Fashion and fiction have a lot in common. Both can be expensive to create, but cheap to reproduce. Both are supposed to respond quickly to changes in demand. Both begin with ‘F’. And both look dodgy in certain shades of pink.
Both depend on retailers to get to their end user. And whether it’s because of internet culture or not, these days, retailers are acutely aware that when customers want things, they want things now. They don’t want to wait for things to be manufactured or tested or delivered or marketed. If they see something they like, it had better be available immediately, or else they’re off somewhere else, and good luck to you, Slothface.
This Is Me Talking About Fashion Like I Have A Bloody Clue
Once upon a time in the fashion world, collections appeared on the catwalk, orders were made, and clothes were delivered to retailers six months later, whereupon they were purchased by naked people who, up to that point, had nothing to wear. In fact, the world was full of naked people, waiting for these so-called Ready-To-Wear items. (I myself remember awkward corporate meetings with homely men in birthday suits*. But that was before Facebook. And selfies.)
Now, following seismic changes in the fashion industry, ‘Fast Fashion’ means that when someone sends their stuff down the catwalk, it’s available to customers within weeks. For the labels who are able to do this, it’s very successful, business-wise. (I don’t know if it means that small children in Bangladesh are working 19-hour days in production, and I’d rather not go there, to be honest, but for the labels, at least, it’s working.)
Now This Is Me Applying My Shaky Premise To Books Etc
Can anyone tell me why the hell it takes a year to get a book to market through a traditional publisher?
Why, if someone can showcase clothes which have been imagined, designed, altered, approved, produced, and fitted in at least one (teenytiny) size to send it down a catwalk – only to deliver in bulk, and in different sizes, to shops all over a country or continent six weeks later – does a book take a year?
This is not about how long it takes to write a book: even I wouldn’t be stupid enough to deride the time required to do that. This is about how long it takes to get a book, which is already written, into the hands of readers.
So let’s look at some of the excuses, and make snide remarks about them, shall we? Grab a coffee. Blow your nose, if you like.
- The book has to be edited
Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s going to the best editor in the world, and she needs time to make it the best book in the world. Plus, she’ll have to go back to the author with rewrites, and the author has to do them, and go back to the editor again, and then she’ll have to go back to the author again, and then the fox and the chicken go into the boat and the bottle of writer’s tears stays on the shore.
How long should this take? Two months? Six? Eleventy?
I don’t know much about editor workloads, but if a book is such an unholy mess that it takes six months to edit and rewrite, I would posit that either the deadline was unrealistic to begin with, the author can’t cope with the changes, or the editor really shouldn’t have been given another three books to work on at the same time.
Even if I’m being reasonable about it (a departure for me I know), delays can happen in some cases, but not in absolutely every case. Something is very wrong here in business terms. Unless an actual editor wants to step in here and explain.
- The book needs to be designed
Refer to point 1. The book is being edited. What’s stopping the cover art, blurb, title, and typeface being sorted during this time? Was it the rumour that the book was being edited from an erotic romance into a gardening manual?
- The book needs to be marketed
Yes, there needs to be a strategy. Advance review copies, absolutely. Website schmoozing, yup. All of that. If only there were people experienced in the marketing of books to do those tasks while the rest of the book was coming together, eh?
Break out the bottle of writer’s tears again. It’s all down to the team you get behind the book, I know. And having enough people in that team.
But indie authors do all of those tasks, by themselves, sometimes every three months, when they’re feeling obscenely prolific. They schedule designers and choose covers. They schedule editors and do rewrites, often while writing other books. They market their books and take out ads and do sales promotions, sometimes while still learning how to do all these fiddly, tricky things.
You might make the argument that quality suffers somewhere along the journey of the one-man band. But indie authors are not on trial here. They are a shining beacon of productivity in an otherwise dank wasteland of long lead-in times in fiction. If they can do it, a full team of professionals in a traditional publishing house should surely be able to get a book out in three months, if not six weeks.
Could I Just Get To The Point, Please
The main point (knew I had one somewhere) is that if fashion can do it, so can fiction. Just a few years ago, the fashion industry would have argued that fast fashion was impossible. Logistically insane. Technically undoable. But you know what? Then they went and did it.
Publishers are always banging on about how difficult things are: how hard it is to predict trends and pick bestsellers years in advance. You know what would make that easier? Only having to pick them a few months in advance.
Fiction has already become cheaper (ask any mid-list author). Cheap fiction needs to be fast. It needs to be responsive and flexible. But most of all, it needs to be out there, in the market, where it’s wanted. It’s not doing anyone any good, stuck on the world’s slowest production line.
*BUSINESS suits. I meant business suits. I think.