Friday, 11 December 2009

What about the writing?

First of all, thanks to all those who attended my second fictionfire course a couple of weeks ago - I really enjoyed it and am now planning new courses. It looks like I'll be running them in May next year, so if there are any creative writing subjects that interest you, do get in touch at Also, do keep popping over to the fictionfire site because I'm having fun with the Quote of the Week section, where I write a little riff on a writing-related quotation that's caught my attention.

What caught my attention today on the Bookseller website was an article describing how Waterstone's Piccadilly held a seminar for agents late last month, at which agents were introduced to the chain's buying team and informed about the firm's buying 'hub'. One of the useful pieces of information they were given was that there are, apparently, four key considerations when it comes to ordering in books for the stores. Here they are, with my understanding of what each means in brackets: track record (i.e. has the author written before, what sort of sales did they achieve?), support from the publisher (is there going to be any sort of marketing spend, the sort of thing where publishers pay for books to go in the window displays, join the 3 for 2s, etc),  market context (is the subject of the book 'hot' just now, is it in a clearly defined genre, does it have a clearly defined readership, is it like anything else that's popular at present?) and pricing/cover (no need to explain).

Now, dear readers, you may be feeling there's one other important consideration missing from this list - and the agents, bless them, were alive to this. 'What about the writing?' they asked. One attendee said, 'They reassured us but for Waterstone's not to mention content as a key consideration was a shock. They are not Tesco.'

No, but getting there.

Here, it seems, is how the book industry works: judgement is from the outside in. EPOS sales records, celebrities famous for something else, genre bandwagons etc. As writers who produce, mad obsessional fools that we are, the 'product' for the market, we in our innocence tend to make judgement calls from the inside out: is the writing any good? Have I seduced the reader with gorgeous language, compelling characters, a gripping yarn? Have I expressed my deepest emotions, interests and concerns? Have I actually managed to generate 80,000 words of logical, coherent prose? Yay me! Have I revised and polished that prose so it gleams? It's hard for us to be as hard-nosed as the chain buyers. So, keep on writing what you want to write, keep on caring about its quality - but when you come to send it out, try to define your 'market context' and pray for a publisher prepared to support it so that you get the chance to establish that track record.


Lane Mathias said...

The quality of the writing isn't the top priority (as said an agent in a magazine the other month) and I just find that so sad.
Of course when the time comes, I will try my best to define my market and be within the appropriate genre but I worry for those who aren't. Who knows what wonders go unpublished because of stringent market parameters.

Love your latest quote of the week . a wonderful alchemy. So true:-)

Lorna F said...

I agree, Lane, that it's a sad state of affairs, and all we can do is be as practical as we can. Yes, I bet loads of amazing work goes unrecognised. I'm so glad you like the phrase 'a wonderful alchemy' - that was me, you know! I've just posted one of my favourite quotes, by Dennis Palumbo, on the site - I hope you like that too. If I keep going like this, I'll have a book of the things!