Monday, January 10, 2011

Publishing Is Dead, Again

"Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. And stinky."  -- James Joyce, Ulysses

By Steve Weddle

People of Earth: Quick. Stuff your tweed jackets with the Great Literature -- Tropic of Cancer, Yevgeniy Onegin, Mrs. Dalloway -- you've left undusted on your IKEA shelves and head for the hills.

The publishing world is collapsing. Gnash your dentures. Wet your adult diapers. Reverse your mortgages!!

Some people you've never heard of in Alabama are taking a word out of a public domain book. I KNOW!! To quote Marlon Brando in Martin Sheen's novel, Apocalypse Darkness, "The Horror!!"

If they take the N-word out of Huck Finn, will racism come back?

Worse than that, a wacky person on the TV has her name on a book. (Orange you gonna say "bananas"?)

The sky is falling. Sanctity of the novel. Blah blah blah.

Chillax, folks. They aren't taking your precious Huckleberry Finn from the shelves to replace it with the N-word/I-word free copy. And they aren't replacing that crapass Middlemarch or anything Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote with Snooki's book. Oh, if only they would. Honestly, "Young Goodman Brown"? Allegory? Holy crap. See, his name is "Brown." Not white for good. Not black for evil. See, Faith's ribbons are pink. Not red for passion. Not white for innocence. See, her name is "Faith." See, his name is "Goodman." Which means "good man." You'd have to lobotomize an unwatered fern to find a dimmer book. Or, you know, visit the set of a reality show.

Could I find redeeming qualities in Snooki's book? Sure. Could I work it into a lesson or two about current literary tastes? Heck, yeah. I'm not, though, because I ain't on the clock.

I've seen that done, though. When I taught college, one professor devoted 10 percent of the final grade to students' bringing in a contemporary song and discussing the lyrics as poetry. That was one of those classes in which the kids who showed up got an "A," while the kids who didn't show up got an "A-." (Yes, and I've seen great classes and great professors and everyone farts flowers, so whatever.)

Some folks took a couple of words out of a public domain book. Honestly. Big friggin whoop. You want to take words out? Fine. Here it is. Some dude already took the N-word out and replaced it with "hipster." You can buy it on Lulu for about $16, I think.

Honestly, it ain't that big a deal. Folks take the Jane Austen books and throw in vampires or zombies. Did everyone get pissed about that? No. Oh, but that was fun. It added something to the original. Adding zombies was a satirical parody of our hermeneutic [insert French word]-fraude. Feh. I didn't read the zombie version, either. (I did see the BBC P&P with Ms Ehle and Mr Firth and found it quite lovely. The father cracks me up.)

And Snooki's book? Either it sells or it doesn't. They gave her $3.5 million for an advance? Well, that seems like an oompaloompa load of cash, doesn't it? And why did they give her this money? Why did they sign her to the deal? Because they think they can make money on the deal. This is business.

Why has no one bought my 156,000-word space opera? Are they afraid of my one-armed, hermaphrodite, yodeling Jesuit priest with a slight lisp and a penchant for juggling? At first, that's what I thought it was. Then, as I re-read one of the scenes -- the one in which Hermunculus the transgendered monkey learns to power the intergalatic transport machine by pouring liquified goat feces down the shaved back of the priest's blind man servant -- I began to wonder if perhaps the book isn't that good. I mean, the entire first three books of the series (of which there are 17 so far and 13 more planned) take place during Pseudo-Normalous Prijantian ritual. (You'd have to have been on the Campaigns of Elder World with me and my college roommates to understand, but it's friggin awesome.) So this space opera isn't for everyone. Maybe the publishers think they can't make money on it. If they thought they could make their money back, they would certainly buy my books. It's a business, right?

The problem is, of course, that they don't always get everything right. Remember a couple of years ago when  whatever house it was had to get rid of folks because Dan Brown was late with a book? They'd written their budget counting on the uptick in revenue coming in a certain quarter. When he was late, well, they had to cut expenses. Couldn't afford those folks. I remember NPR and the NYT book folks going on and on about it. To me, that's a more serious concern. Budgeting. Because that shit is serious. If you're planning on revenue, if you're so nailed down that one late book is going to force you to shitcan a bunch of folks, you've got some problems in how you make a budget. But you know what? They'd basically planned on hiring Christmas help for a season, right? Then Christmas came late. Big, fat lump of coal. But that's what happens. It's a business, right?

