And yet, somehow, nobody inside the publishing biz seems to notice. It's been six—no, almost eight weeks now: when the hell you people gonna give me my props? I mean, how long's a fella gotta wait before he gets his (pseudo) name in PAGE SIX bold-print? For Stephen King and Amy Tan and Ridley Pearson to name me an honorary member of the Rock Bottom Remainders? For somebody to say, with genuine curiosity, "Who Is That Masked Man?!" I hate to bring this up myself—but hasn't anyone considered me for 'Man of the Year'?
I know, I know—Karl Rove is 'Man of the Year'—besides, how do you know I'm not Rove himself? Or maybe that’s where these "trust issues" come from--is that it? (...would certainly explain why you’ve been deleting my emails, unopened…) And all these anonymous testimonials—that’s right up ol’ Karl’s alley too, huh?
To put the Karl Rove rumor to rest once and for all, I refer you now to PublishersLunch Deluxe, December 8, 2004, in which Michael Cader, the proprietor of Publishers Marketplace, wrote,
OK, so it’s not God’s work, exactly, but “help change things for the better”—not a bad aim, right? And who among us doesn’t think that things could be better, that the industry could use some fresh juice? Yet generally when I reach out to y’all, it’s like, HEY, MISTER—HANDS OFF THE COAT! For instance: a week or so ago I sent out a questionnaire to about 65 marketing folk; I got 1 (one) substantial response. Couple days later I sent a one-sentence query to a bunch of literary agents—45 or so—and got 1 (one) reply. I’m burning the midnight oil, hoping to distill—or evoke—the occasional blogsize morsel that might prove useful, all for the greater good…and what do I get in return? I get bupkiss! (Bubkiss? Bubpkis?) Nothing. Nada.
"Last month we noted the arrival of blogger "Mad Max Perkins." Max has been trying, through a variety of questionnaires and posted challenges, to coax industry insiders to share true-life experiences (anonymously, like Max himself) and join in an online exploration of how to sell more books and re-inject vigor and hope into the publishing process.
"Lunch knows the man behind the "Max," and we can vouch that he is indeed as advertised: a highly-respected, longtime big six publishing veteran trying to help change things for the better—and serious about wanting to hear from (and protect the identity of) others in the publishing world."
Here’s another commentary--from a VP/Editor In Chief--that may allay your fears.
"For ye of little faith, I can hereby testify that Mad Max is a highly respected senior level publishing person, who possesses the best possible intentions, and can be trusted to protect your anonymity. And while it's possible he wrote this testimonial himself, he never would, because he's also a highly modest individual."
--Anonymous, VP/Editor in Chief of a division of a large New York publishing house
“Possesses the best possible intentions”? Hmmmmmmm. The time is now, my Brothers and Sisters of the P&L! In this mentorless age, in this time when the half-life of the average book-editor is shorter than ever before, let us help each other by putting aside our differences and sharing our hearts and minds (if not the proprietary databases we're each secretly collecting) for the great good.
Besides: you're not going to have good ol' Mad Max Perkins to kick around forever... Next thing you know there'll be a memorial service in my honor (after my "untimely demise"), at which dozens of the Great Men and Women of the Industry will elbow each other aside for the chance to talk about my contribution to the world of letters. People known principally by their first names—Sonny, Binky, Gary, Phyllis, Star, Sloan, Suzanne, Jane, Esther, Nicole, Andrew, Marty, Morgan, Mort... Never mind that they didn't know me while I was alive. Now I’ll be remembered as the (plodding) "relentless," (desk-bound) "dedicated," (unremarkable) "enigmatic," (pain-in-the-ass) "always-scraping-for-his-authors" editor who went by the moniker “Mad Max.” The straw that stirred the drink, the pot that brewed the coffee, the pipe that smoked the pot—a selfless visionary who (according to legend) overcame humble roots to re-energize a staggering industry, to re-empower midlist authors, to put the nobility back in Barnes & Noble...
Ahh, but now he's gone, and what a tragedy--if only we'd appreciated him when he was.... sob...
