Mike Carey delivered his new thriller to Little, Brown this week. The editor there, Daniel Mallory, not only read it overnight (it’s huge, and he says he’s a slow reader) but also wrote Mike two poems about how great it is.
OK, short poems –a haiku and a couplet – but this is the mark of a really good publisher. Yes, the book’s fantastic; Mike’s an extremely talented writer and it’s a genuinely exciting book. But feedback about how good something is, is very hard to give.
Agents, publishers, and producers often confer, like the team of diagnosticians in House, over exactly what’s going wrong with a book or script. Many of us have learned in English courses or Film Studies how to analyse work. When we’ve been in the business for a bit, we’ve got used to seeing work in a raw state, seeing what it could be at its best, and working out how to inspire the writer to get it there.
Writers work best when they’re happy and confident, and know where they’re going with a piece. An agent can kill a book or script by rolling up her sleeves and showing how expert she is at diagnosing what’s not working yet. But it’s equally important for the writer to know what’s going right.
Why is that so hard to identify? Why is it so much easier to, say, come out of a movie talking about the bits you didn’t like, and assuming that what you don’t mention is OK?
There’ll be editing to do on Mike’s book. There always is. No book is perfect. Not only that, but I think writing a book or a script is too big a job for one person. Also, the publisher will have in mind any adjustments they feel are necessary for what the market’s doing at the moment. A producer will have their execs, controllers, studios, investors to please. But for all that it costs double the effort to work out what’s good about a book or a script, it’s vital.