‘Two-Thirds of Publishing Is About Failure’

My boss when I worked in London—someone who’d published Booker Prize winners, remember—used to say that two-thirds of publishing is about failure. I agree with that: it’s the nature of the business. And yet publishing is an industry that keeps attracting to it, in various ways, people who want it to be two-thirds about success.

There are dozens of obstacles to any given book succeeding. If a book succeeds it always does so against the odds. The odds in one generation might relate to the fact that people would rather be watching television than reading your book. The odds in the next generation might be that they’d rather be on their computer than reading your book. Once it was that people would rather be riding a bicycle than reading your book. It doesn’t do any good to be talking, as an author or publisher, about the obstacles. There are better uses of energy, I think. Yes, we can all feel helpless and wary in this industry sometimes, but it’s better, as a publisher, to look at the ways in which e-books and Twitter and so on can help us reach new readers, rather than treating social media as an enemy to literature. At the event for emerging writers at A Public Space last night, we had a full house. How? By A Public Space and Graywolf posting about it on Facebook and Twitter. Not a single piece of paper was printed, but people came. And these were informed people—they knew who we were and what we publish. They were the appropriate audience. No one turned up to try and sell me something that does not fit our list. Through Twitter we reached exactly the right people—tuned into the right channel—within a few minutes.

-Fiona McCrae, publisher of Graywolf Press, in an interview with Jonathan Lee in Guernica.

Read the interview

Photo: bcnbitsendorf, Flickr