If publishers were restaurants, then readers would be the patrons, booksellers the waiters, writers the chefs, genre the cuisine, and novels the meals. Every day something new comes out on the menu to join the current favorites while something old that nobody ordered much is removed.
In the fine dining business, everything rides on the ability of the chef to prepare a great meal. The chef must choose the right ingredients, prepare them properly, add them together in the right amounts and combinations, all to create something new and delicious that will please the people waiting for it.
Oddly enough, the profit margins in publishing and fine dining about the same, too -- and want to guess how much the average chef makes these days? Full-time, based on national averages, about $15-20K per year (which is about twice what the average pro writer makes. Maybe we're in the wrong business.)
As with gourmet meals, people will put up with a lot of things for a great read: terrible atmosphere, lousy ambience, neglectful service, obnoxious patrons at the next table, etc. Devoted novel lovers will put in pre-orders for their favorites and wait for weeks or even months for that one particular writer to deliver their specialty of the moment. If the novel sucks, however, just as in restaurants with lousy food, those people won't be back.
Writers have to compete with each other at the burners, and then shut up and step out of the way when a better-seller chooses to waltz in and take over the menu. Across the street there is always some Red Lobster or Olive Garden publisher, churning out yet another all-you-can-eat trendfest. They work off the theory that quantity outsells quality, and maybe they're right, because they're always busy. If your books don't sell, your publisher will be letting you go, because there is a line of writers a mile long standing outside the delivery door, just waiting for their one shot at the chopping block.
Not everyone is going to like what you offer them. If you've got someone in the dining room who has been stuffing themselves at other restaurants with nothing but vanilla sponge cake with pink frosting for dessert, and you dare send out a slice of dark chocolate ganache, they're going to complain. It's dark, it's bitter, whatever. Their palette is so dulled by the crap they scarf that they can't appreciate what you're offering. If you combine ingredients in a way that's never been done before, and present your patrons with something entirely new, no matter how delicious it is, they're going to view it with suspicion. They may not even taste it because -- as my kids often say -- it looks weird.
Then there are those regular patrons who send back their plates to show the chef who's really the boss. The "shut up and cook" ax-grinders who can't imagine why they lower themselves to eat at our lousy restaurant but still show up, every single time we're on. Love to cook for people like that. I do wonder if they realize how often they gobble up something without noticing the little additions we made especially for them, like the crumbled cockroach and the saliva glaze.
The one thing we have to do when we're in the great kitchen of publishing is focus on preparing the dish at hand. When we're cooking up our books, the only way to create a great story is to give it our full attention. Choosing the novel's ingredients, preparing them, combining them and making them work together as a story is the job, and that's all it is. You get distracted by other things -- how the meal is listed on the menu, how quickly it's served, how much comes back and what the fatass food critic who got his meal comped said about it -- and what you've got simmering on the back of the stove is going to start burning or go cold.
Now that I've depressed you or wrecked your diet, I've got to go stir-fry a dark fantasy. If your writing was a cuisine or a particular dish, what would it be?