As Senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam's Sons, how would you describe the current state of the publishing industry? The news all seems pretty grim from where some of us sit--book sales down, advances drying up, booksellers disappearing, industry layoffs, etc. In your view, where are we now, and where are we likely to be in five years, say?

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I wish I had that kind of discretion. For many newbies, a crappy offer is still an offer. I'll keep submitting. If I was in your position, though, I'd probably wait. It's better not to waste a good hand on a bad pot. You could end up kicking yourself when the market picks up.
Jon, Jon, Jon...

This is like saving letters in Scrabble until just the right spot comes along. It's a losing strategy.

If you have books you'd like to write, then write them. The new garage you think you need will be built, or it won't, but either way it's not going to be the fault of the publishing industry's current condition.

Like James Lee Burke, I believe fame and fortune are things that come of their own accord. And, like Neil said, all we can do is write the best books we can. Sandbagging books in hopes of better deals seems--to me--a lame excuse for not getting down to the nitty gritty of what we're supposed to love in the first place: writing.
When the agent concurs, though, I think the financial consideration bear more weight. I can still see why Jon would wait. That doesn't mean he should stop writing. The time saved may mean more time for writing in the future.

I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, Jon. I'm just offering my view. You might be thinking something different.

Unless you have a proven track record, or a major platform, financial considerations in the publishing business are...

Gee. What's the phrase?


You write the best story you know how to write, and you hope some good luck shines your way.

Waiting for business to pick up before writing/submitting something you're passionate about (and if you're not passionate about what you're writing, then there's no point anyway) is, to me, a losing proposition.
That's what I'm doing now. I'm submitting as much as ever.

Jon's situation is his own. Maybe he has those qualifiers that validate the kind of discretion he is exercising. If so, I can understand why he would hold off. If my agent said "wait," I would.
My agent said, "Wait" for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the year, because there was some major restructuring going on at some of the big houses. That's understandable.

But, to wait indefinitely because of ongoing flux in the industry... doesn't seem--to me--like a prudent way to do business. There might be some behind-the-scenes dynamics going on, of course; but, to wait until all is fine and dandy and checks for new garages are being doled out like Halloween candy...seems a waste of time to me.

Ain't never gonna happen.
That might be true as long as you're writing on spec, Jude. It's another story altogether when you're submitting proposals that may tie up your writing time for three or four years. If that's going to happen, then I need enough money up front to make that particular project worth my time. If the money's not there for this one, fine--there's lots of stuff I want to write, plenty of other projects to explore. For me, writing is indeed a labor of love, but it's also a business (so my accountant tells me, anyway). I'm not playing for funsies.

And my track record's pretty damned good, thank you very much.
Well, good luck with finding a publisher to fund you for three or four years. Must be one hell of a proposal.
Because I have so little available writing time (pretty much summers only), any two-book deal would keep me busy for a minimum of four years.

Thanks for the good wishes, Jude.
Well, they all say : Write the best book you can. That's a mantra frequently voiced between publishers or agents and an author. It lets them off the hook. Because if you can't sell the thing, then clearly you haven't done your best yet.

Which is not to say that there is another way. You keep writing.
I'm in the Dorothy Parker camp. I hate writing. It's work. It's better work than digging ditches, but it's work just the same. I'd a lot rather hang out with my kids, or drink martinis, or play guitar. I write because I'm compelled to, not because I particularly want to. That said, if I had a finished project in the drawer I'd certainly submit it and take what I could get. But it makes less sense to do that with a proposal that could lock you in for years for way less money than you'd get under more normal circumstances. There's plenty of other stuff to write, lots of other projects to explore, and a limited amount of time in which to do it.
I've been reading this conversation between Jon and Jude with interest, because I just sold a follow-up thriller to my debut novel to my editor a couple of weeks ago on a proposal, and I'm absolutely thrilled to have done so. That she's willing to take a chance on a second novel in this economy I think speaks volumes - not only for her confidence in my work, but in the market as a whole. After all, she just bought a book that won't publish until October 2010 -

Sure, it's possible she might have offered more for this book six or eight months down the line when it was finished and the economy has improved. But to my way of thinking, it's just as possible that the economy will continue to worsen, and 6 or 8 months from now, she'd offer less (or not take a chance on the book at all). And if she *did* underpay for it (and I'm not saying she did, I'm very happy with her offer), wouldn't I eventually make up the difference in royalties after the book earns out?

I just can't see where accepting her offer - and more importantly, moving forward with my career - hurts me in any way.


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