The Book Business

As a writer, sitting all alone at your desk or tapping away on your laptop in a coffee shop, you’re in a one-on-one relationship with your book. There’s really no alternative. You can’t constantly be jumping up, dashing over to the next table, and asking a complete stranger, “What do you think of this? Does this work, or am I being an idiot?”

What concerns me today is that this process generates a cognitive distortion that can later turn around and bite you. You finish the novel, you submit it to agents, you get not a flicker of interest, and you end up frustrated or even resentful. The agents, heartless beasts that they are, just don’t understand how special your book is. You know it’s special because you spent a year agonizing over it day after day after day. Why can’t they see that?

This video (please don’t click through to it yet, I’m not finished, but I’ll make it brief) offers a corrective perspective. It’s from Random House in the UK, but the process will be similar at almost any large publisher. The video takes the viewer behind the scenes, if only for a moment or two, in the book publishing industry.

Two things need to be said about the video.

First, all of the people who appear in it are full-time professionals. They are paid salaries. They work in offices that have electricity bills and janitorial services, all of which also have to be paid. The money does in fact have to come from somewhere. And of course it comes from selling books. If the books acquired and produced by the company don’t sell well, these people will lose their jobs. As an author, part of your job is to support them by generating a cash-flow.

Second, these people are in publishing because they love books. They’re not your enemy! If you’re an author, they’re your allies. They need you, because without your work they’ll have nothing to sell. But you need them as well. They’re specialists. They know how to sell books.

Some self-publishing authors are capable of wearing all of the hats the people in the video wear: cover design, proofreading, rights management, overseas marketing, ebook formatting, and so on. Most of us aren’t.

You need these people. And in order to make use of their wealth of experience and expertise, you need to send them a book that they can in fact sell. That is all.

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