What to expect from a mainstream publisher

Publishers all want a blockbuster, preferably last week, preferably written by one of their “stable” of authors with a cast-iron reputation for producing best sellers.

Large publishers, especially, are very concerned about maintaining their market share, so, despite their size and their apparent diversity (which might make you believe they have room for your offering) they tend to be risk averse, and, in some ways, we have to feel a bit sorry for them.

The global reach of traditional, international publishers makes them expensive to maintain, so their creative hunches are constantly being held back, overtaken by defensive thinking which leaves them at the mercy of such questions as, “Do you think Tesco/Walmart/WH Smith will stock this book?” Alternatively, if they are sympathetic, they may ask, “Can we make this a best seller?” which, since they are risk averse, will usually yield the reply, “No, sorry, we don’t think so.”

It tends to be the smaller publishers, with their lower overheads, that can afford to be more flexible. They can move faster, less hampered by nightmares about their wages bill. It must be hellish being a commissioning editor for a large publisher.

Commissioning editors are extremely busy. If we have dealings with them, we can expect them to contact us when they need something.  Because face-to-face contact is rare these days, I find it extremely important to write clearly. A minimal, direct communication style reduces the chances of misunderstandings. I have learned that it helps to have the courage to state exactly what I prefer, and if I am unsure, to sleep on it and return to the question the next day.

Again, when I have sent something, or returned a draft, I do not expect an acknowledgement. Unless an editor happens to be at their desk, and happens to have a moment between calls, s/he will not have occasion to send a ‘thank you’. As with submissions, I have learned to live with the benign assumption that everything I send is received and properly considered.

Berthe Morisot Mother and Sister of the Artist

An editor is a professional who has probably reviewed and produced more manuscripts than I have had hot suppers. If I may make a driver’s analogy, as a total beginner, I will be proceeding cautiously at twenty-five miles an hour along a familiar route through town. An editor will be whizzing along the highway at top speeds.

Thanks for reading.

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