POD People

The writing team that works under the bestselling nom-de-plume PJ Parrish is blogging today about self-publishing:

So why do I hate POD and SP so much? I hate the way they prey
on dreamers. I hate that they overinflate expectations. But what I really
hate is that they make it possible for people to think there are shortcuts,
ways of circumventing the craft, hard work and legitimate editorial process of
becoming a writer. Becoming…that’s the key word here folks. Like way
Tiger Woods became a great golfer. The way Renata Scotto
became a great soprano. The way your Uncle Morty becamea
doctor. Or the way your mom became a great cook.

Here is what set me off:

At a Mystery Writers of America meeting, a
woman asked, "Should I go POD?" I drew in a long breath so I wouldn’t start
screaming and spewing spittle. Then I asked her: "Do you want to publish a book
or do you want to have a career as a writer?" She looked at me like I was nuts
and said, "Well, the latter, of course!" So I told her: "Then do your homework,
learn the craft of writing, educate yourself about the market place and your
genre, submit your manuscript, get rejected, rewrite, rewrite again, throw out a
book and start over, do it all over again and again and again until you are a
legitimately published writer."

Wash, rinse and repeat. She walked away.
She didn’t want to hear it.

They never do.  Because that would require talent, dedication and hard work, which is a lot more effort than just writing a check.

45 thoughts on “POD People”

  1. I think some people turn to POD and SP becuase of laziness. But for some, I also think there’s this perception that the whole “legit” publishing business is either (a) rigged (it’s all who you know) or (b) so much a product of luck; (e.g. the right manuscript getting to just the right agent on just the right day), that they don’t feel like talent, dedication and hard work is ever going to be enough.

  2. Here’s a question (and again, I’m not speaking out in favor of POD) but if talent, hard work and dedication are what it takes to be a successful writer, how do you explain the success of James Patterson, who is none of the above?
    And I will note, as I have previously, that I do know writers who are talented, dedicated and hard working who cannot get published.
    But this does not mean I am in favor of POD, no, I think authors should get paid, not have to pay to be published . . . I’m simply pointing out that the current method for finding good writers to publish may not be foolproof.

  3. I’m not a James Patterson fan either, but he writes extremely accessible fiction that has earned him a loyal fanbase over time. He turned his advertising background to good use and marketed the hell out of himself. He aligned himself with great agents like Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. Granted, he’s no Thomas Harris, but he is an intelligent man with a heightened entrepreneurial sensibility. The talented writers who can’t get published you speak of, would do well to model his behavior. Then, they might see the bestseller list some day. Remember, this is a business. I know a few writers who are true artists and are achieving some success. They are great writers with solid backgrounds in fiction. It has been an arduous journey for each of them. It has toughened them up far more than they ever could have imagined. And their route to moderate success was much harder and took much longer then they ever could have believed. To paraphrase Paul Newman: This business ain’t for sissies.

  4. “They never do. Because that would require talent, dedication and hard work, which is a lot more effort than just writing a check.”
    Certainly. I did it years ago, now, but as an experiment in “new” publishing. I had nonfiction essays and never sent them out in regular channels. It didn’t take long to get the results in. I am now, three books later and a journalism degree in the can. Even for free this is the route to nowhere.
    I’ve said it everywhere POD people are found and it fell on tin ears every time. They still flame me.

  5. I think that there are much better writers that the aspiring scribe can model themselves on, rather than James Patterson –
    I never said that this wasn’t a business – my point is that it is bad business to turn down good writers with good books that would find a following and make money. That’s bad business.
    And not every great writer goes through years and years of rejection, by the way. Not every writer, great or not, does that. Some do, some don’t.
    Some writers do need seasoning and the submit and rejection process is good for them. Some don’t.
    All I’m saying is that good work gets unnoticed all too often. And I don’t think it’s about dues, though many maintain thus. Dues are good, but good work should also get its due.