OK, so I admit it: I AIN'T NO SUPERMAN! [I do, however, own a very smart red cape.] I ain't Max Perkins, or Cork Smith, Allen Peacock, Roger Straus; ain't nobody gonna confuse me with Jonathan Galassi, Dan Menaker, Katherine Court, Gerry Howard—though I confess it's a thrill to string these names together in conjunction with mine, even if "ain't" is the, errr, conjunction.
Point is, I’m trying. Now—what great things will we accomplish if you trust me and add your experiences/ideas (anonymously) to the greater data pool? Yeah, I know: probably bupkiss. There are institutional issues that we don't have much hope of addressing, of course. Then there’s the fact that I seem to have mislaid my Mensa membership card, and I’m not know widely known as a man of great vision, except as pertains to my own self-interests, and (to the best of my knowledge) I’ve never been short-listed for a Nobel Prize in economics.
Great thinker, man of letters? Moi? Imagine instead the Fuller Brush Man. Or—better yet—picture Andy Kauffman's first appearance on Saturday Night Live: Dorky guy standing stiffly (like "Latka," the character he later played on the show "Taxi") beside a 1940s-style phonograph on which turns a scratchy 78-rpm record. Utterly still, except for his eyes, which shift back and forth in stage-fright panic, as the phonograph plays the "Mighty Mouse" theme song. At last he stirs from his rigor to raise his arms in operatic grandeur as he lip-syncs the words "HERE I COME, TO SAVE THE DAY!"—the one line only—after which all animating drops away instantly, arms returnly limply to his side. There he stands, motionless but for the eyes, waiting, desperately, for his line to come around again.
OK, I know what you’re thinking—Jeez, this Max is a study! He feigns modesty but compares himself to a variety of publishing legends AND maybe the most original comedian of this, that, or any other generation.... Hmmm, and to make matters worse, the Kauffman analogy actually fits—not in terms of originality, but in the way that, with Kauffman, you never knew for sure: is this guy for real?
"For all you publishing types out there, who may be too nervous to converse with an anonymous blogger, I can vouch, in my own, anonymous way, for Mad Max Perkins, a trusted colleague, who with all good intentions is trying to get a dialogue going about an industry that is seemingly at a crossroads. For all the excitement of acquiring books, and seeing who bought what, for how much, on Rights Alert, the real crunch comes when it's time to publish. And we all know what we're facing. What we don't know is what to do about it. So let's start here, by talking to one another. Venting is ok, grousing is satisfying, but let's also share ideas, experience and optimism. Talk to Mad Max!"
That one sez it all, it seems to me—touches on some of the best aspects of my job, and some of the worst; and that discrepancy is the bog from which this blog was born. So I hope the next time you see an email with a question from MAD MAX PERKINS in your In Box (and/or recover it from “Spam”), you’ll give some serious thought to responding.
And now I’ll shut up—except to say, to last week’s Anonymous poster who remarked, basically, "Who CARES about this anonymity crap, let's get back to the conversation itself"—I hear you loud and clear. Fresh meat will be forthcoming. But we need data, help, ideas—real tried-that-and-it-did/didn't-work feedback from people inside the industry.
You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.
"Writing is considered a profession, and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy."
PRACTICAL MARKETING [Courtesy Zornhau, 2005]
"They should put the 1st couple of pages up in subway adverts. Having read them several times, you'd feel compelled to try the book - if it was any good."
PLATE OF SHRIMP [Courtesy Alex Cox’s REPO MAN, circa 1984]
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidences and things. They don't realize that there's this like lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I'll give you an example, show you what I mean. Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly somebody will say like "plate" or "shrimp" or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
- ► 2005 (75)
- Happy Holidays & All That Crap
- Letters of Protest
- PART II: An Editorial Response
- Part I: An Entrepreneurial Proposal
- 'Here I Come, To Save the Day!' or; Dispelling th...
- A Love Letter to Booksellers
- In Defense of the Blockbuster--A Topic for Booksel...
- Inside & Out: An Editor's View
- You Can Trust the Man Behind the Max
- ▼ December (9)