We assume that the internet can only make it easier and cheaper to access information, but what the internet really does, when it’s commercialized, is commodify information. In the future, publishers will be able to determine exactly how often a specific book or article is accessed, try a few different prices, and charge whatever turns out to be most profitable. If that profit can be generated by selling advertising, then the book will be made available “for free”; if not, users will be forced to pay. In the case of romance novels, this means “ad-supported books”; in the case of scholarly journals, if you don’t have an institution to support you, it means paying $5.99 to “rent” a single article for one day, the price currently being charged by Cambridge University Press.
Last year, Gigaom published a flattering story in which they used me as an example of why book publishers are no longer as important as they used to be. Authors can build their own brands now, and reach out to their own audiences.
But in fact, my career is an example of precisely the opposite: My publisher invested tons of time and money into me for a very long time: They paid for tours that hemorrhaged money. They paid for advertising. They fought to get me distributed in mass market channels even though my books were “literary.” And most importantly, they provided editorial support and guidance that made the books themselves far better than they would be if I published them by myself.
Not only that, but without Penguin there is no vlogbrothers, because Hank and I needed the initial activation energy of the first 500-1000 nerdfighters to make Brotherhood 2.0 work. Almost all of those nerdfighters were fans of my books who came to the project through Penguin’s marketing efforts.
So there is no Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars without the people who work at Penguin, and the narrative that Amazon wants you to believe—that publishers make books more expensive than they need to be and keep authors from making money—is a lie.
A world where everyone self publishes will mean fewer authors making a living and fewer books that reach their full potential as art. Period.
Don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you that DIY everything is the future. Related.
Given the industry’s fears about Amazon’s increasing monopoly on talent and market share, coupled with its ability to drive prices, you’d think publishers would be hesitant to do anything that would make it easier for Amazon to maintain its dominance. Instead, by insisting that e-booksellers implement DRM, publishers are essentially handcuffing themselves to the train tracks and giving Amazon the key.
Emily Books has gotten around this problem, so far, by selling great books published by smaller companies who either agree with us about DRM’s uselessness or can’t afford to care about it. And we’ve experienced exactly zero problems with piracy so far. We still dream of rescuing neglected books from major publishers’ backlists and using our unique platform to introduce these books to a new audience of eager readers. That major publishers currently can’t allow a small bookstore to do something that’s in their own and in their authors’ best interests means the system is broken.
There was a moment in the office, my third year in the business. It was past 7pm and my boss was scheduled to fly to Frankfurt for the book fair the following morning. I was sitting at my desk, patiently waiting for her to leave so that I could go home. She called my name and asked me for her flight confirmation number. I told her I had to look it up and she went into a fit of rage: “How do you not know my confirmation number? You know what? Don’t bother. I’ll look it up. You should just go home.” At that moment, she could have told me that I wasn’t fit to edit a Chinese take-out menu and I would have believed her.
It is not a markup. We charge what the publishers ask for the books. We simply can’t strongarm the publishers into giving us better discounts like B&N or discount every title deeply enough that we lose money on all of them in an effort to cut out our competitors, an effort alleviated somewhat by the money we make selling goddamned refrigerators out back.
this is the crux of it. I wish people understood that by buying new books at a deep discount they are pushing us towards a future that consists solely of self-published 99 cent ebooks. If you know anyone who edits, copyedits, designs, draws, writes, or otherwise publishes books, you should think twice before paying the lowest price you can for their labor. Even if you don’t, you should think twice if you believe that edited, published books should continue to exist.
My issue of the Make Believe issue of Bitch came in the mail yesterday. I wrote an article in it called “In Love With Herself” about Mary MacLane, a memoirist born in 1891 whose books The Mary MacLane Story and I, Mary MacLane (I know!!) are fascinating time-capsules of what life was like for a funny, astute observer who died 78 years before Tumblr was invented. These books are a little hard to find but well worth the effort.
