Question From Overseas

I’m always glad to see people using the “Ask Eric” page of my website. I’ve gotten a lot of good questions about writing. I hope that my answers might be valuable to the person who asked the question and to others who might be reading it.

Children aren’t the only ones who ask questions. They can come in from anywhere in the world. A few days ago I received a question from a person in Ghana. A friend of hers in the United States had told her about my website and suggested that she write to me. Her question was simple. She had written a book and wanted to know if I could help her get it published.

I get that question all the time. It’s a very frustrating one for a writer to be asked. People don’t mean any harm. They just don’t know how the publishing industry works, especially these days. Some people think that I’m a magic man simply because I have published several books. All I have to do is pick up the phone and call my editor. A contract will be winging its way to you in a few days.

Sorry, folks! That’s not how it works, at least not for me or any writers I know. Getting a manuscript into print is a long, hard slog. A lot depends on timing and dumb luck. There is simply no way of predicting what’s going to make it and what isn’t. Even knowing an editor personally isn’t enough to do the trick. The editor isn’t really the person who makes the decision. Maybe that was true in the days when someone like Ursula Nordstrom could decide she liked the quirky work of a young artist named Maurice Sendak. It sure ain’t true now. Decisions are made by committees. Editors pitch their best manuscripts. The publisher’s marketing department is also represented. They consider the type of books that have done well the past and the types that have not done so well. They make predictions about the kind of books that are going to sell in the next few years. Are books about teenage vampires going to be even more successful or has this trend peaked? What kind of movies and video games are going to be marketed? Publishers hopes to ride these trends like a surfer rides a wave. Face it. There is no point in publishing books that no one is going to buy.

The publisher’s finance department also weighs in. Have we published this author in the past? Are we publishing this author now? What do this person’s sales look like? Is the trend going up or down? What’s the point of putting our money on a losing horse? Why should this author do any better in the future then he or she has done in the past? If we’re going to take a risk maybe it’s better to put our money on someone new and exciting. Authors, like entertainers, go out of style.

I was wondering what to say to the writer from Ghana when an editor friend of mine gave me a straight answer. We have a truly wonderful book in the works and are eager to get another project going. I asked if it was anything special that she was looking for or not looking for. She told me upfront, “No retellings. No stories from foreign countries.” So that’s the answer.

That’s what I’m going to write back to Ghana. Good luck with your career. I can’t help you. Look for a publisher in Ghana. If the book is successful, the publisher might take it to an international book fair where publishers from other countries can have a look at it. I’m not a magic man. I can’t give you a career. It’s a full-time job doing it for myself.

Good luck! We both need it.

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