Friday, December 5, 2008

Publishing Fall Out

Despite the fact that publishing was considered a repression-proof industry pre-1990, everyone in the shaky book biz felt the hit this week on what book professionals are calling "Black Wednesday." Hold on to your hats, people; this is just the beginning:

27 comments:

Native_Ink said...

Well, maybe this is the end of current literary tastes too. The whole postmodernism wave was fueled by privileged, well-educated writers who found a ready audience during economic boom times. Could it be that we will return to the harder, more realistic styles of the 1970's or even the 1930's? Maybe the reading public will not want precocious, sheltered writers when it's dealing with the tough realities of a recession.

Anonymous said...

Rocky Mountain News is PROBABLY SHUTTING DOWN. So are lots of other papers. (Gloom in the offices today)


Also another NASTY trend. The literary journals are adding limits to allow you to submit only X amount of times in your life. Usually 2-3 submissions a year. Even some as low as 1 per "reading period."

That's pretty lame. Why do this, to "give everybody a chance"? What if you have a lot of pieces to submit? What if you have 100 stories when some lame writer only has 2? If they don't like your work (you personally) they should have the balls to say "Please stop submitting to us" ... but by cutting it out with these stupid limits, if you're really trying to make it as a writer you don't have much of a chance.

(Well, except to get an MFA and then a teaching gig somewhere, ie playn the game. It's all a lie, all a joke. Even C. Michael Curtis at The Atlantic is supposedly biased against the "unknown" writer now - he wants you to be an MFA grad or established. What bunk.)

Anonymous said...

Why would you type ". . . while blaming Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) for not delivering his new book, rather than blaming the fact that they have pinned their success on one author, one book" when the article you link to says exactly the opposite of that? The article explicitly says "Nevertheless, 'the changes we’ve made are quite separate from anything to do with Dan Brown'" . . .

Steve said...

If you're really trying to "make it" as a writer it ain't going to be by publishing in Ramalamadingdong Review or any other lit journal. It's going to be by perfecting your craft, in an MFA program or out of one. How do you perfect your craft? By writing as though you're not trying to make it but are trying to say something that you have to say, that you are compelled to reveal and that can be said or revealed in no other way.

Writer, Rejected said...

They blame Brown (implicitly) in this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/business/04publish.html

But let's pretend that they're not blaming him (and other authors). It's nicer that way.

But here's how the article ends:

"But industry veterans were surprised that Mr. Rubin, who is well regarded in the business, was being removed from his post and that the Doubleday Group was being dismantled, despite a particularly bad year.

Dan Brown, author of “The Da Vinci Code,” failed to deliver his next novel, originally set for release in 2005. Jon Krakauer, author of the adventure hits “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air,” withdrew his book about Pat Tillman, the former football star killed in Afghanistan, originally scheduled for an October release.

To top it off, “The Gargoyle,” a first novel for which Doubleday reportedly paid $1.25 million, flopped, selling 34,000 copies in hardcover, according to Nielsen BookScan. In October, Doubleday laid off 10 percent of its staff."

Writer, Rejected said...

p.s. Steve: Nicely put.

Joe said...

I'm with you, Steve!

rmellis said...

Whoa, "The Gargoyle" flopped? That got so much publicity...

Puc said...

Some time ago Howard Junker posted a quote by William Everson regarding a Dreiser bus encounter during the war. But Junker only posted part of what Everson said. Everson said, "Mr. Dreiser, we're two poets on furlough from a camp in Waldport. We are going down to San Francisco. We hope to meet some of the other writers there and renew our acquaintance with the literary scene..." "So what!" Dreiser said. "There are thousands of you. You crawl about the country from conference to literary conference. You claim to be writers, but what do you ever produce? Not one of you will amount to a goddamn. You have only the itch to express yourself. Everwhere I go I run into you, and I'm sick of you. The world is being torn apart in agony, crying out for truth, the terrible truth. And you..." He paused and his voice seemed to suddenly grow weary. "You have nothing to say." (from The San Francisco Poets, edited by David Meltzer, 1971). Everson explains that bus travel during the war "was simply awful." Perhaps the currrent depression will allow writers the chance to ride buses and work again in a way that will provide them with something to say. For Dresier wrote for an audience, and perhaps too the current depression will create for writers a new audience.

Anonymous said...

yeah like david leavitt.

did you see he announced no more submissions to subtropics until next september?

i always doubted that he actually read anything he got. he rejected work the same day it arrived. but he published all the same network of academics.

don't believe me?

you can read it yourself. tell me this story is not awful. academic crap, crap and more crap.

all the stories in that journal are the same. like any other journal. what's the point anymore. i, for one, am happy for a great depression. shut all these awful journals down.

rmellis said...

Hm, people read more during a depression, or so I've heard. I know if I lose my job, I'll spend more time reading. Like when I'm standing in the unemployment line.

I think we'll send the end of big advances, but not the end of publishing altogether.

Fartboxen said...

What is all those words? It's like, hey there, and words are what. This is the internet. Where are the internet at? Hello.

Anonymous said...

Dreiser worked as newspaper reporter in various big cities. He saw everything: murder scenes, politicians denying paybacks, tenement fires. He talked to all sorts of people. Etc. I believe that is better (much better!) preparation for being a writer than going from high school to college.
Course, Dreiser could be incredibly repetitive and long-winded, but his Sister Carrie is excellent. I like how it's about real people, ones I could relate to, and was non-judgemental. Also, it was largely concerned with money matters.
The Octopus (Frank Norris), the USA trilogy (Dos Passos), the Studs Lonigan trilogy (Farrell) -- are those the type of books the first commenter was referring to? Is there an audience for them? I don't think so (though Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities offered a glimmer of hope).
MFA grads want to read what other, more successful MFA grads write. When they get out of the required reading, that's what they read and what they try to imitate. (Or many try to be more bizarre, thinking that shows off their brilliant imaginative powers.)

