On establishing a relationship with a publisher

Heaven knows, it is difficult enough in these brutal, fretful days to keep any serious relationship fresh, stimulating and alive through the good and the bad times. Where once it was assumed that partnership involved serious, long-term commitment, today those of us who manage to stay “hitched” for five or even ten years are often regarded as oddities, throwbacks to gentler, more civilised age.

Again and again one hears the same old story. It was perfect the first time, they will say – a whirlwind of energy, optimism, need and mutual satisfaction. But, once the novelty wore off, the relationship became something of a chore. Boredom led to indifference which sharpened into active dislike. Soon it was only a matter of time as to when the final rift would occur.

Does it always have to be like this between authors and publishers? Endpaper asked several of our most successful writers for their secrets of survival in today’s literary world.

Trishie Clynch-Nightly: When I finished my first novel Extra Virgin, I was 21 and determined to find a publisher who understood where I was coming from – after all, it had taken the whole of a long vac to write and I had missed out on a stonkingly good time with my boyfriend in Ibiza. When my agent told me that it had sold for £200,000, I knew that it was going to be the writer’s life for me from there on in – or at least until I could get a break in films – so I started what later became Who D’you Have To Sleep With To Get a Drink Round Here? My editor tells me that the great thing about my books is that, because I’m doing what a lot of other girls are doing – parties, basically – I’m able to ask some of the big questions of our time (Where’s the party? If I go home with him on the first date, will he think I’m a slapper? Have I brought a spare of knickers?). He’s like a dad to me – except he likes talking about my sex life!

Irving Schlock: There are more wimps, fruits and pussycats in the book world than in any other industry I know. Now and then, maybe after I’ve appeared with him on some chat show, some weasly smalltimer will mince up to me and say, “Ooh, Irving, where do you get the inspiration to write those blockbusters which have made you possibly the highest grossing American author currently at work?” I tell them that the answer’s in one word: alimony. I’ve got three ex-wives and eight – no, nine – children to support and then there’s my new high-maintenance girlfriend Lara to get through acting school. As for publishers, my advice is: smile, do the parties, schmooze with the folk on the top floor who are the only ones who matter – and get yourself an agent who knows how to kick ass.

Jon Hackett: It’s all about professionalism, about going with the flow. In the seventies, I was writing two series – westerns under the name of JP Critter and Sven Bastard’s famous Battalion of Blood war stories. I did the action, I did the violence – it was wall-to-wall blood and guts. During the eighties, I wrote a few women-in-jeopardy things, then some business thrillers under the name Paul Hamburger who, you might recall, was the famous Swiss banker. After a brief spell as Twylla Thong, editor of the First Flush series of soft erotica for women, I have just re-invented myself as Dave “The Nutter” Potts from the East End. So it’s back to broken bones and hot crumpet, which is pretty much where I came in. How to stay in business? Deliver on time and don’t make waves. Publishers like that in an author.

Finella Silicon: I can honestly say that publishing folk are the most gorgeous people I’ve ever met. Why they don’t spend every day tearing their clothes off and ravishing one another is mystery to me (Maybe they do? Only kidding!) I’m lucky enough to have the darlingest editor in the world in Gerald – if it wasn’t for the fact that his wife, the lovely Mary, is one of my best friends, I would have gobbled him up (literally!) years ago. It was Gerry who came up with the idea of following up Ritz!, my blockbuster about the hotel business, with a rock music extravaganza called Hitz!. I’ve just finished a behind-the-scenes Hollywood romp Glitz! and am currently looking for a new project. Gerry says I’ve been around so long I should do the old people’s home business and call it Fitz! but I hope (for his sake!!!) that’s just a little joke. I know everyone from the chairman, through the reps (and I’ve been through most of them in my time) right down to Joan on Reception whom I like to call “my typical ordinary reader”. That kind of personal touch goes a long way in publishing.

NP Quire: I have been a toiler in the inky trade since the publishing’s soi-disant “golden age”, when Penguin wore their fig-leaf of respectability with pride and when editors had yet to become the whimpering lapdogs of sharp-suited vulgarians who work in something called “Accounts” or “Marketing”. Ever since my 1971 novel A Trip Around the Bay was short-listed for the Booker, I have become something of a fixture in le monde littèraire. I review assiduously, provide uplifting little quotes for the hot young sensation of the moment, and appear on all the right committees and panels. My literary works – even the wanly ironical memoir Return Trip – appeal to a small and, I fear, dying constituency, but I have learnt the art of deploying influence. Certain bracingly shocking secrets, involving some rather influential girls and boys, are in my possession. Frankly, no sensible, career-minded person would dare to become known as “the editor who turned down NP Quire”.

Spring 2001