Monday, June 04, 2007

Of Publishers and Failures

When I was in college, I started looking into publishing. Not an idealistic coed, thinking about writing the next great novel after Freshman English. No, I was a junior or senior, doing some research for a boyfriend who wanted to publish his first novel.

I learned how writers position themselves with potential publishers. The triple spacing, the well-written first five pages, the cover letter, the self-stamped return envelope and the packing materials.

But then I heard about A Confederacy of Dunces, a novel written by John Kennedy Toole. You see, Mr. Toole wrote this amazing book, and then he tried to get the book published. It has sex, New Orleans, weird characters, and wonderful writing. Anyway, after he tried to get the book published, he, possibly distraught about the turns of his life, or that his corn flakes did not taste the same way, kills himself without seeing his book published. His mother (and writer Walker Percy), always believing in him, eventually gets his book published (11 years after his death, in 1980). Oh, and this story may have never been heard, but the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. And how can so many publishers have been wrong. All passed on what won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

Then I heard about Lord of the Rings. Now, I am not a J. R. R. Tolkien fan per se. I got through the books once (sorry, but I know this is great literature but it was not my cup-o-tea). Allen & Unwin originally published the works, splitting them up into three books, to J. R. R. Tolkien displeasure. What is fascinating is that Rayner S. Unwin (the son of one of the principals in the company) actually first read Tolkien's work (starting with the Hobbit). So some child suggested that Allen & Unwin publish the works.

Anyway, so I am seeing how some books are published, and I am wondering about the whole publishing industry. I mean, really, I can understand it. And, yeah, I know, I purposefully picked two examples where publishers were a bit bizarre. But I want to be a bit bizarre today.

Well, I wonder if most publishers are failed writers. I mean, publishers love books, I would guess. Either that or they were children of publishers who just happened to inherit a family business. But still, I would think that most publishers love books. To think, you get a pile of books each day, most of which from writers who are less skilled than the publisher. And you have to say "no" to most of these books. And, occasionally, you say "no" to a great book, a book of note.

I am not sure I would want to be a publisher. I would rather write books that never get read than to read books and decide which ones had promise for profit, for shelf-space, for whatever.


LarryLilly said...

I think a lot of it is knowing someone who knows someone. There are a lot of publishers out there, and lots more writers. This lady I work with has a daughter just out of college and she got some soft porn published by an indie. She did a 6 city tour, sold some books. Her mom is not ashamed at the story line, because the daughter had the smarts to use a nome de plume. Leesa, you could write such stuff, just fill out the characters some more, flesh out a basic plot, make it like a Rubens woman, make it full, rounded and voluptuous.

RWA said...

I had a friend who worked for a publishing company once. She loved books.

And they had the occasional story about turning one down that ended up being a bestseller for another company.

I don't think I could do that either. I certainly would never feel qualified saying that someone's hard work wasn't worth publishing.

Leesa said...

larry: yeah, I could do soft porn, but I would not use a nome de plume. I think it would be more suitable to use a pen name. Like Leesa Twain.

rwa: sometimes hard work is worth publishing, it gets published, and then it is not marketed well. Now that would be even worse than passing on something. Relagating wonderful words to the bargain bin at your local B&N.

Kat said...

Picking what to publish is so hard. We all have our favorite genre's to read. Publishers are also at the disadvantage of having thousands of books to read, like finding a needle in a haystack.

GW Mush said...

Im against books in general unless they are non fiction books to educate.

That fictional crap just slows me down and I wont buy into the theory that it helps develop your imagination.

My imagination is just fine and Ive only read a handful of fictional books in my lifetime. Old Yeller, Shane, Call of the wild, Old man and the Sea, Romeo & Juliet, and Tales of two Cities.
I Had to read those in high school.


T said...

I think it has something to do with vision... seeing something in a book that will draw readers, and what the publishing house's focus is. Unless it is a proven writer, you are still guessing which book will sell. My wife writes textbooks in her field of teaching, but they take a totally different approach except the bottom line is the same. You have to sell alot of books to make any money.

Leesa said...

kat: yeah, I know some people that read me are editors and publishers. It must be hard to pick this, not pick that.

gw mush: "A Christmas Carol" is one of my favorite books. It is fiction but it tells a story of what life was like for many in 19th century England. Fiction, but it does do something important.

t: I lack vision.

GW Mush said...

Leesa... point taken, you are right.

Free Paris Hilton!

Leesa said...

gw: is Paris Hilton in jail? I was sort of afraid to google her, because I really did not want to see an upskirt shot or her quirky head tilt.

RWA said...

If you Google Paris now, you're probably going to find either her headshot (I can't believe law enforcement releases those) - or video of her sitting in the car with her mom, crying, before she was hauled off to jail.

Leesa said...

Neat post, Leesa. It would be difficult to choose over books, especially since we all have such varied tastes.