  6. Joshua,
    You said:
    “-my point is that it is bad business to turn down good writers with good books that would find a following and make money. That’s bad business.”
    Do you really believe for a single minute that what editors and publishers do is look at a book and say, “Yep. Good story. Good writer. Hasn’t paid dues, so we’ll have to pass.” Do you seriously believe that? If you do, you’ve got a really bad misconception going about this business.
    Yes, it’s a business, but more than that, it’s a business of OPINIONS. Editors and publishers make an (sometimes) educated guess about the quality AND marketability of a given work.
    I’ve passed on books that someone else published. I’ve published books that someone else passed on. Good books get published all the time. So do bad ones. Because it was someone’s opinion that it wasn’t bad – else, why would they decide to publish it? With the goal of losing money?
    This is a business where editors have to decide which books are good AND marketable. I’ve also passed on good books that simply did not have a market. THAT is the busines part of it.
    As a writer myself, I know it sucks. As an editor, I know it’s reality. Either way, that’s our business and it doesn’t excuse for a single minute using a POD publisher because of some whack-brained conspiracy theory.

  7. “Do you really believe for a single minute that what editors and publishers do is look at a book and say, “Yep. Good story. Good writer. Hasn’t paid dues, so we’ll have to pass.” Do you seriously believe that? If you do, you’ve got a really bad misconception going about this business.”
    I should clarify that I don’t really believe experience has a lot to do with why a book gets accepted or turned down- I don’t know if experience has anything to do with it at all (if you recall, I said that some writers pay no dues at all) – my point was that good work gets overlooked, that’s what I said. I believe it based on what I’ve witnessed with some talented aquaintances and folks I’ve met in the industry, so no, it’s not a feeling. It’s just what I’ve seen, and no one else. I’m sure your experiences are different as is Lee’s. I’m only speaking for what I’ve seen, I won’t pretend to be an authority for anyone else here.
    For the record, if you check my site, I’m primarily a playwright. I’m fortunate in that a lot of my work gets done, but I have seen other really good playwrights get overlooked and I could not tell you why this is.
    But we were talking about fiction, and I am acquainted with other writers, of fiction, whose work I appreciate and seen them experience that very thing you described above, good writing, great work, but sorry no – so yes, I have seen it –
    I will also attest that my experiences with editors of fiction is more limited than withliterary managers in other areas. But I have met some, I have heard the very thing you say you cannot believe I have. Good writing, but we’re not going to have anything to do with it. I’ve heard an editor say that.
    Why did this happen? I don’t know. Opinion, maybe. A lot of what we do is supposed to be subjective (is quality in writing subjective? I like to think that it’s not, but who knows for sure) – But good work is good work, good writing is good writing. My point was that I think good writing gets overlooked more than it should, that’s my single point. And it’s based on what I’ve witnessed with friends. That’s simply what I was saying, why is that so offensive or so hard to believe?
    I love to read books, and perhaps someday I will write one myself, though the plays and these days screenplays occupy me most of the time. But I love books and I’d like to do at least one because I read so many. My own agent discourages it, told me fiction is too hard to sell regardless of how good it is. Whether she’s right or not, I don’t know. It just is what she said. I will write one someday anyone, because that’s what I do, I write. I write plays, for crying out loud, that’s hardly a growth industry in itself.
    I’m sure that there are editors who, when they’ve read a great book and regardless of the marketbility of the subject, regardless of the experience of the writer – but I haven’t met them, at least not yet.
    I am not standing up for POD or SP at all, I find that offensive, what they stand for. I just commented that based on what I’ve seen and experienced, it seems that a lot of good work gets unnoticed. I’ve not said that I know why, because I don’t.
    Mark York wrote –
    “You don’t know anything of the sort. You just feel it. That doesn’t count.”
    I know what I’ve seen and experienced, so it counts for me. As I pointed out, it’s not based on feelings, just what I’ve witnessed. If your contention is that any and all work that has been consistantly rejected is crap, prove it.
    It seems to me that your position is one that is felt rather than thought out, Mr. York.

