The Perversity of the Publishing System

James Joyner links to a YouTube video of the great writer Harlan Ellison (whom I started reading almost fifty years ago) complaining about how amateurs are tough on his business. James observes:

Ellison is an all-time great and he’s been getting paid to write — and been famous — since before I was born. So, his, um, output is worth worth than most. But the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to do all kinds of writing without getting paid. Most op-eds you see in the major papers are published free or for an insultingly nominal fee. Most blogs don’t generate enough to pay for operating expenses.

I won’t link to the video here. Go on over to OTB to take a look at it.

Mr. Ellison’s remarks highlight the perversity of our publishing system, not just for books but for music, movies, and all similar works. There are lots of people who’d like to write (and, maybe, even get paid to do so). There are fewer who can write well. There are even fewer who write what publishers want to publish.

That is our system. Writers don’t get paid for writing, not even for writing well, and not, necessarily, for writing what will sell but for writing what publishers want to publish.

The highest paid and most famous motion picture directors aren’t the best. They’re those who are making what motion picture distributors want to distribute and the same is true of popular musicians: the rich and famous are those who are doing what the music publishers want to publish. It’s marketing not hard work or ability, although all three are nice.

Here’s the dirty little secret: our system is one that transfers risk from publishers to authors and, while the publishers continue to reap enormous benefits from that system, most authors don’t benefit at all from it.

One of my regular commenters here and someone I’ve met and consider at least a friend-in-the-making is a successful, published author. Very successful, I might say. He is also a person of enormous self-honesty and I’d be surprised if he didn’t agree with the claim that his great skill isn’t in writing but in writing what publishers want to publish and, possibly, what the readers in his target audience want to read. Also, like me, in marrying well but that’s another subject.

In my uninformed opinion writing what readers want to read is very much secondary. There is a large enough total marketplace nowadays that a publisher worth his salt should be able to identify a market from which money can be made and sell into it. Or create it. BTW, that’s why so many products are targeted at adolescents. They’re easier to influence.

And being a great writer is scarcely important at all. To believe otherwise is to believe that Stephen King is a greater writer than Shakespeare, Dickens, or Tolstoy. King is a competent writer, a good writer, but in a century his works will be all but forgotten while Boz’s go merrily on their way. Success and greatness aren’t the same thing.

25 comments… add one
  • I suspect I am that commenter. So I’ll respond: absolutely true.

    I accepted the marketplace early in my writing career. Some writers ignore it, argue with it, defy it. I chose the other path for the simple reason that I like getting paid for my work. And it’s an easy choice for me because I am a very good storyteller, with very good work habits, but would only earn a “C+” as a prose stylist. The market rewards prolific storytellers and offers less to great wordsmiths. (See: Dan Brown.)

    I’ll give you an obvious example from my wife, Katherine Applegate. Katherine and I used to write series together. No one (except me) knew she had a literary fast ball she was hiding until she wrote a beautiful verse novel called HOME OF THE BRAVE. (It’s won numerous awards including Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators book of the year.)

    My advance for GONE was 12 times her advance for HOTB. GONE is a well-executed story aimed squarely at the middle of the market. HOTB is the story of a Sudanese immigrant child relocated to Minneapolis. ‘Nuff said about that concept as a market-pleaser.

    The logic of the marketplace as it exists squeezes out the HOTB’s. Limited space (book shelf real estate) places a premium on the highest-performing product. Publishers that are almost all tiny subdivisions within massive corporations (I’m paid by NewsCorp) have to live by the profit-maximizing rules of those corporations. Smaller publishers can’t get shelf-space, can’t survive, get swallowed up and the cycle continues.

    However, I think a very big change is coming sooner than people think. I’m actually involved in making that change happen. So I don’t think the current publishing business model will be dominant in 10 years.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m distantly related to the late Philip Jose Farmer, and when he passed away a few weeks ago, I was scanning the internet for remembrances and found the old Farmer-Vonnegut dispute. These two guy, and Ellison, are authors that can recall vividly not getting paid for work. Partly they’re in the Sci Fi getto, but mainly it was unscrupolous publishers and non-transparent royalty schemes.

