The Publisher's Jig-Saw Puzzle

I was having dinner with Mick Jagger the other night (or it might have been Keith Richards) , and he said, "Me, I'm waiting so patiently, lying on the floor. I'm just trying to do this jig-saw puzzle, before it rains anymore." I may have made up the part about dinner, but I do remember Mick singing it in my car, or on the radio, one of the two. It's all a fine allegory for the job of a publisher, which could be summarized, "Patience, lying, jigs-saw puzzle and rain." We don't have to spend too much time on rain, it's obviously bad for books, but many new publishers may not get the bit about lying on the floor. That's what happens when you get so stressed about the proof copy coming off the Linotec (at $10 per page) kearning differently than the pages on the computer screen that you get dizzy and have to lie down. That pretty much sums up my first experience in book production, back in the mid 80's.

Waiting patiently can be a virtue or a sin for a publisher, depending on the situation. If you follow an Internet based approach to publishing for both manuscript development and marketing, patience is a virtue, as long as you keep working as you wait for your site to build visibility. You can hurry the process along by letting people know you exist, but there's no point pushing your website before you have enough content on it to attract word-of-mouth and linking. It takes patience to build a real resource before trying to promote it, and patience to wait for quality to win out over crud. On the other hand, it's a sin to publish a book and wait for the world to beat a path to your door. The only people like to come knocking in that case will be creditors, and if you went on the street for the money, the knocking may portend a beating.

But the important concept hidden in the Stones song, if you play the CD backwards while running behind a bus, is that publishing is a jig-saw puzzle. One difference between publishing a book and assembling a jig-saw puzzle is that the publisher doesn't have a picture on the cover of the box to serve as a guide. Another important difference is that the publisher has to assemble the pieces in the correct order, so that the market research which informs the title selection comes before the writing and the marketing campaign is prepared before the book is printed. It also pays to do the editing and proofreading before the book is printed for that matter. Perhaps the most critical difference is that the publisher doesn't start the game with all of the pieces on the table. It's important to identify the missing pieces of your publishing company, to budget for them, and to schedule them in with the overall assembly of the book.

To recap, lying is bad, whether in conversation or on floors. Rain is bad for books, but good for trees in moderation. Publishing is a jig-saw puzzle, except when it isn't, and with patience, time is on your side. Yes it is:-)

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