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.