Years ago a heard an author reading from their recently-published book at Davis-Kidd. These were the days before I was honest with myself about wanting to be a writer, so I reacted strangely. I developed a vociferous dislike for the author and their works. Then this weekend I came across one of those books and thought “you know, I bet this wasn’t as bad as I remembered from the reading and that my jealousy and envy really coloured my perceptions. I should try to read this.”
And so I did.
Lo and behold, I had been right the first time. The book was a weird Frankenstein’s Monster that tried to stitch together four or five popular (10 years popular) genres and did none of them very well. By the end of the book I was convinced that it must be a whole lot easier to get published than I once thought.
Apparently it is easier to get published. If you live in New York City and are married to a person in Media and have several friends and former co-workers who are in publishing, then you can nail a contract out of the blue.
Part of me seizes upon examples such as this one when I try to argue for the Publishing Revolution. After all, these new avenues opened up by Amazon and Apple should be the antidote to the cronyist, nepotist nature of old-style publishing. Because how else does a woman in a Tennessee basement get work evaluated against a person in a SoHo loft having cocktails with their good buddy Sasha from Random House?
But then I look at the nature of the free books being put out there and I think that somewhere there HAS to be a happy medium. There needs to be a tier between Big Pub House and Electronic Slush Pile. Obviously the big publishing houses aren’t about risk anymore. The concept of the Midlist at the traditional houses is pretty much dead. It’s go big or go home and pretty much the only way to secure a contract is to write a trilogy about wererobots.
Sunday night I watched the excellent documentary Hey, Boo, which followed the story of To Kill a Mockingbird from Harper Lee’s first draft through the enduring popularity of the book and its film adaptation. I was struck solidly with the realisation that that book could NOT happen in this current publishing climate. Lee submitted her manuscript to 10 publishers and was rejected by all of them. Then one person found “something” in the raw material and took her on. Lee and her publisher and editor then spent another year painstakingly revising the book from a series of short stories to the more cohesive novel that we know today.
Watching that movie I felt the oddest sense of loss. With publishing turning away from the love of books and embracing a love of money above all else I fear for what else is in store. And I wonder how many good books we’re all missing.
But most of all I still wonder how a writer with a good book can get to the right cocktail parties.