Why publishing is a bit like plumbing

We’re about to have our kitchen refitted, and as prospective workmen tramp in and out of the house, it struck me that there are lots of parallels between plumbing and trying to sell a book.

When you send out a submission, you’re touting for work. Writers, even writers on contract, are basically self employed. We have a certain skill set (as does a plumber). We look at the publishers guidelines (or at least we should) and decide if we have the right skills for them, just as the workmen looked at our kitchen, measured up, occasionally sighed and tutted. Then we submit our tender, and we wait. Sometimes we’ll get the job, sometimes we won’t. Most of the time, we’ll have no idea why not. I rejected 90% of the workmen who quoted. I didn’t explain, or justify my decision. Only 2 of them were ever even under consideration, and from one of those I’d have wanted a revised quote (does this sound familiar?)

Consider editors, sifting through badly written drafts that are totally unsuitable (a bit like the guy who turned up half cut and smelling of cigarette smoke. No thanks). Obviously as writers it is completely within our power to lift ourselves out of this group, by running spellcheck, for example, and checking acceptable word counts before we hit send, and working hard on learning to write better. There will be some manuscripts that are good. That would be acceptable on a day when the alternative wasn’t better. Occasionally, if we’re lucky, our manuscript will be that better alternative.

It is easy to get so wrapped up in the creative, emotional side of writing and forget that publishing is a completely different animal. Here, like in any business, things are impersonal, competitive, tough, and at times, downright dirty.

And all held together by cups of tea 🙂


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