This is a horrible subject. Anyone who loves books will have shuddered at the title. The book is a sacred object, it is not a product. It is not processed cheese or a package holiday.
However we live in a world where books have become products. They are as subject to the laws of the market as any other commodity.
Printed books that is: the ones that require to be printed, warehoused, distributed before they can finally be stacked on the shelves of bookshops or increasingly supermarkets, to enjoy a brief window of opportunity, where they may or may not catch the fancy of consumers, before the unsold copies are packed up, replaced with something new, sent back and often, extremely depressingly for their authors, they are pulped.
So if you want to sell your novel to a publisher now, you have to bear this cycle in mind. You have to be aware from the start, that as well as a compelling story, beautifully written, with a convincing setting and unique, unforgettable characters, that what they want from you is not just a novel, but a product. Something that can be packaged up and promoted. They will want the product to be summed up in a few lines, just like the Dragon’s Den want the bizarre invention summed up in a few lines. They want to know in a flash what it is all about.
The curse of the pitch
This is of course the pitch, the calling card that any product now hitting the market now needs. “It’s an organic face cream that uses wild thistles in a proven wrinkle reduction programme” or “It’s a dark police procedural set in contemporary Leeds where a menopausal DCI leads the hunt for a serial killer who targets menopausal women.” or in the case of the sort of book which is going for a literary prize: “It’s written from the point of view of a 12 year old asylum seeker who escapes the brutality of his present life by constructing a series of dioramas from Dante’s inferno, out of sweetie wrappers.” You only have to look at this year’s Booker list to see that the ‘issue’ is what makes these books easier to pitch. Or for women’s commercial fiction: “While attending a family reunion in Cornwall, following the collapse of her successful PR/hat making business, Violet is forced to come to terms with the dark secrets that have cast a long shadow over her relationship with her siblings.” Continue reading