Thursday, April 12, 2012

Books are not milk...

Yay - congratulations to Clare Scott who has won a signed copy of The Half Life of Ryan Davis. As soon as I can wrangle the book into an envelope it will be on its way to you, Clare.

I am not afraid to say I am keen to see my work published. And I understand that other authors are keen for this too. There may be nothing wrong with our stories. In fact there may be plenty right with them. The question we ask as writers is "would readers enjoy this story?" This isn't the question publishers and agents are asking. They're asking "can we make money from this"? And this is where authors and publishers struggle to meet in the middle. If lots of people buy a book it does not necessarily make it a good book from a writer's perspective (or a reader's). And conversely a lack of buyers may not mean a book is bad. But this often is the yardstick that is used in the final analysis. This explains why Pippa Middleton can be paid a significant advance for a book on party planning. Because as we know, no one really knew how to plan a party until Pippa's sister married a Prince. A business is not wrong to want to profit from the sale of its products. There is nothing wrong with publishers and agents asking if they can make money from the product they are considering acquiring, printing and onselling. That is how business works. Authors do not want charity. They too want to benefit from the business model. They want to be paid for their product. However books are not a simple product that everyone needs or wants. One book is not the same as another. Books are not milk. The equation that solves for y if books are x often contains a lot of other unknown values. A lot of publishing decisions are based on educated guesses for those unknown values. We often look to educated guesses that were got wrong (JK Rowling anyone) as examples of how the system is broken but many times the publishers get it right too. What worries me most is where business thinking drives what the reader wants. More money can be made (imagine the profits for The Hunger Games: the books, the movie, the merchandising and tie ins) than ever before and this has a huge influence on how those educated guesses are made. Who can blame them for wanting to generate this kind of income? There are huge rewards to be had if you make the right picks. We never know what happens to the picks that might have been right but were not made. A reader cannot choose something that never makes it into print. The book world is transforming before our eyes. More than ever we are part of a global economy.Technology and social media are carving a new highway through society and culture.  Despite being the author and a creator of product, change is a whirlwind happening around me. Who knows what the landscape will look like when the dust settles. But in the meantime I will keep making product and keep reaching out to readers, because the only question I can ask is "would readers enjoy this story?"


Clare Scott said...

Thanks in advance for the book wrangling, Melinda. Very excited and intrigued to catch up with this famous boy's half life - and to check out the new and progressive Pear Jam! YAY!!!

Old Kitty said...

I read a really interesting article in The Guardian recently - a commentary on the recent hacking scandal. The journalists involved in the hacking (listening in on private calls, emails, etc without any ethics or boundaries) always held the defence that "it's what the public wants" so by that reason it was ok for them to destroy the privacy of a "celebrity/public figure" because it "sells newspapers". The commentator wrote that actually it was the other way round. It's these unscrupulous journalists who create this perceived public need to read every salacious detail about a public figure's life not the other way round. I guess it seems the same with publishers. They throw their hands up and say "it's what the public wants" when really it would seem that they (and the media who create a buzz around a celebrity)are feeding off each other. The public are offered a very limited choice if all they see is the continuous loop of publicity. Am I making sense? It's Friday and the sun is out!

Yay for Clare! Take care