  8. Joshua, good art gets overlooked all the time. That’s the norm. Paintings get overlooked because they don’t get hung in galleries. Why? Because these artists don’t market themselves effectively. My point is that James Patterson, like him or not, is extremely good at self-promotion. You can learn from people like him without compromising your principals. Self-promotion is anathema to most artists and that’s where they squander whatever opportunities their work presents.
    You’re a Buddhist, a blackbelt and a bouncer? There’s your novel, right there.

  9. Yet again, legitimate POD businesses are tarred with the same brush used to slam the sharp business practices of vanity-publishing scams.
    Learn the difference: POD is simply a production method; vanity-publishing scams are all about taking money from the naive.

  10. From Poddy Mouth
    In case any of you folks do not check out Robert Gray’s blog, please do so now (!) and check his entries for August 8th and 11th. One is titled: E-books and POD: Evolution or Intelligent Design?
    Pay attention; this man knows what he is talking about.
    He says: “Just for the record, folks, I do not think POD or e-books are good or bad; I think they are evolving and we don’t know what the final “thing” will look like yet. I’m just not sure that this thing will look anything like Xlibris. There’s no need to be defensive about POD at this stage. It has strengths. It has flaws. If it works for you, ride it like the wind.”
    The bottom line is that POD will have an impact (the technology, not the companies–or, who knows, maybe both) on publishing. The death of returns is too appealing for everyone (except the bookstores) and it is not only essential, it is expected.

  11. Really? If you don’t work for a publisher you don’t know what gets rejected, only what gets through. Spare me the circular logic, of a fringe playwright. It may be your subject matter is a little too out there for mainstream production?
    POD at the moment and in the recent past is the backbone of the vanity press model. That’s all we need to know.
    Bring on the shills.

  12. “If your contention is that any and all work that has been consistantly rejected is crap, prove it.”
    Most of it is crap, but slushpile odds apply. With rewriting and persistence publication will be obtained in the tried and true sense, not some unsaleable shceme to print expensive books from a vender online. That’s the equivalent of nothing. I hope that’s clear enough, and backed by industry facts.

  13. Mr. York –
    I’ve been produced in London, so I’m hardly what’s considered a “fringe” playwright, but I see nothing wrong with underground playwrights – some of them have went on to do wonderful things. One such playwright, who wrote the most amazingly crass and funny stuff, went on to a great career in film, in fact, he’s one of the writers on a very successful animated family film, which is ironic if you’d seen his theatre work. He writes well in any genre.
    There is nothing wrong with being a fringe playwright. I’d be happy to be called that, though I may take issue with your tone.
    You also seem to infer that my work doesn’t get done or is not mainstream enough, but as I’ve said previously, I’m very pleased with my career as a playwright and I’ve been fortunate in the productions I have had and continue to have. So I don’t know quite what you’re doing with that statement, except perhaps to spark an angry emotional response in me. Otherwise, what’s the point of what you said?
    I should note, I’ve never been a part of the NY Fringe Theatre Festival, because it requires playwrights to pay to produce their own work, and I don’t do that. To much like SP. As I said in each and every post, I am not shilling or taking the side of POD or SP. You infer I do. I don’t. I’ve said it before and I will say it again and again.
    I said good work gets overlooked, that’s it. I’ve seen it happen to people I know. Again, why is this so offensive a statement?
    Your contention that because I don’t work for a publisher means that I don’t know what I’m talking about seems a bit absurd because, well, it also takes your point of view out, right, since you don’t work for one either. I have talked to one or two (not nearly as many as others on this board, I’m sure) – more than a few agents and a lot of writers. And I’ve spoken to my agent, who knows far more of them than I do.
    I’m not pretending to know what publishers or editors think. I am only attesting to what I’ve witnessed. Hasn’t anyone else on this board seen good work get overlooked? Why am I being personally flamed over this statement? Doesn’t anyone else know someone who hasn’t been discovered and should?
    Mr. York –
    It might be best if you and I not discuss the matter on the board any longer – if you wish, next time I am in LA, we can meet in person and talk about it at length. I’d like that. Very much.

