Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, January 5, 2009

“This Business Was Never Meant To Sustain Limousines”

Two interesting pieces for your perusal today, folks, which appear to send mixed messages but actually dovetail depressingly well. First, the Wall Street Journal on why publishers can’t afford to break out of the ‘blockbuster trap’:
When a publisher spends an inordinate amount on an acquisition, it will do everything in its power to make that project a market success. Most importantly, this means supporting the book with higher-than-average marketing, advertising and distribution support … With such high stakes and money tied up in a few big projects in the pipeline, the need to score big with a next project becomes more pressing, and the process repeats itself. The result is a spiral of ever-increasing bets on the most promising concepts, creating a “blockbuster trap.”
  And then there’s the New York Times on ‘the new austerity rippling through the industry’. To wit:
Amid a relentless string of layoffs and pay-freeze announcements, book publishers are clamping down on some of the business’s most glittery and cozy traditions. Austerity measures are rippling throughout the industry as it confronts the worst retailing landscape in memory. “This business was never meant to sustain limousines,” said Amanda Urban, a literary agent who represents Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison, among other authors …
  For authors it means the prospect of smaller advances and fewer books being acquired.


Gerard Brennan said...

You know, I heard on the radio today that this is the most depressing day of the year...

Maybe it'll be better tomorrow?


Twenty Major said...

"Smaller advances"?

That'll be interesting. Anyway, I'm off to plant my own gruel tree. Self-sustainability seems to be the way forward here.

Declan Burke said...

Sorry, Gerard, but apparently Jan 14 or 16 is the most depressing day of the year ... it generally coincides with all the credit card bills.

Gruel trees, Mr Major? By jove, I think you've got it!

Twenty Major said...

I'll be sure to pass on any spare spores I might have.

Gerard Brennan said...

Ah feck off. I've still got it to look forward to, then? Thought I was getting off lightly.

Post something rosy that day, will you? A wee joke or something.


bookwitch said...

Is that your car?

John McFetridge said...

You people think gruel grows on trees? Why, in my day...

I'm actually quite optimistic about publishing, can't wait till we get rid of the kind of thinking multi-national, mergers and aquisition people bring with them, books as Big Macs.

It's true, fiction isn't a business for limos, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good business in the right hands.

All this gloom and doom in publishing and yet last year had more books published that I really, really liked than any year I can remember.

And 2009 looks to be even better.

Dana King said...

“This business was never meant to sustain limousines,” may be, if adopted by enough people in the right positions, the single phrase that can turn the publishing business around. People who want to ride in limos and make blockbusters should probably go into movies or television. Books are a different medium altogether.

Just as a screenplay must, of necessity, differ from even the best book in some ways, so must the business expectations differ. It's apples and oranges.

seanag said...

John, I think you have it right. There is a ton of great stuff out right now, and yet the book industry is in a huge transitional phase, much like the rest of the economy, only in some ways more so.

I think it was you who posted somewhere that I read that the book biz hasn't changed its model for 75 years or so. I work in a bricks and mortar bookstore, but have stories coming out in ebooks and self-published books and on-line, and they feel like two separate worlds rather than one. Some of the most dynamic stuff is happening outside the old accepted paths.

As a bookseller, I am supposed to feel some loyalty towards the old model, even though I wouldn't say that that model has been particularly reciprocating to me over the last ten years. But as a writer, I haven't found either the big houses or the storefront bookstores to be particularly open to many of the most exciting stuff that I see through other windows. Zines and self-published books and very small presses, for example. And that's coming from someone who works in a pretty good independent bookstore, all things considered.

I actually don't think it's completely fair to say that the book biz was never meant to sustain limousines. I think there have always been a couple of authors at the top of the pile who have managed to sustain themselves very well. And there have always been countless more who sustain themselves as best they can and writing is somehow part of that, adds to that, or adds to their satisfaction in some way. But there's nothing wrong in trying for the limousines. You might catch one or two along the way.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, thanks for this, good stuff.

I suppose there's nothing wrong in the occasional author trying for a limo - the trouble is. I think, that the publishing industry needs a lot of authors in limos in order to ride in them themselves (I include agents in here, at 10%-15% per writer, it takes a few to get limo-riding wages) and has geared the whole industry that way - rather than seeing the few limo-riding authors as the exceptions.

The movie business used to understand that they need to make 10 movies to have a hit because William Goldman told them, "Nobody knows anything," and he was a novelist so they believed him. Now, they too, just want to make the hits.

But I still feel when this all shakes out, I can live my dream of writing books and earning as much as a school teacher.

seanag said...

As a bookseller, I should be so lucky as to earn like a school teacher. But having lived with a school teacher for awhile, and learned that school teacher's feel aggrieved at what they feel are their low wages, I understand that the sense of wanting to climb up to the next rung of the pay scale never really stops.

I've ridden in a limo or two (not out of celebrity, I hasten to add) and it was fun, but nothing that would improve my life substantially if it became part of my daily fare. Rather the reverse, in fact. And I think this is probably true of a lot of the high end frills of fame and fortune.

I think the problem for writers always pretty much boils down to how are you going to do your work, how are you going to get it out there, and does anybody really care?

By the way, I'm going to grab a copy of Dirty, Sweet at work tomorrow and put it right up there at the top of my TBR pile. I'm liking the Boucheron crime spree a lot.