Choices • 6 October 2007 • The SnowBlog
I have sent 380 emails this week. Two of them were at opposite extremes. The first was to an author whose book we would like to publish next year. We all love it and we think we can do a really good job of marketing and selling it. It also fits immaculately with our editorial plans. The author wrote a lovely email back saying that he was delighted and it made my heart soar to hear him so happy. I can't wait to crack on with the cover design and all the other things that will get the ball rolling and make someone's dream come true - and delight a lot of readers.
The second email was to an author whose work we have decided not to publish. Truth be told, we send a lot of these sorts of emails as we get a lot of submissions, but this one was a bit different. It's a great story, and the author's done a great job of developing the ms from its first incarnation to something that is eminently readable, publishable and would no doubt delight many readers. I've read the book three times, now, and have considered it for a long time. But we're not going to publish it. It's just not quite right for us. It doesn't fit as well with our editorial plans as the first book, and when we talked about it we found that rather than entirely agreeing that it was a book for us we had reservations about whether we loved it enough. It's a perfectly brilliant book - but for our tiny team of two readers it just didn't reach our all time favourites list.
Now think of all the books you've ever read. You liked a lot of them, right? And if one of those books doesn't reach your all time top fifty favourites, that doesn't mean you'd think it a bad book, right? That is the sort of impossible, subjective choice we're talking about. And you'll have had conversations about your all time favourite book with a friend who can't understand why you like it so much. It's a feature of the book market: you can't categorically state that such-and-such a demographic will definitely like a particular book because people's tastes vary, people's opinions are subjective and two similar people can have very different sentiments about a book. I hate most Booker prize winning books. What does that say about my tastes? Am I wrong? Right?
It is so horrible to have to make decisions like this and it's one of the things I hate about fiction publishing and why it has to change. There are readers who would have been delighted with this book if we'd published it. I'm sure that the book will get picked up by another publisher soon, so hopefully those readers will at some point have the opportunity to enjoy it. Just because two people didn't quite love it enough to put £8000 and a year of their working life into it doesn't mean it's not a great book.
I really hope that in ten, fifteen years time fiction publishing will look a lot different. I hope that the norm will be for authors to publish their work on the web. Readers will have found ways to communicate with each other to share which books they rate and which they don't - through a site like Rotten Tomatoes or Librarything. Readers will be able to order a book for their handheld or via POD and will get it shipped from their online retailer of choice to arrive the next day, or pop into their local high street store who will print a bound copy for them on the Espresso machine in the basement. And then fiction publishing will be driven by reader's desires, not by a selection of publishers and agents in their ivory towers deciding what people should and shouldn't read based on personal taste, company strategy and commercial viability.