Thursday, February 12, 2009

The 22 Immutable Laws of Publishing

(dedicated to to Al Ries and Jack Trout)

1. The Law of Co-op

It's better to be in the front of the store than the back of the store. Unless you're caught there stacking your books in front of John Grisham's. Then you're in for it.

2. The Law of Genre

However you shape your novel, it has to fit into a type of fiction. If it doesn't, they'll make it fit. We call this categorization in theory, and sledgehammering in practice.

3. The Law of Importance

The more important you are in publishing, the harder it is to get you on the phone. Unless you're a writer, in which case you should really borrow the money from your mom to get your service reconnected.

4. The Law of Depth Perception

People in publishing always appear smarter, more popular and much more successful than they really are. They always believe they are, too, and they will stomp the ass of anyone who adjusts those vanity mirrors.

5. The Law of Soft Focus

Book jacket photos of authors are as accurate as images beamed down from the Hubble (after it's been hit by a couple of meteors and had a couple of key lenses smashed, anyway.)

6. The Law of Excommunication

Thou shalt not talk about the stuff we do not talk about in Publishing, else ye shall be banned, blackballed, fired, reviled and labeled as poisonous, unless you're more famous and rake in more money than everyone else you piss off with your big mouth. In which case, we'd like to do lunch and talk about a book deal.

7. The Law of Perpetual List

Once you make the NYT bestseller list, you are a NYT bestseller forever. Even if you only hit it once on a slow week when all the writers' new books don't reach the bookstores because of a freak computer glitch at every distributor's warehouse across the country.

8. The Law of Suits

If you're wearing a suit, you are obviously not a writer. Unless it's a bathing suit. Or your birthday suit.

9. The Law of Identity

You are never as famous or as obscure as you think you are, unless you're being introduced to a jealous rival, who has never read your work and in fact had no idea you were publishing in the same genre. Who are you again, anyway?

10. The Law of Revision

No manuscript, however perfect, can pass through the hands of an editor unmarked.

11. The Law of Respect

You are only as important to publishing as what you do today. Yesterday no longer exists. Neither will you tomorrow unless you stop playing on the internet and get back to work, you slacker.

12. The Law of Cookie Cutter

If the book is successful, they will want more of the same. Maybe with sprinkles, as long as they're close to the original color. And none of that changing the flavor, either.

13. The Law of Suffering

No important writer was ever a happy, well-adjusted, satisfied person with zero emotional baggage, a good marriage and a comfortable situation in life. No, they suffer in silence, sitting and sweating in a dark airless shed in the back yard while they watch cockroaches mate and think about crafting their next exquisite homage to the agony of existence. And you, the rabble, will never, ever understand their pain, so don't even try.

14. The Law of Acknowledgment

There is always a full page of them, gushing and teary, in the first book. Three affectionate paragraphs in the second. Four hohum dutiful lines in the third. One frosty line in the fourth, usually flipping off the ex-spouse. The acknowledgment page disappears by the fifth book.

15. The Law of Truth

No author ever writes a bad book, no editor ever makes an error in judgment, no reviewer was ever wrong, and no publisher ever prints a novel with a pink albino Robin Hood on the cover on purpose. Okay, we might have to revise this one a little.

16. The Law of Number One

If you have to pee at a writer's conference, don't wait. The lines at the bathrooms are always a mile long.

17. The Law of Title Assumption

Got you with that last one, didn't I? See.

18. The Law of Nonsuccess

Everyone fails. No one admits it. Fingers are pointed. Names are called. Then we go to lunch, fire the agent, jump ship and start over. Where we won't fail this time. Really.

19. The Law of Repeated Failure

Okay, so it didn't work out exactly the way we planned. But it wasn't our fault. Look at all the reprints on the list. Geez.

20. The Law of Buzzkill

For every book that is much loved by the readers, a pool of sharks will gather to dine on its author.

