Let me start with today’s statement of the bleedin’ obvious: no editor buys a book unless they are genuinely excited about it. I am quite sure you already know this, if for no other reason than you’ve been sharing my excitement this past two years every time I find another gem for Jo Fletcher Books. There are a number of reasons for getting that frisson when we find a new book: because we just love the writing (with any luck that means both story and characters, because we’re very demanding here at JFB!), maybe because it’s got award-winner written all over it, or maybe because it’s got enormous commercial potential …
Unfortunately, publishing is a pit of blighted dreams and failed hopes far too much of the time, and so by the time we get to publication, our expectations are generally rather more modest. But we try never to give up. Ian Rankin’s first Rebus book was not a bestseller. Nor were the second, or third, or fourth … in fact, it was with Black and Blue – his fifteenth book, and eighth Rebus novel – that he finally took off. Patrick O’Brian was no overnight bestseller either, and nor were Charlaine Harris or George R.R. Martin. In fact the list of authors who have slaved away for years before becoming overnight successes far, far outweighs the number of genuine first-time-out-of-the-box bestsellers, and thank heavens for that. It enables us to keep publishing writers who are as yet selling only modest amounts, because there’s plenty of proof out there that just because the first book didn’t hit the charts doesn’t mean the next won’t.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple: no acquisitions board is going to let an editor continue publishing someone if there’s absolutely no indication that anyone out there is paying any attention, and in these straitened times it’s much harder to persuade the headshed to keep betting on Author A when we’ve got debut Author B who comes with no baggage …
But if the reviews are stellar, and the awards season rarely passed without at least one nod in that direction, and the bloggers greet each new book with cries of joy, then there’s reason to believe that Author A is worth hanging onto for just that bit longer.
It’s also why, every time I hear at a convention (and it is generally on convention panels!) ‘My publisher just threw away my book!’ that I want to stand up and start ranting, starting with, “You have no idea!’
But it’s also why Nicola was almost overcome with excitement at the end of last week when finished copies of Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood came in. She’s told you how she came to read this the first time, and you know it’s her first acquisition – and believe me, you never forget your first!
But here’s the thing: two books came in to JFB on Friday: Daughter of the Blood and Traitor’s Blade. And @LitAgentDrury got one too: The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar (Osprey Books founder Martin Windrow’s heart-rending tale of his life with a tawny owl; kudos to Sally Gaminara, who’s publishing this month!). I can’t begin to guess how many books I’ve published before Sebastien de Castell came my way, or how many Ian’s been responsible for, as publisher, author and agent, but I am pleased to report that Ian was positively ecstatic when he announced this first copy had arrived, almost as overjoyed as I was when I brandished Traitor’s Blade. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we two veterans of the profession were every bit as thrilled as Nicola was with her first-ever acquisition. I know the Black Jewels trilogy won’t be her last, and I know she’ll get just as much pleasure out of her hundredth as her first.
And that’s why I’m still an editing publisher, all these years on, despite lures thrown out to move up and out. The day I don’t get that overwhelming thrill at seeing that first copy is the day I change jobs.