Publishers & Depression

I recently read a blog by an intern at a major publishing house. The intern wrote at length about the publisher’s lack of interest in seeing new ‘literary’ work. Instead, she advised, writers ought to stick to books about lady detectives and self-help. The emphasis, post after wittily depressing post, was on sales, how to sell books, how to ‘hustle’, how to prove to a publisher that you can hustle and sell books, etcetc.

Naturally, I found it horribly sad, but not for the reason one might suppose. Well, for that reason too. Of course it is depressing that major publishers are not really interested in breaking new and challenging literary voices, but that’s well known, so hearing it again only provokes a mild discomfort. What I found truly unsettling was the impression that:

1) There are many many people out there writing solely for the purpose of publishing a book, not because of any belief in the value of what they’re writing.

2) The publisher is totally in favor of such a situation. Further, the culture at the publishing house seemed to hold that finding a book that would sell well was better than (or, even worse, indistinguishable from) finding a book one really loved.

I suppose I had an impression of publishing that it consisted of souring, acerbic, largely aging alcoholics who sat around hating the trash they publish. I pictured men and women, well-dressed but rumpled and old fashioned, knocking back martinis and talking about the good old days when they were proud to be publishing real literature. I pictured them trying to sneak an extra title on a year’s list because they still believed in books and not just the business of books or books as commodities. I know that, especially in large operations where salaries must be paid, commercial considerations must be taken into account, but people don’t have to be so gleeful about it.

On a more positive note, I am certain that there are wizened editors who properly hate the state of contemporary mainstream publishing. Maybe they really are the majority. I’d love to be shown that the industry is as full of depressed people as it ought to be.


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July 2009
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