21. The Law of Trend

To illustrate, a conversation about a trend between two writers: *"They want vampire novels." "They don't want any more vampire novels." "They want vampire novels." "They don't want any more vampire novels" (repeat from * about a hundred times.) "Why are there all these freaking vampire novels on the shelves?" "Because they want vampire novels." "But God, if they read one more vampire novel they'll probably puke." "Okay, they don't want vampire novels." "Hey, what about vampire werewolves? Think they'll like that idea?"

22. The Law of Publication

If you print it, we'll write it.

16 comments:

  1. No important writer was ever a happy, well-adjusted, satisfied person with zero emotional baggage, a good marriage and a comfortable situation in life.

    I knew I belonged. ;)

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  2. You are only as important to publishing as what you do today. Yesterday no longer exists. Neither will you tomorrow unless you stop playing on the internet and get back to work, you slacker.

    I'm working. I am. I promise!

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  3. I love this - thank you :).

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  4. Are you sure I'm not as obscure as I think I am? I mean, somebody actually bought a copy of my story the other day. That's pretty obscure!

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  5. Having now admitted Stay the Night into my home, I believe you exercised saintly restraint in your reaction to that cover. The web doesn't do it justice---the full effect really has to be experienced in person.

    'Twas a cruel, cruel thing to do to a book.

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  6. You busted me with number 11! LOLOL.

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  7. #7 is cheerful and hopeful!

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  8. I love the Law of Soft Focus. Is there a subsection in that to deal with Photoshop?

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  9. #23: The Law of Economics

    Publishing is always failing. People are not reading books. Paperbacks are eating hardcover's lunch. Advances are going down. People are not buying books. Distribution's going to hell. Nobody's making any money at this. Ebooks are destroying the industry. They're turning book covers pink! I'm going to sit in the corner and eat dirt. People are pirating books. No, this time, I really mean it.

    #13: I keep working on this. Salinger? Reclusive weirdo. Cheever? Closeted gay drunk. Updike? Lothario. Hemingway? Drunken bully, possibly gay. Anne Rice? C'mon!

    All I got on my list are Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

    Wait, Flaubert; didn't find any dirt on him. And Anton Chekhov. But certainly not Tolstoy. Melville was pretty cool; he was really ahead of his time (and he didn't promote himself, refusing even to send a picture of himself). Is Rex Stout an important writer? He had a delightful life.

    OK, you got me on #11 as well. I'll get back to work.

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  10. No, they suffer in silence, sitting and sweating in a dark airless shed in the back yard while they watch cockroaches mate and think about crafting their next exquisite homage to the agony of existence.

    And when they take breaks, they blog about their horrible childhoods and how they rose above everything from abuse to the plague.

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  11. ha!

    and what is up with those long queues at the conferences? nervous bladders?

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  12. Fine words from a man who's been there and is still there.

    Thank you!

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  13. So, your mom told you to stay important, eh?

    As for #15, between the Gay Flipper and the pink albino Robin Hood, which one is now the all time worst cover?

    #7 is what it is. I'd take a slow week any day if it got me the moniker. I don't think there's ever an asterisk when you earn the title that way.

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  14. Kerry wrote: Having now admitted Stay the Night into my home, I believe you exercised saintly restraint in your reaction to that cover.

    Thank you, Kerry. I know everyone has trying to make me feel better by saying "it's not that bad" (and I do appreciate all the sympathetic support) but it really IS that bad, and it's better to face the truth, no matter what shade of pink it comes in.

    I apologize for any resulting retinal damage, too. Polarized sunglasses seem to help a lot.

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  15. Jean wrote: So, your mom told you to stay important, eh?

    Oh, Mom is important. I am merely an uninteresting acolyte. :)

    As for #15, between the Gay Flipper and the pink albino Robin Hood, which one is now the all time worst cover?

    No contest -- Pink Albino Robin Hood.

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  16. LMAO These are great! I actually have this fuzzy dream about someday being that author who hits a list one time on a slow day, that way I can remain relatively obscure forever, but always use that "bestselling author" moniker on my books for extra marketing punch.

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