Publishing 101

The would-be writers among you might find the following two items of interest, dealing as they do with the less glamorous aspects of fiction publishing. First up, John Scalzi explains why writers in their thirties are still described as being “new”, even though they’re kind of old by comparison to musicians and actors at similar career points:

1. Writing an entire novel is something most people have to work up to. Because you know what? Writing sixty to one hundred thousand words of fiction is not something most people cannonball through, even if they assure you, with the appropriate amount of false modesty, that they’re really better at long-form fiction. Maybe they are, but they still had a long walk to get there.  I’m better at long-form and it took me until I was 28 before I could do it. Meanwhile I’d been writing short for years up to that point, in the form of reviews and columns and humor pieces and (yes) occasional attempts at short fiction that I mostly abandoned after a page or two. Lots of people in their teens and early 20s start novels; rather fewer finish them.

Elsewhere, Andrew Wheeler takes a more business-orientated look at things as he runs through the essentials of book marketing, starting with something called “channel mix”:

It’s deeply wonky, I know, but at the core of the business of selling books is knowing where and to whom you’re going to sell. A “channel” is a way to sell books, and there are more of them than you think.

It’s easy to get blindered in the book world, and to assume that the big chain stores are the only way books get to readers. It’s more true for fiction than for non-fiction, but there are still more options than you think.


If you’re an author, your publisher will have a marketer thinking about these channels (or the subset of them that publisher has an effective salesforce to reach), and — if you’re lucky — your editor will also think about this as well. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it; the author is always the best expert on her book, so you can help by suggesting possibilities.

(Authors often have unrealistic hopes, which you should keep in mind. It’s not always the author’s fault — some authors are monomaniacs who think their book on cheesemaking in Scandinavia will be a major Oprah pick, but most are just optimistic people who think that the Society for Shadetree Management would really, really like a new middle-grade novel about Becky Balsam, Forest Ranger if they only took a look at it. So be careful about pushing your suggestions too forcefully. Make suggestions, but also listen closely to what the people at your publisher tell you.)