Publishers invest in books because they think they can make the money back. It's business.

For some reason, folks still think of books as works of beautiful art. Yeah, some are. BUY THOSE BOOKS. I read Out Stealing Horses and thought it was magnificent. I have no friggin clue how it got published. Some old dude is in his cabin for a couple of hundred pages and remembers when he was a kid and some kinda interesting stuff happened. But it was great. Won awards. Did they make back their money? Heck if I know. I hope so.

Are they making their money back on James Patterson? John Grisham? Jodi Picoult? Er, yeah. I'd bet they are. See, if they make their money on Patterson, they have money to give me, right? That's one argument. The other is that if they give all their money to Picoult, they don't have any left to buy my space opera.

But this is a business. Book publishing has to make money. Big House Publishing doesn't owe me a damn thing. If they want to spend their profits on a Snooki cookbook, they can do that. And if I want to spend my money on Per Petterson, then I will. Or if I want to spend zero dollars and just load up my Kindle with Mark Twain and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, then I'll do that.

So when Janet Evanovich gets $50-million for her next books and Snooki gets $3.5 million for Jersey Whore, we can (oh, sorry. Jersey Shore Thing). OK. Where was I? Ah, yeah. Sticking up for publishers. Wait, why would I do that? Where's my check?

Buy books you like. Buy two copies. Buy from Tyrus. Mulholland. Minotaur. New Pulp Press. Night Shade. Akashic. [EDIT: And Switchblade. Thanks, Michelle.] (And whoever is still considering my space opera.) Any number of publishers that are doing good things.

Buy authors you like. Buy multiple copies. Saturday's Child from Ray Banks is Under. Two. Bucks. I just bought a handful of copies. Yeah, I know. Big spender. But lemme tell you this. Comment on this post and I'll randomly pick someone and send them a copy. Maybe I'll pick a couple. Then you'll love Cal Innes and buy more books. Spread the word.

And shop at stores you like and tell them what you want. I live fairly close to Richmond, so Fountain is my favorite indie. Find yours. Tell them what you want. Tell them what you hate. And, if they're good, they'll tell you what else you might like and hate.

You don't like the new Huck Finn? Don't buy it.

You don't like the book by that Jersey trollop, don't read it. Read the Trollope from the UK. I hear his stuff is free.


David Barber said...

That was a straight A, quality post, Steve. And you are SO right. Nice one!!

Unknown said...

I'm with you, Steve. Shit happens. And I'm eagerly awaiting your space opera. And The one about John Holmes living in a cabin with his pet hamster. I think you titled it Bigger Than a Baby's Arm.

Evil Ray said...

I’m not sure how Nathaniel Hawthorne died, but I like to think that he fell into a river (a symbol of the inexorable passage of time and thus the ephemeral nature of human existence) and was eaten by an allegory.

Michelle said...

I am not big into changing any classic or any book, for that matter. Ten years ago there was a huge stink about changing Snow White and Cinderella because the books made step mothers look evil. I had a boy and never thought to buy up any books. I had the books from when I was little.
I agree that you don't have to buy it or you can run out and stock up on 150 Huckleberry Finns.(I do not know why).
I do not like "people" sitting around a table discussing what is offensive in books and then spending all their time trying to change it. If you don't like what you see in that book then write your own f***ing book and see if it sells. Don't hook onto a classic and change it.
Snookie's book is a joke. She's not writing it. I don't know if she can write her name on a bathroom wall much less write a book. I am sure it will be entertaining. Jersey Shore is entertaining. You laugh because you can't believe people are that stupid.
I do not agree that a book needs to be changed to be discussed in classrooms. Who will be offended next? Hell, the literature teachers usually cause the students to hate the book by time they force feed it to them.
I have never been huge on censorship of any kind and that is only MY opinion.