  14. “You’ve gotta have connections to get published.”
    Yeah, I’ve heard that. Again and again. I once made the mistake of agreeing to read an unpubbed author’s manuscript, because she was a family friend. The novel was beyond awful. I handed it to my husband to read. He got through two pages and said, “I can’t force myself to read to the third page. I just can’t.”
    Before reading that ms., I had given this unpubbed author, over the months, names of agents, tips on how to write query letters, etc. All she met with were rejections. (Something I now understand, having read his terrible ms.)
    Of course she was bitter. Of course her explanation for those rejections was the classic “You’ve gotta have connections to get published.”
    Thinking back on it, I realized that was a slap to MY face because it implied that talent and a good story is not the important thing; it’s all in who you know.
    All I could tell her was that I had no connections at all when I first got published. I didn’t know a soul in NYC. My first book was sold based on a query letter that I sent to “Dear Editor”.

  15. Publishers don’t make their decision to publish Book X or Book Y because “it’s good” or not publish it because “it’s bad.” They choose to publish the books that the marketing department tells them they can sell.
    As for paying dues or having a track record… in today’s plublishing climate, you’re actually better off in almost all cases being a brand new writer with no track record than having a few books under your belt that didn’t sell extraordinary numbers.
    Good books do get rejected all the time, mostly because of the opinions of the marketing folks and their predictions of what the chain stores will do.
    Publishing today is a much different animal than it was even 10 years ago and it’s not getting any better.

  16. “Good books do get rejected all the time, mostly because of the opinions of the marketing folks and their predictions of what the chain stores will do.”
    And that, in essence, is what I have been saying. And I always wonder if there isn’t a Sound And The Fury in there somewhere that we will lose forever as a result of that, that’s all.
    Though I hear what you’re saying, Tess, I get handed bad plays and screenplays to read a LOT – there are more bad writers than good, that’s true (and I mentioned James Patterson, did I not?) and as I mentioned to a friend I’ve been mentoring, bad writers never seem to doubt their ability, nor are interested in feedback, advice or criticism. And they always want to show you a script before it’s finished (I just have to change this and this, but you’ll see that). So that does happen, true (by the way Tess, I’m a fan of your writing and work, if I haven’t said it).
    But I’m writing about the few people I know who I think deserve more, that’s all, people who gave me something to read and it wasn’t terrible as I suspected it might be, in fact it was great. One guy I know gave up and went to teach – I loved his book and it never found a home. That always made me sad when I think about it.
    uh-huh wrote –
    “You’re a Buddhist, a blackbelt and a bouncer? There’s your novel, right there”
    Too close to the movie Road House (has that been novelized yet?) only with less attractive people and more vomit in the restrooms – Oh, and no helicopters or hot doctors. Or horses. And most boucers don’t get five grand a week like Dalton does (and that was in 89) – I did it for minimum wage in Iowa. Took a loaded shotgun away from someone for under four bucks an hour. Yeehaw.

  17. They publish some of everything, not everything, as a vanity press does. Everything can’t sell. What does is work with a wide appeal. What is good depends on what editors think, as Ms. Gerritsen so aptly put it.
    As for Josh here I have no interest in talking with you or meeting you. Especially meeting you. Produced by whom and about what is very pertinent. When you get to Broadway we’ll know. Until then who cares? one can only go on the subject matter and exection be it book or play. I generally don’t pick up a play to read. I read books.

  18. Hemingway had this to say about books: “Always attempt something nobody else has tried.”
    This may be why good books are rejected because we’ve already got ten just like it.

