The State of Book Publishing Part II

Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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5 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I disagree somewhat with your assertion that voracious readers only did the B minus and below stuff. LeeEsq is a voracious reader and mainly of non-fiction but also prestige fiction. There are voracious readers who know more about the New York Review of Books* than about mass-market paperbacks or e-books. This group is also small (and very old) but they exist.

    I have read some J.P. Priestly. He is very good but also a very typical of British writer-intellectuals at the time. He fretted about American pop culture destroying British culture. He was the kind of intellectual to tell audiences to avoid the siren song of Hollywood. He obviously failed.

    Someone I know from college publishes romance books and I get glimpses at it every now and then. There is a lot of social media work and making your readers feel very close to you in ways that more traditional authors would probably scoff at. This includes a lot of divulged personal details which always make me wonder if author’s families consented to the sharing. But talking about the family stuff seems to get the fan base, hook, line, and sinker. They cab’t resist it. I find it disconcerting.

    Also, and there is really no tactful way to say this but her husband has a more traditional job and she seems to stay at home with the kids. This makes it seem more like a hobby way to contribute to the family.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I may have asked “as a rule” to carry more weight that it could bear, but maybe not. We are talking about a-book-a-day people here (albeit with flexibility about what constitutes a “book”). This rate with literary fiction would be quite a feat. I certainly never maintained it, even before the internet came along to suck my brains out. I’m not saying there aren’t such people out there, but they are rare birds.

      As for your friend, it is entirely possible that she is bringing in substantial income. Look to see how many books she has out there. The people doing this as a primary source of income put out about four to eight books a year. Of course even if she isn’t, factor the absence of paying childcare and this might still be a solid win.

      As for the marketing, yes, it is intrusive. Also exhausting. Marketing becomes a huge part of your life. This seems to me no way to live, but some people thrive in this environment. A big factor people often overlook in the debate over whether you should self-publish or go traditional is that self-publishing requires a whole bunch of skills and attributes apart from just writing books, and while this is somewhat true of traditional publishing, there is a huge difference in degree. The de facto requirements of self-publishing clearly are not for everyone.Report

  2. Michael Cain says:

    My nephew spent one summer while he was getting his film degree as a paid intern at a small production company, reading unsolicited screenplays of various lengths. He said that this particular production company was the last one in the country that would accept screenplays directly from the authors; all others, according to him, would only accept material that came from an agent. (He said that he found two over the summer that they followed up on. Both required rewrites. The first was a half-hour show padded up to an hour; they told the author so and asked him/her to cut it down. The second was an hour show stuffed into a 30 minute form; they asked that author to expand it where my nephew had made suggestions.

    I read Charlie Stross’s blog. Charlie has a big enough following for his writing that he can command high-five or six figure advances. A fair number of authors comment or guest-blog there. The subject of traditional publishing vs self-publishing comes up frequently. Charlie keeps an easy-to-find permanent link to his essay titled “Why I don’t self-publish (Note: the title does not read, “why you should not self-publish”)”. As an outside-the-profession observer, one of the big differences seems to be agents. As my nephew remarked about screenplays, much of the traditional publishing business seems to use agents as gatekeepers.

    I assume that some sort of experience with the publishing houses is necessary to becoming an agent; that one doesn’t just hang out a shingle and start making cold calls to strangers whose names you can run down.Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    It is therefore worth noting that of all the authors in our library the one who ‘went out’ the best was — Priestley? Hemingway? Walpole? Wodehouse?

    In itself a nice summary of the vicissitudes of literary fortune. I had to look up J. B. Priestley; I’m fairly sure I’d never heard of him at all. All I remembered about Hugh Walpole is how butthurt he got when Belloc called Wodehouse “the best living English writer.” Wikipedia quotes Wodehouse:

    Wodehouse wrote to a friend, “I can’t remember if I ever told you about meeting Hugh when I was at Oxford getting my D.Litt. I was staying with the Vice-Chancellor at Magdalen and he blew in and spent the day. It was just after Hilaire Belloc had said that I was the best living English writer. It was just a gag, of course, but it worried Hugh terribly. He said to me, ‘Did you see what Belloc said about you?’ I said I had. ‘I wonder why he said that.’ ‘I wonder,’ I said. Long silence. ‘I can’t imagine why he said that,’ said Hugh. I said I couldn’t, either. Another long silence. ‘It seems such an extraordinary thing to say!’ ‘Most extraordinary.’ Long silence again. ‘Ah, well,’ said Hugh, having apparently found the solution, ‘the old man’s getting very old.'”


  4. j r says:

    Great posts! I appreciate the research that went into this, Richard. And I think that you are right about the equilibrium.

    I get the vitriol for “gatekeepers,” and it’s something that every industry within the arts is dealing with and will continue to deal. I think about the Netflix film Roma being nominated for an Oscar and I can’t imagine a self-published book ever being short-listed for one of the major book awards. And that’s why the legacy publishing industry is here to stay for the foreseeable future. I’m no expert on this, but my sense is that writers of literary fiction probably earn the bulk of their income from some combination of teaching positions, fellowships, grants, literary prize awards, etc. than from book sales. And none of that is possible without a whole ecosystem of agents, editors, publishers and critics.Report