Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday wonders

Is Ed on the phone yet?

It is with deep regret that I report that an English Bishop (Church of England, of course) is in trouble.

Late one evening last week, the Bishop of Southwark arrived home with a bump on his head and no memory of what had happened to him. He was, however, lacking his mobile phone, spectacles, and briefcase. It was assumed, not unreasonably perhaps, that he had been mugged, and details were reported to the police.

It has subsequently emerged, however, that earlier on the evening in question, the Bishop had attended the annual Christmas party, given by the Irish Ambassador, at the Irish Embassy.

Now it is well known, among those who have received Irish hospitality in the past, that the wise man who attends such a function will take with him a teetotal friend so as to have at least one person, at the end of the evening, who is capable of hailing a taxi. But this elementary precaution is one which, I am sorry to say, the Bishop neglected to take.

It has also subsequently emerged -- and it is deeply distressing to have to report this -- that, on the Tuesday evening in question, drinkers at The Suchard in Crucifix Lane, a bar near London Bridge station, were alerted to the fact that a silver-haired man appeared to have climbed into the back of a Mercedes and was throwing a child’s toys around on the back seat.

Paul Sathaporn, 55, the barman, said: 'The owner of the car ran outside and pulled the man out of the back seat. The man sat down on the ground, obviously drunk. Then he decided to lie down.' The man, who claimed, amusingly, to be a bishop, refused the offer of an ambulance and staggered off into the night. A bag of personal belongings was later found in the car and handed over to police.

The Bishop's spokeswoman later said that the Bishop’s belongings had been found and returned. The mugging claim had been abandoned.

Well, this is all painful enough, and one can understand the Bishop telling his flock, the next day, that his head hurt. But now some clergy in the diocese of Southwark are demanding that their Bishop should show penitence. One senior clergyman said, 'The same ethic applies to him as to a first-year curate found drunk outside a youth club.' He quoted 1 Timothy 3: 2-3: 'A bishop must be above reproach . . . not a drunkard.'

Now this is tragic gossip with a vengeance. But my point, at last, is this. There must be a book in this somewhere. My Struggle Against the Demon Drink, perhaps. Big market there. Or: Timothy Was Right.

Is Ed Victor on the phone yet? Will there be a frenzied auction? Will the diocese demand a share of the advance?

It surely cannot be long before details of the deal emerge. All other details already have.

Fat, So?

Susannah Jowitt is a big, handsome lady, and has had several photographs in the Times to prove it. (Though not, sadly, the nude studies that she had taken for her husband's 40th birthday.) She admits to being fat.

However, she is not, as they say here now, bovvered. (It is, I believe, a television thing.) Why not? Because she's fit, healthy, and strong. She takes lots of exercise, and eats rather well. She is not going on a diet.

And -- oh but you've guessed -- she's written a book about it all. Fat, So? will be published by Think Books on 5 January, though it doesn't seem to be on the firm's web site yet. Missing a trick there, I think.

The Great Novels debate

Some years ago I published a non-fiction book called The Truth about Writing. (You can read it for free in the form of a PDF file if you so wish.) In chapter 5 of that book, I argued, almost in passing, that there is no such thing as a Great Novel, as normally defined by the literary establishment. This idea was, I suggested, implicit in the theory of emotion which I was putting forward as the main thrust of chapter 5.

The contention that there is no such thing as a Great Novel, in the absolute sense, did not go down well with everybody, which is entirely understandable. In particular it made Eric Walker uneasy, and he has now produced a lengthy essay which seeks to rebut my argument.

Eric's essay is extremely thoughtful and well argued, and he has tweaked it once or twice following correspondence with me. If you are interested in the Great Novels concept you should certainly go and take a look at it. Be aware, however, that it is not something that you can whizz through in a couple of minutes. It requires time and thought.

While you're there, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will quickly realise that the rest of Eric's site is a formidable resource representing an impressive amount of work. There are many other valuable essays: try, for example, Some thoughts on the English language and sanity.

Eric's site is today's must-click link. It specialises in science fiction and fantasy, and may not be what you are looking for, but it shows what an enthusiast can do.

Admelioration and more on self-publishing

There's a self-described 'amateur' novelist who writes a blog called Working Towards the Betterment of Publishing. Admelioration is the word in his URL, and Admelioration says that he (it's probably he) has been paying attention to the publishing industry for nearly a decade now, and so far he has not been terribly impressed by everything he's seen.

Admelioration lists three pieces of work which he believes every aspiring writer would do well to read. One of them is my own On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile; another is Jeremy Robinson's POD People: Beating the Print-on-Demand Stigma; and the third is Mark Levine's The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which was reviewed here yesterday.

Yesterday's review, by the way, has already generated one or two comments which suggest that I have been a bit naive. Well, very possibly. Naivety, as mentioned here before, has been a lifelong problem for me -- although I have often, and puzzlingly, been simultaneously accused of being cynical.

