Cooking the Books

12/06/2011 at 9:00 am (Publishing, Self-publishing, Snide & Prejudiced, Uncategorized, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I AM, therefore I write.

Over the last few years things have changed radically in the world of the writer.  For a hundred years or so, the publisher has been mightier than the pen. A tremendous industry grew up around us.  They told us what we could write and how to write it.  They designed our covers.  They pushed us into bookstores.  Or out.  If we would not or could not comply, we simply weren’t published.  That is, unless we dared to publish ourselves.  And oh, what an outcry from the “industry”.  Vanity press, they called it.  Conceit and folly!  Only worthless writers need publish themselves, said they.  Writers like Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, T.S. Eliot, Deepak Chopra, Margaret Atwood…and other such worthless ilk.  They sneered, they laughed.  And we bought it.  Everyone bought it.

They broke our hearts.

And for those they “allowed” to join them, those they considered “real” writers?  For those, they cooked the books.

Wee sidebar: I’ll never forget being shunted into a rather shabby, rather useless little room at the London offices of Harper Collins (my first publisher) and being told by the receptionist, oh so secretly: “They think you writers are nuisances.  We’re told to keep you in here so you won’t wander about and bother people.”

But ah, the internet has changed all that, oh lordy has it.  The industry that lived off us for so long is scrambling for its very life.  Just as the rapacious music “industry” went down, the publishing industry is going down.  One by one, the houses disappear, or get bought by Bertelsmann, the German behemoth.  I think there are seven majors left.  As I write this, we could be down to six.  We writers are supposed to mourn this.  We’re supposed to feel we are bobbing like small wee boats on a tossing sea with nowhere to land.  And I do admit that the cache of standing on the decks of a great and venerable ship like Random House or Doubleday (I’ve stood there; it’s cold) still has its romantic grip on an unpublished writer’s mind.  But that will pass.  It’s passing now.  And all because of the internet which spawned Amazon and those who would be Amazon like Barnes & Noble.  It gave birth to the ebook.

A revolution has taken place in the world of publishing, one that’s been stewing for quite some time, one only recently taken seriously by the industry.  And for them it might be too late.  Amazon has announced it is hiring editors and other publishing professionals to launch its own in-house publishing business.  They now are not only selling more books than anyone else, they may soon be publishing more.

What does this mean to writers?  Without fear of snide remarks, we can publish ourselves.  We can promote ourselves.  Bedad, we can design our own covers!  In the day of the Big Publisher, we weren’t allowed a single word about how our book would look.  I always thought that how my books looked meant that the door in a big publishing house with a sign that read: Art Department opened into a broom closet.

If our work is worthy, we will sell.  Maybe not quickly, maybe not to the masses, but it will pass into the hands of that truly beloved person out there waiting, a reader.  And maybe it will sell quickly and to the masses.  You never know.  If it’s not worthy, we can still look at our work, bound or kindled or nooked, and know that we wrote it.  It’s ours.  No one can send us those horrid form letters writers used to paper their walls with.  “We’re sorry, but your book isn’t suitable for us at this time.”

I’ve been lucky.  I have an agent and it’s your agent who sees such things and doesn’t tell you.  I’ve also known what it’s like to be published by the big names, quite a few of them.  A moment’s heady rush and then the frustrating truth.  If your book doesn’t sell well enough in its allotted time span (a matter of weeks), it’s literally trashed.  Every unsold copy is destroyed.

But that too has changed.  If you publish yourself you will never go out of print.  Your books will never wind up on a tacky remand table for a buck a copy.   My latest book, my one and only (so far) tale of supernatural horror, Houdini Heart, will live as long as I do.  And hopefully a lot longer.

As I said, the industry built on our hopes and our dreams and our talent once had the power to break our hearts.  Only our writing, published or not, read or not, could mend it.  But now their power is waning.  Publish and be damned.  Publish and be blessed.  But bloody hell, publish.  They can’t stop you.  And they can’t trash you.



  1. panhistoria said,

    Damn, you can write. If I could only write half as well, I could die a happy writer.

  2. jelcel said,

    So you are making me follow another blog.

  3. Diane said,

    Hi…..This is Diane and it seems that I’m still here. : ) I was surprised to see your comment in my email since it’s been so long since I was reminiscing about Blackie.

    I love his memory and enjoy having a reason to think about him. I love all my memories of Marin, especially Sausalito where I was born and raised. My mother was born in one of the turets(sp?) in the Castle by the Sea in 1926 which was owned by my Great Grandmother, Anna Elk Duffy.

    I happened to see your name in the Tamalpais High School Alumni Directory when I was looking up my father’s entry. He had to leave school to join CCC’s to help his family out financially. I think you may have had an older brother that attended when he did. He would have graduated in 1935 if he continued school. I just thought it would be fun to find out. I’m hoping I remember the info correctly.

    Do you find it easier or more difficult for an author to get a book published in these days of technology? And do you feel there is more exposure using the computer. It seems to me that it would be helpful.

    BTW…I also believe we are eternally Divine. I believe, too, that Jesus was here to help us remember and to show us the highest path (I believe) of not having to die a physical death but the death of self (ego). With enough Light the cells of our body can be purified and Spiritualized by the act of The First Commandment and the second which follows naturally.

    Sorry, but I usually seem to end up preaching. I am very enthusiastic about the subject. : )

    Have a wonderful life and God Bless you….Diane

    • kilongfellow said,

      I remember you, Diane. I remember you talking about your house near Sally Stanford’s. I remember Sally Stanford. As for preachy, you can sing away to me as much as you like. I am having a wonderful life, one of my favorites in many ways. Blessing be.

  4. Greg Phillips said,

    I am mixed with melancholy and a sense of empowerment as I read this. For as another bastion of power crumbles, I feel that same sense of excitement as I watched the music world try to chase the Napsters of the world with out-dated legal threats only to smash one Napster and have another pop up. Of course, then we got iTunes ala Mr Jobs making his
    Faustian deal with the big labels. However, in the recording world many artists now make their own music and that is great.

    You are a great writer and your work will hold up. Alas, for some others, many others, not the case. I always say that the great thing is we live in a world where anyone can “write a book.” The bad thing is that we live in a world where anyone can write a book. Now as I watch aging actors, rock stars and the like attempt to revitalize their careers with their book on how Kundalini, a diet of nuts and kale with green tea and mindless chanting saved them, I do wonder. Still, it means that when we’re scanning the shelves at the bookstore or Amazon, shuffling through this crap, a gem emerges, like “Houdini Heart.”

  5. kilongfellow said,

    Greg! So sorry not to have noticed this before. But I have now. Good stuff. You ought to write a blog. And your crack about the sainted Mr. Jobs. Faustian from start to finish. If I believed in Satan (which I do NOT), I’d know he was paying big time now. Anyhoo, forgive my negligence. And off I go to write this day’s blog and then tackle this day’s book. A writer’s work is never done. Thank Faust.

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