Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's still a business

Good sense here.
In general I adored my authors. But there were those few whose behavior suggested to me that flipping burgers or mucking out stalls would have been an easier and more pleasurable career choice. When I was an editorial assistant, I watched as one well-regarded author so managed to vex and trouble every single person at the press that by the time his book came out, no one would take his calls. Including his editor.

People go into publishing not only because they love books but because they love working with authors. Editors, in particular, are possessive: They speak of "my books," "my authors." It is, therefore, disconcerting and disturbing to see the disconnect in how some authors perceive publishers and how frequently writers are dissatisfied with the process. Friends in publishing think of those writers as the spawn of the devil, the evil seeds.

I asked my literary agent, Susan Arellano, what makes for a "bad" author. Susan has worked as an editor at both trade and university presses and now commands six-figure advances for academic authors. With characteristic acumen, she answered: "Bad authors are the ones who don't know, or can't remember, that publishing is a business."

What does that mean? "It means that their egos take over and they want that New York Times ad even though they know that ads, more often than not, don't sell books," she said. "It means they think everyone in the world will want to buy their book, even though they know that a book on the semiotics of trout fishing has a very small audience."

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