Friday, February 26, 2016

A Sad Situation

I keep a lot of my old files from my early days as a writer. I'm talking tons of stuff. Soon I'll be dumping most of it, but a few things I'll keep. Not much, though.

One manila envelope I was looking through had little notes from my first literary agent. He wouldn't write normal letters on 8 1/2 X 11 paper. (Remember, this was in the days before the Internet and even before widely-used wordprocessors.) Instead, he would send little notes on tiny bits of printed paper with his logo on them. Similar to Post-It notes but on thicker, higher quality paper and with his name and address/phone number on them.

The notes would keep me abreast of where the book was being pushed and any reactions from editors. He would also always send me copies of anything any editor had to say. The old guy came close to selling that first book, but just could never quite close the deal. We came closest at Warner Books, a subsidiary of Warner Communications. These days, Warner Books doesn't even exist, having been absorbed by Hachette Book Group.

And that's what got me as I looked through the letters I'd received while I was a client at that first literary agency:

There were so many publishers in those days! He had a vast group of publishers from which to choose where he could send my book. Alas, those days are gone. Today so many of those publishing houses either went completely out of business or were absorbed by larger concerns. The publishing business began to implode in a most disturbing manner and is today in a pretty anemic situation. These days there aren't many places where a writer (or his agent) can send a manuscript for consideration.

Times have changed the publishing model. Now my current agent has to pick from a shrunken pool of publishers when he looks to submit one of my books. And if the book is a genre title, then things are even worse, because that market has retreated to just a few imprints.

Yes, there are the small presses but the competition there is so fierce that former name-brand authors are clawing over one another to place manuscripts with their editors. Writers with an established fan base willing to pay premium prices for limited edition books are the norm with them, which precludes much in the way of original fiction.

Then there are the micro-publishers and ebook-only publishers. This is just a half-step above self-publishing which is the world of the rube, the shill, the shyster, and the loser. But I have friends whose agents have been reduced to sending material out to these kinds of publishers, most of whom don't even pay an advance of any type; not even a nominal one.

Alas. Literature is in a sad and sick situation. When publishers die, the art form upon which it once thrived will soon follow.

First edition of the best-selling Niven/Pournelle apocalyptic novel, LUCIFER'S HAMMER. Published by Playboy Press. Yep. Playboy once had a book publishing arm. They went out of business during the time I was with my first agent. I recall, because he sent me a note telling me that they were "no more". Alas.

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