The phrase can’t see the wood for the trees is most often used in a reflective situation framed by the word ‘I didn’t, or ‘we couldn’t’, rather than ‘we can’t’ or ‘we don’t’, because it’s generally only after we mess something up beyond repair that we realise we were focussing on a small and perhaps unimportant element of a larger whole the entire time.
It’s difficult in publishing, perhaps, to identify what constitutes the wood and what are the trees. Bookshops, authors, readers: all these avenues vie for the top tier of our attention, and at different points someone is always willing to tell us which of them are the most important to our business and how. But when I think back to why I got into publishing in the first place, the thing that remains are the stories.
I do love a good first. The first t-shirt day of the summer; the first beer on a night out; the first time you wear a new hoodie. Last week saw the announcement of the first digital-only literary list in the UK, Blackfriars from Little, Brown. The list promises to curate 9 to 12 titles a year from new or established authors, and is launching in June. Now there’s a first to get out of bed for.
Last week was the Futurebook Conference 2012, run by The Bookseller – a must-attend for most of the publishing industry that goes well beyond the book to look at how our rapidly-changing industry has evolved over the past year, and what our major concerns are at the moment. With an impressive program covering agents, international retailers, self-publishing, and consumer insight, for me the most telling session of the day was the first I attended – a panel on pricing strategies with Paul Rhodes from Orb Entertainment, Michael Tamblyn from Kobo, Eloy Sasot from HarperCollins, Rachel Willmer founder of Luzme.com, and Orna Ross founder of The Alliance of Independent Authors and self-published author.
Last week, Simon and Schuster US announced the new publishing ‘service’, Archway, which, for a fee of between $1,599 and $24,999, offers help to authors wanting to self-publish. The prices are tiered to include more advanced ‘services’ at different levels, all of which you can find on the Archway website. The most premium includes a social media publicist, 40 more PB copies of the book than the tier below, 5 more HB copies of the book than the tier below, and costs $5k more than the tier below.
The reactions to this news do say it all, so I’m going to put a few here:
There are very few things in life that make my blood boil more than someone tearing down the industry I work in with false accusations of collusion, underhandedness, and evil doing. So when I see a headline like ‘Why Book Publishers Hate Authors‘ in the Huffington Post, it’s all I can do to stop myself from going into a blind rage and throwing my computer into the ocean, finding the nearest rocket, and blasting myself into the face of the sun. Because what the hell, guys.
At some stage last week while I was asleep, buy buttons were removed from Big 6 (5?) publishers Hachette, Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. What followed was a brief turd storm of concern, blame and speculation about what these publishers had done to bring forth the wrath of Bezos, followed by a ‘statement’ from Amazon a while later saying it was a technical glitch (ie: they sent out an email with ‘technical glitch’ as the subject line and blank body text, probs).
The first Christmas trees are starting to spring horridly in corners of supermarkets everywhere; turkeys all over the world are being fattened for the kill; pubs are instructing everyone to book their office parties NOW to avoid disappointment; there’s a chill in the air and it’s raining in earnest; and mince pies have gone on sale. Yes, Christmas approaches, and with this festive season so, too, to we begin to see the race for top biography (celeb memoir) in the publishing charts. Start your engines…
‘I don’t get up in the morning and say: Am I inspired? …No, I’m not. I won’t work. ‘cos, God, how often would I ever work, you know?’
These words were spoken last week by one of the world’s most prolific authors, J.K. Rowling, and summed up quite nicely something I think many people want to forget about literature: books are a business; writing is work. Our explosive amnesia surrounding the b-word was highlighted again after reading the incredible reaction to news that Penguin US decided to sue a few authors after the books they were paid to write were not written.
I try not to read the comments sections of a lot of websites because generally they are filled with postulating jerks who have glanced at the headline and perhaps the sub-header of an article and become incensed enough to burst their self-righteous gland all over the internet. A marked exception to this is the yearly Booker backlash, which I watch with that sick pleasure usually reserved for early episodes of Masterchef.
It seems the publishing and music industry parallels that we all love to hate (and apparently can’t help but point out at every possible opportunity) has taken a hit this week, with Beck announcing that his next album won’t be released as a record but rather a book of sheet music, published in the UK by Faber and in the US by ultra-indie, underground-before-it-was-cool McSweeneys.