The last post proved popular. Here are a few other things I didn’t quite know about being a writer. Perhaps I’ll be a little more open. You might not like what’s said.
1) Spin matters more than you think. Sometimes it matters which major magazine or newspaper reviewer is given your book. Like a lot in life, these things can be about who you (or your publisher) know. Getting the right people to say the right things about your book can really help new writers out, and the general public sees only the results. But it’s an often-undeclared fact that many book reviewers might know an author well. Some of these prominent reviewers are even friends with authors, and then review their books. Is that wrong or right? That’s not for me to say – I would hope when it happens to me the reviewer, even if a friend, is honest, even if they don’t like the book. But of course, in an industry where everyone mixes freely, this situation is difficult to avoid, and not necessarily a bad thing. We are a close family after all.
In fact, this is why I love the blogosphere – the classes of blog reviewers have risen, taken much of the power and diluted it amongst the many, and the industry has been forced to react accordingly. Publishers begin treating bloggers with as much respect as old-school reviewers, inviting them to parties or being rather lovely to them – all in the name of good networking, and maybe a better review or two.
The paradigm is shifting.
2) Money matters more than you think. The books which often do really well are those which receive advertising spend – and more importantly are those which get submitted for in-store promotions.
It costs publishers a lot of money in merely presenting the consumer with the opportunity to buy the book – to have that book on offer, or on tables, or front of store. What, did you think they got put there for nothing? Some stores charge a lot of money for that to happen, just for the book to be there. (Here, having a good cover can help, as can deep discounting – the amount of money that’s taken of the RRP of a book.) I’ve been lucky to be with a big publisher like Tor UK, who put effort behind my book (in many ways), got it discounted on Amazon and in bookstores, and I’m ever-thankful for all they do.
There might be some literary gems which never sell well because they’re not considered/put into promotions. Publishing is, of course, a business, and we’ll miss out on these examples of high art. No matter what developments there are digitally, nothing much beats putting money behind a book to make it succeed.
3) Cover art matters more than you think. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s in a book to make it sell. It’ll help, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the cover is commercial. And I’m not talking about the buying habits of genre fans online, but the massive casual readership that strolls into the store on a wet weekend to pick up something that looks interesting. This can be hugely significant. Sometimes it’s the most significant thing about establishing a career. This realisation frightened me at first.
Notice that none of the things I’ve talked about reflect the content of the book. I don’t want to be misleading at all – of course having a great book helps. Having talent and time and charm and luck helps.
But in 2009, in the land of commercial publishing and establishing careers, it’s the bare minimum a writer needs to get by. Things are only going to get tougher – the writers of the future will be defined by those who can still afford to have careers.