Thursday, February 17, 2005

Publishing 101: Infantilization & You, Plus Some Curse Words and Some Thoughts About Valentine's Day, May it Rot In Hell

One thing we can all agree on: good riddance to Valentine's Day, am I right? I'm sure St. Valentine was a great guy & all, but I'd love to send Da Govna Terminator of California back in time to find the misanthropic bastards at Hallmark or whoever their predecessors were, the black-humorists responsible for this hell-hole holiday, and slit the throats of every god damn one of them. Get the job done just before they walk out of that brainstorming meeting where it was decided that a great deal of money could be made AND a whole lot of people could be made utterly miserable, for a whole variety of reasons, in one fell swoop!

That'd be a pretty funny scene, actually--get Mamet or LaBute to write the boardroom brainstorming, all those mean muthas laughing themselves to tears as they visualize the thousands and thousands of thoughtless and/or befuddled husbands and boyfriends spending the night on the couch, or on the porch, or in the hospital, for having forgotten the Godivas and the roses...

For the finale, though, we'll have to fire the artsy writer and bring in somebody who can really deliver the big ol' can of whoopass... The Wachowski Brothers, say (sorry, Mr. Mamet)--and instead of Da Govna, let's cast Keanu, who appears outta nowhere, steps up on the boardroom table, and says,

"BE MY VALENTINE, MOTHERFUCKERS!"

and blows them all away. Just make sure he incinerates the place after the blood-bath--can't afford for even one copy of that Valentine's Day memo to survive...

***

Over at Buzz, Balls & Hype MJ has likewise decided, enough of these damn Valentines--she's dropped the rose pedals and has come out with pistols blazin':

"TELL US THE TRUTH, MOTHERFUCKERS!"

By "us" she means authors:
"Authors probably have less control over their own careers than any group of professionals but it takes us years to understand that. Long past the time it would have benefited us to know it. Most of us go into the dark the minute our agents negotiate our first sale and stay there the rest of our careers. So we don't find out when our book has been all but abandoned pre-publication. Or that there was poor sell in. Or that the coop's been scrapped. We're somehow not entitled to be told what is about to happen and get prepared. The non-communication is more than emotionally scarring, it is unfair to us professionally. It infantalizes us."

All of which is, sadly, true. ALL YOU NEWBIES OUT THERE, LISTEN UP: You, and your agent on your behalf, need to be pressing for answers from Day One. Yes, there are periods of intense contact and then long periods of quiet, and some of this quiet is inevitable. But once you're within, say, six months of pub, it's time to begin pressing your case in a serious way. [Details, you say? Ahh, yes--but I'm tired, so I invite you to read back issues of BookAngst 101, and/or Buzz Balls & Hype, or Publishers Lunch, or Paperback Writer, or talk to any writer who's been published anytime in the last 30 years, cuz sure as shootin' that writer's got tales to tell.]

But there's probably no business for which the old saw "if I knew then what I know now" is more apt. Doesn't matter whether you got $25k or $250k, Newbie: NOBODY's safe, so get yer schoolin' started NOW.

There's more I wanna say about MJ's post, but it's late and I'm so damn tired, doncha know? So maybe I'll come back another time and explain why, sometimes, we "motherfuckers" (no, she didn't really say that)--"editors, publishers, publicists"--can't (or won't) tell the truth... And for sure I'll offer my humble opinion as to why the editor MJ mentions, the one who refused to let an author correspond directly with a helpful sales rep is

A DUMB ASS
But for those nuggets, I'm afraid you'll just have to wait a bit...Goodnight & God speed...

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry Valentine's day was so rough. If it's any consolation, the weekend and President's Day is around the corner.

So, I'm one of the "newbies" to whom you have been preaching, and my ears are stretched taut from all the listening. For some reason none of these discussions have yet persuaded me to give up writing completely. But I do wonder if you see any hope on the horizon. Specifically, I hope you can enlighten us on the benefits of some of the smaller presses out there. I'm thinking of the recent success which Soft Skull Press had with "The Sleeping Father" and Melville Press' signing on of certain well respected authors.

Are these examples flukes? Do we newbie authors stand even less of a chance of seeing our books in the hands of readers if we choose to go the route of the small press? Or should we serious newbie writers take these houses seriously? Or is it absolutely pointless to think strategically about how to approach the business side of writing in the first place?

Mad Max Perkins said...

Newbie, TEN-HUT!

First off: I'm NOT advocating you give up writing! What I'm saying, what MJ Rose is saying, what virtually ANY writer who's already published several books would tell you, is that your chances of a satisfactory publication are very much enhanced if you're able to learn some of these "lessons" and apply them IMMEDIATELY, i.e. prior to the publication of your very first book, rather than wait until such time as you actually, through a more 'typical' writer's career path, KNOW what you should be doing--which usually happens at a stage in your career when correcting the potential damage of potentially poor earlier publications is much more difficult to accomplish.

[Think of me as your boot camp drill sergeant. The goal of this cruel and ungentle discourse is to make sure you'll be combat-ready when it's time to go to war...]

I'm also not saying that books by someone other than a beautiful, articulate marketing MBA are never published well. But the more--and earlier--you educate yourself into the nuances, mechanics and time-lines of the publishing process, the better your chances will be.

I don't work for a small press, so I'm really not in a position to speak to the benefits such a publisher offers with any expertise; but Richard Nash of Soft Skull offered a rich and detailed comment just last night Simon Says that seems as good a place as any to start. (You'll need to scroll down a bit.)

TLG said...

Am I detecting some anger ;) As with most things ruined by commercialization, one has to find one's own meaning. I don't think it's any "fun" to wear black and bemoan the commercialization of the day. I just look at it as an opportunity to show people I care. Not just my husband, but my sibilings and friends. Deep down I'm a fluffy bunny girl, any excuse to make someone's day brighter :)

The thing I'm learning from hanging out here is that it's an uphill battle, it may not work out, but if I feel it's worth doing, it's worth doing, whether I succeed or not. That said, I still haven't grown a spine or a thick skin. I guess everybody's working on something.

Jessica said...

You all must check this out! A brilliant article in Poets & Writers (March/April 2005,print edition) called "Imperative, An argument for writers’ taking charge" by indie publisher, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books, speaks to much of what has been discussed here. Temple gives salient examples of authors who “have taken an aggressive, realistic approach to managing their careers.” Great insights about bookscan, and myths about print numbers. He also suggests that “indie publishers who manage to stay in business can develop distribution networks that rival those of the major houses.” It’s refreshing and inspiring to learn that Temple embraces author involvement. Lots of gems here about “reaching beyond traditional venues and actively seeking out new audiences.” Jbk

Sam said...

Newbie author here - though I've published twelve books and written twelve more...I don't think you ever get blasé about the business or writing. It's the passion that sustains me and keeps me going through fair and foul...farings.
And we get out share of fouls.
I've written three letters to one of my publishers in the past two months - none of which have been answered. Another publisher owes me back royalties and I have discovered there is nothing I can do to legally get them back that won't cost me more than the royalties owed me. Yet another publisher gave me back all rights to my books when they were bought out by another publisher, and have yet to take my books off the shelves so that any books sold now are losses for me.
Luckily, I have other publishers who are wonderful to work with - even though they follow the 'keep the author in the dark' credo.
And yet I keep writing.
Either I'm out of my mind, a masochist, or just passionate about doing something I love.

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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."