Tag Archives: publishing

Common Misconceptions About Publishing and Writing

After realising that “many people don’t have the first clue about how the publishing business works — or even what it is“, the somewhat prolific science fiction writer Charlie Stross decided to do something about it. The result was a series titled Common Misconceptions About Publishing.

This is admittedly only one author’s viewpoint and set of opinions, but Stross’ series of sometimes lengthy but always insightful essays expose the innards of publishing (at least, it seems to). Posts in the series include:

Something that particularly struck me was this look at author income inequality:

Researchers [calculated the] Gini coefficient for authors’ incomes — a measure of income inequality, where 0.0 means everyone takes an identical slice of the combined cake, and 1.0 indicates that a single individual takes all the cake and everyone else starves. Let me provide a yardstick: the UK had a Gini coefficient of 0.36 in 2009, the widest ever gap between rich and poor — while the USA, at 0.408, had the most unequal income distribution in the entire developed world. The Gini coefficient among writers in the UK in 2004-05 was a whopping great 0.74. As the researchers note:

Writing is shown to be a very risky profession with median earnings of less than one quarter of the typical wage of a UK employee. There is significant inequality within the profession, as indicated by very high Gini Coefficients. The top 10% of authors earn more than 50% of total income, while the bottom 50% earn less than 10% of total income.

This is the same Gini coefficient as Namibia in 1993 (the worst in the world at the time, according to the World Bank).

via The Browser

Successful Science Article Pitches

Article and book pitches — both successful and unsuccessful — can give you a small insight into an editor’s selection process and the sales-side of a writer’s mind, as well as help you learn to write more effectively. As such I’ve started to collect sites featuring proposals and pitches.

A recent addition to this list is the pitch database from The Open Notebook; a collection of writer-submitted pitches for science articles that have been accepted for publishing in many of my favourite places, such as Ars Technica, Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, This American Life and Wired.

Of particular note is a pitch from David Dobbs, writer of the Neuron Culture blog. Pitching Atlantic editor Don Peck, Dobbs wrote an extensive pitch for The Orchid Children that led to the publication of a fantastic article, The Science of Success. Those who follow Dobbs’ blog will know that this in turn led to a book deal for The Orchid and the Dandelion, Dobbs’ forthcoming book.

Robert Gottlieb on the Art of Editing

The author-editor relationship is an intimate one, and Robert Gottlieb, editor of many well-loved books and of The New Yorker for five years, knows this more than most. One of the best insights into this relationship comes courtesy of an interview with Gottlieb in The Paris Review where the ‘questions’ are actually anecdotes provided by some of the writers with whom he has worked over the years.

With comments from the likes of Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, Michael Crichton and Robert Caro, the one thing that particularly struck me in the interview is how Gottlieb continuously describes how to be a good editor, one must also be a good reader, writer and author.

He’s humble about the craft, too:

The fact is, this glorification of editors, of which I have been an extreme example, is not a wholesome thing. The editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. The last thing anyone reading Jane Eyre would want to know, for example, is that I had convinced Charlotte Brontë that the first Mrs. Rochester should go up in flames. The most famous case of editorial intervention in English literature has always bothered me—you know, that Dickens’s friend Bulwer-Lytton advised him to change the end of Great Expectations: I don’t want to know that! As a critic, of course, as a literary historian, I’m interested, but as a reader, I find it very disconcerting. Nobody should know what I told Joe Heller and how grateful he is, if he is. It’s unkind to the reader and just out of place.

A quote I missed on first reading the interview (but saw highlighted on his Wikipedia entry) is this brief comment regarding his approach to editing:

You have to surrender to a book. If you do, when something in it seems to be going askew, you are wounded. The more you have surrendered to a book, the more jarring its errors appear.

Many (all?) of The Paris Review’s The Art of… interviews are online and worth spending some time with. Gabrielle from The Contextual Life provides a highlight of some of the best interviews, dating back to Ernest Hemingway’s 1950s interview.

via @RebeccaSkloot

The Issues of the Self-Publishing Future

In 2009, 764,448 books were published outside of “traditional publishing and classification definitions”, according to Bowker. This plethora of self-published titles can be thought of as the ‘slush pile‘, says Laura Miller, and while this future offers authors better options than ever before, it’s the impact on readers themselves that we should be considering (e.g. overwhelming choice, increasingly large numbers of poorly written books, etc.).

In discussing her worries about the “post-publishing” future, Miller looks at how we may consume and deliver books, how the role of the ‘gatekeeper’ will evolve, and ponders the future of antisocial or introverted ‘geniuses’. I liked this on considering the opportunity cost of discovering works of art in the slush pile:

Everybody acknowledges that there have to be a few gems out in the slush pile — one manuscript in 10,000, say — buried under all the dreck. The problem lies in finding it. A diamond encased in a mountain of solid granite may be truly valuable, but at a certain point the cost of extracting it exceeds the value of the jewel. With slush, the cost is not only financial (many publishers can no longer afford to assign junior editors to read unsolicited manuscripts) but also — as is less often admitted — emotional and even moral. […]

I recently confided my worries on this account to former Salon editor Scott Rosenberg, but he was unperturbed. In the near future, he assured me, “‘publication’ will become meaningless.” […] Readers will be saved from wading through slush by amateur authorities — bloggers and other pundits specializing in particular subjects or genres — who will point their followers to the best books. “People will find new ways to decide which books merit their attention.”

The Blog’s Influence on Writing

Philip Greenspun on how writing and publishing has evolved since the Internet and, specifically, the blog have become omnipresent in our lives:

Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines […] would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system. […]

Our literary culture is impoverished when every idea is stretched or amputated to fit the Procrustean bed made up by magazine and book publishers. When an author runs out of relevant stuff to say after 20 or 30 pages, that’s how long the essay should be.

Trough the lens of what was able to be published, Greenspun sees publishing’s evolution like this:

  • Pre-1990: five-page magazine articles and 200-page books.
  • 1990 to 2000: any length essays, with little barrier to entry (static web pages).
  • 2000 onwards: one-paragraph ideas and personal thoughts, widely available (production and consumption) with blogs.