  • I think Harlan Ellison is exactly right, especially when it comes to the DVD for Warner Brothers. His contribution would add value to the DVD, so he should get paid for it. Its too bad so many of his fellow writers dont seem to realize that fact.

    However, I’m not sure Joyner’s extending that principle to op-ed writers makes as much sense. For starters, a lot of pieces on op-ed pages are syndicated columnists – so they are already getting paid. Secondly, a lot of the other pieces are written to espouse particular political concerns, so that the remuneration of the writer would be a secondary concern – in fact if they believed strongly in what they are advocating for or against they might not want to be paid for it. (They could be accused of being rather mercenery.)

    As for the publishing industry, I agree with you are Michael. I wonder how much the changing retail environment for books has to do the current state of play. The death of the smaller bookshops, and thus the death of the people who can hand sell worthwhile books, has led publishers to adopt the attitude of late 80’s early 90’s record companies who were more interested in selling 3-4 multi-platinum blockbusters a year rather than 30-40 smaller selling efforts. Any pimply teenager (who doesnt even read) can point a buyer to the stack of Dan Brown in a Barnes & Noble, so the publisher (at least the big publishers) doesnt even have to worry about a book “finding its audience.” Those little bookshops employed generations of people who worked there not because it was the most lucrative thing to do (I managed one of those small independents so I know that only too well), but because they loved books. They were, to my mind, indispensable for the success of quality books. They have been dispensed with, so the result will show in the quality.

    An example, we used to have an employee who hand sold the hell out of a book about a Buddhist monk that Random House had put out. When our rep would call periodically to get sales updates on RH books I would tell him how the book was doing and he was always amazed. (It was one of our top RH sales for almost a year.) I can understand why. There was no way a Borders or a Barnes & Noble was going to sell this book. They didnt have the staff who would have read it in the first place, let alone staff that would even think of hand selling a book like that.

    It adds up.

  • (Weird. I linked to this video 1-28-08. But one man’s ceiling is another’s floor.)

    All true. But let me add one huge factor that’s not generally talked about in this meltdown of our profession, the massive growth of supermedia companies.

    In the 80’s as part of a massive “diversified portfolio” aggregation by the media monopolies, nearly every major publisher was bought by a much larger media company, one that owned record companies, broadcast stations, cable systems, a motion picture studio, often, and invariably, the publishing arm was the poor orphan.

    That was how the Walt Disney Company ended up owning the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and others in the late ’80s — as a sort of unintended consequence of a much larger merger and buyout.

    The lingua franca of the media conglomerates became “marketing,” and at many, if not most, publishing houses, “editors” became subservient to marketing concerns. They supplied “marketing proposals” rather than approved books, and farmed out copy-editing chores to what you call “subcontractors” or “assistants.”

    But, while the publishers and editors and the New Yawk buzz remained ramped up to normal standards within the industry, the industry itself was marginalized to the level of “Horton Hears a Who” in the grand scheme of the Greater Media Company.

    To many in the media empires, an assignment to the publishing division was tantamount to a sentence to a Siberian Gulag, and suddenly, that staple of publishing became the centerpiece of publishing: the “celebrity” memoir, the ghostwritten potboiler.

    Because to the giant media that had subsumed the publishing industry, a CELEBRITY could generate “synergy,” and, thus, these authorless books, where betimes the “author” has difficulty spelling their autograph the same way with any consistency, at packed bookstores and media events, and said “autograph” degenerates into an illegible Sharpie scrawl.

    Our newest Literary Lion.

    It’s a perfect mesh for the media’s Marketers.

    The fact that it’s trashing American Letters is of no concern. The pathetic profit margins of the teensy publishing arms of the mega-media companies aren’t particularly interesting. At least one studio reportedly bought at publishing house just to be able to buy movie rights from authors BEFORE publication, and before the author might get uppity and try to ask for MORE money. The the mega-company, the savings and access to possible movie properties was worth the entire cost of the publishing house. And their profits? Nice, but hardly important to the bottom line.

