Mission Impossible

Reader Logo musings from the editor

A few weeks ago I gave a talk to some students at Birmingham City University as part of the National Academy of Writing day there.

Richard Beard the director of the academy asked me to spend half the time talking about my experiences of getting The Ascent of Isaac Steward published and half the time about what it was like being an editor of a literary magazine.

It was interesting comparing the two worlds: one being an unknown author trying to find an agent or publisher -  the other?
Well becoming an editor was like dropping in Mission Impossible style at the end of a steel tether into the back rooms of the world of publishing.  Publishers and agents joined the team at The View From Here, publishers replied the same day to my emails, famous authors talked to me - all the time I felt that at any moment I would be outed as a fraud ...

"You're not an editor, what are you doing here?"
"Yes I am, look I've got a shiny business card, and an international team," I would reply a drop of sweat trickling down my sunglasses. "Here take a look," ...

And behind the scenes is interesting.  I was doing a workshop last year and asked some well known authors beforehand about their synopses to help the students ...

Hi Mike, I don't do synopses - sorry! - Iain Banks

Hi Mike, I'm afraid. I've never had to send out a synposis. I've probably got a synopsis somewhere for my still-unpublished second novel, but it obviously wasn't what was wanted! - Marina Lewycka

Dear Mike, I'm afraid I can't help. I haven't written a synopsis for about 25 years - for a non-fiction book I never finished. best, Julian Barnes

So publishers don't always ask for a synposis then? Hmm. Interesting.

Chatting to publishers face to face over a coffee also provided some insights - once we'd exchanged the secret code word - pass the biscuits please - all sorts of top secret information was passed across the table.  Take the MD of Alma books who published Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder he pushed a little slip of paper past the garibaldis with the inside nod on Tom McCarthy's Booker shortlisted novel C ...

Mike, We simply turned down C because we were not passionate enough and thought that it needed a lot of work. Another publisher (Cape) was passionate about the book as it was, so Tom chose to go with them. These things happen in publishing, so there are no hard feelings. Nor was I surprised when C was shortlisted for the Booker, as Tom is a writer of talent. Alex

 So even successful authors get turned down by their publishers: I filed that under investigate further.

The staff at Random House told me how they swooned when Markus Zusak the author of The Book Thief came into the offices - no wonder when we asked him about his hobbies he said, "I go surfing early in the morning, before starting work." I guess he turned up with a surf board under his arm and a twinkle in his eye.

And the publisher of - arh, hang on I've triggered some kind of alarm telling you all this stuff.  Sorry got to go, you didn't see anything okay.

This post will self destruct in 10 seconds.


Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Hey Mike, speaking as a soon-to-be-published author who worked at this prestigious magazine for some time, you did much more than drop in the publishing world like a Mission Impossible spy gig. You created, from whole cloth, an interesting and important publication which does the publishing world a favor by keeping things fun, fresh, and literary. You're just as much an authority in this field as anyone, and it is to you which I owe my budding career. Hold your head high, mate. You're talking to students and writers because of your talent and accomplishments. You don't owe anybody a thing. I am happy that I was a part of this magazine, and I feel I will always be a part of this fine publication.

Mike French said...

Thanks Mike and really exciting about your publishing contract - a good year coming up.