The Book is Dead

The book is dead. The only people who take it seriously are writers. And the people in publishing who need their paychecks to pay the rent.

The Great American Public is not buying books. As the reading population increases in numbers (the statistics indicating that more people are reading more books is misleading as it’s more accurate to say that the same people are reading only half the books they buy) it’s NOT keeping up with the population increase in terms of people who COULD be reading (and investing in books) but are not even tempted. Only five percent of graduating seniors in high school even read at the college level. The average high school freshman is reading at the sixth-grade level and writing (not enthusiastically) at the-third grade level. Fifty percent of sixth-graders are reading at the second grade level. Children spend more time on computers whether they’re plugged in or hand-held than they do with books. And they’re mainly talking to their peers in code. The best and the brightest at the Master’s level are NOT going into publishing. The notion that the best and the brightest go into publishing is absurd.

Here’s how publishing stacks up:

Women (and NOT the bright ones) are running publishing, and there’s a glass ceiling, and they know it. Publishers are now mid-management. They’re not much more than very nervous accountants. It’s men who sit on the Boards of Directors of the (mostly German and French) international corporations that own the American publishing houses. NOT women. The men at let’s say Bertelsman (the owner was in the Nazi SS during World War 2) issue the marching orders. The women in management obey. The women would ALL love to be on the boards but they have no money.

Bertlesman itself is not all that happy with its investment in American publishing. They are currently considering divesting themselves of those assetts in favor of technology communication and content. When FOX describes in its public relations information just exactly what assetts it owns, they frequently don’t even mention (perhaps it’s not worth mentioning of they just forgot) Harper-Collins.

Rupert Murdoch is investing LESS (as is the trend) in books and MORE in information technology and content.

Holt moved. It could not afford the rent.

A hundred people are being fired at Houghton Mifflin as I write this.

Bret Easton Ellis and The Runaway Bride are being looked at as the new hot properties of 2006.

If publishing is becoming more and more irrelevent to the culture at large, and it is, do the math, these companies have no one to blame but the gatekeepers themselves.

Let us look at them. Or her. She has a BA from Brown. She comes from a generation of women who for some odd reason were all named Jennifer.

She’s in her twenties. She was surprised when they hired her as an editorial assistant, and she realized right away that if she worked real hard she could become much more than that. No more Manolos for a while anyway.

She answers the phone. She wields the real power.

She is much more aware than her editor that technology is changing publishing and fast. She is biding her time. She knows something she did not know before and that is that another opportunity will open for her if she wants it. At first she wasn’t sure. But now she’s sure. She does NOT want to become a publicist. She discovers that they’re slugs. They slave over books they not only do not read, but they have no intention of ever reading any of them, and if you ask them if they actually READ the books they lie about they will look at you like — are you mad? It is a dead end job that functions more as a travel agent and Jennifer does not know Charlie Rose anyway.

She does worry (as opposed to her boss who is going to be fired in two months) that the book is becoming less and less relevant, but if she just works hard and holds out long enough, twenty people in front of her will leave, and she can crawl and claw her way to the top.

And she will, too.

Ask any of them. When no one is looking she reads GAWKER.

She thinks writers are pampered brats but she doesn’t tell them that. Yet.

I have seen these women become editors in less than a year. They are rather hip and they do buy those Manolos eventually.

When they become editors all of them become quite fat. In Manolos.

The smart ones become agents.

They are few and far between.

They not only “get” the new communication technology, they use it.

While their boss has blocked anyone who might come to her through Everyone Who’s Anyone in Publishing dot com, and she thinks email was invented to sell porn which horrifies her. She won’t last. The chick who keeps her schedule wants her job, and she’ll get it, too.

Jennifer has stopped looking for a man in publishing. There are so few and they’re taken.

She wants a stockbroker anyway.

She wants to broker a deal herself with ICM and she’s sharpening her chops to do it.

Her publisher (who she secretly laughs at in bars) is from Simon and Schuster where she published Beavis and Butthead.

You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

Jennifer does make mistakes sometimes. When Nasdijj calls and talks to her about some books he’d like to write she says: But we’ve done enough black books this year. And Nasdijj is not even black.

I’ve gotten that answer about six times this summer alone.

And then all the people dying to get into this fading industry scream at Nasdijj that there is no racism in publishing on websites everywhere.

Nasdijj would confront all of this silliness with enraged essays but he’s washing his hair that night.

The book is dead as a doornail. And what bed, pray tell, is your future in?

9 Responses

  1. DIYRacism has nothing to do

    Racism has nothing to do with it. Hardly any new authors are getting published anymore. Doesn’t matter what color they are.

    The bed is self-publishing, that’s the future of publishing.

  2. Enjoyed your accountEnjoyed
    Enjoyed your account

    Enjoyed your insider account of the big publishing industry.

    Still, cry me a river. Woe is you to be published by major publishing houses, be reviewed in NY Times and major publications.

    I had to google Manolos to know what they were.

    I can see how these NY publishing types would drive you crazy.

  3. enjoyed & appreciated
    enjoyed & appreciated your account

    It sounds about right. I see book writers taking the same route as the indie bands. Carving out niches. The only problem is, a band can stir up enthusiasm at a live show and sell merchandise, and even mindless people can buy CD’s and listen to them, even if they can’t read, so, yeah, I see what you mean. One thing I hope is that some day, someone will find one of my self-published books in a used book store or pawn shop or flea market, and they will really like it.

    I must also add that I haven’t totally given up hope on selling lots of books. There are millions and millions of people out there.

