Monday, October 02, 2006

Bourgeois Wife

I see that the excellent La Petite Anglaise blogger has blagged a substantial book deal. Good for her - she deserves it not only for her amusing and engaging style but also the commitment she has shown to maintaining her blog from Day 1, when presumably she did not have 100,000 monthly readers.

One assumes, particularly with the birth and early success of The Friday Project, that publishers regularly scan the blogosphere for notable and saleable writing. What a thankless task as most of it is dire.

Do they need help? If so here's a heads up. Bourgeois Wife is in a similiar female, navel gazing vein to La Petite Anglaise; I thought it was hilarious though sadly she only maintained it for 8 months or so.

In her own words:

"Bourgeois Wife: She'd like to see a bit more action - in a social, rather than a sexual sense, what with being married and all. Terms and conditions apply. The interest value of posts may go down as well as up.

Do you buy your vegetables at the farmers' market, or go to dinner parties where people use words like demagogy? Then you get to be bourgeois, too!"

The archives remain online, and are well worth a read - Bourgeois Wife - it is a shame that it is discontinued but if you are a publisher go and chuck a few quid at her so we can start to read her ramblings once more.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Honey, I'm home...

Hello again,

Forgive my absence, September was a busy month. Rattling around St Petersburg looking for mischief, and chasing indifferent and disinterested ex-girlfriends is not conducive to holding down the day job let alone blogging.

But now I'm back.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Right to Reply - Richard Charkin

Happily, I've received a prompt and courteous, if not terribly informative, reply from Richard Charkin to my original email. If you have not the original, please read it here first.

Dear Sebastian

Not sure how to reply. To be perfectly honest I'd understand why Gerard made a noise in order to get published. But he is now published. But as you say I think he's fine - the world needs stirrers and eccentrics. However, from a business point of view (and publishing is a business) I'm certain he'd be more trouble than he's worth ( i may be wrong but that's a perennial hazard).

As to doing our best, that referred to Macmillan not the publishing industry and was a sort of joke. I can't be bothered to continue arguing!



Hmmm. If you have read the original email you might spot a bit of a howler there.

Something I was only too happy to point out by return of email:

Dear Richard,

Thanks for your courteous reply, and I appreciate you have better things to do than continue arguing though re "referring to Macmillan and not the publishing industry" I cannot help pointing out what you actually wrote:

"Perhaps the publishing industry should adopt a mission statement - WE'RE DOING OUR BEST."

And of course I do realise publishing is a business first and foremost. I have great sympathy with you for having to deal with those who think that their books deserve to be published as some sort of art form and balls to the bottom line.

My point is when you repeat the "publishing is a business" mantra ad nauseam and then run the business arseways it is no wonder authors get annoyed. Thus I was merely suggesting you take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of your own business before dismissing the authors.

Thanks again,


The response:


Ah my. Alzheimer strikes. It was a Macmillan joke which I converted to the industry - and I forgot.

If you think I run our business arseways then don't bother to read the blog.


Oops. Ruffled a few feathers. Glad I did not use my real name. For the record the arseways comment was a reference to the publishing industry and not Macmillan specifically.

Anyway, all I have learnt from this exercise is that this blogging lark is brilliant. It is not everyday I enjoy email banter with the chairman of Macmillan.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Richard Charkin - "We're Doing Our Best"

Richard Charkin, Chairman of Macmillan is blogging. I was reading a post about Gerard Jones and was astonished to come across the following opinion:

"He seems to think there is a conspiracy among publishers to avoid new talent, to promote rubbish and in general to do a very bad job. All this might be true but I'd like to reassure Gerard and anyone else who thinks similarly that there is no conspiracy - it is merely incompetence. Perhaps the publishing industry should adopt a mission statement - WE'RE DOING OUR BEST."

I instantly thought an admission of incompetence was surprising from the Chairman of a publishing company. Does he then, according to his mission statement suggest that incompetence is an acceptable standard for those who claim to be doing their best? Further reading of his posts raised a few other points. And hackles.

