Speaking to a senior player in trade publishing in London yesterday, I was struck again by how some fundamental attitudes have changed in recent years. It used to be around the bars of Frankfurt during the annual Book Fair that publishers would bare their souls and fess up sheepishly to the ones that got away. Which books that went on to be runaway bestsellers did they pass on, didn’t like or more importantly didn’t think the general public in any number would like. We all make mistakes, even the most successful amongst us, was the general consensus. But our experience and instinct will make sure we don’t blot our copybook again.
Times have changed. The precarious nature of the economy in the UK, with amongst other things, just one privately backed, stock holding high street book selling chain of any size, undergoing almost constant restructuring, is just one reason editors will be expected by their bosses to be more risk averse. When an editor takes to Twitter to confess she passed on JK Rowling’s recent crime novel written and submitted under a pseudonym, no one slaps their forehead and says “fire her”. Of course she passed on it. As I’m sure many others did too. It was yet another good if not utterly outstanding, well-crafted genre crime novel. Which, if you are writing such books that would have more been more likely to find a publisher and a decent five figure advance ten years ago, must sound depressing.
But self-publishing has also changed the game. Led inevitably by the US market, acquiring editors no longer feel that literary agents represent the only source of potentially publishable content. Part of the editor’s job now is to make sure they spot books which might be starting to create a buzz and take off within niches and communities online before they have found an agent or a publisher. CEOs and Financial Directors will forgive gambling less and missing the odd bestseller. Missing the next 50 Shades of Grey bubble however probably would be a sackable offence.
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