Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More Thoughts on Timing, or Wisdom from the Well(s)

by Stephanie Black

I hate to admit this, because heaven knows Rob’s ego is big enough already, but his blog yesterday made an excellent point. Getting a book published involves an element of good timing over which the author has very little control. In Rob’s case, his timing was perfect. He submitted a humor manuscript right at the time when Covenant was on the hunt for a humor author. Did he time his submission this way on purpose? My friends, we’re talking about a man who thinks a pith helmet at a dressy dinner makes a splendid fashion statement. Rob himself calls his initial publishing success dumb luck.

But as is usually the case, Rob is only partly right, as was pointed out to him by astute posters in the comment trail. Yes, the timing was beyond his control and worked in his favor, but he also wrote and submitted an excellent manuscript. If his manuscript had been lousy, no amount of good timing would have delivered it from No Thanksville. Getting a manuscript accepted involves both things you can control (for instance, the quality of your manuscript) and things you can’t (the publisher's needs at the moment).

Wouldn’t it be nice if all we needed to ensure publication was a good book? It sounds logical, right? If the book is good enough, why wouldn’t publishers be tripping over themselves in their eagerness to snatch it up?

Because publishing is a business. A for-profit business. And publishers need not just good books, but marketable books—books that will cause a large number of readers to spend wads of cash in a large number of bookstores. I’ve learned that publishers regularly have to reject books that they love. They don’t like doing it. But if they bought books purely on the basis of personal passion for a work--with no regard to what the market was doing--they’d go out of business.

Of course, you should do your homework and see what types of books are doing well in your market of choice. But by the time you get your book to the publisher, the market may have shifted, or the publisher may already have too many books similar to yours and be looking for something different . . . but not too different, if that's too much of a risk, but just different enough to be the same, yet unique. Trying to follow the market is like trying to dress a two-year-old. You’re buttoning her dress while she’s yanking off her shoes. You get the shoes on and she pulls her arm out of the sleeve and sticks it out the head opening. Neither toddlers nor publishing are activities suitable for the faint of heart.

But if you're good enough and persistent enough, one of these days, that excellent manuscript of yours will hit a publisher's inbox at just the right moment and voila--you book will be on bookstore shelves, right next to the collected works of Jed Clampett Wells.


At 8/30/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Ain't it the truth? I hope to post a guest blog very soon from a former LDS editor on this subject. (No, not the Frog. I'm afraid he may have drowned in the bog. Or been eaten by...whatever eats frogs. Or run afoul of whatever evil lurks in Jeff's computer. Or something. If anybody sees Frederick, please give him my best. Maybe I'll post a personal ad on Friday...)

And Stephanie, as much as I appreciate your insight and agree with you, it was a little disconcerting to see "wisdom" and "Wells" used in the same title -- even with the parenthesis around the S. You must have been, like me, blinded by Rob's fleeting flash of brilliance. Happens all the time.

At 8/31/2006 12:07 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Oh my goodness, you're right, Kerry. Now that the spots have cleared from in front of my eyes, I realize that what I took for a flash of Rob's brilliance was just an oncoming migraine. Silly me.

At 8/31/2006 6:56 PM, Anonymous rakrose said...

Stephanie, I enjoyed your comments. I especially liked hearing that an author truly understands that publishers sometimes have to reject manuscripts they like. So many authors really don't get that. Or that it's a business and we have to make a profit or die.


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