Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Self-Publishing Delusion

In “The Sixth Coming of Harry: Book Publishing's Rejection Culture,” C. I. Chatell writes, "Big publishing houses are beginning to lose their cache as more and more authors are learning how to break through the medium using creative devices to publish and promote their book."

Yeah? Which authors? Ah, bullcrap. Why doesn't Stephen King start his own publishing company, then? He doesn't have to roll the boulder uphill from being an unknown to becoming a name. He's already famous. All he - or his marketing apparatus - would have to do is announce the imminent publication of a new title to the major media outlets. With his own one-author imprint, he could keep a lot more of the profits that he gives to his current publisher. Then why doesn't he? And if he doesn't self-publish, with all his advantages, then it's a delusion for any unknown author to expect to self-publish and succeed, unless lightning strikes. Nobody has yet figured out how to achieve success without advertising a product, and that takes resources - money and marketing expertise - that are simply beyond the reach of most writers. I remember the big optimism and euphoric stories about how artists of all kinds were finally going to be able to attract an audience without a corporate intermediary by using the internet. That was back around 1996, when the net was new for most people, including me. The revolution didn't happen. It's not going to happen. The internet, ebooks, POD - what have you - don't change anything.

Fuck Books

Here are the leads from recent stories at

Another Indie Bookstore Gives Up The Ghost. Bound To Be Read, a large-scale independent bookseller operating stores in Albuquerque and the Twin Cities has announced that it will close its doors within a few months. The Albuquerque store had been open for fifteen years, the St. Paul outlet for five. Minneapolis Star Tribune 04/28/05

Australian Book Chain Goes Bankrupt. Collins Booksellers, Australia's third largest book chain, has declared bankruptcy and owes $7.5 million. The Australian 04/27/05

Harper Collins Sees a Down Year. Publisher Harper Collins reports a 30 percent drop in profits. The Guardian (UK) 04/24/05

Against Good Books. Today's corporate weather-makers hate "book-lovers", as they sneeringly refer to them. They despise curious readers committed to the range and quality of what they buy, such as those who bother with books coverage in intelligent magazines or newspapers. Instead, extra resources will now go into snaring the fitful attention of affluent but apathetic semi-readers who, deep down, believe that, in the deathless words of Philip Larkin's "A Study of Reading Habits", "Books are a load of crap." Ah, but those non-readers made an exception for The Da Vinci Code. So let's have much more of the same brain-shrinking junk. The Independent (UK) 04/22/05

The Literary No-Man's Land. A profile of author Steve Stern. “Mr. Stern, 58, has been publishing short stories and novels for almost a quarter century. He has received critical praise in the places that matter, won his share of prizes and is devoted to his work. Robert Weil, the executive editor of W. W. Norton, considers the situation to be even more dire. ‘If you speak to publishers about the sales of literary fiction - I mean we're in real trouble in this country,' he said. Sales are shocking these days, even compared to 10 years ago. And publishers are seriously cutting back.’" The New York Times 04/25/05

Five or six years ago, when we visited the Old Town section of Pasadena, there was a lovely Rizzoli's bookstore across from the Indian restaurant we'd just eaten at. It failed soon thereafter. Patagonia, an upscale boutique, took its place and has thrived for several years. Akbar,the restaurant, was packed when we ate there in April. The owner started with the Pasadena location and has since opened several more around the city.

If a book sells a million copies, which makes it that rare bestseller, it still means that only a third of a percent of Americans read it. Most books sell only a few thousand copies before being remaindered.

Books are so marginal in our society that they don't even exist for all but a tiny fraction of the populace. Ray Bradbury got it wrong in Fahrenheit 451. You don't need a government program to suppress books. They've already become irrelevant to people's lives.

Why keep beating your balls off to try and get published? Charles Beaumont once commented about writing for television. He said it's like climbing a mountain of manure to pluck a single rose from the top. But by the time you've gotten the rose, you've lost your sense of smell.

Hugh Hewitt, Sayer of Funny Things

"A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence."

Richard Dawkins

On April 23, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, held on the UCLA campus, hosted a panel on the impact of bloggers on the media. The panelist were Ken Auletta, Hugh Hewitt, Arianna Huffington, David Shaw (who moderated) and Geoffrey Stone.

Hewitt said, “ All of the gates are down. There are no more gatekeepers.”

Balderdash. So far, there have been a handful of blogs that have achieved some recognition in the non-blog media. Those blogs are all political. Most are written by people who were already professional writers, pundits or members of the chattering class. There are exceptions, like Daily Kos, who was a nobody before his blog. You’ve heard about these blogs, if you have heard at all, because writers and reporters in mainstream media outlets have picked up on them and given them recognition. That is a classic gatekeeper function. And Huffington noted that bloggers need the mainstream media to feed off of.

Arianna Huffington also engaged in hyperbole. “The blogosphere is the greatest breakthrough in journalism since Thomas Paine broke onto the scene.”

After Auletta, Huffington and Stone criticized the major media's failure to scrutinize the claims that constituted Bush's rationale for the invasion of Iraq, Hewitt said, “All of these issues were put before the American people in November and George Bush won an enormous victory. Michael Barone counts it” - interrupted by derisive laughter and booing from the audience - “I know, I know. Michael Barone counts it as one of the most significant American elections in terms of realignment since Harding’s.”

And we all know how well that worked out. Only in the mind of a reflexive partisan like Hugh Hewitt can a three percent margin become an enormous victory.

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