  4. I agree. Self-Publishing and
    I agree. Self-Publishing and the Internet are the future. That is why I have a blog. But I beg to disagree. I assume this is still America (I do not live in America — thank god I moved) where everything is racism. Everything. –N

  5. Thanks for your feedback.
    Thanks for your feedback. It’s cogent. I appreciate hearing it. Hope among writers is a very strange animal. It doesn’t die easily. It seems to hang on forever. When Armageddon comes, us writers will be going: umm, gee, I wonder if I should leave. I hope it’s not going to be a war or if it is a very bad war.

    I HAVE lost all hope for publishing books. I have a really BAD attitude. I won’t go off on a rant. But I SWEAR to you, the sum total of publishing’s combined IQ does not rise beyond five. I don’t mind being asked questions by editors. But when it’s the same question twenty times a day you want to scream at them: GET A CLUE. This is not severe retardation, it is PROFOUNDLY retarded, there’s a shunt in its head, and the head just leaks all over everything. Beyond that, there’s the meanness of the thing. If you’re serious about those books and numbers, you’re far better off out there on your own where you’re not depending on the light to go on in publishing.

    Once I left the States, I started thinking: I should have done this years ago. Now, it’s time for me to apply that to my work. I have to find another forum for it. And I will. But I will surely miss being spit on consistently by people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag to save themselves from Armageddon.

  6. reality, solutions,
    reality, solutions, queries

    The marketplace is impossible to blame for consumer disinterest in books. Possibly it is a chicken-and-egg thing that won’t be going away any time soon due to inertia, letargy, and indolence. I heard on 60 Minutes that 1 out of 3 Americans is an evangelical Christian. Maybe the only market for books is writing about Jesus or intelligent design and now I can identify with the doctor in the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being who loses his job as a brain surgeon because he refuses to sign a retraction for an anti-communist article he wrote.

    If celebrities were always asked in interviews, “Have you read any good books lately?” and “What are you reading?”, people would at least have to put up a facade of intellectualism. But, sadly, it’s cool to be stupid. An American late night comedian has made a twenty year career out of it. In the USA, when I still made my home there, working and studying was uncool — in both my lit classes students confessed, bragged?, to me that they never did the reading — because if one is smart, they can get something for nothing. Wall Streeters were held up as the smartest by my coworkers in my previous career because they had the opportunity to make the most cash in the least amount of time possible.

    Here in China at the internet cafes I go to, people play games, chat, or watch movies. I like chess and backgammon and can spend the whole day playing backgammon but reading is more fun. Having written something worthwhile is best and I am still trying to learn how to teach that. Possibly it’s impossible.

    Where’s the desire to want to know and not be ignorant? I believe it is impossible to become educated without reading and writing. Personally, I don’t want people to know that I have read what I consider so little.

    I am only 5,000 words — typed and in longhand — into my current project and have only been keeping a journal lately. My third novel is really the only one that can be called a novel and it’s chock full of errors because of my lack of editing and is not a tight narrative. I blame time constraints. I present this as an example of another chicken-and-egg problem, i.e., the enormity of any task is unknown until one performs the actual act, e.g., writing a coherent lengthy narrative that achieves unity.

    I know that I need to just keep on keeping on because I know that the USA never was a big nation of readers and the only big pay off will come from a movie tie-in. My major concern now is producing something worth reading in the future. I’m doing my current project because I am able to write it.

    I wasn’t aware that the USA was getting so dumbed-down! It was always cool to be stupid — uncool to be ignorant of pop culture — when I lived there. There are so many times being asked these two inane questions: Are you studying? What are you reading that for? The ignorant retort sneered at me, “You must have read a lot of books”, makes me want to go postal to improve the gene pool. This writer wants to know where these figures on the lack of education come from and what kind of code is the younger generation writing in.

  7. Yeah, I think a lot of us are
    Yeah, I think a lot of us are reacting to these strong words the same way — if racism is to blame, how come white people like me (a New Yorker even) are just as frustrated, or even more so? As TKG says, a lot of us would love to get a chance to be misunderstood in the NY Times — it would be a big step up.

    I do see secondary racism in the publishing industry in the sense that most entry-level jobs are taken by interns whose families can afford to support them living in Manhattan while earning $18,000/year. This is a corrupt tradition because it closes the doors of the publishing industry to anybody, college grad or not, who can’t afford to live on an intern’s salary. Because wealth is correlated with race, this does bring a racial imbalance to the publishing biz. But it’s family money, not race that matters. A qualified African-American or Hispanic or Native American college grad will have no trouble getting hired as an intern by any major publisher, and will have no trouble rising up the ranks and reaching a position of power — as long as this person has the ability to support themselves through the first few years of earning a ridiculously low intern salary. This is how the publishing industry perpetuates its exclusive ranks — not by race but by salary.

  8. I am being charitable when it
    I am being charitable when it comes to calling publishing racist. HOW MANY Native American writers got published at mainstream houses this year. HOW MANY Native American editors ARE there. When a MAJOR New York editor working at a major New York house says to me: We published enough black books this year consequently we can’t publish YOU — THAT is racism. To even THINK that New York publishing is IMMUNE from racism…

    is racism.

  9. I Studied Buk–His Poems Are
    I Studied Buk–His Poems Are Next

    The book is dead as a doornail. And what bed, pray tell, is your future in?

    Jennifer’s! No not that one.

    JENNIFER!!! Her young reading assistant!

    My dreams can beat up your facts,
    And the day they do, I’m coming for


    With a signed, hard bound copy to,
    Shove straight up your–Mailbox.

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