Former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House Daniel Menaker offers an insightful, somewhat somber look at the publishing industry at Barnes & Nobel’s Reviews and Essays blog.
Menaker had some interesting things to say about book reviews in point No. 5. Since I harp on book reviews so much, I decided to highlight a few other points I found incredibly interesting:
(From point No. 1, which highlights negativity in publishing)
C. The inevitable competitiveness among acquisitions editors will incline them to cast a cold eye on others’ projects. The "team" metaphor fits the editorial departments of publishing even less well than it fits other competitive businesses, though almost all businesses use it as a means of covering over the implacable Darwinian dynamics that keep the heart of capitalism pumping.
And this is only the beginning of the negativities that editors must face. Barnes & Noble doesn’t like the title. Borders doesn’t like the jacket. The author’s uncle Joe doesn’t like the jacket. The writer doesn’t like the page layout and design. Your boss tells you the flap copy for a book about a serial killer is too "down." The hardcover didn’t sell well enough for the company to put out a paperback. The book has to wait a list or two to be published. Kirkus hates the book. Another writer gets angry at you for even asking for a quote. The Times isn’t going to review the book. And so on.
Point No. 9 is also incredibly interesting – and a little scary, when you think of what it takes to figure out what books gets promotional dollars. It reinforces – at least to me – just how much authors must promote themselves, no matter if they are with a major publisher, a small press or are self published.
9. Many of the most important decisions made in publishing are made outside the author’s and agent’s specific knowledge. Let’s say your house publishes a comparatively modest number of original hardcovers every year — forty. Twelve on the etymologically amusing "spring" list — January through April; twelve in the summer; sixteen in the economically more active fall. Well, meetings are held to determine which of those books your company is going to emphasize — talk about most, spend the most money on, and so forth. These are the so-called lead titles for those seasons. Most of the time, the books for which the company has paid the highest advances will be the lead titles, regardless of their quality. In many cases, their quality is a cipher at this planning stage, because their manuscripts haven’t been delivered or even written or even begun yet. But why should the literary quality of writing figure heavily into this prioritizing? It’s not as if the millions of readers being prayed for are necessarily looking for challenging and truly enlightening reading experiences. I wish they were and hope they someday will be.
I say "specific knowledge" because writers and agents surely have to realize that companies must generally practice this kind of emphasis triage. But they and you, as the editor, silently collude in trying to ignore the obvious when you tell them that the first printing of your book will be three thousand copies, that it will not have full-color galleys, that no advertising or tour is planned, and that it has been assigned to a publicist who up until yesterday worked in the Xerox department. Why the collusion? Because this is a business fuelled largely by writers’ need for attention, and no one wants to crush any writer’s dreams before a book is even published. Especially since every now and then they actually come true.
(Thanks to Agent Kristin for sharing this link at Pub Rants.)0