Friday, June 09, 2006

Tribal Warfare.


When I decided to begin writing, besides the obligatory books on the Art and Craft of writing,I read everything I could about the business end; publishing. The deeper I delved, the more I felt like a missionary about to embark upon the conversion of a different culture. Or like a teenager attempting his first seduction, take your pick.

This is because I discovered that those in the publishing industry belong to a different Tribe, or Species, than Writers. That men and women belong to differing species has been well documented by the noted social anthropologist Dr. John Gray: but I found the same to be true of writers and those of the editing/publishing/agenting ethnicity, hereinafter referred to as The Pub People (after Keyes).

Pub People are readily discernible from Writers by the following general characteristics:

Pubbers are Schedule-driven, helpless without a day-planner: Writers may schedule writing. Or not.

Pubbers have recognizable corporate/professional habilements: Writers ask "Dress up? For what?"

Pubbers are political animals and networkers: A Writer is a loner, and works best alone.

A Pubber belongs to several cliques based on aesthetic and political preferences: Writers may belong to a critique group...

Pubbers never take naps: Writers nap frequently, even mid-typing.

Pubbers generally have a regular salary, and health benefits: Writers on salary? With health benefits? ROFL.

Pubbers can lose their job: Writers are self-employed (or unemployed, which amounts to the same thing).

Further, Pub People have their own secret rituals and language (blurbs, slush piles, not-for-me-isms), engage in small mutual support groups (lunch meetings, production meetings, agent meetings) and even have their own Holy Days (semi-annual sales conferences).

An insular, commercial people, Pubbers will seldom even consider reading the out-pouring of a Writer's soul unless the writer has a platform, (which means will the bloody thing sell) or the writer is a brand name (which means the bloody thing will sell), or they believe the book has legs (which means I hope the bloody thing sells). They obsess over books earning out, or selling through, or slipping.

They have difficulty reading anything not in a particular format, and will ask writers (beg them, really) to submit the out-pourings of their souls in this form and this form only, or they will refuse to read it. They will however, place minor variations on this format in each and every place that publishes their submission requirements; this is nothing less than the hoary Canary Trap, that old stand-by of the CIA, NSA, Mossad, and MI5. In this manner they can determine where most of the writers submitting to them do their research, so they know where to publish their submission requirements next time.

Writers, of course, have our own idiosyncracies and foibles. These characteristics include the (quite reasonable, to our mind) assumption that Pubbers, who read for a living, ought to be able to read in more than just one or two fonts. We (quite rightly) look upon the requests of the Pubbers to 'be professional' in our submissions as a thinly-disguised plea to give them something they are able to read.

Writers also regard the forecasting ability of The Pub People with regards to sales as suspect. How else can anyone explain the reason Nicholas Sparks, J.K. Rowling, Canfield & Hanson, and Stephen King, et al., took so long to be recognized as the commercial goldmines that they are? We suspect also that Pub People are at least as paranoid as Writers, perhaps more so, and are creative minds trapped in business suits, who portray their subjective, irrational, emotional decisions as rooted in sound financial ground. We believe this because there are no soundly established empirical criteria for the outlay of large monetary sums based solely on the perusal of several MSS sheets.

So as a first-time novelist, my job is to attempt to cross the cultural divide - I must learn to speak, and write, Pub. This is the Golden Rule of getting published; They that Haveth the Gold Maketh The Rules. To make things even more frustrating, Pubbers and Writers profess to speak the same language, but many times fail utterly to communicate. Maybe it's a dialect thing. It doesn't help, either, that Pub People have redefined words that were perfectly well understood before (crash, house, spine, skip, jacket, etc.), or that their sensibilities, preferences, and tastes are so different from people who do not happen to live in Valhalla (New York City).

Worse, the Pubbers and Writers desparately need each other; they recall the classic negotiating concept of the handshake where neither party can afford to let go, or both will go bankrupt, starve, or worst of all, never be regarded by one's peers as Having Arrived.

What we need is a formally agreed -upon Pubber/Writer Dictionary.

Unfortunately what will probably happen is that to be published, a Writer will have to beg, plead, or otherwise cajole, a Pubber into printing it (a process known as querying, designed to humble Writers so that they Know Their Place). The Pubber will immediately suspect it has no platform, spindly legs, and believe the bloody thing won't sell. After all, where's the market for it?


seuratdeveloping said...

LOL. At first, I thought "Pubber" was someone who frequented pubs.

So far I've been fortunate to deal with editors who are generally gracious and supportive. It seems to me that they're just looking for quality on a timetable. Isn't that the conflict?

Shwebb said...

Beautiful, Zonk! Thanks for my chuckle of the day.

Zonk said...

Seurat, you're quite correct. However, the key word in your statement is "timetable". See Pubber's General Characteristics #1. :D

The only editor I have ever had ended up as a best friend.

Not so much a 'conflict': more a failure to communicate...


robeiae said...

Ha-ha. That was good, Zonk! MAybe I should try pubbing instead of writing...

briliantdonkey said...

Great post,

A nice combination of true,funny, AND informative wrapped up in one. I guess that makes it Trunyative.

keep up the good work