Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Things to contemplate on a Wednesday

Ah, dear reader, you thought that life was hard for writers. But consider, if you will, the hardships endured by the men (and women) who set your book in type. Or used to, until the world went flat. This extract from a forthcoming book (link from Galleycat) is a real eye-opener. And there's a moral. It's not a good idea to let your fingers get caught in the mangle. Though what you do instead I have no idea.

Actually, I do have an idea, at least if you're a writer, and I've been preaching it here for yonks. Stay away from big publishing. Do your own thing. Of course you won't make any money, but remember what Jack Saunders said. Come on, I mentioned it only the other day -- 16 December 2005, to be precise:
Disintermediate now. Don’t wait for permission. Start from where you are. Get better by doing it. By and by, a cult will form around you. You’ll be respected by your peers. You’ll be known in the narrow world of what you do as a mensch. A stand-up guy. A soldier.
I like that.

Another thing I like is on the Hotel Chelsea blog. It's a video plugging a new book called Legends of the Chelsea Hotel (not published till 28 September, I see). It's very simple, and presumably cheap, but very effective. First of a series, I believe. Of course you have to be old enough to know who they're talking about.

Fifty years ago, when I first became interested in writing, there was comparatively little information available to a wannabe writer: a few books (not very distinguished) in the local library, and that was that. Today, the place is awash with it. There's a great mountain of links on this one page alone. (Link from Paul Perry.)

Success in any medium is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it is much desired, and may well be the source of one's income; on the other hand, it brings with it many burdens and consumes huge amounts of time and energy. Witness the story of Jonathan Coulton, a successful songwriter and blogger. (Link from M.J. Rose.)

Now this one might be a treat. I've read the first chapter and it's certainly looks stylish and intriguing. The guy can write, and typos appear to be zero, which is always a nice surprise. If I didn't have such a big pile.... But you know how it is. Anyway, Ian Woollen has written a novel called Stakeout on Millennium Drive, and it's published by Ramble House Press. Here's the link to the book. It comes with endorsements, one of them from Michael Z. Lewin, an American who used to live 10 miles down the road from me. I wonder if he still does.

There's also an immensely worthwhile article on Bookslut, mainly about the importance of small presses, which makes a mention of Ian Woollen's book towards the end. From said article, I am surprised to find that Jake Arnott, once a star, is now published in the US by a small outfit like SoHo Press. Actually I'm not surprised at all, but there we are. I bear the man no ill will.

What is really, really interesting about Woollen, however, is that he's published by the Ramble House Press. The Mystery Strumpet at Bookslut describes Ramble House as a 'spit-and-bubble-gum publishing house', and I can see what she means. The firm seems to specialise in bringing to life long-forgotten authors, with a sprinkling of new stuff. It also operates through Lulu, which is a model that could repay study.

Everyman is publishing a book of poems about Fatherhood, just in time for Father's Day, 17 June. Ahhhh.... Inthat nice?

For lessons in how to plug a novel on TV, see Madame Arcati.

Hey, what did I tell you? The Blooker prizes have been announced, and Andrew Losowsky won the fiction prize for The Doorbells of Florence. The overall winner was a non-fiction book about the war in Iraq. And it looks as if it deserves its success.


Anonymous said...

These are exciting times, especially for those who lack the fat pocketbooks and connections. With that in mind, nothing could give me greater pleasure than to hear about Andrew Losowsky's imaginative 'Doorbells of Florence.' It's already a classic.

Also, thanks to Paul Perry for that very helpful link.

Martin said...

Here's another thing to contemplate.

To my delight and surprise, I received a letter today from Random House, asking me if I wanted a review copy of Chuck Palahniuk's new novel -- that's the Fight Club guy.

My blog is ranked about 15,000 on Technorati, and I do write about fiction occasionally, but most of my output is on Scandinavian archaeology. I am offered review copies of science books now and then, probably because I'm on ScienceBlogs. But I really don't know how this Palahniuk thing happened.

Jeremy James said...

"Disintermediate now. Don’t wait for permission. Start from where you are. Get better by doing it. By and by, a cult will form around you. You’ll be respected by your peers. You’ll be known in the narrow world of what you do as a mensch. A stand-up guy. A soldier."

Well, that's my hope. If I can find a way to make a modest living from my writing (see:, then I will. Although the web makes it possible for an entirely different writer / reader economy, the offline, centralized way of doing things seems to be winning out. Too bad.

Bob said...

Dear Mr. Allen,

I can't believe that the "Grumpy" Old Bookman is you--you obviously love writing and sharing too much to be grumpy, in my biased opinion.

I too love writing, am retired (from the United States National Park Service where I did some research, writing etc. in my career), and might spend too much time at keyboard (I hate carpal tunnel syndrome), but I love the world of ideas, books, and reading.

What a great service you perform with your (I think) "Happy Bookman" blog. Keep it up as long as it doesn't wear and tear on you.

I become 60 in four days. Any writing/thinking/living tips about being in that new territory of my sixties?

Take care, Sir.

New Mexico

GJM said...

What a great company that Ramble house is - they're reprinting 'Love Song', forgotten pornographic masterpiece by Philip Jose Farmer. I'm going to order my copy now.

Geets said...

Hey Michael
Just bumped into your blog accidentally, and being a book-worm and a writer, got hooked to it.
Btw, why "grumpy"?

Anonymous said...

The advantages to having a regular type job instead of living by your writing:

1) obscurity - you observe human beings in their natural habitat without unsettling them; they wouldn't behave as naturally if they knew you were memorising their more amusing lines & deeds for later use;

2) you can write what you want, because even if you get published, it's not enough to live on, so your livelihood isn't threatened;

3) obscurity again - your writing has to come out of your everyday life to some extent, and if you live as a writer, and everyone relates to you as a writer, i think you'd end up living in a rarefield atmosphere, cut off from the species. Much better to work in insurance (Wallace Stevens & Kafka) and write in your spare time, than to float about in this weird bubble as 'a writer'. Famous-in-their-lifetime writers often have this difficulty of writing as a human being first, rather than as a Writer.

Strange though it may sound, i think many good writers regard 'literature' as secondary to the business of being human - so Shakespeare made no effort to preserve his plays, Rimbaud gave it all up in his early 20s and had no interest in writing after that, and so on, even Kafka ("I am nothing if not literature") seemed to spend most of his time wrestling with God & demons, the writing being a by-product, or an aid, rather than the main thing.

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Stay away from big publishing?
But it's the work involved afterwards to promote the book, Michael.
It's always the thought of that. :-)

Richard Havers said...

Michael, I couldn't leave a comment on your post above this one but I just wanted to tell you I've ordered the book from Lulu. Check your royalty statement!

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