  19. I’m somewhat interested in meeting you now, Mr. York.
    Broadway isn’t really a good barometer of what a playwright’s ability, success, will or should be. John Patrick Shanley made his Broadway debut this year with DOUBT, thirty years after he began is career to great acclaim – Shanley won an Oscar in 87 or 88 for original screenplay, won numerous other theatre awards, etc, before he made it to Bway. And DOUBT started Off-Broadway. Sam Shepard wasn’t produced on Broadway until 1999. He won the Pulitzer in 79.
    My playwrighting mentor has never been produced on Broadway – though she’s won the MacAuthor Genius Grant (not often given to writers) and many other awards. Why do you say Broadway as a measure of a playwrights worth? Broadway is not a useful measurement for playwrights anymore.
    But hey, disparage my work all you like. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. I’m happy with what I do in theatre, and that’s what counts.
    And perhaps we’ll meet at some point, anyway. It will be a very interesting conversation, that’s for certain.

  20. I don’t know a thing about the playwright biz, but I suspect it’s totally different from the book biz, so can we even compare the two? The size of investment that goes into producing a play must be hefty (at least, in comparison to a publisher buying a paperback original.) Every play seems like a bit of a risk.
    Isn’t it?
    Which, I would think, supports the contention that there are probably a lot of decent scripts that never get produced. Besides, the audience for theater is surely a lot smaller than in the book biz.

  21. You are correct Tess, the play biz is very different, at least in my experiences thus far, which is why Broadway really isn’t a measure of a playwright’s worth. I’m pretty happy with my playwright journey thus far. I only brought it up in response to another post – I’m still learning the fiction end of things – I love reading fiction and hope that someday I’ll have something worthy to contribute.

  22. “I’m somewhat interested in meeting you now, Mr. York.”
    Well you’ll just have to admire me from afar because it ain’t happening.
    In LA we have 99 seat theatres where the actors work for free or very little. It’s a far cry from an Equity gig off broadway, on or elsewhere. When you have a Pulitzer or Tony, or an Oscar for a screenplay, an Emmy and the like, or work in the running then you’ll be somewhere. Only a few do it.
    It’s not disparagement to state reality. Books are completely different. There are more chances but they’re still slim. There’s no use saying you’re a success even in your own mind, when it hasn’t happened. I sure wouldn’t but the POD people will and have so the line sounds familiar to me after three years of these conversations.

  23. So Marky48… are you actually saying you’re not “somewhere” if you haven’t won a Pulitzer, Oscar, Tony or Emmy? That’s beyond absurd. There are hundreds of brilliant writers who have not won these awards and are not in the running for them.

  24. This argument reminds me of something either Ted Elliot or Terry Rossio said on the boards of their Wordplayer site. Basically, screenplays (and I’ll guess the same is true for novels) fall into three categories.
    The top 1-2% that everyone agrees are brilliant and will get published, even without much effort on the part of the writer.
    The next 5% are good enough to be published, but not good enough to break through the pack. Some of these that are sold may be worse than those that are not, luck and authorial savvy play a role.
    The bottom 90% that no one, nowhere will publish without being paid for it.
    Note: the boards there close for the weekends, so I am unsure of the exact numbers.
    There is a trap where you get so wrapped up in the work of friends who are writing that you set the goal at the local rather than national standard.

  25. uh-huh wrote, “Joshua, good art gets overlooked all the time. That’s the norm. Paintings get overlooked because they don’t get hung in galleries. Why? Because these artists don’t market themselves effectively.”
    Yeah, sure. Despite the relentless advocacy of his brother Theo, who worked for Goupil and Co., a major Paris art dealership, Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting (of 900 he finished) during his lifetime.
    Lee Esposito has a relevant post on the subject of the difficulty in publishing fiction, even for acclaimed authors who have been previously published. Here are two clips (but visit the blog for the links to the full stories):
    “Raymond Federman, author of the great postmodern novels Double or Nothing and Take It or Leave It, now has a blog. This post, on the fate of his new novel, The Farm, is hilarious, discouraging, and enraging, all at the same time. If you think being a critically-acclaimed writer with umpteen published books, some of which literary history will surely judge as among the more important of their time, means you have a secure place in the “book business,” this post will probably be enlightening.”
    “This reminds me of something I read in Lee Siegel’s bitter, unjustified bitch-slapping of Sean Wilsey’s Oh The Glory of It All (and I’m not necessarily saying it’s a good book, just that Siegel didn’t nearly justify his claims against it). Before getting into his long, angry anti-Wilsey tirade, Siegel tells us:
    ‘One of the open secrets of literary life is that it’s easier to get a book deal for a first novel, or for a work of nonfiction, than it is to get a short story or an article published in a serious magazine. This is because book publishing now revolves less around the book itself than around the marketability of the author–physical appearance; ethnicity, race, religion or sexuality; media or social connections–while serious magazine publishing, for all of its shortcomings, is still about writing. To a large degree, writing a book has become just another form of producing and selling, another project of the entrepreneurial or egotistical American self. That makes most books being published social, not cultural, events.’”

