Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Old Farts*

*Old Farts is a time-honored title of respect for those no-longer-so-young Turks who've been around long enough to reap the benefits of experience...
Attention Young Turks:

Your first order of business (once you've recovered from the hazing and celebrating) is to read an invaluable work of publishing history-slash-scholarship that appears this month at Backspace.org, by literary agent Richard Curtis, which describes (with the drama of a train-wreck) the changes in the paperback business that have so drastically altered the business.

It's must reading for anybody interested in the state of publishing today. Imagine a time, not so long ago, when supermarket and truck-stop mass market book racks were stocked and managed by scores of men and women--"jobbers"--working out of the back of their station wagons...

"Publishing in the 21st Century, Part II: Paperbacks--The Tail that Wagged the Dog"

(Thanks to novelist Jenny Siler for alerting me to this article.)


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Max -

Thanks SO MUCH for mentioning Richard Curtis's article on your blog today - wow, did our site see a jump in activity as a result! Richard's articles (Parts One and Two) have been up on Backspace for a couple of months now, but despite my mailings to well over a thousand agents, editors, writers organizations, and yes, bloggers telling them about the website and the article, Richard's piece was only getting a handful of readers each day. According to the statistics program my partner installed on the site, today Richard's article was read 92 times! That has to be a direct result of your shining your spotlight on it, so thanks!

When Richard offered Backspace first run of the article series he'd been thinking of writing for some time, he told us it was because he felt that Backspace offered "important services" and he wanted us to be able to use the article to direct people to the website. He's just now finishing Part III, which will be going up on the site shortly. A condensed version of the second article in the series just came out in the Author's Guild's Winter Newsletter - with attribution and a link to Backspace. (What a great guy!)

Backspace is a fairly new organization - my partner, Chris Graham, and I formed the group last April and our homepage area has only been online since mid-September, but it's really taken off. The discussion forums have 252 members in 10 countries including one NYTimes bestselling author, and we've hosted an amazing roster of past and scheduled guest speakers who conduct three-day Q&A sessions with our members: authors Lee Child, Elizabeth George, Jeffery Deaver, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, Robert Crais, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Weis and many others; agents Nick Ellison, Dan Lazar, Jenny Bent, Jeff Kleinman, and Kristin Nelson; editors C. Michael Curtis, Natasha Graf, Stacy Boyd, and Kristen Weber, and other publishing professionals such as publicist Susan Schwartzman and former books reviewer, now editor-in-chief of Publisher's Weekly, Sara Nelson.

Backspace is predicated on the idea of educating writers in the belief that informed writers benefit the entire industry, and thanks to networking with their fellow writers and other publishing professionals, I believe that when it comes to understanding how the publishing business works, Backspace members are some of the sharpest around.

Anyway - I just wanted to tell you a little about the group and thank you again for the boost you gave our organization today - it's MUCH appreciated!

Cheers,

Karen Dionne, Administrator, BACKSPACE

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Mark said...

I run a ghostwriting service, Manhattan Literary, and saw those early articles by Richard Curtis (21st Century Publishing) when they first came out. I've known Richard for many years -- he has a wonderful, global mind. His knowledge of publishing comes from long experience working in the business in NY, and from genuine concern about the fate of book-culture and writers. He lived through the events he describes.

I probably got more understanding of publishing -- where it has been and where it is probably going -- from these articles than from any other single source out there.

Backspace's credo is well expressed:


"Backspace is predicated on the idea of educating writers in the belief that informed writers benefit the entire industry, and thanks to networking with their fellow writers and other publishing professionals, I believe that when it comes to understanding how the publishing business works, Backspace members are some of the sharpest around."


I'm glad the word is getting out about the forces that direct publishing as a business. I see nothing wrong with writers being in the forefront of their own world. And one first-step is to understand the mechanisms that drive the book business -- to see that the business of books does not devour the culture of writing.

Another favorite book of mine: THE HUMAN CONDITION, by Hannah Arendt (1958). It is a brilliant book that deals only with the most fundamental activities of human life (it tells what these are), and there are sections on storytelling and narrative that are mind-blowing. The chapter, A Consumer Society, written in 1958, predicts where we are in American society today with precision, and makes clear just how important it is to our "world" (you'll see this in her terms) to create things that are lasting.

Good books! Good blogs!


- Mark

A VOCATION OF UNHAPPINESS [Courtesy Georges Simenon (1903-1985)]

"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."