Writing vs. the Business of Writing

I recently read Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife (2009). The book is split into two halves. The first half is dedicated to the external/public book life (goals, platforms, new media, blogs, etc.) with the second half addressing the internal/private book life. The book is based on new media blogging and is in the form of short essays. The information is very useful for writers who are already professionals with publications on their CV. It is less so if you don’t have a contract pending. Once you do, pick up this book and learn how you are required to sell yourself. This used to be done by the publishers but now you get paid $%^& and have to do their jobs too.

It is a realistic and useful book but depressing as hell if what you really want to do is write. That is why the author spends so much time helping you to protect your “private” life or actually writing. If you were to do everything suggested here, you would not have any time left to write at all. Thus, the author suggests you do a little data-gathering and see what works for you and doesn’t “fragment” you too much. (His word for becoming overwhelmed by the bull having to set up and maintain a “platform” blah blah.) In other words, you are expected to write, edit, market and publicize your own book.

After reading this, I became rather ticked off. My question becomes then why the hell do I need an editor/publishing house? Why don’t I hire my own copyeditor and self-publish? I understand I am not
Cory Doctorow. Hear me out. Publishing houses are offering less and less. They are undermining themselves. They will soon go the way of the RIAA and other dinosaurs if they don’t get a clue. Editors are now 28-year olds with no power. (Having once been a 28-year old, I like them a lot... it is the powerless part I’m not so keen on.) Books get chosen based on committees. No one stays around long enough to develop a vision, a true imprint. There are a couple of exceptions such as Jonathan Karp (editor in chief of Twelve) who has been allowed to develop a long-term mission but this is so rare as to warrant an entire article in Poets and Writers.

To summarize, if a publishing house wants my attention, they need to have things to offer. They need to make it worth my while to come work for them. Without me, they don’t exist. I agree with
Harlan Ellison. We should cut the partiers off. Dear Mr. Publisher, if you don’t pay me, you don’t get any of my work. Writers are like abused children. Running back to their abusers offering up their books for a modicum of love. If I can get cheap love from the internet (i.e. the very platform the publishers force me to produce and to maintain), why should I bother to try to get theirs? Since Publishing is big business, the suits should know what the term “value-added” means.