I spent most of yesterday working on the Nonfiction Books List, and doing my regular administrative duties. You know, all those things that an admin assistant would get paid for, but instead I’m the big schmuck who’s agreed to it do for free.
However, the morning meeting was actually quite interesting. Books, Goatee, NFEditor and Harry Potter were discussing commissioning a new fiction author. The person had been referred by another publisher (one who liked his work, but the style didn’t fit that of their publishing company), and so it went straight to Boobs desk.
Boobs read it, and really quite liked it. NFEditor and Goatee then read it and agreed, so it was brought to the Wednesday staff meeting for everyone to discuss it. (Well, when I say ‘for everyone to discuss’, that obviously doesn’t include me.) So, plot, characters, language and genre in relation to today’s selling market was discussed, as one would expect. But there were other things that they also considered; aspects that I would have never crossed my mind. Things such as:
*Does the manuscript need much editing?
*Is the author willing to self promote?
*Has the author done any public readings or performances in the past, and if so how were they?
*Does he have a following?
*What else has he published?
*Has he won any awards?
*What does he look like? (Yup, they asked that.)
You’re probably wondering why they were talking about these sorts of things, I know I was at first.
The days of the reclusive author with the drink problem and the penchant for brooding are over. Today, publishing companies want extroverts who are willing to sell books at a number of festivals and readings. Entertain crowds, answer questions (both live, on email, in blogs and in interviews). The publisher wants someone who is smart and witty, but reachable and in touch with the common reader. They want a manuscript that comes to them pressed, clean and ready to go to print.
They want an author who has a blog, a website, and already has a local fan base. (You may wonder, as did I, how a new author can get a fan base before they’re published? Through blogs, local creative writing groups, writer’s websites, and generally hanging about the local literary scene to the point of becoming such a nuisance that people will buy your work just because they know you.) They want someone who’s already been published in some form: publishing short stories or journalistic articles are a way to prove that others think your writing is good enough to put on paper. They want someone that others will want, so they’re looking for someone who’s won awards and who has, in general, proved that they’ve spent time ‘honing their craft’.
Finally, while the new author does not need to have chiselled features, gleaming white teeth and thick shiny hair, she/he does need to look decent enough in a headshot that people will want to put his picture in a magazine or other piece of news that doubles as publicity.
And you know what I found strangest about all this, it made sense to me.
When I write down all these things which seem superfluous, I want to argue and say ‘It’s not about personality, looks or marketing. It’s about the writing.’ But after listening to the two hour conversation regarding this man’s potential, it all made sense.
According to my bosses, the writing should be perfect, the story engaging, and fit nicely into the market, but they would prefer someone who was a good writer AND pleasant, businesslike, smart, entertaining, and willing to self-promote, instead of a good writer who was a bore and a prick.
So, what’s the lesson to be learned? You not only have to be a fabulous writer to get published, but also a damn fine individual.
Oh, and I forgot to mention. We took on the new author. We’re waiting for him to sign the contract. The final reason as to why MNM decided to sign him? Because he didn’t have an agent and the fine editors at MNM knew they could get him for a bargain basement price.