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Fast-Paced World? Not in Publishing Universe

If you feel like the pace of the world is moving faster than ever, consider the publishing industry. by Bob Woodiwiss

In today’s highly competitive business environment, the most successful companies all share one basic, simple attribute: Überhyperultrarapidity. Or, put less syllabically, speed.

It’s true. Modern business moves at an unprecedented pace, getting more done in less time than ever before (even Amish manufacturers now claim to operate “at the speed of candlelight”). It’s all made possible by advanced technology—computers, wireless networks, the impulse-drive stapler, voice-recognition Post-its, etc.—and made compulsory by greedy investors who insist not only on bigger profits, but faster profits, which are critically needed in order to be hastily reinvested for marginally bigger profits from a marginally faster company, ad infinitum.

As for the future of this “I-need-it-yesterday-and-I-really-should-have-told-you-that-last-Thursday-meaning-I-need-it-last-Wednesday” mindset, well, most experts agree you’d better hang on to your microwave burrito because things are only going to get faster.

Of course, there’s one exception to all this corporate franticity: the publishing industry.

As any writer who’s ever submitted an article or manuscript for publication knows, a response can takes weeks, even months. (Personally, I’m still waiting to learn if Esquire is interested in my Baha Men profile.) Once something you’ve written has been accepted, it can take up to six months to hit newsstands, and a year or more to land in bookstores. Understandably, in a world where pudding, gratification and even karma are all agreeably instant, such waits can seem interminable. Then again, the causes of publishing’s sluggish pace are easily explained.

First, the sheer volume of submissions is crushing. In 2007, the average acquisitions editor received 2.6 million proposals. (That total drops down to 1.8 million per editor if celebrity penned children’s books are excluded.)

Perhaps the biggest culprit in these long delays is that, as a cost-cutting measure, most publishers have outsourced their editor positions to China. And while these new hires do put in 18-hour days for less than one U.S. dollar, being starved and beaten by the prison guards keeps productivity down.

As for the long lag between a work’s acceptance and its publication, in the book business this time is used by the sales and marketing departments to lower everyone’s expectations and work on their short games. With magazines and periodicals, however, the reason you need to submit a Christmas piece before Valentine’s Day rolls around, even in this age of e-mail, on-demand printing, high-speed assembly and meth-addicted production staffs, is all Congress’ fault. Probably. Lousy bureaucrats.

Don’t expect things to change any time soon, either. Publishers, despite the Chinese editing gambit, are traditionalists who like doing things the way they’ve always been done. Meaning, most experts agree, that publishing’s wheels will continue to grind slowly. Internal manuscript copies will always be hand-copied and illuminated, rather than Xeroxed. Fact-checking will forever be done via singing telegram. The three-martini lunch will inevitably follow the two-martini breakfast.

Still, there are things you can do to speed up the process. The surefire way to speed your work to the market is by doing something newsworthy. Publishers love to capitalize on fame, so get your book out there now by making headlines. Negotiate a peace agreement. Teach Keanu Reeves to act. Marry the pope. Do it and your book will be published pronto, before you return to obscurity.

Of course, a less demanding solution is to have yourself put into a medically induced coma where you can pass the months painlessly. 

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