In the absence of bestselling novels with my own name on the spine (though not for want of trying over the years), forgive me if I punch the air a little at the success of author friends.
And feel, as they do, much inclined to punch the noses of their publishers when they drag their feet unnecessarily about new work.
OK, maybe bestselling is putting it a bit strong; I don’t move in such high circles, so let’s settle for moderately successful. By which I mean selling steadily to a growing fanbase, going into reprint within a few months of publication, and getting great reviews.
A couple of years ago any two of the above would have had – did have, once or twice – me pleading with the author for a new title as soon as typing speed would allow. But in the wider world of publishing... well, let’s just say that the notion that it’s a business run by accountants must have come from somewhere.
Wearing my editorial adviser hat, I often have cause to tell aspiring writers that publishers seem to have thin skins, and don’t need much in the way of an excuse to reject a manuscript. I’d hate to be the cause of someone whose work deserves to be on every bookshelf in the land getting the brush-off for their first or next title, so I mention no names here. But the feet-dragging, and worse, has happened to more than one author friend at the hands of more than one publisher; and yes, OK, it’s just happened again, which is why it’s on my mind today.
Let’s be clear: I don’t live up on a dream-cloud. As I know from tough experience, publishing is a business, and as we’re all reminded every day in these straitened times, a business of any kind needs to turn at least a modest profit if it’s to survive. Leaving aside the celebrity culture (please!), any author’s first book is always a punt, a risk, a shot in the dark, based on instinct, gut reaction and plain old-fashioned love; I can honestly say that I never published a first book I didn’t believe in wholeheartedly, and for the most part, the second was never a let-down. But when it came to investing hard cash in the second, heart had to give place to head. There was never any guarantee that the bookbuying public would love a book as much as I did; my main criterion when deciding whether to publish the second was, quite simply, can I afford to do this? did the first one pay for itself?
The tricky part came when I had to make that decision before the first one had run its course; publication in the US was often a key factor, and that happened six months later than in the UK.
But that’s a problem which doesn’t occur if, as often happens in larger companies, UK and US publication are simultaneous, or one follows very soon after the other.
So what’s the excuse then for delaying the decision? If they know how well a book is doing, and at least two of the indicators of moderate success (see above) are in place, why keep the author dangling?