Lately it seems that the publishing industry is making headlines in a bigger way than usual, with the layoff of Publishers Weekly’s editor-in-chief Sara Nelson yesterday and the former publisher of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt joining Riverhead, not to mention the many other layoffs and reorganizations in the industry over the past few months.
In addition, I’ve noticed several articles on “the new publishing,” which in many cases refers to self-publishing, on which the NY Times has a cover story today. It begins, “The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them” — though I have long wondered whether we’re there already.
The article outlines the pros and cons of self-publishing, of which most writers are aware, and mentions one surprising fact: this month, Author Solutions (which operates iUniverse, AuthorHouse, and other vanity presses) bought Xlibris — and combined, the company represented 19,000 titles in 2008: almost six times more than Random House, the world’s largest traditional publishing house. (And keep in mind that these books did not have editors.) It’s a strange statistic.
But those in the self-publishing business know that it’s not about books but about money. Lulu’s CEO, Robert Young, admits that most of its titles are published for few other than the authors and their families. “We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind,” he told the Times.
And yet for all those niche books that will sell only a few copies, there are authors out there who know there is a larger audience for their work — and it is for these writers that I’m glad self-publishing is now easy and cheap. Today’s success story is Lisa Genova, whose first novel, “Still Alice,” was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents. She self-published the novel for $450 and, though perseverance and fantastic luck, eventually sold it to Pocket Books for a mid-six-figure advance. It debuted on the New York Times trade paperback fiction bestseller list at number five this Sunday.
Write what you love. Follow your passions. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
These are among the insights and inspiration at one of the fiction panels at this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the country’s largest celebration of the written word. The 12th annual festival was held at UCLA and drew upwards of 130,000 word lovers (along with their children and pets).
The advice above comes from Chris Bohjalian and Peter Orner, from the panel Fiction: Jumping Off the Page, which also featured Marianne Wiggins and Gary Shteyngart. What was fun about this panel, for me, was hearing about the processes of these writers: that Wiggins and Orner both write in longhand; that Wiggins takes two to three years to think out a novel but writes only one draft; that Bohjalian writes eight, nine, and ten drafts of each book. It was heartening to learn that even a writer like Bohjalian has written novels he will never publish; that it took Orner twelve years to write his novel The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo; that, in Orner’s words, “first and last sentences are a constant hell.” For writers who make it look easy, it’s comforting to know that for even these authors, writing is anything but.
It was impossible to sit in on all 97 of the panels, of course, but we did our best to visit as many of the 300 exhibitor booths as we could, seeing everything from literary magazines to small presses, as well as testing out the Sony Reader and checking out the new MySpace for literary types: TheYack.com.
Best of all, San Diego Writers, Ink got us there and back on its inaugural trip to the festival, complete with open mic readings and plenty of coffee. Mark your calendars for next year; I already have.
At the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend, we stopped by the Google exhibit, which was promoting its Authors@Google series. Over the past year, Google has talked with myriad authors — from Hillary Clinton to Martin Amis — and has posted the videos online. Google interviews authors at its Mountain View headquarters as well as its offices in New York, Santa Monica, Ann Arbor, London, and Dublin. Most interviews are up to an hour long — a nice treat for anyone who doesn’t catch his or her favorite author on the book tour. Best of all, one of the Google reps mentioned that Google will be expanding the program, continuing to interview high-profile writers while reaching out to the small presses as well.
You can check out the series at Google, or visit YouTube for the archives. Enjoy.