Steve Weddle said...

David, Thanks.

Frankie, That one's a graphic novel.

Ray, Heh. Allegory.

Michelle, Yeah. I'd like to see the number of times HUCK FINN is taught this year vs the number of times it's taught with an expurgated version.

John Kenyon said...

Amen, Steve. A nice dose of reality. Of all the people kvetching over the Snooki and Twain transgressions, how many of them bought a book recently? The only way to affect the way the marketplace operates is to vote with your dollars.

Anonymous said...

Since we are in movie quoting mode, I'll give you Dustin Hoffman from Peter Pan. "Well played, Peter, well played." Now replace Peter with Steve and send me one of your spare books.

chad rohrbacher said...

Nicely done -- though, I really have to remember not to drink any coffee while reading your posts, they make a big mess when I laugh

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hysteria reigns in almost every sector of our life. I wonder when it started, why and when it will end.
I think the Internet has made it possible for all of us to become hysterical (and I don't mean from laughter) over something in seconds.

Ben said...

I don't know why Snooki got a publishing deal. The Situation's book was such a failure, one would have thought they understood that very few readers watch Jersey Shore. I'm not worried about Snooki. The Huck Finn thing is a different sort of animal, but targeting literary censorship is a hard thing.

Steve Weddle said...

John, Right-o. Buy what you like. Don't buy what you hate. An easy form of protest. Or reverse-protest.

Dan, Somebody hit your Peter with a Pan, you'd turn green and fly, too.

Chad, Happies.

Patti, Quick response isn't always the most thoughtful, right? Knee-jerks are usually heavy on the jerk.

Ben, Yes. I'm not sure the target audience overlaps with the book-reading one. Which may be the point. "If you buy one book in your life..."

Travener said...

I can't wait for that space opera to hit the shelves!

Chris Rhatigan said...

Middlemarch sure does blow.

I understand your point about replacing a single word being not that big a deal. However, as someone going into education, I've noticed that censorship is becoming more stringent and this latest Huck Finn business is a symptom of that. There seems to be a teacher who is fired on a regular basis because they let a kid swear in a creative writing piece. Or some ultra-religious parent complains that The Cat in the Hat is a Wiccan book, complains to the school board, and the school board, very afraid of any controversy/litigation, goes ahead and axes the teacher.

Anonymous said...

great post. i like the evolution af anger/outrage from beginning to end

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Hey, Steve, awesome. Good splash of cold water on the face.

Scott Nicholson

Michelle said...

I agree with John Kenyon. I buy books daily. (no lie). I won't buy Snookie's (?)book or Huck Finn. My son studied Huck Finn in middle school. They studied sections instead of whole book. They do that with Shakespeare too.
I hate censorship because I dislike people telling me what to do. As long they don't screw with Pulp Press, Switchblade, or any books I read, I don't care.

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Steve. Gave me good belly laughs. I'm not a fan of changing stuff to suit modern day worry-warts, but know what? I'll live. And I'll carry on buying a ton of books.

Steve Weddle said...

Travener, It'll come with a downloadable mp3 -- much as L Ron Hubbard's paperbacks came with soundtracks.

Chris, Those Things did seem kinda witchy.

Spencer, Thanks. Outrage it is.

Scott, Thanks.

Michelle, Right. And thanks. I'd forgotten to put Switchblade in the mention there at the end. Thanks.

Michael, Exactly, sir.

Eric Beetner said...

Great one Steve. I agree fully. Too much bitching going on out there by unpublished, or to borrow from the current unemployment crisis, "underpublished" authors.
I'll throw in that the little indie that has published my two books, Second Wind, is out there fighting the fight and getting it done. They even put their money down and opened a brick and mortar store in North Carolina. Now that's commitment to books.
I can see this post being copied and passed around a lot.

Steve Weddle said...

Eric, Second Wind seems really cool.

Steve Weddle said...

Michelle, I have a copy of the Ray Banks book to send your way.

Michelle said...

Too Cool!!! I love Ray Banks! Absolutely love him! Tell me what I need to do.