  26. Dear Sherona:
    I too read Robert Gray’s thoughts on POD and disagree.
    “The bottom line is that POD will have an impact (the technology, not the companies–or, who knows, maybe both) on publishing. The death of returns is too appealing for everyone (except the bookstores) and it is not only essential, it is expected.”
    I don’t see how. What are publisher’s going to do: have one demo copy of a book in a bookstore, then if you want it you go order it and wait days (or weeks) for it to be printed and delivered? That’ll never fly.
    Unless you ship zero inventory to the bookstores and then use POD to print the titles, you have to produce an initial print run and ship it. And POD technology produces books that are more expensive per unit and poorer in quality than offset printing. It wouldn’t be good for a university press doing a 5,000 copy first printing and it isn’t competitive for large print runs, either.

  27. Dammit, I missed the childish posts!
    POD (as both a technology, and as used by Xlibris, I-Universe, Publish America, etc.) is set up to fail for several reasons.
    1. Higher cost than comparable offset printing.
    2. Non-returnable, so bookstores won’t carry it (the discount is also much less).
    3. Traditionally published books are edited, re-edited, re-re-edited, typset by pros, with pros designing the covers and layout. POD is only as professional as those working on the book.
    The result is an expensive book that doesn’t read, look, or feel like a tradionally published novel, that the bookstores won’t carry.
    There are exceptions, of course. But I’ve got a unique perspective on this.
    For two years in a row, I’ve helped judge a well-known self-publishing contest for a major magazine. Most of the entries are from Publish America, I-Universe, and Xlibris.
    1 out of 80 is readable. Not ‘good’, just readable.
    I’ve never read one worthy of traditional publication.
    While I agree that talent and success aren’t interchangable (people can become successful without much talent, and have talent but not be successful), and while I believe that just because a book is publishable does not mean it will be published, I also believe that failure is helpful to new writers.
    No one learns how to ride a bike without falling. Those skinned knees are part of the learning process.
    But POD offers people the abilty to ride a bike without having to learn how. Plus, it promises that the bike rider will be just as good as those riders who have been riding for years (the ones with scarred knees to prove it).
    NY publishing doesn’t care if you pay your dues or not—they just want a book they can sell. But writers need to pay their dues to learn what does sell, and why.
    If a new writer spent a day, just one day, learning about how the distribution network is set up for books, they’d never self-publish.
    It’s like buying a new pair of Air Jordan Nikes and thinking you’re ready fro the NBA. That’s insane.
    If you work hard enough to finish a novel, you should work hard to learn how publishing works. Paying $400 and crossing your fingers isn’t how authors become successful.
    After I signed a three book deal with Time Warner, I got spammed by a POD outfit. I exchanged several emails with them, to see how far I could take it.
    I took it pretty far. If you think these folks really care about the author, you need to read this:

  28. Back when I was reviewing only for my website, I would sometimes accept submissions of vanity/POD books. As you’d expect, most of them were not worthy of anyone’s time or attention. (Although they did prop up the head of my bed nicely, thus helping with my acid reflux.)
    During that time, I encountered 3 books that I thought worthy of review. Two of them were written by the same author, who has since gone on to success with a traditional commercial publisher. The other was good enough that I think working with an editor would have made it of publishable quality.
    I never found any others that I felt like reviewing. (Although I have subsequently reviewed a book, in print, from a traditional publisher that was originally published as vanity/POD.) Now that my reviewing is driven mostly by my print work, I don’t even accept submissions of them anymore, as newspapers won’t run reviews of them.

