Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Wrong Question

Here's a telling little snippet from an interview with Paulo Coelho by Hannah Pool in The Guardian. He is talking about his novel The Alchemist which has sold 35m copies:
It was published, it did not sell, and then the publisher said, "This book is never going to sell." ... However, I was so convinced that it was a great book that I started knocking on doors. [Now] The Alchemist is the most translated book by a living author.
What do we conclude from this? Perhaps that whether a book 'will sell' is the wrong question. It is the one which publishers are of course always asking, but what it most often seems to mean is Will this book sell itself? This seems to me the great inconsistency in an industry which is supposed to have bought in wholesale to the concept of marketing. As any real marketer knows, nothing sells itself: customers have to be wooed; conversely, with clever marketing you can sell anything, as the 'door-knocking' snakeoil salesmen knew only too well. Perhaps the question should be rather: Do we believe in this book enough to bother to move hell and high water to sell it? But then for that to happen, the power in publishing houses would have to move back to the editors and away from the accounting - oh, sorry, so-called marketing departments...
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