Saturday, September 24, 2005

Noticing the unpublished (cont'd.) ...

My previous post has elicited some incisive comments, to which I feel I should add some further observations. As David Montgomery points out, the principal reason self-published books are unlikely to get noticed is the sheer number of books being produced -- some 200,000 from commercial publishing houses alone. And, as David also points out, a good many of them aren't worth reading either.
Self-publishing triumphs invariably result from a combination of heroic self-promotion and plain, old-fashioned luck. Not long after I became The Inquirer's book editor, Anne Gordon, who was then features editor, brought to my attention a self-published children's book that had been sent to her accompanied by a letter from the author begging for a review. Anne had taken the book home and tossed on the dining room table. Her son, who was then 12, picked it up, read it, and told her it was great. I figured that if a kid reads a book aimed at kids and likes it there must be something worthwhile about it. So I asked Ann Waldron, who then reviewed children's books for the paper, to review it. She described the author as "inventive and an excellent writer" and said he had created "an unlikely, but truly captivating hero."
The Inquirer reviewed his next book, too, which reviewer Hillary Homzie called "a gripping story full of emotion and original humor."
Not long after, the author landed a lucrative deal with Putnam. He was Michael Hoeye. That first, unpublished book was Time Stops for No Mouse.
I suppose the all-time winner in the self-published category is Leaves of Grass, and God knows, Walt Whitman was no slacker when it came to self-promotion. Still, the fact remains that most self-published work is destined for oblivion. Then again, most commercially published work is as well.
So where does that leaves us? Well, what I find interesting today -- and that explosion of verbiage known as the blogosphere demonstrates this -- is that a lot of people these days feel the need to write. And technology has given them a cost-effective way of producing books. The blogosphere has demonstrated something else: A lot of these non-professional writers have much that is worthwhile to say and are very good at saying it. Mike Shatzkin, a publishing industry consultant I met at BookExpo America this past June, thinks that the new self-publishing outlets may become the publishing equivalent of baseball's farm teams. The question is to come up with an effective process of winnowing. Mike and I seem to have arrived independently at much the same answer to this question. I hope to follow up on the idea in the not so distant future. So there's another reason to stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. There can be no question that the traditional book-publishing industry is slowly but surely changing drastically from what it has been for at least the last hundred years in this country, taking down with it the well-worn track from author to agent/editor, to printed book, to bookstores. The gatekeeper function of agents and editors will diminsh, if not vanish. The newspaper publishing industry has changed even more radically, in the last 35-40 years, beyond ANYTHING it experienced in the 200 years before that. Taking down with it, by the way, the traditional book reviewing role of newspapers; think of how far fewer (and smaller) book pages and sections there are now compared with even 20 years ago. Those trends will continue. What will take their places? Who knows? -- but probably something along the lines of what you envisage, Frank. Traditional book publishers will lose their death grip on the fates of manuscripts and books, just as newspaper publishers are losing their death grip on the presentation of news and opinion. It may not be a pleasant prospect for those with a vested interest in the way things were (as I know from personal experience), and it may not be the best way to go (the explosion of cable, by way of comparison, has not necessarily improved televiewing), but, to borrow from Damon Runyon, that's the way to bet.