- if you're having lunch with Mort Janklow, where should you take him?
- what's a good place to get collar stays (the brass ones)?
- when you take a nap in the middle of the day, is it best to A) close your office door, or B) turn to face the window and pretend to be reading a manuscript?
-- that every young turk in publishing (whether or not your "Turkishness" was officially acknowledged recently by PW) needs answers to. I've sent out any number of similar email queries to my colleagues in publishing over the last several months, and have received replies to virtually none of them--until very recently. Based on the tone of some of these recent replies, it appears that I've reached a tipping point of sorts--that is, I've officially become a nuisance (or worse). One of the best & coolest editors in town brushed aside my question and referred obliquely to
"people who pretend to know something about publishing but in fact do not." [Could he mean me?]Another top editor went into somewhat greater detail.
To the first comment, I say, guilty as charged: I don't know jack; how I got as far as I have in this business is anybody's guess; and I'm scrambling now to see if I can learn a few things before it's too late.
"Max, I saw Michael Cader’s column vouching for your being a good guy, etc. I have to say, though, that I don’t really understand why any editor would want to give away – beyond his own firm – knowledge capital he or she has amassed over the course of a career. It is effort expended without tangible return. I understand that you see this enterprise as working in everybody’s favor, and maybe I’m shortsighted for not “getting it,” but it seems to me that the best can be hoped for is that somewhere accessible on line there’ll be a sort of “best practices compendium” for everyone to access – and I wonder if most houses don’t in fact already create something tantamount to that by pooling staffers’ ideas."
But this second comment? If only!
The "best practices compendium" is precisely what I've been looking for (call it the Holy Grail According to Max)--a database full of good ideas; it's the reason, in fact, I started this blog, in hopes of stumbling across material worthy to be included therein... We used to have such a compendium here (where I work), but its contents have been badly pilferred... Remember the library's copy of the 1977 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue that you snuck into some behind-the-stacks cubby, only to discover that the pictures themselves had already been ripped from the binding? Well, it's like that: there's a folder here marked "best practices compendium," but the only things it contains are a 10-year old Esquire article on "Publishing's White-Hot Center," a yellowed pamphlet from 1962 that instructs "gentlemen" on the art of tying a bow-tie, and an advertisement for a cutting-edge personal computer called the TRS-80.
A "best practices compendium"--just think of it. Question is, do any publishers exist today that actually have/make time to pool the ideas of their employees, to brainstorm in hopes of coming up with fresh approaches to the same old problems?
I suspect there are a lot of us inclined to thing that the better question is, What's the point anyway? Is a bright baker's dozen gathered around a conference-room table going to come up with a practical & implementable alternative to virtually unlimited bookseller returns? to the centralization of all aspects of our industry? to the collapse of the mass market business? to the virtual disappearance of serious literary publishing by mainstream presses?
Well, pessimism be damned. It's time for me to make my first big acquisition of 2005--so if anybody's got a "best practices compendium" less than five years past its expiration date, I'm buying. And let's move quickly--I'm in the mood for a pre-empt...
"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."
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