27 February 2012

Skeleton Key

This n+1 podcast episode with editor Keith Gessen about the publishing industry, "The Book is Good," is well worth the thirty minute listen. (I highlighted Gessen's How a Book is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding a few weeks ago.) The meaty part of the interview starts around the 4:40 minute mark and there are quite a few interesting things to reflect upon.

For one, Gessen challenges the idea that the monetary success of a few blockbusters are subsidizing smaller works. I know you've heard this one before -- about how books like Snooki's latest opus creates the profits that allow for other authors to be published -- and I'm curious which perspective is actually true. Also, according to Amazon's research, the kind of book that people buy on their Kindles but don't buy in print are previous books by New York Times authors. Hum.

Halfway through the interview, Gessen relates the conversation that many authors have, about how friends that went on to become lawyers and doctors now approach them to ask, "I wrote a novel, can you help me get it published?" His response is amusing: "And you just want to say to them: 'I'll tell you how to get your novel published. Go back ten years, right, fifteen years, and instead of becoming a lawyer or doctor, become a writer. Because I don't show up to your office [and start performing surgery].'"

Of course, a good number of writers I hear of nowadays are former lawyers, so perhaps going that way might be more fiscally responsible. A final quote from the interview, Gessen speaking about n+1 being putting out their own stuff: "If you have undertaken to publish something, it is your moral duty to get it out into the world." Amen.

For the most part I've decided to skip any articles about the advance of the eBook overlords, or stuff about the death of the industry. I've gorged enough on both over the past year and they pretty much just present the same information. But sometimes I'll come across an eBook article worth reading, like this one, also from n+1, "Bones of the Book," a nice long piece about the history and direction of the eBook.
"Traditionalists attack e-books because they are not enough like print books. The electronic literary vanguard tends to dislike e-books because they are too much like real books. Electronic writers have long defined their craft as any piece of digital writing except e-books, which they consider mere scans of paper. They have perhaps overlooked some of the e-book’s creative possibilities, but they have helped to define what e-book connotes. If an e-book mutates too far from its physical progenitor, then it becomes electronic literature."
-Bones of the Book-