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Monday, April 04, 2011

The House of Words (no. 10): Doing what you want to do, 2

Why is The Throne of Psyche today's illustration? No good reason except that books shipped from the mill on the 25th and so pub date approaches. And that I am just as cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof antsy as any other writer with a new book of poetry, worried whether her paper progeny will ever find good homes and readers. Also, I suppose that we can class this publication as one of those alternative markets mentioned below: the university press. There. Reasons. Good enough for me. You?
10. Doing what you want to do, continued

It is unclear to most readers and a great many writers that major publishing houses intend to choose the books that will do well. The house attempts to consult the cloudy crystal ball of the times and point a finger at the books that will sell in good numbers. It then places good money on that bet. They back a very few fiction and nonfiction horses and treat them quite well. The first time I understood this way of doing business was when I learned that an upcoming lead book on a certain list was being pushed by three full-time, full-size bodies called marketers--and it was three months before “pub date.“ Meanwhile, I was adding my bit of luster to the same list and had the hangnail of a body but much closer to pub date, along with some other writers who each had a tidbit of flesh and a jot of attention.

You know that hackneyed expression, “the scales dropped from her eyes?” Think of the author, blinded with layers and layers of eye-scales. Things happen. Scales drop. At last she stands naked-eyed. C’est moi.

Perhaps I should add, in case you've missed this bit of slang, that pub date is nothing like a ploughman’s lunch with a beer but the date scheduled for a book’s launch. At a major house, a launch is either a big whopping party where they break champagne over the bow of your ocean-going boat, or it is something else. At the least, it is when your editor (or her assistant because she has already departed for Somewhere Else) taps your book with her pinkie finger; it tumbles into the well, sending up a trail of bubbles as it sinks and you jump up and down, trying to alert the world. Probably that's not the least. The least is when the publishing houses folds or collapses and re-structures just before your special pub date.

Without a push, you will likely have the sort of sales numbers that mean your publisher will want somebody with better sales numbers next time--or somebody with no sales record for bookstores to track. Without a push, you may find it difficult to move to an equally large and equally prestigious house. Without a push, you might as well be at a smaller house that is willing to give lots of attention and care. Without a push, you might find that you begin to think about alternatives. (We’ll get to some of those later.)

None of this did I grasp early on.



  1. You've made your point. Getting a publisher to pick up the book is just the first hurdle!

  2. It is saddening, though it is good to know the way the game is played and be forewarned, I hope. I think we were both innocents, Clare!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.