I reread this essay last night and got super annoyed at myself. I saw the part near the end of it where I had started a sentence by saying “Forgive me for making everything about me, but” and I just cringed and said “No!” And if I don’t forgive me I don’t really expect anyone else to, either.
I was working on this essay during the time right before and after my book came out and boy does it show. Even more than lots of other things I’ve written, this piece is written from a defensive crouch. In it, I rail against people who think that only people who’ve done or seen or survived something objectively important and newsworthy “deserve” to explicitly focus their writing on themselves. Basically I call the people who believe this idiots.
I read to inhabit other people’s consciousnesses; imaginary or real people, it doesn’t make a ton of difference to me. Not everyone feels this way and I guess I shouldn’t call people with whom I disagree idiots, but I tend think people are idiots if they want to cut themselves off from experience. You know what, though? I respect that some people don’t want to be inside someone else’s brain. Maybe that’s just not their favorite flavor of ice cream. It doesn’t make them idiots.
I go into this in more detail in the article, but reviewers really condescended to Mary MacLane. They always mentioned her good looks up front and they pretended to worry about her emotional and physical health. They insulted her and then they pretended to wish her the best in her future endeavors. They wrote about her in a way that no reviewer would ever remotely write about a dude (unless they were Alexandra Jacobs but it was like 100 years ago so none of them were). It was hard for me to get, like, objective critical distance on this shit, and while I guess that’s understandable, a few months of perspective make it easy for me to see how my tendency to take everything personally damaged my essay. I come off as angry and bitter and I never seem to have earned this anger or this bitterness.
My September perspective on my May book is still insane, of course, but by now it’s a little bit more chill. At some point I started to realize how genuinely great it was that some people got it, and that the people who got it really got it, and that other people were not ever going to be able to open themselves up to it. Or maybe more like: nothing had happened to those people to open them up to it. I’m happy for those people, actually, and I hope they can maintain that uncracked status. I still don’t think they should have talked about my looks in their reviews, but in the grand scheme of things this seems like a minor quibble. Also I’ll age out of being an ingenue in like 14 months so I suppose I should live it up while I can.
I’ve been annoyed by a lot of the things that have been written on the Internet around (but not about) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, which is a book I loved so much that I actually can’t talk about it, in print or IRL. The controversy about books by women not getting reviewed as well, or as much, and then this latest thing by Lionel Shriver (whose books I love!) about how much it sucks that her publishers always try to package her books in a way they think will appeal to women, and it’s like trying to stuff a “rottweiler into a dress” all just made me cringe on behalf of their authors — even when I thought those authors had a point! — because the thing is, I know that particular brand of yes-but-my-book-my-book-my-book-MY-BOOK-HELLOO-MY-BOOK!!! psychosis (Mary MacLane might write that I know it “oh, very well”) and I know that it makes perfect sense from the inside but from the outside it’s just not ever a cute look.
People might care about your book but the stark fact of the matter is that no one will ever care about your book more than you do. I think that is the secret, crazy desire in the heart of every author, male and female: to know what being entirely comprehended feels like, to be so thoroughly and intimately understood. I think that’s what we all deep-down assume that the kind of insta-canonization that Freedom seems to be enjoying entails.
And it might? But I doubt it, actually, because no one is ever on the exact same page. It’s like that moment that can happen during good sex when you think you can sense that you and the other person are absolutely simpatico in terms of everything you are feeling. And maybe you are, maybe you have hit some biochemical, emotional jackpot and all your subtle and gross equipment is tuned to the exact same frequency. But I’m thinking also that it’s possible that this is something that’s only happening in one or the other person’s mind.
The other point I wanted to make was that all that really matters at the end of the day is money, because you can quantify that but the other thing is made out of fantasies.
Also, “The colleague said, “That’s awesome. You’ll nail him. His writing is so terrible.”
The Observer thought, “He thinks of Tao Lin the way I used to think of him, that Tao Lin is a fraud, but now I think Tao legitimate. His earlier stuff is juvenile, but now his style works to heighten a sense of alienation. Profiling Tao is important to me. I’m doing a service to literature.”