John said...

Here's what I don't understand. Why is Doubleday bent out of shape for Dan Brown not delivering his sequel, or whatever it is? The stuff is so predictable, it ought to be possible to ghost it. Or Brown himself could have subcontracted to some hack. Take a conspiracy theory, any conspiracy theory, grab an ordinary dude and stick him in the conspiracy, add lots of sex and stuff, and you've got it. Half an hour on the web should find a good conspiracy.

I mean, they kept writing James Bond novels after Ian Fleming died. Doesn't anyone at Doubleday know about this? (My wife is asking why I don't pitch this to Doubleday myself. . .)

rmellis said...

Don't be crazy, John; Dan Brown owns Dan Brown. What, is Doubleday going to publish books under his name while he's alive? I doubt he'd go for that. He must have at least a crumb of self respect.

And who's going to want to read "Da Vinci Code: The Sequel" by Beatrice P. Quine?

Steve said...

MFA grads...the new illegal alien...er, illegal immigrant...er, undocumented worker...er, scapegoat.

John said...

Buy the name. Ian Fleming's heirs sold the right to the name and the James Bond brand, I believe. Doubleday ought to be able to hire a lawyer to work that one out!

Or make it by Don Browne, say.

Anonymous said...

The Anonymous above gave a link to a Subtropics story. He called it "crap." I read it. It is crap.
The author, an MFA grad, a member of the McSweeny's contingent, can write pretty sentences, but his "story" has no substance, it's just posturing, it's boring.
If you're enough of a sucker to believe it's good, you're part of the crowd that thought the Emperor's new clothes were just beautiful.

Steve said...

aw nevermind then

arthur said...

"Is there an audience for them? I don't think so"...

You may be right, anon.

If so, very depressing. Like they said earlier on here, "Has Short Fiction Gone the Way of the Old Fashioned Movie Star?""

Ok, let's assume it's so. Now what? Is there any hope?


(Ditto to the other anon and the Subtropics story. That's the kind of fiction that's only good for burning, not reading. Blech)

Native_Ink said...

One of the Anonymous posters (hard to keep 'em straight) mentioned Dos Passos as a writer who knew what it was like to be an Average Joe in tough economic times. Even more recently, writers like Russell Banks and Raymond Carver made careers out of setting their stories in a milieu of struggling working and lower middle class people. These writers had their own sense of literary style, and in some cases were masters of formal innovation, but they also knew what it was like to draw a working class paycheck (or at least to see their parents draw one).

They are a far cry from most leading writers today, who went straight from good high schools to good colleges to good teaching positions. Those writers will sit out this recession in relative comfort and maybe "feel" for people from afar, but they won't have any idea what it's really all about.

Anonymous said...

I think MIAMI HERALD up for sale today...

also scores of mags are closing. Even Gawker has been covering a lot of this lately. Seems print publishing is hurtin' BIG TIME.

Anonymous said...

A commenter (Gimme?) expressed contempt for most editors. Based on what? On their stupid comments, when they do comment (they just Don't Get It, though it's perfectly clear), and on reading what they do publish. Like the Subtropics story, or the Egg story that Ted Genoways of VQR was so proud of. And a hundred other examples (often found in the Best of Year anthologies).
It's not what I like, and what I write is not what the MFA crowd likes.
Carver's early and middle stories, the more down-on-the-pavement ones like "Are These Actual Miles," are good examples of what a story should be: about real people and real situations (it's called the "human condition," kiddies), told simply and directly (harder to do than you think), and making a statement about us all (no answers; just saying something of significance).
I have almost no hope that doors will open. The members of the Ivory Tower club are entrenched, and the public-at-large doesn't care about them or (sadly) about Literature.

Anonymous said...

sorry to go pack to the original topic of this post (the ivory tower/ mfa debate is lovely) but why did doubleday put all its eggs in the dan brown basket? that's like personal finance 101: diversify, duh.

did they think he'd be the perfect scapegoat because he's disliked by many people? how cynical. if that's how doubleday treats its authors, we should all be worried.

John said...

Authors generally aren't well treated. If you're looking at writing as a line of work where you'll be paid well, have great bennies, and so forth, maybe you should look into something else. John Cheever, when he finally wanted to buy a house, got a lot of static at The New Yorker, because the editors felt writers shouldn't be making that much money!

Anonymous said...

I happened to like the Egg story in VQR, because it's quite good. But you're right about the "Naples. Not Italy" story in Subtropics. It's genuinely terrible. I can't believe they paid $1000 for it. It's a collection of sense impressions and anecdotes that never adds into anything greater than front-porch anecdotes. It captures the feeling of a place but not the significance or inward life of the characters. It has no plot -- which does not automatically make it bad, but it lacks the justification of lacking a plot. It has well-turned pithy phrases which grow increasingly tiring and abstruse.

This is fiction as experiment, but unfortunately this experiment doesn't work. And don't think all my critiques are from a staunch realism perspective, either. I like everything from postmodern writers to magical realism. I believe you can do anything on the page as long as it works. This doesn't.

This type of work would never fly out of the Academic Inner Circle, and it will never last. Sorry John Brandon. Take your grand and run. Preferably, run to a place where you can get better advice on how to write.

Anonymous said...

i don't judge john brandon by one lame story (yeah, the subtropics story was pretty subpar.)

arkansas was a surprising good read, despite all the mcsweeneys hype that usually turns me off. i had to do a double take to check that it really was a mcsweesy's publication, normally their stuff is crap, but arkansas is really really good.