I am beyond excited that the Cynical Writer’s Guide To The Publishing Industry is coming out soon (May 6th). It’s really odd, I’ve never felt the need to really get out there and shill a release of mine before, and I think that’s because I never really felt like my novels were, you know, unmissable. Like, they were good books. Great books, even. But most people, most of my readers, even, aren’t necessarily in the market for novels, much less for YA novels, and given that they could read literally any novel in existence, it’s hard to really make a strong case for reading mine.
I don’t feel that way about the Cynical Guide. For the first time, I feel as if I’ve written something that people are going to want to read. There is both a market for and a need for this book.
Now, I keep thinking that I ought to post more excerpts from the guide, but today I had an epiphany: excerpts aren’t really in the style of the guide. The guide is all about sitting down, forming a direct brain to keyboard connection, and explaining something as reasonably and straightforwardly as I can, using just supposition and induction, without any real recourse to evidence–it’s about putting something out there and letting people see how they feel about it, letting them test it out to see if there’s any truth there.
The guide springs from one simple fact: you cannot sell a book just by saying it’s a good, high-quality book.
As writers, we understand what constitutes a good book. It’s not only good storytelling and an engaging voice, it’s a spark of genius, something absolutely new, something impulse or insight that we will maybe spend our lifetimes trying to put into word.
But the publishing industry doesn’t get excited about those things. What the publishing industry wants to know is: “Could this book be a hit?” And the more excited you make them about its hit potential, the more likely you’ll be to sell the book. Moreover, if they do not sense that hit potential, they will not buy your book. They won’t request it, they won’t read it, and if they do read it, they’ll read it with an eye to rejecting it, rather than an eye to accepting it.
So the Cynical Guide has two objectives: one, it’s to build the above argument in a convincing manner; and two, it’s to reverse-engineer the industry’s own expectations and figure out what gets them excited. To this end, I write the book in the exact opposite way that most writing manuals are written. I don’t start with the manuscript, or even with the writer at all. I start with the acquiring editor: the human being, probably working in New York City, who is going to be deciding whether or not to try and buy your book. I look into her incentives. I look into what she needs the book to be. This is where I make the case that editors need books to be hits.
Then I go backwards: your agent, what do they need to get excited about a book? What makes them think a book can be pitched to editors as a potential hit? What gets them excited?
Then I write about the pitch: how can you look at the landscape and craft a pitch that will excite people–that will have them reading to accept, rather than reading to reject.
Then I write about the manuscript: how can you subtly revise the manuscript so that it pays off on the pitch, without losing the core of what interests you about the manuscript. Because the cynical guide is all about preserving your voice, your interests, and your integrity. It is not about writing to market: it’s about finding the intersection of what you can write and what the market will buy.
And finally I have a section about the writer’s life, and about how to hold onto your own voice and your own creativity.
What I lay out in the cynical guide isn’t a simple program. It’s not a worksheet. It’s not a set of steps. Instead it’s a worldview. A way of approaching your writing career so that you don’t experience the pain and disappointment of finding that your manuscript simply has no place in the market.
I genuinely think that writers need to hear some of this information. And I think the best and most creative writers need to hear it the most. Because when I was starting to write, people always said, “Just write. Focus on craft. Write the book you need to write.” There was no understanding of the market. And the problem is that every writer you’ve ever heard of obviously managing to find a place in the market for their writing. You never hear about the far greater number of writers who wrote good books whose chances were nil, right from the get-go, because the market had no room for them (or at least no room for them as they were pitched).
ANYWAYS, that’s what the Cynical Guide is. If you’re at all interested: you can preorder it on Amazon. I’m already hard at work too on a companion book, The Cynical Writer’s Guide To Literary Fiction, which is a book about what I’ve found to be the murkiest, most sought-after, and most inaccessible region of fiction publishing.
The literary fiction book is, if anything, going to be even better. When I told my wife about it, she said But you haven’t even publishing a literary novel yet. But it doesn’t matter. I know things. Moreover, I’ve started to understand how literary reputations are made and what determines which books get published and which don’t, which get acclaim and which don’t. Prestige publishing is, like the prestige ends of all business, extremely complicated, and it deals heavily in the murky territory of important peoples’ egos, but I think for that reason it’s all the more fascinating and worthy of explication. I’m making good progress and hope to have that out in six months!
The Cynical Guides are definitely a labor of love. I enjoy the cynical voice quite a bit. I also enjoy the relative freedom. Unlike with this blog, I can develop my ideas in seclusion, and I can develop them at length. I have ideas for future entries in the series as well, but we’ll see if I can maintain the momentum.
(Meanwhile, I am obviously still working on my fiction. That’s my main priority. The cynical writing remains something I do in the afternoons, as a sideline)