Laura Miller, zinging publishing with zingers again. She’s absolutely right, of course. I would add, though, that the most soul-crushing slush of all isn’t the obvious, appalling, kind-of-glorious kind. It’s the kind I talk about in my book, the kind that’s highly competent and pedigreed but still unequivocally false and boring. The thought of someone sitting there plugging away day after day for months or years on a bad book is a depressing thought to have 10-30 times a day. Of course, the more depressing thought is that that person might now be you.
At my old publishing job, there was a high-ranking editor who kept a treasured piece of slush in his desk; I think he would take it out as a treat, or to frighten and amuse new friends. It was about a gay Roman centurion vampire who has a love affair with Jesus Christ.
Sorry, I just want to say again: A GAY ROMAN CENTURION VAMPIRE WHO HAS A LOVE AFFAIR WITH JESUS CHRIST.
In retrospect it’s hard to say why we didn’t just go ahead and publish it. The sex scenes were pretty hot.
I already way exceeded my shit-stirring quota this week but I couldn’t stop thinking about Laura Miller’s good and funny piece about blurbs and how they probably shouldn’t exist in Salon today, and I finally realized why: I disagree with her! (This is almost unheard of).
I find blurbs pretty helpful when deciding whether to read a book, but that’s because I worked in publishing and I (flatter myself that I) know how to decode them. Miller is absolutely right that you can tell when someone is phoning a blurb in — “sweet” is a dead giveaway, as she says, and so are dispassionate plot descriptions. Also err … ummm …. gee … I don’t know if it’s okay to mention this because I’ve gotten the sense in the past that people might get shot or something if they mention this, but if a person is a well known and well connected publishing professional who has known and worked with the authors whose big ol’ names adorn her book jacket for years, then I am probably going to take the blurbs on her jacket with a grain of salt.
That being said, though, a genuine recommendation from someone I admire and trust is priceless, and I have rarely felt let down when I’ve let, for example, Curtis Sittenfeld guide me to a new book. This probably sounds maddening and ridiculous to you: “Of course you feel that way, Emily, she blurbed YOUR book!” True, but: before she did, we had never met — we still haven’t — and didn’t know each other from Adam, and I had already trusted her re: Caitlin Macy and not been disappointed. Curtis, I soon learned, makes a generous point not only of finding and helping young mostly-female writers find audiences, she also helps these writers find each other — she says her goal is to create an “Old Girls’ Club” — and in this way, since I asked Curtis for for a blurb, I’ve been introduced to Malena Watrous, who will be featured on the next Cooking the Books, and whose novel ‘If You Follow Me’ is being tragically slept on.
I guess I think what’s needed vis a vis blurbs is not “zero blurbs” but blurb transparency — a page in the back of the novel that says, like, “Joan Didion is Nick McDonell’s godmother” (or whatever! Sorry, that’s probably not true!) If my book had one, it would say that Curtis and I had emailed a couple of times when I worked at Gawker but otherwise had no contact, Jonathan Franzen and I and five other people once had dinner during which I doubtless failed to make a good or any other kind of impression and I would be stunned to learn that he remembered that this even happened, though I did go around for several days afterwards bragging about my close personal relationship with “J-Franz,” and I used to write truly horrible things about Amy Sohn on Gawker but then on Yom Kippur last year I wrote her an email apologizing and telling her about how rapidly I had devoured Prospect Park West, and she forgave me.
There you have it — I’m not the most connected person in the world (and oof, the rejections I received during the blurb-begging process— really it doesn’t bear thinking about) nor am I the very least. But I guess my point is that even if you *are* the very least connected person in the world, Curtis Sittenfeld will still find time to read and blurb your book, if she loves it, because she’s a goddess among women and her blurbs can be trusted. “A Goddess among women” — Emily Gould. Not hyperbole at all.