Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A memory


It is 1987 (or thereabouts). Dodd, Mead, one of the oldest and most respected publishing houses in New York, has decided to publish my book Honey From Stone. I go to New York to visit my editor. We meet in the Dodd, Mead conference room, which is lined with books by well-known authors and doesn't appear to have changed much in a century. I am in a place where books are valued and authors respected, a shrine to literary values.

This was before Amazon.com, before e-books. But the writing was on the wall. The industry was changing. Within a few years Dodd, Mead would go out of business. Within a decade, publishing would be changed forever. Pity the aspiring mid-list author today. Meagre advances. No book tours. No visits to New York. Pathetic royalty statements. I was in the last cohort of authors who didn't work for Jeff Bezos. Today it's only blockbusters and the rabble. The mid-list doesn't exist.

I was fortunate that just before Dodd, Mead dissolved Honey From Stone was sold in paperback to Penguin, and after Penguin let it lapse it was picked up by several wonderful small houses (Hungry Mind/Ruminator and Crowley), both of which eventually found the new market environment unsustainable. Fortunately, Honey still has a home at Rowman and Littlefield, but I know many authors who have not been so lucky.

There are, to be sure, certain advantages to readers and authors in the new environment, and I'll not dispute with those who love their Kindle. But I'm glad I'm not writing books any more. You can have the Amazon mega-warehouse; I remember with fondness that musty, book-filled room at Dodd, Mead, and was proud at the time that my book would join the distinguished works on the shelves. Little did I know, that a tsunami of change was about to sweep it all away.