odds and odder ends, including scolding publishers and mean readers

One of the many Jennifers pointed me to this article on the ABC site about authors who write weblogs. Pros, cons, the usual — but the bit that really caught my attention was the publishers weighing in.

At Farrar, Straus & Giroux, where one prominent author, Shirley Hazzard, doesn’t even own an answering machine, president Jonathan Galassi says he doesn’t pay much attention to blogs.

“Maybe we’re behind the times,” says Galassi, who publishes such award-winning authors as Hazzard, Susan Sontag and Jonathan Franzen. “I just think there are too many words out there already. I hope our writers will be spending their time writing their books, not their blogs.”

This both makes me laugh and irritates me. What is the relationship between the publisher and the author, anyway? Teacher to student? Parent to child? Galassi shaking his finger at his authors (now Shirley, get back to writing stuff I can sell ) galls me.

The truth is, publishers won’t or can’t invest the money necessary to bring an author and his/her work to the public’s attention. Ask any published author (below the level of Stephen King) and you’ll hear about the trouble with marketing these days. So authors hire outside public relations people (which I haven’t done) or go to market-it-yourself seminars (which I haven’t done) or arrange their own book tours (ditto) or just sit by and wring their hands while a newly published book gets lost in the thousands of other books published every year. A weblog is one way to reach out to readers, and thus I write.

Other reading: by way of Old Hag I found author/columnist Amy Sohn’s website. Have a look at her angry letters section. Dogdamn, there are some mean people out there. I’m bookmarking it so that I can read it whenever I’m thinking of complaining about my reviews. (Which have been very good for the new novel, she added hastily).

The observant RobynBender sent me this link to Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, the writings of Brit Mil Millington about Margret, his significant other. Go over there if you need something funny to read. For example:

The TV Remote. It is only by epic self-discipline on both our parts that we don’t argue about the TV Remote to the exclusion of all else. It does the TV Remote a disservice to suggest that it is only the cause of four types of argument, but space, you will understand, is limited so I must concentrate on the main ones.

1) Ownership of the TV Remote: this is signified by its being on the arm of the chair/sofa closest to you – it is more important than life itself.

2) On those blood-freezing occasions when you look up from your seat to discover that the TV Remote is still lying on top of the TV, then one of you must retrieve it; who shall it be? And how will this affect (1)?

3) Disappearance of the TV Remote. Precisely who had it last will be hotly disputed, witnesses may be called. Things can turn very nasty indeed when the person who isn’t looking for it is revealed to be unknowingly sitting on it.

4) The TV Remote is a natural nomad and sometimes, may the Lord protect us, it goes missing for whole days. During these dark times, someone must actually, in an entirely literal sense, get up to change the channel; International Law decrees that this, “will not be the person who did it last” – but can this be ascertained? Without the police becoming involved?

Farscape

The really, really big news is that the miniseries is done and is scheduled to be aired on the SciFi Channel in the fall. The Henson Company (who owns all things Farscape) has made an announcement here and of course there’s a huge amount of discussion and excitement over at SaveFarscape, especially on the Frell Me Dead board where Brian Henson himself stopped by to make the announcement. This is part of the official statement from Henson:

“This special television event would not be a reality were it not for the tireless, unwavering efforts of the Farscape fans to bring the series back. Like all of us at The Jim Henson Company, they believed that the epic story we were telling was something special and deserved a proper ending. We are thrilled to respond to their dedication be creating this miniseries, thus resolving many of the unanswered questions from the final episode and giving fans their just due.”

Of course no good news is complete without a controversy, and here it is: SciFi, having cancelled the scheduled and contracted fifth season, is anathema to many of the Farscape Faithful, and now they’ve gone and bought rights to air the miniseries. In many ways it makes sense, from a marketing perspective; hopefully they will run all four seasons in prime time leading up to the mini, which will give us a chance to boost ratings and a shot at a real fifth season.

In any case, it’s very hard to imagine those four hours finished, sitting on a shelf someplace waiting to be watched. From the letters I get from my readers, I guess this is how many of them feel about knowing that book four is finished, but they just can’t have it yet.

Do you suppose Ben Browder and Fran Buller have neighbors and friends over to watch those four hours? Has Claudia Black shown it to her family? I’ll go do some work now so I can stop worrying about unknowable things.

truth in advertising

last night I saw a commercial that made me mad, and so it’s stuck in my head. Is that a successful marketing ploy? Not in this case, because I’m not going to mention the company that produces this product. Which is, in a word: false hope.

Imagine a classroom filled with a crowd of twenty-something students. The professor, about fifty, in stereotypical Ivy-league tweed, careworn, is lecturing them on why most of them will never be published. Close up on disappointed, disbelieving faces as he tells them the reason: money. Publishers have to invest too much money and hence they are more likely to reject a new writer.

Now a young man jumps in with an interruption. That’s not true! He tells the class. It’s not a matter of money anymore! Not with on-demand publishing, no siree. One book at a time, if need be — no big storage problems for the publishers. It’s all digital these days, sez he. It’s all changed. The professor looks slightly dazed, and offers no counterargument.

Got snake oil? How about real estate in Florida? Haven’t found a publisher interested in that novel? You’ve invested two years of your life, now invest your money– publish it yourself.

There’s so much more to the business than the printing end of it: editing, book design, distribution, advertising, marketing, the review process, all of those awful details. Forking over a thousand bucks to have a hundred copies of your novel printed is akin to renting studio time to record your own sitcom premiere — unless you do your homework ahead of time and you’re willing to take on all those jobs the publisher would have done for you.

I’d like to say also, very clearly, that hundreds of books that deserve publication, really good novels, never make it and the authors of those novels have every right to be put out about it. A few of them will decide to self-publish, and if the fates are kind and their timing is good, they might have some success with it. Unfortunately, the odds are against them.

Now in the spirit of disclosure, I’ll point out that I actually wrote a blurb for a self-published book. I hate writing blurbs and almost never do it, but in this case, I made an exception. Because I liked the novel a lot and thought it deserved to be read. This is what I wrote in my blurb about David Karraker’s Running in Place (1stBooks Library; April 2003 ISBN: 1410716880):

“As a nation addicted to nostalgia, we like to think we remember and understand the sixties… Karraker…gives us a multilayered story set at the dawning of those times. It is the tale of a young married couple on a middle American college campus, told with a clear eye and beautiful but deceptively accessible prose…This is a compelling and deeply felt story, and one that deserves a wide readership.”