You have hurried late into Zerena Littlemercy’s class, ‘Writing is a Business! (You Schmuck).’ She is looking at you as if you had slaughtered a goat on the wrong altar. You look around. The rest of the class are staring at you.
‘The decoupage class is down the hall.’
‘But I’ve signed on for your class.’
‘Then you have already exhibited your lack of professionalism by being four minutes late,’ says Zerena with the clipped finality of a guillotine.
You consider decoupage. It might be better than writing, it’s just a lot of cutting out with scissors and glueing. Do you really want to be published this badly? You hover between sitting down and standing up, looking all the while at Zerena who appears to have arranged this class between board meetings at Goldman Sachs.
‘Let us resume,’ she says sighing deeply.
Within five minutes the realisation dawns that you have never understood a single thing about being published.
‘Are you the kind of writer who is still drooping around in their dressing gown at 11.30 in the morning looking out of the window, sipping coffee with the pretence that you are writing in your head?’ Zerena asks.
That wipes the smile right off your face.
‘You should work office hours,’ Zerena continues, ‘ Don’t answer the phone, don’t answer emails, the door or anything else. This is your job. You must have discipline.’
Nothing else? Nothing else at all? This is counter-intuitive stuff. Does she really mean that you should dispense with your vital pre-writing rituals of flicking through catalogues or rescuing drowning insects from the sink? Can she really mean that you shouldn’t re-organise your sock drawer, even when its distressing disorder is disturbing the equilibrium of your universe?
‘You have a product,’ Zerena continues, strutting in her power suit, ‘Decide what it is and market it clearly to the right people. In order to do this you must study the market, read everything you can about publishing trends’.
You would bet your last Credit Default Swap, that before turning to writing, Zerena ran a successful little business selling sand to Saharans.
‘And the best way to sell your novel is to identify your USP.’
Your USP? Perhaps you are in the wrong class after all. Is this ‘Easy Steps to being an Estate Agent’?. Many years ago you remember one of that brotherhood identifying the Unique Selling Point of your house. When it turned out to be, ‘ being within 5 minutes walk of a mainline station’, you had felt insulted. Now your novel must have a USP. Could you use the same one?
‘Network!’. Zerena commands.
Now listen. You have always been a withdrawn type, From early childhood you have had sociopathic tendancies. This is why you kept those secret diaries of everything you hated, that the psychiatrist made you burn. This is why all these years later, your only effective form of communication is writing. If you could talk why would you bother to write?
Zerena’s class is gathering speed as she name checks the ‘New Trinity’- Twitter, Facebook, Blog.
‘Have you thought about getting yourself a YouTube Channel?’, she asks provocatively.
‘No, why?’, you want to answer, ‘what would I have to do on it? Strip while reading my synopsis?’
‘Have you Googled yourself?’ Zerena raises a perfectly dyed eyebrow into a quizzical parenthesis.
Now Zerena hits you with the goods. What publishers want is someone who can be a career writer, preferably in a genre that is easy to sell. They want someone who is articulate, has an easy and engaging manner, an attractive personality and a physical presence that doesn’t make people want to scream.
If you fill this requirement then consider yourself hired as the head of your very own PR company. Now you can go out and promote yourself; be invited to literary festivals and into every alleyway and denizen of the media.
In short,you may have written the best novel of 2012, but if you have the sexual magnetism and easy grace of Quasimodo, coupled with the networking skills of a medievil anchorite and the after-dinner style of a Trappist monk, you may as well forget it. You ease yourself out of your seat and slip unnoticed from the room and down the hall to the next door. Through the glass you see people happily cutting pictures out of magazines with scissors. You sigh and open that door.