Today I’m delighted to share a review of an outstanding book. ‘They’ll Never Read That: how to make mistakes in publishing‘ by Tony Collins was published by Sarah Grace Publishing on 31 January 2022.
I embarked upon this book from the viewpoint of an author long experienced in bruising and teasing encounters with the world of traditional publishing. My approach is also influenced by the fact that I have met and chatted with the author at a number of writers’ events. As I read his account, I began to feel it was not so much the observations about the publishing world that resonated with me, as his account of the decisions he made that he deeply regrets. His journey in some ways echoes mine, especially as I discovered he lived, and operated a publishing company, very close to my own family home in Kent and went to the same church I did: only, a couple of decades earlier!
I was engrossed by his account of the ups and downs of his journey, both as a publisher and on a personal level, the joys and successes, the disappointments and failures, the lost opportunities, the unlooked-for or serendipitous events. The sheer fatefulness and unaccountability of life comes across strongly in this ‘life of a publisher’. For authors, especially those who have struggled for years to win a traditional publishing deal and instead received countless rejections, Tony Collins’ account cannot but have an emotional impact upon us.
With the mountain top experiences and the sloughs of despond, I found here an acute reflection upon human nature, in the varied ways readers respond to books. It occurred to me that the position of a publisher is an excellent place from which to study hearts and minds. I was fascinated by his references to many books he published, some of which have been iconic for decades, and which I have read, and others I want to read as a result of reading this behind-the-scenes account of them. The account often sent me scurrying to Amazon to look up the books he mentions and reflect on their fate. Reading this memoir made me more philosophical about my own past mistakes, misjudgements, and bad decisions. The author shows us how volatile and even elemental the whole publishing scene can be: full of swift and unlooked-for changes of fortune.
In many cases Tony Collins followed his instinct and it paid off brilliantly. The title of this volume in itself pays tribute to his genius for choosing arresting titles even if they do not fully reflect the content of the book. “Once you have the title,” he writes, “a book often falls into focus.”
I found the whole account very elegantly written and a compelling study of why different books of equal value and merit meet such a different fate: some fail and disappear from view, and others succeed on an enormous scale. Tony Collins describes publishing as “legal gambling” and I think he is exactly right. He also considers the difference between the tastes of the fiction reading public in the US and the UK, and the profound influence of their cultural presumptions and background on their acceptance or otherwise of a new book.
Finally, Tony Collins’ insights into the writing craft are also invaluable: “The author is a guest at their readers’ table,” he observes: and from the point of view of a publisher: “Every book is a risk… it is a critically expensive risk to publish it, because it may make you rich, or bankrupt you.”
Very strongly recommended to all authors and all those connected with the publishing world.
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