Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Mad Max Statement-of-Purpose-Slash-Welcome-Wagon: Post Numero Uno

Hi folks. I'm tired of being frustrated & depressed about the business of publishing--so, following the principle that misery loves company, I've decided to start my own blog. Welcome to BookAngst 101.

Writers, agents, publishers and booksellers all agree that the business of selling books has become heartbreakingly hard. So what can we do? I'm a senior publishing executive, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. Bitch & moan as necessary--I'm very much in the mood for that myself these days--but ultimately I'm hoping we can take for granted that the books we write, agent, publish, and sell actually matter to us, and that the people involved in every phase of the process care, deeply, about those books succeeding. (Obviously "success" in this regard is a relative thing, measured according to a sliding scale; but that's a topic for another post.)

My hope is that this will provide a constructive forum for venting, yes--for extending, perhaps, what constitutes the publishing "community"--but also for throwing out ideas that might prove useful to someone else, to discuss what's working & what's not... Above all, for both neophyte and grizzled pro to share their insights, frustrations and predictions, and maybe, along the way, be reminded of why we didn't all become accountants in the first place.

Yours truly,
Mad Max Perkins


Kevin Wignall said...

Good call, Max. I can gripe with the best of them, but I think straight off the bat, we need to make clear that most of the people who work in publishing "are" actually doing the best they can. I suspect the single biggest problem is a supply and demand one - more books are published than are needed. Worse, more people are capable or writing a decent book than the market can accommodate, a market that doesn't always want "decent" books anyway. So yes, there are niggling complaints, but the people who make a sport out of griping should try something else for a career. Life isn't fair, there's no level playing field - you can try to combat those things and you can write the best you can, but you have to accept that's the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Amen, brother ...

Anonymous said...

These are some things I would like to see discussed:

1. what a writer can do to become visible to his publisher before a book comes out--so often one remains the needed high class "wallpaper" behind the lead books, the needed "item" to help make up a "list";

2. what an editor can do to make a book more acceptable to marketers, who control its visibility;

3. what should be done about the commenter's idea that "more books are published than are needed"--that may be true, but most books are printed and never promoted in any way beyond the sending out of some review copies.

4. what can a writer genuinely contribute to his own marketing? His business should be writing, rather than flailing about, trying to make up for what the publisher doesn't do. But so often great swaths of time are taken up with just that, though it's not his field of expertise.

5. what can writers and editors do to ensure reviews in pre-pubs? Recently a friend sank his advance into promotion, then got almost no pre-pubs. What to do?

Best of luck to you--

Keener said...

Dear Mad Max,
Could we talk about the intensity with which everyone is protecting his or her editorial identities? Could editors (anonymously, if necessary)discuss why they feel compelled to remain anonymous? I don't mean to be strident or naive but the publishing world is beginning to sound like an incest anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous group. Is there some kind of dependency/co-dependency factor going on here? And what's the root of this? I understand that relationships are key in this industry. Good relationships and deal making involve trust but that's true for any good business relationship and industry. Isn't it? It seems to me that the more straightforward everyone is about the business, the healthier and more successful everyone--editors and writers--will be. When writers start with a clear, informed idea of what the business is all about, we can become better partners with editors. Your site is a wonderful example of this. So is publishers marketplace and MJ Rose's blog. I'm an optimist and believe we're heading for less anonymous times but would like to hear what others think about this. Best wishes, Jessica Brilliant Keener, co-author of TIME TO MAKE THE DONUTS, Boston Globe correspondent and recipient of a Mass. Cultural Council individual grant in fiction.

Anonymous said...

Things are grim, to be sure, but on the subject of popular tastes and the relevance of literary fiction it occurred to me recently when I was reading a manuscript that the (admittedly theoretical) general reader does have affinities that book publishers can appeal to without totally integrating marketing and aesthetic concerns. I imagine a reader who hasn't read much, won't pick up allusions, might not live in New York or be fluent in the terms of its self-obsession, so what does that leave her with: the conflict between city and country, the collision of human appetites with the various constraints that reader has devised or yielded to in order to endear herself to her neighbor(maybe out of good will, maybe just so she can conquer him down the road), what seems real and what seems like something suspiciously created by forces she doesn't trust? That stuff can take any form, and, depending on that form, fall anywhere politically or, ideally, avoid politics altogether and lure a reader with a grain still of curiosity into an unsettling experience of empathy with something foreign to herself.

ShadowPDF said...

Congratulations on coming out of the editorial bunker.

I know that most editors are doing the best they can and are overworked. But the time they take to send back word of rejection (or acceptance) is far too long. It's wrong. They're forced into this because of economic issues that are hurting publishing.

As a writer I want a good relationship with an editor, and the current condition of the industry can preclude this.

Luckily I have a good relationship with my publisher in England - even though I live in the US. But I wish the industry was healthier here in the states so I could better connect with an editor here.

MarkFarley said...

Title: The Bookseller to the Stars presents... “Do Not Buy This Book”
Nature: Synopsis

This is a disclaimer:

Do Not Buy This Book. This is the book the publishing houses do not want you to see.

Have you ever wondered why you find yourself walking out of a bookstore and thinking to yourself,

“I always spend too much in here...” or “I didn’t intend on spending that much...” when moments earlier you found yourself desperately trailing over a huge pile of books (in no doubt, some attractive pyramid formation) and hooked by some sort of “Free Book” promotion.

The books... and the signs... and the posters, all shiny and bright screaming to you, “Buy Me, Buy Me, Buy Me, I’m the next INSERT BEST SELLING AUTHOR NAME HERE...” or proudly displaying a number of dazzling quotes by some celebrity or established author?

Have you ever wondered why you are so easily enticed into such behaviour? Have you ever wondered why your mind blocks out when you enter a bookstore? Have you ever wondered how a first time author gets such promising and complimentary quotes from their peers?

If this sounds familiar, then perhaps then this book is for you. But... If you are just searching for that elusive third title in a promotion and you currently have “The Kite Runner” and “The Da Vinci Code” in your hand, then perhaps it is not.
Please return this book to its designated spot on the attractive pyramid tower of books.


The Bookseller to the Stars takes you into his bookstore and around his world, where you will meet some of the eccentric characters like Little Miss Book Bigot and Agatha Christie Man and will introduce you to the stars, the people who make the retail world tick over and feed these mass corporations, they are “the customers” of which we all are at some point. He will leave you questioning the age old customer service ethic, “The Customer is Always Right” as you follow his journey to make the world and the mindset of the average retail consumer, a nicer place. He speaks to authors, frustrated with the workings and trappings of the industry, who snatch at and bastardise their creativity to maximise their own turnovers. He talks to eminent professionals about the aggresive marketing strategies within the trade and speaks to disillusional booksellers about their frustrations.

Finally, join the Bookseller to the Stars as he, a lone bookseller attempts to gather together a host of famous authors and musicians together in order to stage a charity benefit for Tsunami Relief. Will he succeed or will as he was told by his workplace, fail?

Warning: This book is not to be discounted or used in conjunction with any other promotion.

The Bookseller to the Stars warmly greets and Thanks You.

End of Message

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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."