My wife Sherron has thrown down the gauntlet.
The other night she told me: “Listen, you’ve had your fun insulting editors and publishers, belittling their intelligence, always going after them. Now, how about something constructive? You’ve got ideas on how to improve things and make the system run better so let’s hear them, wise guy.”
Right. Here goes.
First of all, it must be acknowledged that, by any standards, the corporate book publishing model has been a complete failure. Publishers are losing money, cutting staff, consolidating…and book sales have taken a big dip (according to one stat I saw on Mediabistro, down a whopping 13% in November, 2008 from the previous year).
And this notion that there are editors out there with the wisdom and far-sightedness of Solomon, who are somehow able to identify and manufacture the next monster bestseller is a complete fallacy. Moronic, in fact. Has no basis in reality whatsoever. Look at what happened to Andrew Davidson (author of Gargoyle; Random House); guy gets a hefty advance, the book is promoted up the yin-yang…and it barely makes a ripple. Certainly no threat to becoming the next Da Vinci Code, right?
You can’t pie chart a bestseller, you can’t graph which book is going to break through big time–and which ones are going to flounder and sink like the Lusitania. Please recall that the enormous, worldwide success of J.K. Rowling resulted, largely, from strong word of mouth, parents passing along copies and recommendations of The Philosopher’s Stone until a genuine groundswell was created.
You can’t consistently create a bestseller but what you can do is use the new technologies out there so that, as a publisher, all your eggs aren’t crammed into one basket. Changing the metaphor, why settle for the equivalent of a single shot, old style flintlock, when POD offers you the opportunity to wield a state of the art shotgun?
Print-on-demand (POD) gives you that capability. Unlike the old, offset press method of publishing, POD is flexible, far less time-consuming and energy intensive and cheap to boot. You can print as many copies of a particular title as you want, from 1…to ten million.
Instead of throwing big dough at a title/author that is, by no means, a sure thing, why not spread that loot around a little? Rather than sign up five authors at a million plus each, why not give 100 writers a chance, paying them smaller upfront fees but rewarding them with a higher royalty rate. That payment regimen has worked with small and indie presses for years–and, believe me, you’ll be astonished at how little an author will accept in their desperation to get a book in print. It’s depressing, really. Pathetic.
Ah…sorry. Wandered off topic. Where was I?
Okay, now you’ve got 100 different authors with a hundred different books, 95 more opportunities to find the next Steve King than you had under your stupid corporate model. And you don’t give your 100 hopefuls ridiculous print runs, you start modestly. That way you won’t be stuck with massive returns, which then have to be remaindered, warehoused and pulped, more money down the drain.
You can print as few as 500 or 1,000 copies per author and then emulate what the movie companies do when they offer films as limited releases, to gauge audience reactions and get some idea as to a project’s potential appeal.
Thinking along the same lines, publishers could send out review copies to newspapers, magazines and bloggers and, simultaneously, “test market” books in selected stores (or by offering them as downloads through e-Readers like Kindle et all). Let the readers and the book-lovers determine which authors have wider appeal and then do another, larger printing to meet the demand (the author happily cashing in at the higher royalty rate).
Some might opine that under a royalty-based system the publisher would be tempted to cheat, since they’re the ones controlling the books. I would argue that Bookscan and related technologies, as well as computerized inventories and the publishers’ selfish desire for authors to score a hit and sell a gazillion books makes the possibility of fraud quite remote.
What I like about this system is that it allows a wider array of authors to develop a following, while not feeling the pressure of a big money contract hanging over them. The risks are shared between the writer and the publisher…and as far as I can tell the whole thing seems like a win-win scenario.
Corporate publishers have been slow out of the blocks when it comes to new technologies, especially POD. Instead of utilizing POD as I have suggested, some in the industry have chosen a more short-sighted and morally questionable approach. In my view, they’re misusing POD by going after relatively small peanuts, offering print-on-demand services to aspiring and amateur scribblers who have yet to make the grade, encouraging them to sign up and print their own books. Oh, and, let us not forget, that means said scribblers have to sell and distribute their own books. The big boys deigning to offer no other assistance, content to serve as a glorified copy shop for dingbats desperate for a for-real-and-true book to wave in front of their friends (“See? See? Told ya I was a writer!”).
