Bridging the Expectation Gap
What assumptions do we make, about how the publishing process works for us?
We find an agent? Great! We assume they will find us a publisher. We then assume that the publisher will sell loads of copies. That is what they do, right? So we sit back, while they work their magic. We let them get on with it, because they are the experts, of course.
That is a bunch of expectations, and there are going to be gaps between what we expect, and what actually happens. Compare what we expect, with what actually happens.
Here is what the professionals do:
An agent will try to find a buyer for your book. That is not guaranteed.
A publishing house will aim to print, publish and set up distribution networks for your book, making it available through all the usual purchasing channels. That, however, is not guaranteed.
Straightaway you can see the gap emerging, between what an author expects, and what actually happens.
An agent may not find a publisher interested enough to buy your book.
An agent does not necessarily involve themselves with promotion, networking or marketing.
A publishing house, having purchased, edited, printed and published your book and made it available through all the usual purchasing outlets, may make the policy decision that they do not do promotion.
And here we come to the crux. There is a gap between what an author hopes will happen, and what the industry offers and delivers; a first-time author is always going to be somewhat idealistic and dumbstruck, just when they most need to ask questions and be clear about what services are on the table and what are kept discreetly out of sight.
Any author signed with an agency will make mistakes. If they are first timers, this is usually because they are living in a state of incredulity and disbelief, but also because little is made explicit, and often a wall of silence descends.
At first, we don’t see the wall, because we are soaring so high above it.
As we come down to earth, we perch uneasily on it, gingerly feeling our way along the edge.
As we drop behind it, it is easy to be blind to the complexity of the relationships that agents and publishers have with each other. To our general lack of knowledge, add the timidity one feels when first writing to an editor, and it is easy to see, in retrospect, that authors have more opportunities to slip up than a clown playing with a bunch of banana skins.
An author has to reappraise his situation constantly, and, when he finds that assumptions he has made are false, he has to deal with the fear of having misunderstood or badly miscalculated, and then find reserves of courage and self-belief to step over the gap and take on whatever jobs need to be done, to allow the journey to continue.