Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Novel and the Almighty Euro (a cautionary tale)

If you want to read an article that brings out the highs and lows of the endless avalanche of POD titles, check out this one by Kel Munger entitled The Great American DIY Novel. Kel writes for the Sacramento News & Review and wrote a little diddy on local writers pursuing publication down the dark avenue of Print On Demand.

The article is quite accurate (and features a nice review of Greg Blecha's brilliantly-written LOVE IN THE TIME OF THE APOCALYPSE) and is well worth a read.

Kel and I shared a brief email exchange and it quickly became clear to me that she has a firm grasp on what is going on in the publishing world. She agreed to let me excerpt some text from our email discussion:

Kel says, "I review books and write on literary subjects for the paper (among many other things). Generally, I give local authors with POD books a chapter's trial over my lunch break. Most of them aren't read past that first chapter, but at least I try; I understand that most newspapers won't review them at all. Greg's book was so good that I couldn't put it down and I was late returning from lunch."

I agree fully. I, in fact, missed a meal when I read LOVE.

But here, Kel really hits on what is happening in the publishing world:

"I'm genuinely torn between a healthy respect for access to publishing for all and aggravation that so many people think anybody can write a good book. It's like saying anyone can be a brain surgeon; it would be nice if it were true, but it's just not so. It also demeans the hard work and discipline most writers apply to their craft.

"I put the blame at the feet of the corporatization of the publishing industry (as you pointed out, Bertelsmann owns 3/4 of the world). When books became "units" instead of artifacts, we began to truly lose something precious. I mourn the loss of slush piles read by up-and-coming editorial assistants on the lookout for the diamond in the rough, and established editors and agents willing to mentor promising writers in hopes of getting a long-term profit from a successful career. But then, perhaps like all nostalgia, that ideal may have only existed in some writer's fantasy."

This is why we are here, folks. This is why agents and editors are repeatedly telling us that good books are getting rejected day after day--intentionally--because they know Marketing will never go for them. I can't think of a more horrible thing than to tie stock prices to art. Why? Because this is the result. EMI recently had to tell their stockholders that profits would be lower than expected because the newest Coldplay CD was delayed, to which [lead singer] Chris Martin said, "what do I care?"

Indeed, he should not care.

Sure there are exceptions in the literary world: Grove/Atlantic, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Algonquin, Houghton Mifflin, MacAdam/Cage. They are exceptions because they are still independents (basically). Enjoy them while you can; as soon as Bertelsmann buys them it will all be over.

Nothing good will ever come of this. And the more that corporate "control" of the publishing industry surfaces, the more POD will take on an increasingly significant role. There is no other choice.