But I have my doubts these tactics will work. Writers, as a rule, tend not be be made of money so you can only milk that teat so long. Besides, iUniverse and Lulu have been around a lot longer and have seized a sizable slice of the market share. But it’s an enticing proposition, turning the old regime on its ear: writers paying publishers, rather than vice versa. Zowie! And if there are enough stupid, starry-eyed authors out there, who knows? Those rotten bastards could stand to rake in a nice stipend.
But those same publishers could make a helluva lot more if they abandoned their home run/big book mentality and settled for hitting singles and doubles for awhile…especially in these precipitous economic times.
I’m not saying my business strategy is completely original or perfect and if you have any thoughts on its weaknesses, how it could be improved, drop a line or two in the “Comments” box below.
Let’s see if we can put our heads together as bibliophiles and devotees of the printed word and save publishing from the worst aspects of itself.
If it means a wider, more diverse cross-section of authors make it into print, having more books out there, more choices for readers, our efforts will be worth it.
Hey, you suits in New York and Toronto! Are you listening?
What do you say?
“I have no desires, save the desire to express myself in defiance of all the world’s muteness.”
Sorry, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
Well, the news is good: I’ve finally summoned the nerve to start a new, long project and have completed an outline/first draft in just over two weeks. About 150 pages, partly typed, mainly handwritten. Raw footage. Tuneless, inconsistent, fraught with continuity errors. Really quite dreadful…
I’ll take it. Whatever form it’s in, I’ll take it. Anything is better than the alternative.
Previous postings have alluded to my confidence problems resulting from the overwhelming lack of success I had peddling my last attempt at a novel, So Dark the Night. When you spend three years on a project, beating the shit out of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually and said manuscript goes absolutely fucking nowhere…well, it can dampen your enthusiasm for attempting anything similar for a long time.
Candidly, this is actually the second full-length project I’ve taken a crack at since So Dark the Night. I wrote the first draft of a SF tale set two or three thousand years in the future, completing it…hmmm, I think it was last November. About 180 typed pages but…again, the confidence thing. After I finished typing it in, I started second-guessing myself: is it good enough? More to the point, is it worth spending a year to eighteen months researching and writing a decent draft? And even if I do write something that verges on the terrific, what chance do I have of seeing it published?
So the SF project was shelved. Not for good, there are some neat ideas and an intriguing central concept but…for now.
This new manuscript falls more into the horror category but you’ll excuse me if I don’t disclose any particulars as to its plot, characters, etc. It’s not that I’m overly worried about someone ripping me off, it’s just that I have a superstitious reluctance to talk about a project until I’m very close to finishing it. I recall a story I once heard about the great Civil War historian, Shelby Foote. For years he claimed to be gathering material for a book, rhapsodizing to friends about it, providing a surfeit of details including character summaries, etc. When Foote died, archivists looking through the voluminous amount of boxes and files he left behind couldn’t find the slightest trace of Foote’s big book.
The lesson here: don’t talk about writing something, DO it.
So I don’t usually talk about a story or poem or novel that’s in-progress. Not to you, not to my wife, not to anybody. Sherron knows nothing about this horror book I’ve got going, not even the title. The only thing I’ve told her is the page count.
I am determined that this new work will not go the same way as the SF manuscript. I’m going to find the courage and inner strength to nail this fucker. Because while I’ve been nursing my wounds and feeling sorry for myself, less talented authors, hacks and wannabes have been tapping away, foisting their horrible shit onto unwary readers.
Why should I withdraw, leaving the field to these no-talent, feeble-minded, derivative shitheads?
Last night I read an interview with Will Self, maybe one of the five or ten best writers in England. During his chat with Rick Moody (in Tin House #28), Self, not a big fan of the internet and new technologies, made the following observation:
“I do think electronic publishing is likely to further subvert the print media in the next few years, but I’ve no doubt that the medium isn’t altogether the message. Simply because there’s another way of making views known, it doesn’t mean that good style, research, or engaging opinions aren’t required. There’s an aspect of the internet forums that presupposes—and enacts!—that old canard that everyone has a novel in him. I don’t think everyone does at all—and the Net is a medium which unfortunately makes it easier for those who have bad novels and miscellaneous other screeds to get them out.”