  29. Peter, Van Gogh was a brilliant painter and an emotional cripple. Mental health is essential to achieve any kind of success. Not a good example. I grew up with artists who got their work into galleries through persistent self-promotion.
    Believe what you want, but I know authors who are forging solid careers writing meaningful fiction, and their books were sheparded through to galleys by editors who love writing. I’ve exchanged faxes and phone calls and shared lunches and dinners with these people. Their love of books is precisely why they are in the publishing business. Do they want to see a profit? Of course. Is there pressure to meet sales goals? Absolutely. That’s the reality they must deal with. Want to be a successful author? How much fight do you have in you? There are no guarantees.

  30. uh-huh wrote: “Peter, Van Gogh was a brilliant painter and an emotional cripple. Mental health is essential to achieve any kind of success. Not a good example. I grew up with artists who got their work into galleries through persistent self-promotion.”
    But Theo Van Gogh was not a “mental cripple.” And it was Theo, someone experienced in the business of selling art, who persistently promoted Vincent’s work. To dismal results.
    To draw a straight line from promotion of any kind to success is simplistic, as there are many factors that may contribute to an artist’s success.
    I find the world of high art to be absurd. Can anyone really explain the success of Jeff Koons or Matthew Barney, to cite two names that quickly come to mind? Is it the quality of their art? Promotion? Or luck?

  31. Well, I’ve read “Dear Theo,” as well as “Noa, Noa” and I find your analogy irrelevant to what we are discussing. And, I wrote “emotional cripple” not “mental cripple.” One means something and the other doesn’t. What I hear in your posts is rigid and inflexible pessimism. I know authors who are “fighting the good fight” and doing reasonably well. This all started when I wrote that Joshua should model James Patterson’s behavior, and then he might learn something about self-promotion. That’s good advice. I wish amazing authors like Denis Johnson had been able to do that, say after JESUS’ SON. I wish Robert Bingham hadn’t died of a heroin overdose before publishing LIGHTNING ON THE SUN. I wish Raymond Carver hadn’t died a drunk. I’m not connecting the dots you claim I am. Of course, it isn’t simple to succeed. It’s hellishly difficult. As I said, there are no guarantees.
    Have you actually seen a Jeff Koons show? I have. In a Soho gallery, he displayed intentionally vile, wall-sized pornographic photographs of himself havings sex with his Italian model wife, strategically hung behind hysterically kitchy, perfectly executed sculptures of things like Michael Jackson with a pet monkey. I stood at the back of the gallery for two hours watching people’s jaw-dropping reactions. It was extremely memorable and an absolute blast. Koons is a master of the banal juxtaposition, and a rye philosopher. He’s a polarizing artist, and I believe, an important one. I’ve seen Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, De Chirico, Dali, you name it. Have an open mind.

  32. You see, this is how these discussions devolve. You wrote about artists who self-promete their way into galleries, so my mentioning of Van Gogh as a counter example was perfectly relevant. Mental cripple, emotional cripple, whatever. You’re sidetracking over minutiae now.
    I don’t pretend to write about things I have no experience of, as you assume that I do. As a member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I’ve had the dubious benefit of seeing some of Jeff Koons “philosophically wry” objects on exhibit. The Hoover vacuum cleaner, basketballs in a fishtank, Michael Jackson with his monkey, and the stainless steel bunny rabbit. I’ve seen those.
    Because I don’t find Koons’ work amusing, as you do, you conclude I have a closed mind. I’m not rigidly pessimistic as you characterize me. No, I don’t go around singin “Put On A Happy Face” and pretending that talent will out when I know that it doesn’t always happen, and in fact there are instances of artists whose work has been validated who were abject failures while they lived, and not simply because they were unstable in some way. If I am rigidly pessimstic, maybe you are unrealistically optimistic.

