In the last week, I’ve been asked to write some text for a book about stately homes and another one retelling Shakespeare plays for children. The publishers will use the texts I’ve written to create sample spreads, which they’ll take to book fairs to try to drum up interest from foreign publishers. I sincerely hope both will turn into books one day, but I’m not holding my breath. I know from experience that many of these ‘trial balloons’ float off into the Bologna sunset never to be seen again.
|©The Salariya Book Co|
Publishers selling foreign rights using sample material.
But what happens to the sample material?
Over the years I’ve probably written a couple of dozen sample spreads, and in my editing days I’ve commissioned a good deal more. A LOT of work goes into the writing, the artwork and the design. They’ve got to be representative of the proposed book, but also a bit more than that. Like a Facebook profile, the sample spread has got to show off its product in the best possible light – it’s got to be more colourful, more lively, more eye-catching than the book it’s selling could ever hope to be.
Some are quite gorgeous to look at and read. Yet their readership is tiny, and the ultimate destiny of many, if not most, will be the dusty corner of an editor’s hard drive. If I ever looked back at all the many books and series that didn’t make it past that stage, I could end up feeling quite depressed – so I try hard not to. The same cannot be said for my fiction, however…
The world of fiction has its equivalent of the sample spread: the synopsis and sample chapter. Of course it’s the author who’s usually the initiator here, and the ‘customer’ is an agent or publisher, but the same principles apply. Of the many fiction projects I’ve pitched, some were rejected and others were accepted but changed beyond recognition.
A few, luckily, ended up as published books – but, funnily enough, I find I think less about them than the ones that didn’t make it. They’re my unborn children, frozen at an early stage of development. They’re the flowers in my garden whose buds got broken off – little packages of potential that will never be anything more.
Maybe that’s why they’re interesting. As pure potential, they exist in a place unsullied by the compromises and ineptitudes that are part and parcel of the publishing business. They’re still perfect. And I’m free to wonder how the world might have taken to those characters, those stories, had they ever seen the light of day.
|© Hodder & Stoughton|
In Fforde's novel, 'Dark Reading Matter' is an alternative dimension
where unrealised fictional characters enjoy a kind of existence.
Is this every author's dream – or nightmare?
In his novel The Woman Who Died A Lot, Jasper Fforde introduced the concept of Dark Reading Matter, a place where all these unrealised imagined worlds congregate: characters from works long out of print co-mingle with those from as-yet-unpublished works. It’s an exotic idea. And it’s exciting to think that it exists – sort of – in the dusty corners of editors’ hard drives the world over.