Where the puck will be

I’m in Canada this week, visiting my mum in Brantford, the home town of hockey star Wayne Gretzky.  I read a great quotation from him, to the effect that they tell you to skate to the puck, but he skates to where the puck will be.
In all media, we’ve got to be thinking at least two years ahead.  A typical film option now runs for three years – that’s how long a producer thinks it’ll take to get the funding and/or commission.  In publishing, it can take me a year or more to sell a book, and then often the first available publication date for it is a year beyond that.
So how to predict trends?  It’s so tempting to sit here and produce a list of silly ideas – and they’ll probably mostly come true anyway.  But I’m one of those who could have proved in a short equation not involving too many variables that the Harry Potter books wouldn’t work.
What we can guarantee is that some trends would make us laugh right now, and some things will be just the same.  Our only guideline is not to capitalize on fashions that are happening now, because they’ll be long gone in two years.
I think a writer can create a fashion if you choose something they want to do – but it depends on how it’s done.  It’s got to be fresh-sounding, and bring a genuine new dimension to it.  In other words, authenticity and originality.  That’s good news, eh?

‘Not worth the grease off my nose’

The passing of publisher Nick Webb has caused a lot of sadness in the industry.   An all-around great guy, he had a particular way with words.  His daughter, of course, Catherine, has been an exuberant author for some years.  When he was struggling with his own thriller novel, Nick described listening to the rattle of her keyboard upstairs while he ‘squeezed out words like blackheads’.  He was also the source of my favourite-ever rejection, when I was pitching him a book over lunch.  ‘Honestly, Meg, it’s not worth the grease off my nose’.

Rejections often hurt agents almost as much as they do authors (although this one just had to make me laugh).  One of the paradoxes of this profession is that you have to have a businesslike objectivity, but you can’t do the job if you don’t care about it.  Publishers and producers can always tell if you really feel enthusiastic about a writer’s work.  Excitement is contagious, and makes it more likely they’ll not just commission the writer, but their own enthusiasm will be communicated down the line, giving the work more chance of a good launch.

Of course, there are some work that gets produced or published just because it’s commercial.  We all still care about making it a success, but the emotions aren’t engaged.  It’s a privilege to work in a business where you have to love it.