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A Not So New York State of Mind
June 19, 2014
Lest you think I'm a New York hater, understand I love the city itself, but not its business practices. At one time Manhattan's centralized, rule-the-world state of mind suited the publishing industry well. But no longer. Digital evolution and smart writers are re-shaping the landscape of books.
Nonetheless, New York publishing still thinks it is in control of every important writer and book that comes along. Indeed, the agents and big publishers take immense pride in being gatekeepers and actually believe they wield this power fairly, sensibly, and to the advantage of readers everywhere--at least as long as they own 90% of the revenue your work generates. Choice, for them, means their choice. Writers need not apply. You, writers, are cattle to herd into chutes, because that's what cattle are for, dumb and obedient protoplasm raised for slaughter.
No longer, and not a moment too soon.
The big corporate publishers in New York don't particularly appreciate your mindset of loving books and taking delight in the art of creating books, and they would not admit it if they did. Their decisions are all business and purely business--they might as well be selling soft drinks or producing throw away umbrellas. Proof? Take a look at an airport book rack anywhere in America, every one of which they control with an iron grip. You have to search hard to find a single truly good novel on that rack. Look at the new fiction shelves in B&N. What's actually on those racks? How much of it is good and truly created by individual writers and how much of it is purely commoditized business--mere bland products generated by committee for a captive public?
These people don't like choice and they don't like change. They even hate hearing about change in publishing, because it threatens their money-making machine and the power over retail outlets they have held for so long. When a few bold writers talk change, and how to benefit from it, that is anathema to them.
When enormous media corporations bought up the smaller houses over the past few decades, this path for fiction was set and the outcome became inevitable. Fewer books, a restricted author pool, larger margins, smaller staffs, and ever more exclusionary policies. Ever more control over those who produce the work, all for the benefit of the few who feast on the proceeds.
If this seems a bit harsh, it is only because you are not listening to your own experience and ignoring the facts. Writers have been begging for a place at the table for a very long time only to be told they don't belong, that the table is only for the grown-ups. The reason this imbalance has lasted for so long is because New York has maintained rigid control of distribution of printed matter and the retail outlets that sell it, and writers have allowed it to happen to themselves. We writers have to be the most compliant pigeons on the planet. We are so hard-headedly stubborn to the idea of organizing and managing our affairs collectively that we have made ourselves perfect targets for these exploitative corporate machines.
Even today, with the abundance of empirical information available, too many writers still want to cling to the cuffs of their masters, and supposed saviors, in New York. Whenever I hear a writer talking about how wonderful and supportive their agent is and how the publisher sent them lovely flowers, I know I'm hearing a person who has not yet felt the sting of business reality. The moment you stop making those people easy money, you will get a big sting in the worst possible way.
The world of New York publishing is predatory, pure and simple. Playing by their rules on most everything from query letters to waiting years on decisions, on chasing last year's market trends, on a byzantine royalty system, on giving up all rights when you sign a publishing contract, all this is nothing more than serving yourself up to benefit a few corporations that have had their way for way too long.
Less than fifty writers in the world can truly shape their own destiny working for the New York houses. Only the Kings and Pattersons have the clout to make that system work for themselves. The millions of others--the rest of us--have had few choices until this electronic revolution of production and distribution hit. To fail to exercise that choice now is the height of self-abusive folly.