Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rumors of publishing

The news is out that so-and-so has a new book coming out. Rumor has it that it will be her best book ever. It will be definitive, magisterial, epic. It will speak to this generation as no book has spoken to this generation before. People who know these things claim that it is destined to be a blockbuster and a classic. You know, a classic blockbuster. One thing’s for sure -- it will be one helluva brick. Over 600 pages. Every one of those pages is necessary, even the blank ones at the end. Rumor has it that it took a decade to write, that the author destroyed two complete manuscripts before finding the right voice. Rumor has it that everyone in New York is green with envy. Rumor has it that not one, but two, well-known editors suffered nervous breakdowns while working on this book. Rumor has it that a famous graphic designer has gone through twenty-seven versions of a jacket design and still hasn’t nailed it. But that’s okay, there’s still time.

Publishing insiders are buzzing. If you walk down Broadway in the early morning, even before the maintenance workers and custodians get to work, you can hear the buzzing. They have been up all night buzzing, like mosquitoes in the Meadowlands, after blood. It is the only thing left for them to do -- buzz. Meanwhile the dealmakers are sniffing the air with their hairy red snouts and the accountants are wiping their brows trying to make the P & L work. “You've got to make it work,” says the CEO. “My mortgage payments depend on it.” Rumor has it that the future of the house depends on this book. Fellow media moguls are buzzing too. It'll be good for the whole industry if it succeeds. They’re so collegial, it’s touching.

The author will be at BEA of course. For Breakfast, Lunch, Cocktails, and a special invitation-only Dinner. By then the buzz will be deafening. The show organizers are congratulating themselves -- such a worthy choice! The morning shows are vying for an interview. First serial is up for grabs. Usually, no one wants to go second but even second serial is being contested. NPR is on board and the Newshour is salivating. Charlie is on board. So are The Times, the WSJ, the monthly glossies, Huff Po, Salon, Slate, the blogosphere, Larry, and at least two of the tabloid shows. Tina? She's looking at it too. We've got enough quotes to fill half a dozen pages. Hell, every backscratcher in the business came out for this baby.

The accounts? All the accounts are in -- everyone from the Ma and Pa indie in Dubuque to Costco, from the chains to Target, Amazon to the airports. Buyers got it. And if they didn't, we plied them with co-op and drinks. Customers will be tripping over piles of the book when it goes on sale. It's a one-day laydown -- everyone had to sign an affidavit. Bookstores and festivals are fighting for appearances, sending in fabulous proposals, professing their love even though they haven't read a word. With a book this big, you've got to be careful in doling out advance copies – send out just enough to build the buzz, but not enough to dampen sales. You don't want to give too much away. Plus most people don’t read fat books anyway.

Rumor has it that someone in Washington is reading it. Rumor has it that tons of people in Hollywood are trying to get their hands on an advance copy. Rumor has it that superlatives won't do it justice. Rumor has it that the advance topped five mill. Rumor has it that they moved up the on-sale date so it would fall just before the quarter ends and they announce their financials. Rumor has it that the author is willing to do anything to promote, as long as she can fly first-class and have her personal trainer along.

The publisher did the math and made it work. But it's still a risk. It’s not enough for this book to be big; it's got to be a monster. It's got to do better than earn out, it's got to generate a profit. In U. S. dollars. Sure, the rights have been sold in fifteen countries. England loved it, Germany too. The Italians paid a fortune by their standards, the Japanese went for more than we thought. Plus we got good sums for audio and large print. We love those rights people, trying to make some of that advance back. But we need sales right here at home.

What if it bombs? It can't bomb -- it's her best book ever. We're marketing the hell out of it. We've got a huge initial presence in the marketplace. The early reads in-house have been ecstatic. It can't bomb. The public is ready for a book like this. A book they can immerse themselves in. It’s pure entertainment, yet it’s so, so smart. It's got everything -- humor, tragedy, love, war, family -- family is important – politics, history, a dollop of popular science, and real feeling for the grandeur of life. There’s even a scene of global warming. Yet it's a quintessentially American book, even though the themes are universal -- loss, gain, joy, pain, sin, redemption, diet, health, the pursuit of happiness. Rumor has it that God made an appearance but was edited out at the last minute so as not to offend anyone. Rumor has it that it is an incredibly nuanced look at modern life, at what it feels like to be alive at the beginning of the 21st century. Rumor has it that there's also a little bit of a supernatural element in it too: the book tells us that people who stay connected really don’t die. It’s a message of hope. Rumor has it that the author didn't want the spiritual element to be too flaky, but the publisher insisted. Rumor has it that the supernatural subplot has made for a much more commercial read. Rumor has it that the author is convinced it was the right thing to do. After all, this is her masterpiece. And this is what publishing is all about.

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