  33. It’s not how these discussions devolve; it’s how they get clarified. Whatever. There’s zero chance you and I are going to agree. My optimism is routed in the personal experience of living through a gut-wrenching literary failure, defying the odds and triumphing over them. We don’t have the same experience. Obviously. Doom and gloom predictions help no one. Whether or not you want to believe it, there are successes out there. Big advances. Solid sales. Great reviews. Excited fans. Things to be hopeful about.

  34. I was going to skip this one, but I can’t.
    POD and subsidy publishing aren’t and never shall be synonyms. The first has made the second easier and more profitable for a number of companies who saw the opportunity and jumped on it. They are not to blame that their customers can’t be bothered to learn anything about the publishing business–caveat emptor definitely applies.
    That said, I can’t disagree with much of what has gone before. The vast majority of books printed on demand suck. Like Peter, I’ve reviewed them, and as an editor there is nothing more frustrating than having to read a book that could have been really good if it had been treated to the services of a competent editor.
    Given the level of returns (34% this year, I’m told), the argument that POD is “too expensive” may not be as valid as it seems. The cost of those returns has to be factored into the per-copy cost, and that tends to level the field a bit.
    It’s also not valid to make a sweeping statement that “POD books aren’t as good as offset.” A perfect-bound trade paperback is a perfect-bound trade paperback. It’s the design and layout that determine how professional it looks, not how it’s printed. Yes, there are drawbacks to laser printing, but they are all fixable and have nothing to do with the way the book looks.
    Those of us who opt to use POD know all the drawbacks. However, what I’ve read here is based on the premise that we want to adopt the existing system of distribution. There are those who do, but we aren’t among them. Rather, our goal is to establish how POD can, in fact, benefit booksellers–indie booksellers in particular.
    In other words, new technology used in established ways tends to be “new wine in old bottles.” It won’t work. One might compare it to the way towns set speed limits to the rate at which a horse could trot after the invention of the automobile.
    We have a dozen authors who are in their 70’s and 80’s. Some have just published their first novel. One copped awards for his YA novels in the 80s–and was informed some years back by an agent that she wasn’t interested in assisting him with reviving his career because he “was, after all, seventy-nine.”
    Since then he’s written three new novels, two of which are published and the third about to be.
    Yes, POD has sparked a subsidy publishing industry that preys on the naive, the ignorant and the arrogant, just as subsidy publishers have always done. I didn’t see anyone condemning the offset press when the subsidy publishers used that. Why, then, is everyone so determined to do so with POD?
    As for negative reviews, I have several on Amazon. One specifically cited page numbers of four typos the reviewer used as proof of how badly the book had been edited. Two were specious. Another damned the book after the reviewer stated she hadn’t read beyond the first chapter. Reader reviews are always to be taken with tablespoon of salt–a grain will never make it.

  35. York: I wrote “lived through” triumphs. I never implied that they are mine personally. But they are the experiences of someone I am close to. I lived through these experiences with that person at a very high level in NY publishing and I’d wager, judging from your website, that I have an intimate knowledge of these things that you do not. This person had a very public failure and has, not only revived their career, but flourished in the same NY publishing world. As I said, I know other author’s who have had similar experiences. Unlike most people, I don’t believe everything I read–conventional wisdom can be dangerous.

  36. Yes, Elizabeth. My wife has had similar reviews on Amazon. One reader was appalled that the time of an evening news broadcast was incorrect, and another that a distance traveled was not accurate. Did the story work? Were the characters vivid? Not a mention. You have to consider the source and shine that all on. It’s just the anarchy of the blogosphere.

  37. “and I’d wager, judging from your website, that I have an intimate knowledge of these things that you do not.”
    Is that so. There’s no need to attack someone with a personal hit because a question was asked. I’m a reporter. I ask questions many don’t want to answer. So your triumphs via a spouse or somesuch were harrowing? We don’t have clue who you are and can’t tell by what you say or how you say it but there are a few clues.

  38. “All things appear and disappear because of the concurrance of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”


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