God, bless ya, Will. I’ve said much the same in various forums, including a LibraryThing chat group made up of writers-readers and was labeled an “elitist”, a “snob”, etc. etc. A glance at the profiles of those who cried foul revealed that few of them had anything close to professional qualifications. As I remarked to my colleague John Sunseri, “there seems to be a fuck of a lot more readers in this group than actual writers”.
Listen you wannabe cocksuckers: you’re not writers until you’ve paid your dues. That means writing every single day of your life, perfecting your craft, working your ass off. You are not a writer if you once scribbled a poem about your dying grandfather or make occasional journal entries about how no one understands you, boo-fucking-hoo.
I claim the honorific as writer because despite the pain and rejection, I still pick up my pen or sit before this keyboard and do the job. Every day, rain or shine, sickness and health, wherever I am. Got that? If you aren’t doing the same and try to claim the same status as me, you are a poseur and a fake. Go fuck yourself. The people at iUniverse and all those other POD publishers will be happy to take your money and give you the illusion that you’re really something special. If you gits are the future of publishing, then God help us all.
So I shall go on, in defiance of failure and discouragement, despite editors with double digit IQ’s and readers who anxiously await Dan Brown’s followup to The DaVinci Code. I’ll write ’til my fingers break, my back gives out and the spirit leaves my body. They’ll have to pry my Ticonderoga “Executive” pen (with the thick, light barrel I prefer) out of my clawed hand.
I’ve been banging about for over 20 years now and I just don’t see surrender as an option. There’s something inside me that rebels at the notion of giving up. Especially when I know that I have more talent that 98% of the scribblers out there. What has hurt me is my refusal to compromise, my refusal to cede final say over my work to an editor who needs to write L and R on their shoes to figure out which foot goes where.
Does that sound harsh? Let me tell you something else: you may see some writers who thank editors on the acknowledgments page of their books but I guarantee you that in most cases the writer is simply reflecting his/her relief at finally seeing their book in print. The writers I know detest their publishers and denigrate their editors but if sucking up to them is what’s required to get their book out there, fuck it.
Editors today don’t have the status or intelligence or erudition of someone like Maxwell Perkins and they certainly would have little truck with Michael Korda who once said that the greatest lesson he learned as an editor was to leave writers alone and not interfere with their work.
As for genre editors…well, I’ve met more intelligent marsupials. They aren’t well-read, have no aesthetic sensibilities and possess the social skills of those inbred Appalachians in “Deliverance” (the only difference is, editors have slightly better teeth).
All right. Enough. This will have to suffice for the next couple of weeks as I bend my brain on—shit, I almost gave away the title. Clever buggers, aren’t you? I’ll pop back in for the occasional progress report and to whinge about how hard I’m working. In the meantime, I’ll gratefully accept any and all the good vibes and prayers you send my way.
Believe me, I’ll need all the help I can get…
* Our little hedgehog Promaia continues to hang in there. Part of her problem may be that she (like yours truly) has obsessive- compulsive tendencies. We switched her to a water bottle some months back and she drank and drank constantly…to the point that her bladder distended and that might be the cause for her swelling and not, as the vet initially suggested, a tumour. We’re cutting back her water, only giving it to her at night; we’ll see what happens.
** Nothing new to report on the movie front. As far as I know, “Kept” is in pre-production but whether or not it will ever go before the cameras…er, well, that’s why I insisted on a 2-year limit for the option. If filming hasn’t started by then, I keep the dough and all rights revert back to me.
*** And, finally, a tip of the hat to all you folks who have sought out this site and come in for a look. I should receive my 10,000th “hit” in the next 20 days or so and that completely blows me away. When Sherron talked me into starting “Beautiful Desolation” seven months ago, I didn’t imagine numbers anything close to that. Thanks for coming by and for the comments (good or bad). I hope I’ll continue to provide you with posts that amuse, disturb and annoy. I promised myself when I started this I’d never bore you and I’d like to think I’ve kept my word.