On what you want, what you’d settle for, and what you get

“Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness,” Georges Simenon once wrote but, like his other pronouncements – those 10,000 women he was supposed to have slept with, for example – his words contain only a fraction of the truth. Writing, as we all know, is a profession which exists in the dark, perilous territory between hope and reality – between what you want, what you’d settle for, and what you get…

The work
You want to write a work of towering genius in the tradition of Leo Tolstoy.
You’d settle for writing a timely reflection of the zeitgeist in the tradition of Bridget Jones.
You get a Christmas stocking-filler in the tradition of Ronnie Barker’s Book of Boobs.

The agent
You want a hip young gunslinger from a hot agency.
You’d settle for a knackered old soak with an adequate contact-list.
You get your mum.

The sale
You want a feeding frenzy involving all the major houses.
You’d settle for mild interest from one house.
You get a small discount on costs from a vanity house.

The advance
You want serious six figures.
You’d settle for respectable four figures.
You get, “Can we talk about the royalty?”

The publisher
You want a small, dynamic independent house with the marketing power of a large conglomerate.
You’d settle for a tired, compromised conglomerate with the marketing power of a small independent.
You get Peter Owen.

The commissioning editor
You want someone who is very well-read and can kick ass.
You’d settle for someone who is quite well-read but sits on his ass.
You get an ass.

The copy-editor
You want someone who understands the hanging participle.
You’d settle for someone with a general grasp of English.
You get an angry, dyslexic, would-be writer.

The jacket designer
You want Damien Hirst.
You’d settle for a member of the in-house team.
You get the art director’s 11-year-old son.

The jacket
You want a spot-laminate, matt finish using a fifth colour.
You’d settle for plain lettering, using two colours.
You get the best that Prontaprint can offer.

The blurb
You want “This book will change your life.”
You’d settle for “This book will make your journey home go quicker.”
You get “The book will give hope to unpublished authors everywhere.”

The author photograph
You want Annie Leibovitz
You’d settle for a cousin who is rather keen on photography.
You get Photo-Me at Paddington Station.

The publicist
You want a soignée sophisticate who is dating a senior executive on the Sunday Times.
You’d settle for a keen young thing who knows someone on Three Counties Radio.
You get a lower-sixth former doing work experience.

The marketing campaign
You want a promotion involving posters, TV advertising and a major author-tour.
You’d settle for a show-card in your local bookshop.
You get a mention on the “Also published” page of the publisher’s catalogue.

Celebrity quote for the cover
You want John Updike.
You’d settle for Edwina Currie.
You get Gary Glitter.

The launch party
You want chilled Moet at the Martini Terrace with the Pinters, Gore Vidal and Germaine Greer hanging on your every word.
You’d settle for warm Blue Nun and peanuts at your editor’s house with a load of freeloading booksellers ignoring you.
You get a pot-noodle at your bedsit with your cat.

The interview
You want a celebration of your work and personality on the South Bank Special
You’d settle for five minutes in the middle of the night on British Forces Broadcasting.
You get a polite enquiry from the milkman.

The review
You want “ a tour de force’.
You’d settle for “a jeu d’esprit”.
You get “a cul de sac”.

The festival
You want the big tent at Hay-on-Wye.
You’d settle for a back room at an Irish theme pub at Clerkenwell.
You get your own stall at Glastonbury.

The prize
You want the Booker Prize at the Guildhall.
You’d settle for Librarian’s Choice in Northamptonshire.
You get Remainder of the Week in Private Eye.

Autumn 2000