    Consider the case of J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers.

    And that has translated into the mismanagement of our largest publishing houses. Not fiscal mismanagement; LITERARY mismanagement. Intellectual mismanagement. The publishers might still consider themselves the social lions of the Guggenheim, but to their new masters they’re just small potatoes. (For a couple decades now.)

    Right now well over 50% of our “major” publishers are wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign firms. (Like, 60%).

    Berkeley? Jove? Ace? Owned by Penguin Group. Random House? Bertelsmann, AG. Simon & Schuster? Er, “National Amusements” the CBS arm of Viacom. (It’s kind of confusing. See Wikipedia).

    HarperCollins? Rupert Murdoch.

    (Just like we don’t even own our own candy bar companies anymore.)

    Which has moved the author — the writer, the dreamer on whom the entire creaky machinery depends — to the far periphery of a media culture which feeds on itself quite nicely. The collapse of the publishing PROFESSION has created marketing-fed monstrosities.

    Paris Hilton comes to mind: from sex tape to reality show to hamburger commercial, and … BEST SELLING AUTHOR status.

    And, having learned that you can have books without all those pesky authors, TV has moved to “reality” shows, which are, essentially, the same thing.

    Magazines have all but died. Now, the largest basically say “Don’t even bother to query. We use ONLY insiders.” Starting in the ’70s the bottom fell out, and it’s just gone on and on. Less and less writing. More and more pictures. Illustrators are in similar straits.

    First there were the paper shortages, and the print hikes, and every time, the magazine publishers asked the magazine writers to shoulder the sacrifice: going from payment on acceptance to payment on publication, for instance. A difference in paychecks from 6 to 9 months, because the publisher didn’t pay you until the last day of the COVER date (magazines usually come out a month before that cover date.) Etcetera.

    In the early ’80s, it was noted that writers’ basic rates hadn’t increased in magazines since the 1950s and that’s still essentially true.

    And the giant bookstores, etcetera. At a certain level, the fundamentals of the industry are undergoing a revolution the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Johann Gutenberg. And the writers are getting slammed.

    I don’t know about you, but when I look at the hoops an author has to jump through to get his book into the hopper for consideration and a “marketing proposal” at the “major publishers” and then look at “Paris Hilton, New York Times Best-Selling Author,” I know that the universe is out of joint.

    It must be the apocalypse.

  • Hart:

    The problem with your thesis is that J. K. Rowling is actually a terrific writer. By your lights she shouldn’t be. But she is.

    So are quite a few kidlit writers. In fact kidlit today is infinitely better than it was 30 or 50 or 100 years ago. There are more books, and the books are better. Much of what passed for classics of kidlit (I’m looking at you Francis Hodgson Burnett) was crap.

    When I was growing up we read Hardy Boys and Tom Swift. Go back and read them: they’re awful. But so are many of the reputed masterpieces of kidlit. Compare the literary quality then to Harry Potter or Octavian Nothing or Despereaux. (Not to mention the quality of art in kids picture books.)

    Each new generation complains that things have gone to hell in a handbasket. But the fact is kid’s books are better today.

    I don’t think you understand the market. In publishing the big books pay for the small books. An editor can take a chance on a small book because she’s paid the rent with some massive hit.

    In fact, that’s the real and as yet unperceived threat to the publishing model. The threat comes from the A-list writers themselves. With established fan bases and name recognition the A-listers could, as technology advances, move to self-publishing on-line. They’d earn more. They’d also stop subsidizing mid-list and riskier books. Uncle Rupert isn’t the threat to publishing, the A-listers are.

    But the romantic notion of small publishers who published with their hearts rather than their bank accounts is silly. How do you think all those small publishers went broke and ended up owned by NewsCorp and Bertelsman and Disney?

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think it’s definitely a good time to be a _consumer_ of books. I don’t know about the business end. Given the number of the books I currently want to read that are readily available from Amazon, I will not live long enough to complete them.

