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Death of the Diva

There are many more great books written than there are publishing slots. So, how can we help ourselves to be the lucky ones who get published and stay published?

Well, a good start is to be flexible, polite and humble. Yep, the Diva Days are over. As with pop stars, movie stars and TV presenters, you do hear colourful stories of certain artistic temperaments within the trade. (Usually the bigger stars are much less like this, I’ve found.) But the tolerance for such behaviour is lessening.

Demands are not a good idea in a recession, no matter how ‘big’ or important you are. Ultimatums won’t work. Closing dates for bids are less popular than ever. Same with playing off two editors for leverage. All these practices aren’t good at any time, but especially not now.

I heard the other week that publishers are receiving 1200 polished, solicited scripts from which they will select TWO manuscripts at most. With the High Street suffering badly in the book department, and more and more people turning to e-readers, publishers are trimming their lists. Some existing contracts are being cancelled, favourite mid-list writers are being axed, and future plans scaled back. Unlike, say, the housing market, it is unlikely that the industry will ever recover its previous form. The music industry went through this a while back, and arguably the likes of Woolworth’s and Borders were victims of the changes in that creative arena, and now it’s the book world’s turn.

I shared a flight recently with someone who had just finished writing a manuscript. The author was yet to find an agent or publisher, yet was planning a year off work to deal with the attention which the airing of the text would bring. If you give off a sense of self-importance like this in the early stages, don’t be surprised if publishers run a mile. It’s going to be so hard to manage the disappointment. Because it takes a while to generate that much attention around a book.

But is it possible to be too meek and mild? Yes, definitely. You do have to fight your corner, or instruct your agent to do so. But with the crazy discounting of book prices, there’s only so much the publishers can do. (What am I thinking of, defending the publishers?!) And beware the raconteur author who tells tall tales of making big demands of their publisher. They are probably a pushover.   

About Janey: Janey Louise Jones‘ Princess Poppy books are published by Random House.

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