The point which I hoped to make yesterday, and perhaps didn't make adequately, is that I regard self-publishing, or paying for publication through an established firm, as a perfectly sensible way for sane persons to go, provided they understand exactly what they are doing, and the limitations thereof. I have, after all, been publishing my own work for some six years now.

As mentioned towards the end of my post on 18 July 2006, I have twice helped friends to negotiate terms for subsidised publishing, and in each case the sum involved was several thousand pounds. Both the authors had had long careers in business or public life, were well aware of the value of money, and were hard-nosed men of good judgement. Neither man expected to make a profit, and neither man did. But they both had books that they wanted to see in print, and to get those books set before as wide a public as possible, and they both felt that they had done a perfectly satisfactory deal.

I also feel that it is a little bit unreasonable to criticise commercial companies for being commercial, and seeking to make a profit. Yes, of course BookPros would love to find a real gem, with an author who is prepared to stump up $40,000. Why not? My correspondence reveals that there are people who are prepared to spend far more than $40,000 (in one case known to me, nearly double that) to try to get their writing careers off the ground. And yes, I dare say BookPros will prove to be a profitable and successful company. That was rather my point: other people will note their success and try to emulate it.

You have to take care, and advice, when buying self-publishing services, as you do when buying a car or a house. But I for one am delighted that there are now so many alternative companies to choose from.

Whichever way you look at it, the shape of publishing is changing. It is, as ever, dangerous to make too many predictions. But it looks to me as if the big trade publishers will concentrate more and more on what they perceive to be sure-fire hits: celebrity biographies and so forth. They will take fewer and fewer risks on new authors. And goodness knows, they take precious few now.

This will leave a large number of talented people with even fewer places to go than they have now. Hence they will look increasingly at do-it-yourself outlets. Some will go for places like Lulu, which involves virtually zero cost. Others, wisely or otherwise, will seek to buy a better package.

Those firms which rip off their would-be author customers will wither and die, for their villainy can hardly remain a secret for long. But those that provide value for money will prosper.

As usual in this scenario, it is probably smarter to be on the publishing/bookselling side than to be an author. Though there never has been, and probably never will be, very much money in it for anyone.


Anonymous said...

I must admit to some thinly disguised amusement that BookPros is out to fleece the rich by portraying themselves as the Mercedes Benz of self-publishing. No doubt Mr. Levine's book is intended as part of their self-promotion---and is making the rounds of the local castles and estates.

No doubt Lady Anthetramp can afford
thousands for a personal trainer and the lunatic fee charged by BookPros. Sadly, I see nothing they offer that isn't already provided by iUniverse, AuthorHouse, et al...except of course their proclaimed "reputation."

Good reviews, of course, we know are often the result of greased palms and, with the money she's shoveling to BookPros, I'm sure Lady Anthetramp can be assured of high marks by the time they're done with her, um, work.

I love the GOB to death and suspect this must be your trick knee acting up again. Not only am I deeply familiar with the self-publishing industry, I know a scam when I see one.

Floyd M. Orr said...

You may be interested in my blog site, where I have been reviewing iUniverse books for several months now without wasting a lot of my quality reading time:

Peter L. Winkler said...

"Those firms which rip off their would-be author customers will wither and die, for their villainy can hardly remain a secret for long."


Sadly, the bad sleep well and there are vanity presses that have been taking gullible, desperate writers for hard rides for years without dying.

I dare say that someone with $40,000 or so to spend could approach a legitimate trade publisher or perhaps a small press who enjoy retail bookstore distribution and offer to subsidize their book. In fact, I know of one writer who did exactly that, though he spent more than $40,000.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to clarify, with my comment above and the one previous, that I DO believe self publishing/POD is one of the great positives to come about in the publishing industry. There is an excellent menu of firms from which to use and, of the leaders, the choice depends on what the author needs and wants. One needs to looks at each of them closely and choose accordingly.

Of the leaders, whether it be iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Lulu--there's no "evil" going on. They're all trying to make a profit--of course. Consumers should be aware that getting a book published and online is relatively cheap (yes, even for Lady Anthetramp). Where they do make their money is on the unnecessary marketing "packages" which include things like press releases, returns provisions, advertisements, etc.

Those who succeed best are those who avoid the above and "get out there" with their book.

BookPros, however, is an absurd distortion of all these, however. I can see people saying that, to get a reputable self publishing firm, you need thousands (and thousands)of dollars. That's unfortunate, to say the least. But I'm sure they will profit--they seem to have all the machinery in place to find the gullible and do so.

Shanen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shanen said...

I was awakened by a call from Bookpros and I was appalled to learn that they expect me to pay thousands of dollars to see my book published! Their website and the literature that I received from them by post states that Bookpros is a "Traditional Publisher". I have put down my coffee cup and I am continuing my search!

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