    Interesting that we’re talking kid lit. A few years ago, a book appeared on a fairly prestigous 100 Greatest Books of All Time list that I hadn’t ever thought to read, Pippi Longstocking. I made a mental note to read it with my daughter some day, and just finished it this week. What the %$#@? I agree with michael, J.K. Rowling is excellent, I’m making a mental note to look into Octavian Nothing or Despereaux. Coraline was a great recent find, though I was a bit disapointed in some of the changes in the movie.

  • PD:

    How many pages of Pippi did you get through before you started to yearn for the sweet release of death?

  • Michael:

    Er, I don’t know how you decided that I was dissing J.K. Rowling. The story goes that Warner was able to read the first book in galleys, and snapped up all the film rights, and then bragged about how they’d screwed her, as a novice writer, getting a bargain based on what she OUGHT to have gotten.

    Rather disgusting to bray that YOU were the one who tried to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, n’est ce pas?

    I was referring to the bragging about screwing the writer. Not about the quality of J.K. Rowling’s work, which I happen to like.

  • I grew up reading the kids’ books of a generation before mine: the Oz books, Tom Swift, Masterman Ready, The Wind in the Willows (still eminently readable), Black Beauty, and so on. Other than Rowling I haven’t kept up with what kids are reading these days.

    I think a key point is that there’s just one Rowling. That’s what the system produces. Another system might produce a dozen, all very different. Or it might produce none. But the current system strongly encourages putting all of the eggs into very few baskets.

  • Hart:

    I was making a different point. That if it was true that the system was inherently bad then the quality would not have risen in the person of Rowling and others.

    As for JK getting screwed, I have to laugh. She is the richest woman in England. Richer than the queen. No doubt Warner bragged about Book #1 rights. Bet they didn’t brag about their deal for subsequent books.

  • Dave:

    Publishers would love to have more Rowlings. In fact you could say that the last decade has been largely a desperate search for another Rowling. The problem isn’t the publishers it’s that there are very few writers who can write 5,000 pages that are as imaginative as Harry Potter.

    I don’t buy the idea that there are hundreds of writers out there not getting their chance. It’s very hard to break in, but it’s not impossible.

    But the market is not going to respond to a writer who chooses obscure literary devices, or off-putting characters, or a meandering plot in pursuit of some Iowa Writer’s Project version or New York Review of Books version of literary value. Writers have to give the market a chance, something to work with.

  • You’re 1,000 times more knowledgeable than I on this subject, Michael, but I think that publishers deserve a little more chiding than you seem to. I think they’ve got fat, dumb, and happy and that the system, which favors them so strongly, is what’s made them that way. I think that publishers should be out there locating talent, cultivating talent, building talent, creating and fostering markets, and selling, selling, selling. Now, why should they?

    The essence of entrepeneurship is risk-taking and too many businesses today have lost the entrepeneurial spirit.

  • Oh, I’ll go along with fat and dumb. But they aren’t happy. They are scared shitless. And they should be. There’s a tidal wave coming their way and they are beginning to see it. They see what’s happening to the newspapers and what’s already happened to the music business.

    As it happens I’m involved with a company that’s working to show them a way forward. And my second series (isn’t out yet, in fact I’m just finishing book #1) is part of a publisher’s attempt to make some sense of the new landscape.

    One other point: entrepreneurship isn’t just for publishers. Writers also have to be entrepreneurs. As I may have already mentioned, I wrote GONE on spec. That’s six months of work during which time I had no idea whether I was earning zero dollars an hour or hundreds. Prior to that I’d spent another six months and 5 grand in research costs on a different book that I never did manage to sell.

    That part of the job — the risk-taking, the lack of safety net, the lack of hand-holding — weeds out a lot of writers. No question about it. But it’s a competitive business with potentially high rewards. And like most veterans I don’t have a lot of sympathy for new recruits.

  • PD Shaw Link

    From Hart’s comments, and to some extent Dave’s, I take it that book quality is perceived as the central problem. I’d assume its quantity, with forward lookings projections, in a post-literate society.

