Blogger: Michelle Ule
Location: Santa Rosa, where the grape vines are starting to dry out.
Have you ever gotten so fed up with a book that you’ve thrown it across the room and demanded to know why anyone bothered to publish it?
Have you ever shook your head over best-sellers and wondered just who was buying them since no one you knew would be interested?
Ever sigh over why Jane Austen is still making a killing on the lists while you can’t get anyone to even read your proposal?
Welcome to the publishing business.
Many years ago, I attended a conference where a bookstore owner from Moscow, Idaho, held up a fat volume and said, “Publishers are in the paper business. The more paper they can sell, the better.”
A purist at the time, I was horrified at his mercantile attitude. But now that I’ve been “in the business” for awhile, I can see how right he was.
Our agency would love to represent the break-out book that will solve all your problems. (Wait, isn’t the Bible in the public domain?) We love agenting projects that are beautifully written, filled with eternal themes and sweeping life-changing applications. Everyone likes to present projects that make a difference in people’s lives.
But sometimes we read proposals for manuscripts that cause us to shiver in our boots at the wisdom, only to realize they won’t sell. How unfair is that?
After teaching a Bible study several years ago, I thought I had mastered a particular Old Testament book. We had spent 18 weeks exploring themes, history, and spiritual wisdom. I’d read lots of outside materials. I knew all about that book.
A month later, we received a proposal at the office from a couple without a famous name, who worked in the ministry trenches of an obscure community. Their manuscript explored the same Bible book I had just taught, but with a significant difference. They had found an ingredient I, in my log-in-the-eye-blindness, had overlooked—and it was major in my life.
Unfortunately, they already had offered their manuscript to the publishers we thought would be interested. All turned down the project because the couple didn’t have a platform.
I was incredulous. Their concept was profound. I wanted to read the rest of the manuscript—if only for my own soul-growth.
Our answer to them had to be “no,” with great reluctance. Not because we didn’t want to represent their work, but because we couldn’t offer the book where others already had rejected it.
As far as I know, the manuscript has never been published. But I took the three chapters I read on a retreat to meditate on my own life. Thanks to that couple for touching my life.
I’m sorry we couldn’t do business.