I felt compelled to write him an email, and thanks to Gerard's wonderful database cc'd a few others in too:

From: sebastianshenanigans @
To: r.charkin @
Subject: Charkin Blog - WE'RE DOING OUR BEST

Dear Mr Charkin,

I have been reading your blog with interest, particularly the posts on Gerard of fame. Gerard might be slighty eccentric, and he certainly can be amusing in his flaunting of every grovelling guideline aspiring writers are taught to adhere to in approaching publishers and agents, but I think he is pretty harmless.

Whilst I disagree with his vitriolic Nazi conspiracy theories I admire his dedication. You seem genuinely confused as to why he bothers but I am surprised it is not more obvious to you as his efforts illustrate the main conflict between most authors and publishers. Gerard has one book / manuscript to promote, that he will rise or fall by, whereas a publisher has many hundreds. Gerard can afford to channel all his energy into that one book whereas a publisher inevitably has to spread their resources across their entire list.

You hit the nail on the head when you suggested complaints about the publishing industry are because of incompetence rather than anything more sinister, but I must disagree with your industry mission statement – “WE’RE DOING OUR BEST” -, since because there are so many complaints of incompetence, obviously your best is some way short of being good enough.

I am not talking about complaints from would be writers who seem convinced that their genius is destined to remain undiscovered due to a load of industry meanies, but commissioned and contracted authors. Yes, some are over demanding but there are too many complaints to simply dismiss accusations of incompetence as an occupational hazard of working with primadonna authors.

It often appears that publishing is in the business of gambling rather than selling. You only a need a few big winners to pay the bills. Some odds on favourites with career bestselling writers, and the outsiders which sell well because of various factors, many of which are little to do with a publishing sales or marketing force. They simply do their job once the book is firmly in the winner’s enclosure, with an increased effort on these titles at the expense of lesser known titles. It terms of a P&L account it works alright, but you can understand why the authors of the lesser known titles get frustrated.

The frustration is not that somebody else’s book is getting more effort, it is that theirs is getting none at all, despite the grandiose claims made at the point of signing the contract. To complain about this marks you down as troublesome, “over demanding” as you put it. The result is many authors feel they cannot even mention the witless efforts for fear of being branded “difficult to work with” and thus risking a lesser degree of attention.

If an author writes a book that is considered to be excellent at the acquisition phase, receives good reviews if they have been lucky enough to get any, and a ringing endorsement from the target readership it is understandable to be disappointed that the publisher, either through incompetence or idleness, did not push it harder. This is a very common scenario, with the end result being the book is often classified as a relative failure.

You correctly state that “There are always two explanations of failure. One is that you need to try harder or get better. The other is that the world is conspiring against you. The latter is better for the ego. The former is probably the more likely.”

Perhaps publishers should stop gambling, and try to reduce the number of failures they publish. Perhaps “you need to try harder or get better” despite your suggested mission statement – “WE’RE DOING OUR BEST”

From within the hallowed industry walls it is definitely “better for the ego” to dismiss writers as precious lunatics who find it difficult to handle failure. As well as routinely suggesting authors take a closer look at their work to find out how to improve it, might it be a good idea for publishers to take a look at themselves?

Do correct me if I am wrong. I’d dearly love to be.

Best regards,

Sebastian Shenanigans

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Publishing Incompetence not limited to UK shock

Although most of the stories and information on this site relate to UK publishers, publishing incompetence is not limited to these shores. Here is a story from Evan Morris, a US author who wrote Making Whoopee; Words of Love for Lovers of Words. Given the subject matter Valentine's Day was obviously a pretty good time to promote it:

"This book, incidentally, has a weird publishing history. (Did I say weird? I meant infuriating.) It was released a few weeks before Valentine's Day 2004 to the accompaniment of very good reviews, including a half-page article and sidebar in USA Today. (You have be a writer to truly understand how big a deal that is.)

