An Argument Against Self-Publishing: the Authors Guild Bulletin, Spring 2010)

Meanwhile writers cluster together to henpeck any changes in publishing.  My instinct is to blame the slothful permissions people, the terrified publishers, the gated bookstores, but writers are turning stingier, instant by instant, scrabbling over loose straws.   The inarguable fact is: the music, TV, radio and film industries have completely revolutionized in the last decade.  So why do writers believe publishing houses should remain unchanging verities, even as there are fewer and fewer publishing houses, all of them with shrinking staffs and budgets.  Keep that make-up on, baby, and no one will notice you’re getting older!  What???

I am a proud member The Authors Guild.  But recent viewpoints of publishers, agents & writers, at an Authors Guild roundtable turn my stomach:

Audience: …As publishers, what can you really do for us as authors?

John Sargent:… actually, the more clutter is out there, the more we actually do for you….If you have a world where there are no barriers to entry to publishing a book… — I, as an author can put my book up directly… – there’s a huge amount of what…technology guys call signal vs. noise, right?  We’re in a world full of noise and all we want is a signal….Our job… has always been to look at a vast supply of manuscripts and figure out which ones are salable or worthy.…

Susan Cheever: The goal for a writer, at least for me, is not to get the book published; it’s to get people to read it.  It’s becoming easier and easier to get a book published…

Jan Friedman: That’s… right. ….We’ve been cutting through the clutter forever, but now there’s even more clutter because there are so many people publishing their own books. ….last year there were more titles self-published than were produced by traditional publishers…. it’s.. going to be about marketing…

Next, the Reality TV show “Hoarders,” will be replaced by dramatic Reality Scenes of “Incredible Self-Published Author Clutter.”   The high drama will highlight SP authors laughing at the desert basin of a recently dessicated East River.  This precious old waterway will have lost its waters to the porous pages of truckloads of overstocked S-P books desperately being tossed from the bridges of a once proud literary Manhattan.  Ports and sidewalks have become un-navigable.  Forget BP, forget 9/11: SP Authors are the Ultimate Destroyers.

There’s a right-wing anti-immigrant sentiment to all this; “Those new arrivals are taking away our history of promised jobs!”

The roundtable group’s mentality is; anything we haven’t vetted is clutter.   Let me share a memory.  In NYC, years ago, my girlfriends & I religiously went out dancing.  We’d approach a club, like CBGB’s, where a crowd huddled outside hours, with no promise of getting in.  People who arrived in limos were let in immediately.  And so were we, young girls in short skirts, juicy fresh meat.  We were vetted.

It takes hubris to declare you own the magic wand that separates value from clutter for the world.  The over-packaging of our lives has created the slow food movement and the growth of small organic farms. Does anyone think the food is poorer at Farmer’s Markets BECAUSE it is locally made with less packaging?  No.  The overdetermined, even frightening, hospital business is taken to task in Ricki Lane’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.”   Women can opt out of the Big Hospital House to fulfill a private Self-Directed home birth. Going your own way is neither bad morally nor an inferior choice.

Read the history of stupid publishing choices and outrageous rejections to know that publishers are not saviors.   Like everyone else, they are good sometimes.

The RH editor who tried to buy my book, but was denied by higher-ups, is the same editor who tried to buy what became a favorite best-selling novel Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Chiefs at RH said “no” not because their magic wand was better; it was just bigger.

I say beware of false prophets.   And the writers who believe them like cult followers.