Posted by: Elen C | October 29, 2010

Touch, Pause, Engage

The popular image of a writer is of someone who works in solitude, perhaps in a study, the French doors opening onto a well-kept lawn. Or maybe in a cold garret scribbling away with a fountain pen, the ink freezing in the nib, fingerless gloves covering chilblains. Or even in coffee shop, eking out a cappuccino over three hours and bashing at a laptop. Wherever this writer works, they do so alone – just them and their carefully crafted words.

But that’s not how an author works.

In my experience, creating books is a team sport. A few days ago, Nicola Morgan wondered who it was we write for, ourselves, or an Ideal Reader. I’d suggest that those are only two options in a team of many. To use a rugby metaphor, it’s like asking whether the game was won by the fly half or the second row; not only does it ignore the answer ‘both’, it ignores the rest of the team. So, to continue my dubious metaphor, I’m going to share my publishing rugby team with you.

The Props, aka The Sales Team. Typically the stockiest (see what I did there?) members of the team who are aggressive and powerful. They go out into the field and push your book to the world.

The Second Row, or The Copy Editor. They stand tall, they’re highly skilled and they work hard for team glory above personal pride.

The Flankers, your Art and Design Team. They give the book visual flair and lift. And if Waterstones don’t like the cover, they’ll go back to the drawing board. They’ll take the most painful tackles with a smile.

The Number Eight, otherwise known as Booksellers and Librarians. The hidden force behind the attack. Their support can make or break a career.

The Scrum Half, this is The Author. Smaller, nimbler, full of ideas. Puts the spark in the rest of the team.

The Fly Half, alias The Editor. The key decision maker, usually scores with the boot.

The Wings, also called The Marketing and PR Dept. Speedy, with an eye for the main chance.

The Centres, or Other Writers. The centres will rally in attack and support in defence, just as your colleagues will when you really need it.

The Fullback, your stalwart, The Agent. The last line of defence when everyone else is losing their heads

And what is this team aiming for? The Try Line, or, in other words, Readers.

When you write, you’re writing for all of these people. The ideal book will speak to each of them. This isn’t easy to pull-off. It needs a dollop of luck as well as practice and good judgement. But if you do get the whole team pulling in the same direction then you might just have a winner on your hands.

And for those for whom the start of winter means that the Six Nations isn’t that far away:



  1. However, if the team loses, it’s only the scrum half who gets dropped.

  2. Hmm, good point. However, you do usually get a couple of chances to get it right. Being dropped after book one is still quite rare, even in these difficult times.

  3. From grim personal experience, decisions made by other players, especially those props, can scupper a thitherto successful series – but then the scrum half is never invited to team meetings and is never in a position to argue with tactics.

  4. Yes, I do see your point. When I read Nicola’s post, it seemed to me that it wasn’t a simple choice between writing for an ideal reader, or for yourself. To a large extent, you are writing to convince the publishers/booksellers/readers that you are worth taking a punt on. If they all agree that you are worth it, then you’ve a good chance of doing well. But if there are dissenters (especially props!) then the road is much more rocky.

  5. Hmm. . .not sure we’re on the same wavelength, Elen! It may be the case that the whole team loves your work but still make bad calls. Publishing is a business full of people who will be very friendly to you until your sales dip, whereupon you will be fortunate even to get a call to say they won’t be requiring another book. These days, for a major publisher, if your books do not shift at least 10,000 the accountants’ red pens are hovering. To get back to your rugby metaphor, there certainly is a team operating, but the role of the writer is more akin to the leathery oval thing which can be quickly replaced once it punctures.

  6. I’m playing without a fullback. Does this bode well?

  7. “The Fly Half, alias The Editor. The key decision maker, usually scores with the boot.”

    🙂 Luvvit. Nice parallel, Elen.

  8. What you’ve described, Elen, very engagingly, is how publishing works, not how writing works. Novel writing is solitary by definition. The teamwork here surely comes in paying heed to honest feedback from readers of drafts, and choosing those readers carefully. The match begins when the finished manuscript enters the field – and there are many more than six competitors!

    On a related note: lead headline spotted yesterday on a Welsh sports newspaper: “We will not be twits this autumn, vow Wales”. Rest of the year is alright, then….

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