    Guilting Oprah into putting books like Anna Karenina and the Sound and the Fury on her reading list seems to be the exact wrong approach.

  • Michael:

    Was this the point you were trying to make?

    “I don’t think you understand the market. In publishing the big books pay for the small books. An editor can take a chance on a small book because she’s paid the rent with some massive hit.”

    I’ve been a professional since 1976. In fact, I founded the local book review section in the Orange County Register in 1987. (Your stomping grounds, and you’re welcome.)

    Seems like the point you’re trying to make is how full of yourself you are.

    Having had some success at (juvenile) publishing, you believe yourself to be the expert for all publishing. As for disputing the vast majority of my points you are non-responsive (excepting for the ad hominem cited above). Sorry, Michael, but your expertise doesn’t trump anyone else’s. Neither, for that matter, does your “critical eye.”

    Consider this quote from the post above:

    “And being a great writer is scarcely important at all. To believe otherwise is to believe that Stephen King is a greater writer than Shakespeare, Dickens, or Tolstoy. King is a competent writer, a good writer, but in a century his works will be all but forgotten while Boz’s go merrily on their way. Success and greatness aren’t the same thing.”

    And this quote from your “blog”

    “There are a lot of good writers out there. There are other people who can write (almost) as well as Stephen King. But no one else is as good as he is …”

    There is a vast difference between masked arrogance and incivility and actual discussion and debate.

    Indeed, you seem so threatened by the Rowling example that you’ve gone out of your way to belittle my point twice now without ever actually “getting” it. In debate this can be called either “lack of clash” or a “straw man” argument. Or, perhaps, garden variety incomprehension.

    If you’re a legend in your own mind, so be it, but the proper venue for your debating skills would seem less in open fora and more of your own (full length) mirror.

    From the internal evidence, you don’t seem to have actually *read* anything that I had to say.

  • Hart:

    I’m at a loss to understand why you’re pissed off at me. I’m not mad at you and didn’t insult you.

    You accused the publishing industry of literary mismanagement. You blamed the corporate consolidation. You claimed writers were being slammed and that it’s all just marketing.

    I pointed out that in fact in my little world books have gotten better, not worse. So I wondered how that would square with your belief that there’s literary mismanagement and that it’s all marketing and so on.

    I engaged your central point directly. I think you’re wrong. I don’t see how, if things are so godawful, books are actually better. At least in my corner of the market. I’ve never claimed expertise beyond my field, but I do feel free to offer an opinion.

    And yes, my opinion matters because I’m the author or co-author of 150 books, translated into just about every language, and sold in just about every market. I’ve sold something like 22,000 pages in the market since 1989, more than just about anyone else alive, so I do think it’s likely that I know one or two things that even a book reviewer does not.

    As for being threatened by Rowling, on the contrary, I was liberated by Rowling. When I started you could not publish a YA book that was much over 200 pages. Let alone a series. RL Stine made the kidlit world safe for gender crossover series and Rowling made way for the big book. I was the co-author of Animorphs, the gender-crossing series that came after Stine’s Goosebumps, and I currently write a gender crossover series of very big books.

    Stine and Rowling both outsell me massively, but they cleared ground I now happily and profitably plow.

  • Michael:

    The Rowling example was an anecdote suggesting the manner in which the publishing arm of a media conglomerate was used to further the greater aims of the conglomerate — to the detriment of the author, and the clueless braying that suggested the creator of the property is unimportant compared with the acquisition of the selfsame property.

    Anecdotes NOT involving wealthy authors abound. Look it up.

    You seem, instead, obsessed with some sort of literary-cum-salon analysis of Rowling’s a) bank account b) prose or c) success.

    To suggest that because YOU (and your wife) are happy writing juvenile pot-boilers and children’s books verges on solipsism. Good on you for having some success, but a non-sequitur.

    (And “success” comes and goes in this profession. As the Greeks said, “Count no man happy until he is dead.”)

    Or, to put it in context: “I’m an editor with Tiger Beat Magazine, and we’ve never done better; therefore magazines have never been in better shape.”

