Thoughts on publishers

Here I am at last, a hopelessly bad blogger with no consistency at all. Here’s hoping I might write something from now on. With all the writing talk I see on various blogs, I sometimes feel exhausted by it all. It’s not that it isn’t readable or interesting (it is, mostly both), or that I don’t make new discoveries, or that some bloggers don’t work like Trojans to provide updates on everything under the sun. I expect I will write a bit about writing too, but other things. So, to start, I’ve had a busy autumn so far and am glad to be back at base without having to fly anywhere. Years ago, my idea of a writer’s life involved a lot of plane journeys to readings on an international circuit post-novel etc. etc. Lest that sound like a lady who’s protesting too much, I don’t aspire to such a life because I realise all I want to do is get the next book out and find a publisher who er, cares. Yes, cares. In the direst economic circumstances the country has known for decades, publishers are feeling the pinch too. Some are closing. But even before the recession, publishers were never like the avuncular, encouraging publishers one watched in movies long ago. The days of the Peyton Place (for those who remember it) kind of editor who keeps a well-meaning eye on a developing writer are long gone.  Yeah and now that I think about it, the editor in Peyton Place fell in love with his writer and vice versa, so scrub that. Romance we do not want or need when there’s books to be written. But I do wonder if some of the people who work as editors today ever do anything other than copy-edit? And then sometimes the material is farmed out to other people (who the writer does not general get to hear about by name) who do more copy-editing. That is, they correct typos and perhaps indent paragraphs. But rarely have I encountered an editor who actually attempts to enter an author’s work and make plot or character suggestions, offer slight changes that might strengthen the work. Some writers wouldn’t welcome this of course, and would see it as interference, but most sane people would recognise that there’s a mutual interest at play here, and the book needs to be the best it can be. If a writer trusts an editor, this is wonderful. Trust is essential. If you doubt the editor’s judgement, then that’s not so good. However, such situations are rare in today’s functional editing style, which mostly seems to involve a tried and tested route that goes something like this:

Submit manuscript; three – nine months later, publishing company responds with a ‘yes’; six months later writer receives first galleys. There will have been no discussion of the book’s merits or weaknesses in between. Writer returns galleys after going through them three times and forcing family members to do the same to check for inaccuracies; final galleys are returned a few weeks later for final checking. Writer returns them. That’s it. There will then follow some vague and uncertain discussion of just what the book should look like, together with a sense that the marketing department is low on strategy and inspiration. If you are female, the likelihood is that the publisher might come up with something very soft and ‘feminine’, even if the theme of your novel involves a chain-saw massacre on the bog of Allen; if you are male it will be square-fonted and er ‘masculine’ looking. Or am I wrong about this?

Anyway, most writers are, in the end, relieved and happy to see the new book delivered and smelling pristine, their complimentary six or ten copies arriving in the post. It still remains one of those happy moments in life. But as publishers struggle, it begs the question of what will be required of the writer from now on. For years, writers have been hearing from publishers that the short story didn’t sell, hence the encouragement of the novel. But now, with e-books and Amazon Kindle (which is brilliant), plus the recession, who’s calling the shots in the world of publishing? Are we edging towards a situation where, indeed, the writer can have some say in where and how s/he is published? More on this in my next blog!

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