Wednesday, November 02, 2011

This week I had a growth spurt

When I began my writing career, researching an article or book was harder (due to lack of Internet and connectivity, among many reasons).

Let me explain. In those days, I lived in the small town of Mafikeng, birthplace of the Boy Scouts movement. Every month I would go to CNA to pick up my monthly issue of Writer's Digest. Yes, they special ordered it for me. And I read it from cover to cover, learning about the craft, drooling over other writers' successes and looking for potential markets.

I never did land a New York agent or publisher, though in those days everything seemed possible. I was in my late teens/early 20s afterall, and I felt that the world was my oyster.

Then I sold a children's book to a local publisher.. and then another... and over time, I realised that the writing I was doing was not going to make me rich any time soon, or even support me adequately. I guess I grew up. I didn't give up the dream of being a writer; just on how to do it and how much I expect to earn from it. Hence the move to freelance writing/copywriting.

This week I had another growth spurt.I was in a client meeting with the publishing team working to make one of the client books happen (managing editor, production manager, project manager and typsetting guy). I was doing handover of a manuscript for one of the titles I'm working on and we were talking about schedules to get the book done. I'd had sleepless nights working on a manuscript and was guzzling Play like water ( too much caffeine, felt like I would float away any minute).

And then it struck me - the book business has become rough over the years. Publishers are under pressure to bring out books more quickly than before. The editorial and production staff are under huge pressure to keep up with the demand  to publish more and faster than before. It used to be a book took two years from the time an author submitted a manuscript to the time it was launched. Now? You're lucky to have six months to get it done.

So the people who make these books happen work under the kind of pressure that still gives me nightmares. For example, my managing editor said that at some stage, she was managing the development of 120 titles. That's 120 BOOKS! And she had the lightest workload among other managing editors in her company.

It was a sobering moment for me as a writer and publisher. Basically it means as a professional ( whether writer or editor or publisher) dealing with a publishing house, you have to get your part of the job done right the first time. Yes, you're probably dealing with someone who is really kind and would hold your hand a little bit if things went south, but really, you'd help him/her sleep better at night if you were meticulous with your work.

This experience also gave me a new perspective on people we send our book proposals to. Yes,sometimes they seem snarky and unappreciative of the thought we put into the work and the hours or research and writing we did to get a viable manuscript. But honestly, that spare 5 minutes they get in a day? They'd probably rather spend it at home, just sitting still, appreciating that they can have a breath amid the madness, rather than trying to explain why they, as publishers of genre romances can't publish your family saga, for example.

Anyhoo, I hope the rest of your week goes well. I'm going back to the salt mines:-)

And nope, this post is not intended to imply that witers don't work hard or keep crazy hours. Because we do. Some days when I go to my desk in the morning, it strikes me that there must be easier ways to make a living. But then, I'm crazy enough to want to do this job.


Lori said...

That's a TON of manuscripts! My lord - no wonder they don't respond to queries.

Thanks for the revelation, Damaria. :)

tiah said...

Yep. The whole biz is over worked and underpaid.

Pamela said...

I left educational publishing about the time the time-lines between the call for manuscripts by government for learners and teachers books and the the time they needed to be submitted for review was six months. That reduced the time it normally took for the process from two plus years to less than one. It was a nightmare and helped make my decision to go easier...It hasn't got better!

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