    One Tiger Beat doth not all literature make.

    Then, you arrogantly insult me personally, Michael, by suggesting by clear implication that I know nothing about publishing compared to your massive “expertise.” Quote:

    “I don’t think you understand the market. ”

    Please explain how this is not professionally insulting.

    And then you add this arrogance in your last comment:

    “I pointed out that in fact in my little world books have gotten better, not worse. So I wondered how that would square with your belief that there’s literary mismanagement and that it’s all marketing and so on.”

    Try reading the old Salon piece “The Death of the MidList Author.” The fact that you’re fat and happy and a huge segment of working writers are facing virtual annihilation in today’s publishing world suggests NOT your expertise, but, rather, your extreme myopia.

    A Nebula-winning author who’s a friend of mine in town sighs that writing is rapidly becoming less a profession than “a gentleman’s hobby.” But you’re fat and happy so that doesn’t count? This is the narcissism of the toddler: out of sight, out of mind.

    Or this:

    “I engaged your central point directly. I think you’re wrong. I don’t see how, if things are so godawful, books are actually better. At least in my corner of the market. I’ve never claimed expertise beyond my field, but I do feel free to offer an opinion.”

    But, by implication, you DO claim said expertise, and build on it with every reply. I like the “22,000 pages” stat, though, which is now a quantitative argument to buttress a qualitative argument. Apples are oranges and oranges are apples. Or you just have to be right, no matter the mental gymnastics required?

    Books AREN’T actually better. Go read the “top 10” NYTimes bestsellers today, and then go read the “top 10” NY Times bestsellers of, say, 1969 and then tell me how much “better” books are today.

    Oh, you just meant tween potboilers, or juvenile fiction, which I’m not putting down. Heinlein wrote “Stranger In A Strange Land” as his adult novel while writing “Starship Troopers” as a “juvenile” simultaneously for the cash/advance.

    Which I take to mean:

    “At least in my corner of the market.” Well, most of us don’t write to tween audiences, so I’ll stipulate your point, but note that it doesn’t have doodly squat to do with the price of beans, auctorially.

    Worse, I was making a quantitative argument based on observation, and you respond with a qualitative non-sequitur based on personal anecdote, which is most definitely NOT engaging my “central point directly.” And then this arrant nonsense:

    “And yes, my opinion matters because I’m the author or co-author of 150 books, translated into just about every language, and sold in just about every market. I’ve sold something like 22,000 pages in the market since 1989, more than just about anyone else alive, so I do think it’s likely that I know one or two things that even a book reviewer does not’.”

    To quote Churchill (attributed), This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.

    I haven’t brayed my credits to the four winds. To characterize me as merely a “book reviewer” betrays more about your idea that attacking the speaker personally (ad hominem — “against the man” — than it does about my qualifications.

    (I have probably done more in 36 years in this profession than be a “book reviewer.” I just wanted to give you some local context.)

    This is the classical fallacy, “Appeal to authority,” and your whole argument is intended to buttress your “authority,” rather than discussing the original point.

    I don’t bray my CV every time I attempt to make a rational point. This is obviously in contradiction to your own philosophy, but it is clear from a re-reading of your textual “analysis” that you have not read my arguments with comprehension.

    You merely attempt to heap on your writing statistics. I am certain that your literary acumen shames Shakes and Shav, and makes Dante and Cicero weep in purgatory. But mere statistics don’t make losing arguments winners. Consider the case of Fran Tarkenton.

    L. Ron Hubbard was one of the most prolific pulp writers in John Campbell’s stable in the “Golden Age” of science fiction, but no one would argue that he was the best writer.

    So, let’s summarize: you like J.K. Rowling (evidently because she’s rich, see a,b,c above) and Stephen King (ditto and because he blurbed you). Your personal world of juvenile fiction is producing “better” books.

    Therefore writers ARE being paid, there’s NOTHING wrong with the publishing industry, and, if there is, YOU, GREAT and internationally renowned writer from 1989, are working with a company that will solve the problem. Yessirree.

