Ear to the ground

Here are some publishing rumours I’ve heard in the past year:

  • Before even reading your submission, publishers and agents will check your on-line presence.
  • Publishers are only interested in “sure things,” and are no longer willing to take risks.
  • Marketing departments now make all acquisitions decisions.

The first of these doesn’t make sense to me. I used to be responsible for sorting through the Whitecap slush pile. For a while, I even sorted another publisher’s slush pile for an hourly wage. There is a lot — a LOT — of less-than-professional stuff in those piles. And it takes much less time to read the first page of a manuscript and toss it over your shoulder than it does to check the author’s on-line presence. So, while I believe that on-line presence is important to publishers, I don’t believe that every intern or co-op student is googling away, checking out the great-grandma with the hen-and-chicks submission to make sure she’s on Facebook.

Now, about the other two things: I know they’re not true. I know this because I just finished reading Sixpence House by Paul Collins, published by Bloomsbury, which has got to be the most eclectic little memoir I’ve ever read. It’s basically a mash-up of the author’s personal experience moving to England for a year, and his encyclopedic knowledge of rare and out-of-print books.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, while reading, I was trying to think of one other person I knew who might like the book. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine anyone else having the patience to saunter along the streets of Hay with the author while he muses about long-dead writers fading into oblivion.

There is no way the marketing department decided to publish that book. Which gives me hope for the industry in general.

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