One of the things I’ve always loved about publishing (and which makes saner people twitch with frustration) is how random and illogical many of its systems and processes are. For a small industry with outsize influence relative to its size, its day-to-day operations feature a lot of crazy shenanigans. Exhibit A: This delightful excerpt from Dan Menaker’s memoir which John referenced earlier this week.
Instead of on sober reasoning and well calibrated risks, a lot of decisions in our business are based on emotional reactions (“I fell in love with the gorgeous prose.” “The story hit me like a punch in the gut.” “I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I put it down.”) that a moody, infatuated teenager might find over-the-top, and a measure of wishful thinking that might land normal people in a mental ward (“Let’s give the author of this partial manuscript on goat herding in Tibet a $4,000,000 advance. We’ll surely recoup most of it in foreign sales—you know how the Brits are about goat herding.”)
As much as we try to be logical and measured, however, the nature of this particular beast is that it is quixotic, mercurial, and hard to pin down using standard measuring tools and equipment. Just when you think something can’t and shouldn’t possibly, ever, ever, work, it’s a huge bestseller and you and your team look like geniuses for having the foresight to pluck it out of the precariously high piles on your desk, floor, whatever. And, just when you think you’ve found the next 50 Shades of Da Vinci Codes, you end up looking at Bookscan numbers in the low four digits.
And, it is precisely that unpredictability, that randomness, that makes what we do so often exciting and rewarding. It’s gambling, sure, but gambling dressed up in a tux and sipping a martini at a vingt-et-un table in Monte Carlo. It’s crazy and fun and miserable and painful, but never dull and you have to want to be in the game (as a publisher, agent, author, market and rights person, etc.) even when it doesn’t go your way.
What say you guys? Is the randomness fun or is it more anxiety producing and maddening than it’s worth?