13: The Three-Point Plan

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:

  1. Persuade a literary agent to represent me to publishers.
  2. Persuade a publishing house to turn my manuscript into a product.
  3. 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

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5 Responses to “13: The Three-Point Plan”

  1. katherine Manners Says:

    It’s a massive industry, and as such, there’s room for all. Fortunately its’ not all about Da Vinci Code Daleks churning out holiday reads, there is a huge wealth of books coming out all the time with massive integrity, and plenty of people on the lookout for them. I get demoralised by turning on the telly and seeing nothing but foul, ammoral fly-on-the-wall shite where the most exciting thing is watching a fat woman look at her own poo in a vase and weep. Then I get offered two weeks at the RSC working on Cymbeline and my faith in the industry revives, fortunately.
    PLOW ON!!!

  2. Mark Snare Says:

    Was that an advertisement?

  3. P. T. Bakermarsh Says:

    A quick note on Ms Manners much-appreciated response.
    While the book does indeed have massive integrity, this is not a heavy read. It’s fast-paced and packed with human grittiness, information and jokes. The drivers to sales will be the intensity of its narrative, the epic and of-our-time nature of the story and the cutting-edge originality of its thesis. I’m not trying to appeal to people’s sense of high art, I’m trying to appeal to their sense of having their minds blown.

  4. Eden Tehan Says:

    The universe is about 140 million centuries old. Some 60 miliion centuries from now, the sun will become a red giant and engulf the earth. So, there are about 200 million centuries from the origin of the universe, to the end of the world.

    In the 140 million centuries since time began, every one of them was once the present century. And of the 60 million centuries until the end of the world, every one of them will be the present century. The present century is a tiny spotlight inching its way along the gigantic ruler of time. Everything before the spotlight is in the darkness of the dead past, everything after the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. We live in the spotlight.

    Of all the 200 million centuries along the ruler of time, 199 million, 999 thousand, 999 are in darkness. Only one is lit up, and that is the one, by sheer luck, in which we happen to be alive. The odds against our century’s happening to be the current century, are the same as the odds of a penny, tossed at random on the road from London to Istanbul, landing on a particular ant

    … shit day for the ant though.

  5. nick Says:

    shag posh spice, then they’ll buy your book

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