It is natural that a writer who knows himself to be good and who is regularly confirmed in that opinion by critical comment should expect to become a best-seller, but every publisher knows that you don’t necessarily become a best-seller by writing well. Of course you don’t necessarily have to write badly to do it: it is true that some best-selling books are written astonishingly badly, and equally true that some are written very well. The quality of the writing – even the quality of the thinking – is irrelevant. It is a matter of whether or not a nerve is hit in the wider reading public as opposed to the serious one which is composed of people who are interested in writing as an art.
Self-brainwashing sometimes has to be a part of an editor’s job. You are no use to the writers on your list if you cannot bring imaginative sympathy to working with them, and if you cease to be of use to them you cease to be of use to your firm. Imaginative sympathy cannot issue from a cold heart so you have to like your writers. Usually this is easy; but occasionally it happens that in spite of admiring someone’s work you are – or gradually become – unable to like the person.
I came to the conclusion that the trouble must lie with Vidia’s having cut his cloth to fit a pattern he had laid down in advance: these characters existed in order to exemplify his argument, he had not been discovering them. So they did not live; and the woman lived less than the man because that is true of all Vidia’s women.
Fame can oil the way to arrogance. It can easily soften you to cozy mental flab, so you begin to believe that every word you utter is equally sterling and every word you write is golden.
Marge Piercy, ‘Fame, Fortune, and Other Tawdry Illusions’, in My Life, My Body from PM Press
I never use the word love … it’s just too obvious, and it becomes like a brick in the soup.
So please, give me one publisher, one, who will reissue a few titles from the huge backlist of masterworks of feminist science fiction, not just from the Women’s Press but from the rich and neglected tradition of women’s science fiction. It doesn’t have to be a lot, perhaps somewhere between five and ten, with a consistent design theme so they look good together as a set. Go with a few of the more well-known and more “literary” writers to balance some of the “lost” writers and pique interest.
Most of all, I’m a reader: publish the books for me to read.
I’ve mostly only read what’s available. That’s what most people will do. And for this interest, there’s not a lot going. For once, I want publishers to bring something to the table that history and publishers and bookshops have unfairly overlooked. Given the too-often badly-used idea of the “lost classic” – go out and actually find some. Choose the radical, gender-sceptical, sexually inquisitive, intersectional works. They’re there, as a place to start. It’s not a risky or financially dubious or out-of-the-blue move. But even if it was, it’d still be a breath of fresh air.
One day last week, after I spent the best part of an hour opening two days’ worth of post at my office – I work as literary editor of the Spectator – I posted a peevish tweet: “Can we all stop publishing, for good and all, nonfiction books about the future, books about how to change your life, books about what it means to be/how we came to be human, and books about fucking Nazis? For a start.”
This was bad manners, for which I apologise. But it’s a semi-public expression of the sort of momentary eye-roll that’s the occupational hazard of my work. Just as, I daresay, football commentators or fashion writers must now and again wonder what the point of it all is (a memorable French and Saunders sketch portrays someone erupting in a glossy magazine conference – “I can’t take it any more! It’s all so fucking trivial!” – and having to be bundled into a cupboard), so too can literary editors, after a long session ripping into Jiffy bags and finding the same book in three-quarters of them, lose their poise.
This week I’ve bounced from reading a book that was a horrible sludgy chore, to reading one that’s elegant & curious & delightful & compelling, & I would really like to know WHY PEOPLE CAN’T JUST DO GOOD WRITING ALL THE TIME INSTEAD OF BAD WRITING
Have you laboured through a novel wondering if it will ever end? The Man Booker Prize judges feel your pain.
The panel selecting the shortlist for this year’s prize have complained that many of the books submitted were too long-winded and would have benefited from some judicious editing.
“We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one – sometimes a thinner one – wildly signalling to be let out,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the judges.
“There were times when we felt the editorial role could have been, shall we say, more energetically performed.
Val McDermid, the best-selling crime writer and one member of the Man Booker judging panel, said authors’ egos could be to blame.