The theme in several recent articles about the outlook for book publishing is innovation. Harper Collins wants to recalibrate author advances, making the book market leaner and meaner for authors, but with a potentially greater upside. Robert Miller’s new company will refuse to play along with the punishing “returns” policy currently in place between book publishers and major chains. Miller’s company is also committed to publishing books in a variety of simultaneous formats, which is certainly a good move (though I wish Miller had mentioned simultaneous trade paperback along with simultaneous audio and e-book formats, since readers would welcome this most of all). Small issues aside, though, both of these attempts at “shaking the tree” sound exciting, though they will have to be carefully managed to succeed.
The Persona Non Data blog, usually so insightful, really blows it with their analysis of proposals for change in book publishing:
“Disallowing returns and not paying advances is not going to produce a successful publishing program but producing content readers will buy will eliminate a need for returns and advances. So the solution is simple: Publish what buyers will pay for and read, and this is where Bob Miller (and all others) have their challenge.”
Right, and could somebody please tell the Mets starting lineup to start hitting .600? Simple, really.
Here’s what Persona Non Data misses: the literary books that the major and indie houses are putting out these days are already very good. There is absolutely no shortage of worthwhile talent in today’s lit scene. But the publishing industry is locked into antique traditions (twelve months between hardcover and paperback? are you kidding me?) that regularly ignore the wishes of customers and push potential readers away. These traditions keep the financial pipelines trickling (as the machines grind debut novelists to bloody bits with their robotic teeth), but this takes place at the expense of creativity or customer demand.
Any entrepreneurial publisher willing to risk failure by trying something new deserves our support. Go Miller, go HarperCollins! Hell, anything is worth a try.
And now my exciting news. Eleven years after the relatively dismal publication of my first blockbuster, and (man, oh man) nineteen years after my first historic attempt to be a famous novelist … my friends, I am jumping back in, and this time I’m going to do it right.
I’ve made a decision today that my next major life project is going to be a non-fiction book, and I am now beginning the process of finalizing my proposal (which I’ve been cooking up for the last three months) with the firm intent to see this new project through to its ultimate end, wherever that may be.
A whole lot can go wrong here, I know. I’ve already been through a lot in the publishing field, but when I look back at my earlier stabs at working with agents and major publishers, I see that I was in some ways too immature, too idealistic, and too caught up in my private notions of what a writing career should be. I’ve matured a lot (I hope), and I think the 2008 version of me is finally ready to get the job of writing a successful book done.
So, here goes nothing. I am making a commitment to myself: I will give this project everything I’ve got, and if it all ends up in spectacular failure it will not be because I didn’t try as hard as I could. I have crossed the Rubicon. Whether or not I will conquer on these banks is now in the hands of fate.
One reason I had trouble deciding to write a non-fiction book is that I have an over-abundance of killer ideas — four, to be exact. Each idea is wildly different from the other three, and I am equally eager to write all four of these books. I even have code names for them: there is the “P” idea, the “I” idea, the “M’ idea and the “Q” idea. After much difficult deliberation, I decided to go with the “M” idea, because this is the one I know I will enjoy writing the most. I can’t tell you what the idea is yet, because I’m working on “‘the pitch”. But anyway, what the hell, wish me luck.
And, finally, if you’re in New York City please come by the Bowery Poetry Club next Thursday, April 17 at 6:30 for a poetry happy hour hosted by George Wallace. I’ll be reading and playing bongo drums, and other featured poets include Tao Lin, Zachary German, Clarissa Beyah Taylor, Joy Leftow and Larissa Shmailo.