SHOOTING THE BREEZE
PUBLISHING? WHAT’S THAT?
By Eric C. Forbes
MANY PEOPLE somehow do not seem to understand the arduous process of publishing a book and making sure the bookshops stock it. A publishing house is not a production or typesetting house. (“I want my book out within a month. I’ve already booked the venue and ordered the food for the launch. I want international distribution. I want my book to be available at every Waterstone’s and Barnes & Noble in the kingdom. I want ...”) It is definitely not a baby-sitting service where you dump your manuscript and hope a magnum opus will miraculously emerge from it. (“Could you turn this into a book with a nice cover and all the usual trimmings?”) They do not seem to understand the rigorous and painstaking process of creating a good book. (“Here are some photographs I took with my digicam; I want a glossy coffee-table book with my name in bold letters, please. It shouldn’t be too expensive. After all, I do want everyone to be able to afford it.”) It is not a dream factory where your books are manufactured and your dreams realised. (“I dream of becoming a writer one day. Could you make my dream come true?”)
Of course, but first you got to do something. Like write. Yes, write. Is it unreasonable to insist that you write if you wish to be published?
There is lots of good old-fashioned hard work involved in publishing a book, much of it hidden from the view of the world. It is, however, very difficult to maintain standards because there are more bad writing than good. But, for a publisher or editor, that is where the fun is. (“Here is Harry Potter’s magic wand: go turn yourself into a good writer.”)
Write only if you are serious about good writing and producing a book that will stand the test of time. Write a book that will make you proud. Write with confidence; write with humility; write with empathy. Lose the unbecoming arrogance. Do not be afraid to admit mistakes, but learn from them and move on. Always strive to be better. We do not want the world to think that we celebrate mediocrity, do we? As a writer, you must ask yourself whether people are willing to fork out their hard-earned money to buy your book. Will reading your book make any difference to their lives? Is your book worth more than the paper it is printed on? These are just some questions writers must ask themselves if they are serious about writing. What you write about is as important as how you write it. As an editor of books, a good manuscript is like a dream come true, a shooting star across the heavens, a breath of fresh air, a fine-dining experience at Nobu or The Fat Duck, the coming of rain after a season of drought, a harvest after the padi-planting season.
There is a world of difference between a good and bad manuscript. Not only is a good manuscript well written, it is also well edited before being submitted to a publishing house for consideration. A good manuscript is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. When you are editing a good manuscript it feels like being in heaven; there is beautiful music and the sound of angels singing. When you are editing a bad manuscript it is like burning in the pits of hell, with fire and brimstone your eternal companions. What I dislike most is the fact that good manuscripts are so difficult to find. Sadly, there aren’t that many good ones to choose from. Most of them are unpublishable. Well, as they say, life’s like that. However, in real life, we do publish the unreadable ... and the occasional good book that actually sells!
We not only need more writers, but more writers with original ideas, thoughts and opinions that matter and appeal to as many readers as possible. We need writers with a sense of intelligence and storytelling in their prose. Otherwise, what’s the point of publishing? We need writers who can write well and are able to string sentences grammatically and syntactically ... and punctuate them at all the right places. We want writing that is entertaining and gripping and thought-provoking all at the same time. There is nothing like the sound of a perfect sentence; it crackles like dried leaves being trampled upon in the heat of a summer’s day. Of course, this is actually harder to write than it sounds.
If fiction is not you thing, try nonfiction. Not everyone can do both equally well. Go on and write the book that you were born to write. And when that happens, perhaps we will meet at the bookshops one of these days and celebrate your success!
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