).

Which brings me to back to us. We are trying to sell a love story with a background firmly set in the recession. The funny stuff that goes on in the background revolves around a quango being closed down. That makes it topical – and if the double dip recession goes triple dip, we’re still in with a shot – yet hopefully with a story that transcends time. All we need is a bit of luck. Mind you, I bought a lottery ticket that evening and didn’t get a single number…

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