Friday, February 12, 2016
The publishing standard
While shelving in the fiction section of my library today I came across three books cozied up to one another. I'd never noticed these books before, but, at a glance, they looked horrible. They were a semi-matched set, trade paperback size, with cover art that was plastic and insipid featuring pictures of heroic looking hospital workers. The books may not be as bad as they seem. I did not dig deeply into them. But in the past I have read enough to know there are plenty of poorly written, imaginatively dead novels out there. And in the past, as I experienced authorial dreams, I regarded books such as these, always a part of my library's collection, as a kind of entry indicator for publishing. But today, looking at this awful hospital trilogy, I suddenly had a vision.
It was a tiny, tiny vision, but a vision's a vision. Just get a magnifying glass if you need to.
My vision was that this is not the entry point for publishing. Nothing and no one that is bad in their field, no art that is facile, no co-worker who is disconnected and obtuse, is the standard or the measure of what it takes to get anywhere. These flukes are more like accidents. Many people are out there writing uninteresting novels, but they may be fantastic at publisher queries, brilliant at developing professional relationships, crafty at selling what they've done, or maybe even just lucky. But a great deal had to come oddly together for those sad books to get onto our shelves at the library, and most of those things are flukes and exceptions. Look around at all of the books we have. The great majority of them are competent, crafted, industrious, and creative expressions of storytelling. Pick something out that you would say is pretty good. Here it is, nice cover, interesting story with a somewhat engaging heroine, a few splashy quotes from other pretty good writers and maybe even a nice one from an official big time reviewer. Hold this book. Read it. This book is your starting point. This is where the possibility of being published begins. Everything below a book like this was merely a mistake.
I have shared the cynicism of co-workers who held up some awful looking paperback and said that we should write one of these and get rich. I have had a strong tendency to look at the bottom, the crassest level of achievement, and make too much of it. But my worst co-worker at the library is not a measure of what it takes to do the minimum of my job. The blandest CD of music on our shelves will not tell us anything useful about music. And the most ridiculous romance paperback is not something there that can tell us how we can write an easy book and get rich.
As I said it's a tiny vision, but tiny visions add up over time, and if I live forever I will understand everything. And so will you, if you read along here. So hang in there.