Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Many Might-Have-Beens of Children's Books

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.


Richard said...

Let us not forget the stories lost with their pen-drives in the depths of the sofa; the tales languishing on floppy-disks and tape cartridges and crashed hard-disks, beyond hope of recovery; those crafted after days of hard labour on WriteIt For DOS; the pages of barely legible scrawl thrown out with the rest of the Old Dear's papers to get her room ready for the next resident; the manuscripts revised and revised but never submitted, and the ones submitted only once; the epics of sound and fury written in a naive hand on stolen exercise books, lying forgotten in parents' attics. Let us morn the passing of those works of passion put aside until the baby is a bit older, or leaves home, or until we retire, finally succumbing to damp and mice. And especially let us recall, if we can, those masterpieces of the story-teller's art, those towering epics of literary achievement, that we were sure we would remember in the morning.

Carole Anne Carr said...

Yes love that idea, great idea for a book :0)