I have a writer friend who usually has one piece of advice for every new writer: Remember, it’s a business. As with all of our favorite pieces of advice, this was a lesson I believe he was forced to learn experientially, a lesson he probably learned again and again, and may, for all I know, still be learning. If books do not sell, they are pulled from the shelves. If an author cannot earn back a sufficient portion of her advance, her advances will go down. Publishers buy books they believe they can sell, and they sell those books to make money. It’s a business. That’s what businesses do.
There is a reason writers need to be reminded that publishing is in fact a business. Publishing may be an engine that, like all businesses – from banking to grocery stores – exists to earn its participants their living wage, but it is an engine whose primary fuel source is imagination. Without imagination, there would be no publishing business.
The problem with the imagination is that it does not care about money. The imagination does not care that publishing is a business. The imagination does not care what is hot or trendy, or about Facebook or Twitter or blog tours. The imagination is loyal and tireless, but it does not care what kind of car you drive or which house you live in or what wine you drink. All the imagination wants to do is make stuff. What you do with that stuff is your business.
I am sure there are publishing CEOs who lay awake some nights wishing they could simply drill into writers’ heads and extract imagination like crude oil. There are probably desperate writers who share this wish. Unfortunately, you could drill a thousand holes in my head but you would never find a single scrap of my imagination. My brains, yes, but not my imagination.
What a strange business this is. All those books we hold in our hands, all those office towers built on publishing profits, exist because of something we will never see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. Viewed from a certain angle, it is a business built on nothing. Viewed from another, it is a business built on everything.
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