As I mentioned briefly a couple of posts ago, one of the things that can be quite irritating about being a publishing-type person in a room full of translators is the amount of ire that gets directed at the publishing industry. Not all of the publishing industry, of course – it’s generally accepted in most circles that editors are a good thing. As long as they’re good editors, of course – the ones who understand Literature and want to publish delicious difficult books. As long as they don’t kowtow to the people who are always the villains of this particular narrative…(dramatic music)…the Sales and Marketing Department!
The Sales and Marketing department, as we all know, are motivated only by the amount of money they can make out of a book. They want all bestsellers all the time, and they are not interested in translated literature because they don’t think it makes enough profit. And everything in publishing these days is terrible because it is run by these philistines and not by the old-school editors who wore tweed and grew beards and published books solely for the edification of the public.
Was that a bit over the top? Sorry. But it is annoying. I hear people go on like this and I think have you ever met anybody who works in sales and/or marketing? Because on the whole, they are – we are* – every bit as passionate about books as everybody else in the industry. We like getting excited about books, and we like sharing them with people. We ask buyers to consider books that they might not have thought about before, and we tell them why we think these books might be a good fit for them. And sometimes the buyers see our enthusiasm, and they share it, and they decide to take a chance on a book we love, and it’s just the best feeling. That is what we do.
And yes, it’s also part of our job to say ‘this book doesn’t quite fit the market’, or ‘we can’t get people interested in this book’, or ‘can you please take this anthropomorphic pig character out of this Marrakesh market scene, or we’ll never be able to sell this book in the Middle East’. I know that sometimes this is frustrating and makes people feel like their work is unappreciated, but really, I don’t see how it’s much different from an editor saying ‘this ending needs to be more convincing’ or ‘try this chapter again with fewer adverbs’. The former is perceived to be about making a profit and the latter is perceived to be in service of Literature, but in the end they’re both about making the book appeal to readers.
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with publishing, of course. It does feel stagnant sometimes, and it’s frustrating to see so many copies of the latest airport novel or youtube-sensation-turned-book turning up all over bookshops when so many brilliant books can’t get a look in. It’s annoying to see all these different authors touted as ‘the next JK Rowling’ or similar when I distinctly remember that there was a time before JK Rowling and we had good books then, too, and I wish we didn’t feel we had to try and fit so many authors into boxes shaped like other authors.
But I also hate to see all of these problems laid at the door of one publishing department, when really everybody in the industry is dealing with the same challenges. We’re all well-read and enthusiastic and committed to publishing brilliant books. We’re all short-sighted and profit-driven and trying to make money. We’re all struggling to find a balance between sharing books that we love with people, and getting people to actually give us money for books so that we are able to keep on publishing more books.
So I wish people would stop talking about the publishing industry as if it’s made up of two opposing sides. This isn’t authors+translators+editors vs. sales+marketing. This is all of us together, reaching out to readers.
Oh yes, that’s right – readers. I haven’t said much about them so far. Don’t worry, they’ll come up in the next post.
*Most of my publishing experience has been in Rights, which is like Sales except that nobody outside the publishing industry knows we exist or understands what we do.