    Bravo, sir! You’ve run rings around me with your logic.

    And the reflexive insults were fun, too.

    Your whole schtick is what a “great” writer you are, and, therefore, how you are the greatest expert in the world on publishing. Good luck with that.

    I’ll be sure to make a reservation to Stockholm to watch you pick up your Nobel Prize in Literature, for “Real Gone, Daddio.”

    But please don’t pretend reasonableness when you aren’t, and civility when you haven’t exhibited it. I refer you to my first comment, which you might try responding to rationally. Rather than admit that you completely misread the point, you insist on continuing to gild your rhetorical lily.

    I’m not arguing your argument; I’m arguing mine, which you have yet to address. In most cases, we seem to be in agreement. Your entire argument, thus far has been hierarchical — I have most writer (sic), therefore, I king of expert.

    If the facts bore you out, that would be one thing.

    Clearly, you haven’t been in the business long enough to know that there’s always a more accomplished writer than yourself and there is always a faster gun than yours. And that the truth can always stand questioning, even when experts agree. (cf. financial experts on the economy, 2007.)

    Oh, and that a little humility is the best preventative tonic against public humiliation.

    “My god’s bigger than your god/My god’s better than yours. My god’s better ’cause he eats Ken-L-Ration/ My god’s better than yours,” generally doesn’t carry the day, except by dint of arms and not pen merely.

    My point is still that I and a whole lot of peers have been watching the publishing melt down for three decades now, and at an accelerating rate of late.

    We had stipulated that Harlan’s rant was right: pay the writer. I argued my case.

    Address that, and not your résumé, please.

  • Hart:

    All of which is a very (very) long way of saying:

    1) The Publishing industry sucks.
    2) Because they won’t publish my book.

    Spare me. You’re a writer who has a hard time getting published. Boo hoo. Are you under the impression that you have a right to be published? Does the world owe you a six figure three book deal and front-of-the-store placement at Barnes and Noble?

    Maybe you’re just not a very good writer. Or maybe you’re the greatest writer since Shakespeare but you write things no one wants to read. Sorry. I don’t get to play in the NBA and no one will hire me as an astrophysicist. Poor me.

    The world is not waiting breathlessly for your (no doubt) brilliant prose.

    It’s a business. It’s always been a business. It was a business when the Bard was writing and it was a business when Dickens was writing. They wrote for money. They also happen to have produced great literature but they didn’t know that’s what they were doing because what cared about was being able to afford a beer at the end of the day.

    Time and fashion decide what is and what is not great literature. The market decides what sells. It always has. It always will.

    You want to write a book? Be my guest. It’s a free country and you can write whatever you like. Write the greatest novel ever written. Publish it on-line. Or pay to have it printed and put it on Amazon.

    But of course that’s not your complaint, is it? It’s not that you can’t write whatever you like, or even self-publish whatever you like. It’s that no one will pay you to write. So surprise, it’s about the money.

    I should have thought this was self-evident but they won’t pay you because they don’t think they’ll turn a profit. To use a tweenlit word: duh. Guess what, the mags that published Dickens wouldn’t have bought his stuff if it didn’t sell. Yes: profit exists! Apparently this is startling news. Yes: companies like to make money! Wow! Who knew?

    The small publishers who used to put out literary novels read by the author and his 15 closest friends went broke running their businesses that way and ended up selling out to Uncle Rupert. Do you think Rupert went around putting a gun to the heads of publishers? Or do you think maybe they lost money and had no choice but to sell?

    The publishers will not pay you for something they don’t believe is profitable. No business anywhere will ever pay you to do something that will lose them money. You want subsidies for your prose? Move to Europe. And when you get there you’ll find bookstores filled to overflowing with translations of American and British books.

    In fact, horrors! You’ll find my books staring out at you from the shelves.

  • Michael:

    Can we say “idée fixe” boys and girls?

    (Or, in this case, “idées fixes”?)

    Thank you for your Symphonie Fantastique.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Stephen King is just announced for inclusion in a new Library of America anthology.

    King being the only thread I can follow back to the original post.

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