Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Dear Publisher: The choice
There comes a time in the life of every publisher and every publishing house when they must decide who they are. They will have to face up to whether their ultimate goal is the betterment of readers, literature, and the arts, and the enlightenment of humankind, or whether their ultimate goal is having a pleasant time of it, receiving a lot of hollow praise, and living in a overlarge and lovely house.
Here is the scenario:
One day two manuscripts will arrive in your office.
One will be pristine and beautiful, exactly as a submission should be. It will be humble, properly addressed, and to the point. The proposal for publication will be professional in every way, from the very bond of the paper to its reasonable expectations. The writing sample will be a clear demonstration of a skill that is adequate to a successful life in letters. And holding this stress free submission in your hands you will know that this offer will provide timely, sellable work that the author will remain a tireless and reasonable advocate for in public, and thus an effective salesperson. You and this author will have a mutually beneficial alliance together that makes you both money, though you more of it, if you can help it. And their long string of quite successful books will be generally forgotten before you even manage to retire.
The other submission will be written, metaphorically at least, in crayon, by an unbalanced, possible genius. It will be hard to tell if this person really is a genius because they will seem so confident of it that it will rattle your own judgment, which is not easily rattled. Their demands on you will be high. Their compliance low. They may make you some money, but not for awhile, and when they do finally start doing so they will mysteriously disappear for six or seven years. At the end of that time you may find them sleeping in your basement. Their work will be acclaimed at certain points, making you glow with pride, and yet at other points small mobs may take to the streets to burn their books after an imprudent comment or two of theirs. They will treat you badly and consider you a dear friend. You may die younger because of them, or have no real retirement, but their work will somehow carry on, and thus so will yours, probably.
And so you hold my submission for publication in your hands. "Which of these two fundamental choices is he?" You wonder.
Oh no. I am neither of these. I am practice.
I hope you choose well.
With the kindest regards,