“It took a while to get from Gutenberg to Bezosberg, but we is done did it, and the rats in New York are scurrying. Hoo!”
— Fred Reed
Suppose that you have written a book, maybe How to Blow This Pop Stand, Get Married in Thailand, and Live Happily Ever After, and you want to publish it as a service to mankind. How? You have three choices:
First Choice: A publishing house in New York. Bad idea, unless you are Hillary Clinton, which you probably aren’t because she already is. The New York houses are withdrawing themselves from the book racket by a combination of incompetence, arrogance, avarice, and sloth. They have lasted this long only because there was no choice. But now there is a Great Monstrous New Dog out there.
For Kindle. Fred’s latest collection of sedition, outrage, and affronts to civilization. Discounts for departments of forensic psychology and abnorml anthropology. The photo is from rural Cambodia in 1974, M16 supplied by the Pentagon. Buy it. We know where your children go to school.
For publishing books, New York simply doesn’t work very well. It is ossified, doesn’t like writers or writing, and can barely read. You can’t just send your manuscript to New York because they won’t read un-agented manuscripts. You likely don’t know an agent, so you buy Writer’s Market and guess. Your guess doesn’t matter because there are only two kinds of agents, those too important to bother with you, and those who are straightforwardly useless. You can spend years shopping agents who demand exclusive contracts while they don’t sell your book.
Suppose your opus somehow gets to Random House. It will fall into the hands of a first reader, usually a Barnard co-ed with the brains of a trout fly, who likely has never been more that fifty yards from a flush toilet. She will know nothing about America, truck stops, life, or Oklahoma. She will bounce your book.
Think I’m kidding? Every so often some wag takes a classic, maybe Crime and Punishment, changes the names, and sends it to New York. Invariably it gets rejected, meaning that the first reader knows neither literature nor writing. This is what you are up against.
If by some mistake the book is accepted, you get a tiny advance or none and a year later 5,000 copies get printed, of which 2,000 sell, maybe, because Random House won’t promote it, whereupon it goes into remainders, and they have the copyright. Your book is dead.
Choice Two is Print on Demand, or POD. This is a better deal, if you know what you are doing. For about a half-grand, you email your outpouring, Sex and the Single Dromedary, to an outfit like iUniverse, which formats it for publication and sticks it on a hard drive somewhere. It shows up on Amazon and Barnes and Rubble just like Dostoevsky or the Bible and people can order it, but most likely won’t. This is much better than the old vanity presses, to which you paid thousands and ended up with a garage full of moldering books.
iUniverse will then pester you for the rest of your life trying to peddle various means of promoting your book, none of which will work, as iUniverse knows perfectly well. Every ten minutes you get a promotional call from some twit in sales. Reading from a script, he implies without saying that for a great deal of money he will make your book sell better than the Koran. Sure. Any day now.
Choice Three is ebook, which means not only Kindle but Sony and the gang. I was preparing another collection of my lies and distortions, hoping to mulct unwary readers, when I got an email from David St. John at Elderberry Press, which I’d never heard of, wondering would I like him to publish my books in electronic form. Wow. An editor who actually looks for books to publish? Who talks to writers?
That’s rare as virgins in the seventh grade. You don’t call Random House and and talk to The Editor, or any editor, not even the Barnard trout fly.
It gets worse for the publishing scam. Elderberry can get your opus, Anorexia in the Three-Toed Sloth, by email, format it for Kindle, Sony, Apple, and probably parchment copyists and stone cutters, and put it up for sale on Amazon and the others—in about two weeks. At that point your novel, I Was a Teen-age Breast Pump, covers the entire earth like God and corruption, except maybe for North Korea, where God probably doesn’t have coverage. Royalties beat hell out of New York. If like me, you want to include photos, just stick them in. Kindles don’t handle color, but iPads do. To a server, photos are just more ones and zeros. It doesn’t care.
Oh, and you keep the copyright.
New York? A dinosaur looking with vague unease at the thin film of ice forming on its swamp. Physical books aren’t dead, but the green lines on the oscilloscope flatten and flatten. Kindles are selling deadly good. Amazon says it has 950,000 books in Kindle format. Anywhere that has cell phone coverage, meaning anywhere but the Greenland ice cap and the bottom of the Mariana Trench, you can download all 950,000 if the urge hits you.
Here’s the killer: A little outfit like Elderberry can do ebooks, or for that matter POD, at least as well as Random House, and probably better. “Better” means the quality of the editor. The rest is software. Further, an electro-shop doesn’t need delivery trucks, printing firms, big investors, pricey offices, a thousand employees, or chains of stores.
The flaw in this ointment, the fatal fly, is promotion. You pretty much have to do it yourself, perhaps with a web site, or the social media like Facebook and, eventually, word of mouth. In theory Border’s can give you shelf space, except that Border’s is dead. In a brick-and-morter book store, what do you see prominently displayed? The Wisdom of Oprah. And I Was Godzilla’s Mother, by Janet Napolitano. And Jane Fonda’s Salad Book. And The Persephony Diet: Lose Weight by Eating Pure Chicken Fat. Everything else is shelved where nobody will ever see it.
Yes, I know, some people—chiefly old ones—say they just love the feel of a book, that these new-fangled computer thingamabobs will never be as satisfying. Bet me. The rising generations don’t read, but they are happy not doing it on a portable screen. It’s new world. Countless horrible books will see publication, but also good ones that New York wouldn’t touch. Some means will evolve of sorting this mess out, maybe websites run by tasteful reviewers who will slog through the sludge, finding emeralds. It’s going to be decentralized, free-lance, beyond the control of big companies.
New York? Nah. It’s Kindle, Amazon, Elderberry, Gutenberg.org. That’s all it is. Well, Audible.com too. Meanwhile the New York publishers still walk around, barely, while forethoughtedly decomposing, and then croak. Which they deserve. I will buy a case of Padre Kino red, and dance on their graves.