Books are released in their thousands every week (ahem... probably) and a great many of them, having the backing of their publishers have launch parties - where the publishers and some/many of their staff schmooze with agents, authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, editors and the press... oh, and little ole me.
Okay, maybe I'm not so little. Here I am with the indomitable Peter Cox and the Salsa-holic MG Harris at the London Transport Museuem, last night, for the release of Scholastic's short story collection in association with the National Year of Reading 2008.
I certainly felt like a plum though, and exceedingly intimidated by the published and those in the business, doing their damndest to develop, to edit, to design, to promote, to schmooze.
I arrived on the dot, joined the queue and dumped my bag and brolly, making my way into the museum's "Bus depot" where people were already gathering in pockets of association. Of course, having arrived on my own, and with Peter and MG apparantly downing mojitos somewhere else, I was becomming increasingly concerned about how the devil I might interupt someone else in order to have a conversation with them - including the ubiquitous "So, what do you do then?"
Fortunately for me, Scholastic's designers (of book covers and websites) took pity on me and descended with great enthusiasm to find out who I was and what I did - I'm thankful to them for taking the time (though perhaps it was more because my name badge was just a name with no association - everyone else was marked either with their business or "author", while mine did not and during conversation many eyes would shift again to my name badge wondering why they'd already forgotten my company).
Richard, Emily, Zoe, thanks for making me feel less of a billy-no-mates.
What surprised me was the age of the staff. Yes they were assistants in the large, but to editors and copyeditors. All of them having to rent in London, all on low pay, but all gushing with praise for how much they do enjoy their jobs - and many had only been in post for the past 8 months - there I was wondering if it was a business that chewed people up and spat them out. Yes and no!
They were tight knit and positive about what they were doing - take a cross-section of most other businesses and many young workers would already be jaded by what they were doing. But, here at least they really believe in what they are doing.
Trying to explain who, how and why I was there was a little difficult - considering the very secret work I'm doing for Scholastic - more on that next year.
After the brief speeches the schmoozers got down to more schmoozing and Peter and MG were nice enough to lead me around to speak to particular people, but who do you choose when asked, "Editors, publishers, authors... you don't want to speak to agents... who shall we talk to?"
I talked with MG's editor about the work that she did, and was surprised about the nature: as much copy-editing as it is discussing the purpose of a character, a scene, the drive of the narrative. A lot of the work I assumed agents did, but Peter said that once the author is signed with a publisher he takes a step back so as not to impede on the relationship between author and editor.
When I asked the editor about generating the skills for her work - remember that I struggle over many of the skills, as I'm sure, we all do - she said that they just develop with the work. Certainly, she said, she needs to enjoy the writing. An editor must be, she was told when she was starting out, the author's biggest fan. She must like the book better than most.
And it was while then talking with the other authors, Sally Nicholls, Fiona Dunbar, and er... a few others (I don't know who these people are!) that I felt a great sense of underachievement. Here these authors were talking about getting their next contract for so-and-so books, and having written and now redrafting their third... and all these Scholastic folk doing their damndest to promote and push, and me... who can't even commit to a chapter.
It's a real eye-opener to experience, to see particularly that the publishers and their staff are the real heroes of the literary world. Particularly with regard to the National Year of Reading, here Scholastic are doing so much work to promote reading to children and at the other end of the spectrum (where I work in a library), there is so little being done. Libraries are thwarted by the red tape of local government, and so beleaguered by lack of funding that computers are the only real thing pushed.
Must... work... harder!
Anyway, it was on behalf of this book.