Just as I was to start plowing through dozens of scheduled radio and print interviews, however, I landed in the hospital for surgery on a mutinous gall bladder. Beginning two days later, doped to the gills and still in pain, I sat at my desk from dawn to midnight (literally) for a solid week doing telephone interviews with cub reporters and dim DJs from Idaho to Ireland. I have no idea of what I actually said. I do remember that the folks in Ireland were very nice and smart.

It was at this point that I discovered that the so-called publicity agents hired by my publishers were, unfortunately, certifiable morons who had never quite mastered the concept of time zones and had, consequently, royally screwed up a schedule that, even before it went kablooie, frequently had me doing three interviews in a single hour.

Then the real fun began. The first print run of the books turned out to have badly warped covers and had to be withdrawn from the market, including from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Mega-bummer. I was doing Percocet-laced interviews with shock jocks in San Diego at 3 am for a book that functionally did not exist. People were going to bookstores in droves, asking for the book, and not being able to buy it. As my brother-in-law put it when he offered to lend me a gun, "That ain't right."

The cover debacle eventually got straightened out, and a new run of the book was released with nice, flat covers, three weeks after Valentine's Day. My publisher said they'd rent space on Barnes & Noble's front tables to promote the book to make up for their screw-ups, but somebody was, um, how shall I put this, lying. The book did eventually get back into the stores, but the Golden Buzz was gone.

I agree. That ain't right.

Original story at

Publishing True Story - Unread Manuscript

A true story, and one which will dismay any aspiring writers.

A well known writer, and seriously well respected figure within the literary world, was commissioned by a major publisher to write a book. His agent did the usual agenty stuff in negotiating terms, payment and what have you and was also adamant that his office would submit the manuscript on the due date, rather than having it sent direct from the author.

The author sent it off to his agent in good time, and thought little more of it except a vague surprise the publishers had not acknowledged receipt. Some weeks later he received a weary call from the publishers complaining of late delivery.

He enquired of his agent who supposedly had no notion of what had happened, and eventually the unread manuscript was located lying around on some shelf, untouched and unread. Profuse apologies all round and manuscript was duly dispatched about a month late.

This happened to a top writer with a significant career behind him. The agency is one of the best known in the country.

If commissioned manuscripts are not read, what chance yours?! Thankfully not even my agent is that bad, though I actually would not take the chance of submitting a manuscript through their office.

If you are curious about the names behind this story that is the sort of info only available in the newsletter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Am I bitter and twisted?

Possibly, but personally, and perhaps predictably, I do not think so. At this stage I have had enough reviews and feedback on my writing to know that at the very least it is of a satisfactory and saleable standard. I'm not one of these "I am an undiscovered literary genius" types.

Secondly I could not agree more with the publishing industry's overtly commercial attitudes. Wayne Rooney will sell a few million books? Fine, give him a massive advance, pay a ghostwriter and cash in. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, business is about supply and demand, and in this case HC were supplying a demand.

I do believe that if a writer whines about Wayne Rooney etc, and publishers not being interested in real writing, then the chances are their own writing is pretty crap. If that is the case and it will not sell then it makes no sense for someone to publish it. Simple business sense once again.

Thirdly, I do have sympathy for the gigantic pile of rubbish that agents and publishers receive. I've seen some of it and it is truly horrendous. It is completely understandable that they don't read it, the cost of the time involved makes it completely uneconomical even if there is hidden gem. It's that business acumen again.

But that is my point; the great paradox of publishing is that whilst on one hand they justify, quite sensibly, their decisions on simple business nous, on the other they also try to concoct some sort of mystique about the whole process, and hence there are all sorts of industry protocols, accepted practices and snobbery which is quite frankly a load of nonsense. The industry is thus riddled with self important half-wits, (apart from a few notable exceptions) who, if they were in the business of manufacturing and selling any other product would be found out immediately.

Much more to come on this subject.