Embracing Marketability

by Nina Hoeschele

Published at 2011-06-17

Nothing has ever shaken my editorial self as much as this comment did. It came from an influential editor from a successful publishing company who was telling me about what to look at when considering a book. The advice had little to do with the uniqueness of the work, the style, the quality; instead it was all trends, what was in season. And then I was told to consider the appeal of the authors themselves—including their appearance.
Their appearance. I couldn’t believe anyone would say this. It seemed to bring a shallow dimension to the publishing world that I had naively assumed I was safe from—maybe I’d expect it in television or the movies, but not my books!
This particular person’s approach may be an extreme example. Still, it reminds me that I can’t live in the publishing world and not come face-to-face with the marketing side of the business.
I came into editing thinking that I could avoid getting involved in marketing, but the fact is that you can’t be an editor without considering it. Many talented and wonderful editors have told me the same thing: Writing a good book is only half the battle. If you want to be published, you’ve got to blend good writing with marketability. It’s crucial to every project. If a book doesn’t seem likely to sell, then it won’t get made.
I often think of the overused example of Twilight. Had that manuscript crossed my desk, I would have told the author not to bother—and maybe gently asked her if she was getting any help for her rampant case of adverbs? But, as it turns out, that would have cost my imaginary publishing company a lot of money. (People love adverbs, apparently.)
But marketability isn’t so simple that anyone could just write a romantic vampire book and come out a millionaire, and I suppose it isn’t fair to begrudge Stephenie Meyer for writing something that people evidently wanted to read. Just because these books were successful, I don’t have to transform my editorial mission and start editing in adverbs left and right (and I won’t). Nor should I assume that all successful books are tripe and all fantastic ones are doomed to obscurity—that’s obviously not the case, either!
The fact is that editors try to make manuscripts interesting, appealing, fun to read—and what’s so different between that and making them marketable?