There was once a manuscript – a wonderful manuscript, and one which we all loved and wanted to see do well in the world. And so we decided to publish it. All the things which go into transforming a manuscript into a book were duly arranged, and the book emerged, fresh, brilliant and beautiful, into the world. But there the story spluttered to an untimely end…
So, these early years of the new century are a strange time in publishing, at least for those of us concerned less with a rollicking plot (though we do like a good story) than with the strength and beauty of the writing on the page. Once upon a time – perhaps a slightly mythical time but one that gives us hope for the future – bookshops could spread their affections widely; now those same bookshops are rather more focused. Walk through their doors today and you’re likely to see big piles of certain books and struggle to find others. Those ‘others’ are the ones that we’re fretting about here.
We editors of literary fiction don’t have the well-trodden paths towards our readers’ minds – and their wallets – that ‘genre’ fiction enjoys. Instead, it’s a case of striding into what feels like the great unknown – every time. Of course there are still a few recognisable landmarks: reviewers whose track records suggest they’ll like our books; promotions that do like to champion the odd underling; prizes which seek to reward the very best. But the ground rules can shift at any time: book review pages cut, promotions going the way of the more commercial… And prizes? Well, only heartbreak comes from fixing all your hopes on that one. In short, it’s a treacherous landscape whichever way you look.
So what a pleasure it was last year to come together with a group of like-minded editors, agents and other book professionals to air our woes. We’re all navigating the same terrain, and we’ve all had our aspirations on behalf of our books thwarted again and again. And out of our shared frustration has come the impetus to find safer ground for at least a few more of our books. And so Fiction Uncovered has come about.
Of course, still nothing is certain, and our own hopes for a book won’t be enough to secure success and a happily-ever-after, but at least it’ll be a selection process which will look kindly on those books which don’t enjoy the literary equivalent of a silver spoon. And, if all goes right, at least we’ll have put in place a few more stepping stones to help more good writing reach those who appreciate it most, and to launch a few more fresh and original stories into the world.
Juliette Mitchell, Editor, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin