Monday, May 11, 2009

Money Talks: part 1

THE INTERN was on vacation for two weeks but is now back at it, 20% smellier and dirtier than before she left. How does THE INTERN afford to go on vacation, you ask? Perhaps a tidy bonus for her bonanza performance in the office, assessing manuscripts with all the vigor and tooth-gnashery of a migrating killer whale? No-THE INTERN has a boyfriend with a real job. Cha-ching!

Since we're on the topic of money, let's roll in it for a while. Publishers love to talk about money. As a sweet young intern becoming hardened to the realities of the industry, I too am growing addicted to money-talk. How much did this book sell? How big an advance did that author get? How low a royalty rate can we get away with offering first-time writer Joe Shmoe? How 'bout we publish another forest-killer about Superfoods so we can afford to take an afternoon off and get drunk?

Would-be authors: If it ain't gonna sell, we don't want to hear about it. It's a recession: publishers are doin' bad. We're not in one of those decadent eras where we can afford to publish your fancy-wancy, experimental, niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche literary wanksterpiece. We need superfoods, people! Superfoods, fat-busting diets, lady detective clubs, and teen sexuality. That's it. If it stinks of poetry or high literature or any of those pansy, no-sales categories, you might as well put it in your own recycling bin and save us the trouble.

We want something that will bring home the bacon. We're looking for the sugar daddy of manuscripts. In the sage words of Destiny's Child: "Can you pay my billz?/Can you pay my telephone billz?/Can you pay my automobillz?/If you did, then maybe we could chill."

Maybe we could chill. I said, maybe.

In addition to quality of idea (what you write about) and quality of execution (how you write it), publishers are looking for manuscripts that will cost little to publish and reap large returns. Let's take a look at that first factor.

Cost Little to Publish: We want a manuscript that's so perfect it won't cost us $5000 worth of proofreading and copyediting to polish up. We want a manuscript we can print cheaply—if your manuscript calls for stunning four-colour photographs, we will almost certainly reject it, because it will cost us mad cash to print—cash we might not make back. We want a manuscript that will not get us into legal trouble—"101 Home-Made Bombs" sounds awesome until you consider the 101 lawyers we'll have to hire down the road to defend ourselves after a kid uses your book to blow up his school. Make your manuscript as complete as possible, as perfect as possible, and as inexpensive to publish as possible.

As usual, if you're a well-known author with a good track record of book sales, you have wider leeway in regards to what publishers are willing to take on. If you're a complete unknown, it's going to take some mighty solid convincing to get a publisher to consider your work. So you should take THE INTERN's advice into account on all matters. Unquestioningly!

In PART II of MONEY, THE INTERN will tell you about how to convince THE INTERN that your book has a donkey's chance in Cuba of selling more than 5 copies.

PS You can also hire THE INTERN to assess your manuscript proposal and tell you exactly how you can best represent your work to prospective publishers. THE INTERN knows what publishers are looking for, and knows how to make your book look like the deal of the century—if THE INTERN believes in it, that is. Please note that THE INTERN reserves the right not to take on your manuscript if she considers it a lost cause. It's called straight dealing, folks!

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