Are you going to be OK on the Underground?

In a feisty – nay, combative – piece for the Guardian, the author Anthony Horowitz wrote:

I remember my first meeting at Walker Books. The first question they asked me – and I swear this is true – was what mug would I like my tea in: the one with the teddy bear, the tennis racket or the pink one with the flower? And when I left the building, they asked me if I’d be OK taking the tube on my own. I was 33.

You’d think that was a one-off. A bizarre aberration by some numpty publishers. But it’s not. Any author who’s kicked around in the industry as long as I have done, and who knows as many authors as I do, will be aware that far too many publishers regard authors as something of an annoyance. Yes, they’re needed to produce the books. And yes, they’re needed as a chunk of meat to dangle in front of the media when that book is launched. Aside from that, however, authors are too often regarded as (a) time-consuming, (b) ignorant of the industry, (c) dangerously combustible and therefore, (d), to be handled as you might handle a bagful of gelignite. Delicately. And from a distance.

If you think I’m kidding, then explain to me why the senior Curtis Brown literary agent, Jonny Geller, should feel impelled to write for the Bookseller as follows:

Here’s a reminder of the primary mover in this chain—an Agent’s Manifesto, as it were, to All Those in the Business of Publishing Books on Behalf of the Author:

» 
The author is the expert. Why assume that the one person who has spent the past 12-18 months on the subject, the story and the world of their work, knows least about how they should be represented to the trade and to the reader?

» 
The author is not an object which a publisher has to step over in order to achieve a successful publication. If they have a problem with the cover, blurb, copy or format, then something isn’t right.

» 
The author loves bookshops. Bookshops need to learn how to love authors again. We need to bring them back together.

» 
We publishing professionals are the ones who bear the risk—agents with time; publishers with investment; retailers with space. Authors risk only their whole life, self-esteem and their babies.

» 
Publishers need to understand that “Author Care” is not a euphemism for “Care in the Community”. Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like an adult will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.

» 
Authors will endeavour to understand better what a publisher does—e-books are not created after two minutes of scanning and ticking a series of boxes on Amazon’s self-publishing program.

Of those points, it’s only the last I have any quibble with. Yes, of course authors need to understand the publishing process as well as they possibly can. But – um – doesn’t that mean publishers (ie: the guys who know about that process) should educate authors?

If I ran a publishing company, I’d do that very directly. Once every month or two, I’d set aside a day in which newbie authors (or those wanting to update their knowledge) could come and meet my staff and be tutored through the whole damn show. I’d make it clear where authors could really, really add value and where their interference would be annoying & useless. I’d also explain some basic commercial mathematics. Why your new literary novel is not going to get heavily advertised with poster campaigns in town centres. Why your book may not get reviewed.

Some of those facts will be gnarly and depressing. But authors are human. Intelligent ones who know they’ve launched on a tough career. Who, as self-employed small businesspeople, will be willing to work their knackers off to make things work.

Oh, and if I were a publisher, I wouldn’t have mugs-with-kittens. I’d have mugs with dollar signs. Mugs with skulls. Mugs with gold on one side, tin on the other.

And I wouldn’t ask an author if they were safe to use the Underground.

(PS: Do check out the first comment below. It’s well worth the read.)

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