When writers get together, what do they talk about? Publishers, of course. So at the award ceremony I recently attended there was a great deal of exchange of opinion, news and just plain gossip.
One thing we all agreed on was that publishers and writers see books quite differently. This difference isn’t always easy for new writers to grasp but it’s something you need to understand if you want to build any kind of a career as a published author.
Basically, the difference is this. The writer sees himself or herself as the individual responsible for creating the book. It’s his book, or her book, and all the others who deal with it – editors, designers, publicity and marketing people et al are simply a necessary evil that has to be endured in order to bring the book to the attention of the reading public.
To publishers, however, the writer is only one part of a complicated jigsaw. To create a successful book, all the parts of that jigsaw must fit perfectly into place. From their point of view the cover designer may well be as important as the author because as everyone knows, it’s covers that sell books. The marketing and publicity people, the sales reps who fight tooth and nail to get the book into chains, the distributors, the accountants all play their part in the life of the book.
Furthermore, there is another, larger jigsaw which must fall into place around the smaller jigsaw that is the book. This larger jigsaw is the market. It’s a complex, multi-dimensional and ever-changing puzzle. Pieces are always morphing, assuming new shapes and colours, dropping in and out of place. As a result, holes regularly appear in the jigsaw - fascinating holes because if you can find a piece of your own to fit them you may be richly rewarded.
So publishers study the shapes of these holes and try to imagine books that will fill them perfectly. They look around hopefully for manuscripts that are already nearly the right shape, that just need trimming and polishing to slot neatly into place.
Sadly, we writers are always disappointing them. We produce manuscripts that have their own unique shape, that to publisher’ eyes will never fit into any of those fascinating, money-making holes, however much they are trimmed and polished. We fondly imagine that the jigsaw that is the market can somehow be amended so that our book will fit in. But it never happens that way round. It’s always the piece that has to change, not the puzzle.