Tuesday 13 July 2010

I am now a Merchant of Culture

Just completed a first class degree course in trade publishing and the “making of a bestseller” – at least I feel like I have after reading an advance copy of “Merchants of Culture”, by John B. Thompson, which is due out next month from Polity Press.

Don’t be fooled by the everyman sound of his name, this is an author with some seriously heavyweight credentials – a sociology professor at Cambridge, a fellow of Jesus College … a quick glance at his Wikipedia entry is enough to assure you that this is a man who does his research very thoroughly indeed and knows a thing or two about communicating the complicated stuff that’s in his head to the rest of us.

Brilliant title apart from anything else; I really like the idea of being a “merchant of culture”. I don’t know if the Prof came up with it himself or whether it was the result of a brainstorming session at Polity Press, but I bet it was one of those joyous “eureka” moments either way.

From now on whenever anyone asks me how they can get published or get a job in publishing I’m going to tell them to buy this book because it is simply perfect at summing up how the whole messy business works and explaining why it very frequently doesn’t work. I guess it is going to have to be updated fairly regularly, (the edition I received must have been sent to the printers too early to be able to mention the arrival of the iPad for instance), but even once it is a year or two out of date it will still teach a careful reader as much as any three year degree course on the subject.

Monday 5 July 2010

Green Shoots in Publishing Landscape

Due to visit Uganda for the first time, I wanted to do some background reading. On Amazon I typed in the word “Uganda” and the great machine suggested a number of titles that I had not heard of. I did a little more googling on each title that looked possible and made a selection. I did not have particularly high hopes, which is why it was all the more wonderful to find I had accidentally ordered a masterpiece.

“The Ghosts of Eden” is a novel by Andrew J.H. Sharp. A doctor who obviously knows the country and its people extraordinarily well. It is a beautifully written, life-affirming, thought provoking story and if only it had fallen on Richard and Judy’s doorstep instead of mine Dr. Sharp would by now have a best-seller on his hands.

A little further googling found his website (www.theghostsofeden.com ) and I emailed him a fan letter while still only half way through the book.

His path to publication, it seems, is a classic one. Unable to get any agents interested he read an article about a new young publisher, Picnic Publishing. He sent the book directly to them and they accepted it.

This is the second time I have heard someone speaking highly of Picnic. They recently published “Empires Apart” by Brian Landers, an intriguing study of the historic parallels between the American and Russian empires, which has now been picked up in the US by Penguin. Brian had also been unable to get an agent to take him on and so went directly to Picnic.

I relay this story because it seems encouraging in a number of ways. Firstly it shows that it is possible to stumble upon something new and brilliant on Amazon in much the same way as one might once have hoped to in an old fashioned book shop. Secondly it shows that an enthusiastic reader can make contact with an author almost instantaneously and thirdly it demonstrates that there are young publishing companies out there that are actually reading the manuscripts sent to them and then publishing them for no other reason than they like them and want to share them with the world.

During the course of our emailing, Dr. Sharp heard that he had won the Waverton Good Read Award (http://www.wavertongoodread.org.uk) for best British debut novel of the previous twelve months. Probably not in Richard and Judy’s class when it comes to generating sales, I grant you, but another sign that there are always green shoots to be found if you hunt for long enough in the rubble.