And what better way to start the New Year than having too many wonderful books to choose from instead of too few?
(’Choose for what?’ I hear you mutter. ‘Starting the middle again, Fletch!’) Fair point: so let me take you back three weeks or so, to when I was asked by various websites and bloggers to pick X number of books to preview for the coming year, where X is a number between three and six. You know what I’m going to say at once, of course: how on earth can I just pick X when all our books are wonderful and anyone I don’t select is going to crawl off into the corner and pretend they don’t care?
Here’s the thing: editors are always being asked to rank their books – when they’re scheduling, when they’re presenting to key accounts meetings and sales conferences, when they’re trying to sell rights at London and Frankfurt Book Fairs* – even when they’re trying to buy more than one project, they have to list them in order of importance – even if there are no real differences in practical terms.
It doesn’t matter what the reason, it’s one of the most difficult things we have to do, because (and here’s the big secret!) no one takes on a book they don’t wholeheartedly believe in. I know a lot of writers who feel that their publishers have let them down because they didn’t immediately become overnight bestsellers will not believe that, but it’s true: buying books, whether it’s new writers or continuing authors, is not easy. No one is going to go through the publishing meetings and acquisition meetings and acquisition forms and canvassing opinions and presenting and fighting and then, once they’ve got the book, making the offer, chasing the offer, going back to the acquisition meeting to raise the offer (or not), then writing the AI, briefing the cover, writing the cover copy, checking the cover, rewriting the AI, rewriting the cover copy, writing the catalogue copy, rewriting the rights guide copy, editing the manuscript, putting together a style sheet, going through the edit, collating changes, finding a proofreader, collating author and proofreader’s changes, presenting the book to sales colleagues, talking to publicity and marketing teams, visiting bookshops, shifting copies from one shelf to a better one – what have I forgotten? Oh, so much! But my point is, publishing is not simple and no one goes through all that just for the hell of it.
So when someone says: what are your five best books for 2014, it’s not a simple choice. First, you have to look at the audience: if it’s a horror-based website, you can put the SF to one side for now (unless it’s Colin Wilson or HP Lovecraft, who was originally published as SF. But let’s not confuse the issue, shall we!) But if it’s a general genre website you can’t do that. You’ve only got a few spaces, so you can get away with new writers – no one in the stable is going to get upset if you’re doing that. But what if you haven’t enough to fill all the slots? Or you have too many? So you need to bring other criteria into play.
And that’s why such a simple request took me longer to write than almost anything else. And even then, even after slaving over my list, and swapping backwards and forwards, I ended up pressing ‘Send’ and thinking, ‘No! I should’ve mentioned . . .’ not once but half a dozen times.
And the reason for that is that as I enter my third full year of publishing (my, doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?) I find myself almost salivating over the basket of goodies I have for you. It almost makes up for the thunder and lightning and black skies and torrential rain currently sweeping the streets of East London in fine apocalyptic manner.
But because I have already run out of space, and because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I will do this a month at a time . . . doesn’t mean I won’t mention others from time to time – after all, you all know how very excited I am to be publishing John James’ last, long-lost manuscript, The Fourth Gwenevere, as well as introducing Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats to the fantasy canon, not to mention bringing Rachel Pollack into the JFB stable, and –
No! This way lies madness, I tell you!
After all, it’s not like January is not full of riches in itself, for we’ve kicked off with Cemetery Girl, Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden and Don Kramer’s first graphic novel together – and mine – and it’s already getting some stonkingly good reviews. I can’t wait to see Lynda Hilburn’s Crimson Psyche released: if you’re into vampires, then Kismet Knight, Vampire Shrink should be right up your street (and do look out for the terrific new covers for the first two in the series: Vampire Shrink and Blood Therapy). And Ian McDonald’s thrilling YA series continues with Empress of the Sun – Everett Singh and the Airish girl Sen, airships and dinosaurs? What could be cooler?
So welcome to 2014. Ignore the weather, don’t mourn the tree and tinsel but warm yourselves in the heat of some great books.
*And yes, since you ask, I have had my first request for a meeting at London Book Fair. In April.