Thursday, 22 October 2009

What's going on?

Is it really the current plummet of the global economy that has caused publishers to become increasingly cautious or are they just becoming progressively stupid? It seems that publishers, in their misguided omniscience, are making some odd decisions in the hope of increasing their dwindling profit margins.
Some are now hurling their best sellers into the bargain buckets before the ink has dried on the pages, thereby halving their profits in the hope of doubling sales. Er, now I am no RenĂ© Descartes, but does this not sound like maximum effort for minimum yield? No doubt it took an army of marketing personnel years of qualitative and quantitative forensic research to do the arithmetic to come up with that stroke of genius, but I just don’t get it. I can only assume that the big publishing bosses seek to maximise their plummeting revenues by herding consumers towards what publishers say they should read.
Take the spurious biogs of some not-so-stellar celebrities that are hogging the shelf-space of our book stores and collecting only dust. It is no great secret that most celebrity memoirs make spectacular flops for being badly written, overly-hyped and just plain dull. Publishing houses do, however, continue to spit them out in their thousands in the hope that some hapless recipient will end up with one in their Christmas stocking. “Oooh! I said I wanted a lovely pair of pants and deck shoes, not this crap!”
So who is paying for bad decisions? Interestingly enough, it is probably not the average consumer. It is the author who is trying really hard to bring quality work to discerning readers but is stumped by the brick wall of backward-thinking editors impervious to change.
Publishers over the years, in their stalwart efforts to maintain their artificially created markets, have become more and more cautious about what should be placed on their lists and what should not. All published and unpublished authors have their own tales to tell of endless and bitter no-thank-yous but there are none so strange as the curious oxymoron they call a “positive rejection”
A fellow writing buddy of mine is a remarkably talented wordsmith. He has won awards for both his poetry and prose and has written a couple of crime thrillers that have been well received and highly praised by everyone who has read them – even publishers – so what is he doing wrong?
His latest rejection from one of the larger publishing houses simply defies good sense. The commissioning editor praised the work in every aspect but believed there was “too much going on”. Now, I believe that this editor had taken a little too much stupid in his coffee that morning. Either that or he considers the average reader to be overly dim.
If my friend’s novel has all the necessary qualities of a successful crime thriller, how can there be too much going on? It’s a work of fiction for god’s sake!
If “not too much going on” is the measure of a successful publication then the world would never have heard of Shakespeare, Hardy, Tolkien or even Brown! “Sorry, Dan, but you’ll have to drop the symbolism bit and the reference to da Vinci, because there’s just too much going on in the plot! William, I'd prefer Hamlet to be a night watchman in Watford and not a Danish prince, there's too much going on in Denmark. John Ronald Reuel, what's with all those orcs, elves and little men with hairy feet? And, Thomas, a little less heath please and a bit more misery!”
My advice to my friend is that he should edit out all the colourful descriptive bits; delete the snappy prose, the good dialogue and intriguing plot and paint in a grey background; make all the characters faceless and leave out the personalities. Oh, and don't forget to wipe out the murders because that would just be too much going on! Next time send out 200 blank pages and get a 12-book publishing deal for the cleverly understated genius!
Too much going on? Sadly, in the fray between successful publishing and plummetting profits, there is far too little.