Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Can any Writer Who Likes Publishing Be All Bad?

As you observed with what you considered cogent appropriateness in your review of John Grisham's latest publication, Ford County, those same stories, submitted by any other writer, or even under a pseudonym, would have not made their way through the editorial process into contract, scheduling, and publication.  Grisham is some distance away from being among your favorites; you mostly get his work when Barnaby Conrad passes them along to you in a set of CDs or in virtual publication (thus was it appropriate for you to give him your copy of Ford County).  He is, on the other hand, a favorite if not the favorite of many hundreds of thousands of readers.  Also, he is a writer of some narrative skills, knowing among other things how to delineate a character (although not always with great success) and having more than a speaking acquaintance with such dramatic tropes as conflict, reversal, and surprise.  You suspect--but do not know this for a fact--that he has learned how to listen to editorial suggestions.

You had a brief association with another such writer, Louis L'Amour, when you were sent to attempt him to leave his then publisher, Bantam, to join the publisher you represented, Dell.  L'Amour's writing style was, to be charitable, clunky, but he knew how to tell a story and his passion for research and history was stunning.  You learned an important technical construct from him which,in subsequent years (and at the risk of vainglory) you have incorporated into your own toolkit as one of its significant strengths--how, when, and where to begin a story.

Both Grisham and L'Amour have enjoyed sales in the millions, meaning readers seek their works, not just once but again and again.

This fact alone makes it possible for you to posit that they were ultimately published and continue now, over twenty years since L'Amour's death (1988), on the basis of their names.  Building on that foundation, an author should be published because of who he or she is, which is to say he or she has found a particular voice (Grace Paley, anyone?)with which to deal with and depict the dramatic life going on about him or her.

A literary agent phoned you just the other day to tell you that the publishing industry was going through some major revisions and overhauls, which let you know immediately he had no interest in trying to sell a particular project of yours, and indeed, you caused him no little discomfort when, after he told you of the problems within publishing, that you were sorry he didn't think he could place your project.  

You learned some years back when as an editor, someone wanted you to look at her manuscript, which Publisher A really liked and would have published if there hadn't been such a major paper shortage in effect at the time.  Since this happened in your office, you called Perkins & Squire, your primary paper supplier and asked how long it would be for them to deliver a carload of sixty-pound basis weight matte finish long-grain white bulking at 360 pages per inch (a by no means uncommon order) to your principal manufacturer, Kingsport Press.  Have that out for you in about a week, came the reply.

You do not believe you were being cruel to the writer because, in fact, you wanted the project and offered to take it on provided she accepted the bulk of your development memo.  But you have in subsequent years met writers who were led to believe that their work might have been published except for some act of God, some hitch in the publishing industry, which has always been vulnerable to change and disaster by virtue of what it was, is, and will continue to be in the future.

It is essential to learn dramatic construction just as it is important for an artist to learn human and animal anatomy, but it is also important to learn to write as yourself so that you are not mistaken for another or, for that matter, so that you are not considered so bland and formulaic that your writing becomes the literary equivalent of the art on the walls of Motel 6 suites.

You will never be published if they can find you in someone else.  Someone, I don't know why or why, is offering for sale on the Internet (www.ioffer.com/.../LITTLE-WOLF-S-INVINCIBLE-PAINT-AT-ADOBE- WALLS-GENEALOGY) an essay you wrote for a historical magazine (not by any means a journal, rather a pulp Western Historical magazine.  Heaven knows how he has packaged it, but he is selling if for $29.99, which is almost what you were paid for writing it in the first place.  Has he offered to split any of that $29.99 with you?  We won't go there; your point is that you published the work under your by-line.  Had the seller thought better of himself, he could have rewritten the material and perhaps sold even more copies on his own.

There will always be something wrong with publishing, but that is no reason to let it interfere with your enthusiasms and needs.


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