29 June 2010
The organisational structures which underlie the publishing industry are fickle, profit-seeking institutions. Persuading one of them to accept a manuscript is extremely difficult. Three quarters of books don’t make back their production costs, let alone turn a meaningful profit. Last year in the USA (the world’s most important market for English-language books), over 150,000 were published.
How many have you heard of? 0.1% of them?
The subculture churning out products for that machine is inhabited by an illustrious tradition of writers and wannabe writers who’ve spent a lifetime suffering for their art in the hope of creating something which lots of other people will pay for, so as to achieve recognition, fame, fortune, literary glory, a nice-looking (or high-status) partner, or whatever. Living alongside them are flamboyant agents, jaded editors, self-interested sales people; and the usual human collection of flounces, cynics, popinjays, hangers on and, inevitably, accountants.
The role of a large proportion of the people in that creative theatre is to think-up ideas for books. The standard genres (crime, thrillers, science fiction, romance etc) are chock-a-block. If there’s an even slightly obvious submarket (dog-walking, flower-collecting or Sicilian history), you can bet there’ll be books covering it. Nonetheless, really successful books are ‘black swan’ events (that is: they are extremely rare and almost impossible to predict). Occasionally, someone pulls-off something parameter-changing. J. K. Rowling is a living icon. Everyone is after the next big thing.
Given the size of the book market, there are far more people writing books (and books being written) than could possibly make a decent living out of it (or sell lots of copies). What’s more, book buyers are capricious, the evolution of tastes inscrutable and the publishing industry beset by twenty-first-century anxieties over digital books and the internet.
Within this industrial-artistic maelstrom of profit and loss, delicate egos, broken dreams, dashed hopes and inventive triumph, there are thousands of people pitching thousands of ideas which they claim are exciting/ground-breaking/relevant/interesting or that, in some way, capture the zeitgeist.
That’s the game I’m now plunging into.
An absorbing challenge? Tell me about it.
This is the process I will follow:
- Persuade a literary agent to represent me to publishers.
- Persuade a publishing house to turn my manuscript into a product.
- Persuade lots of people to purchase said product.
As anyone who is reading this may have noticed, I’ve got pretty adept at stage three. I’m now focussed on stages one and two.
The question implicit in all the above is: how will the publishing world react to yours truly using literature as his vehicle for reframing the collective human experience – by fusing a travelogue, a geopolitical thesis and a spiritual system – in a true story which sets out an innovative, modern and profoundly optimistic world view?
Let’s find out.
‘Artificial life, the stuff of dreams and nightmares, has arrived.’ – The Economist, 22 May 2010