Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

The Literary Life

Monday, July 27th, 2015

In the 1950s and 1960s, I grew up in Westchester County, thirty minutes from New York City (think Don Draper in “Mad Men” for the  typical train commute), and I was the son of a book publisher 9k=living in the center of the literary world.  My dad would have frequent parties with other book publishers including Sol Stein, the founder of Stein and Day; Max Schuster of Simon and Shuster; Jovanovich of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Nat Wartels, the founder of Crown; luminaries such as Bennet Cerf of Random House; and many others whose names have receded into the mists of publishing history.  I remember the parties and the characters, they seemed larger than life and enjoyed every aspect of living with great emphasis on fine food and drink.  After all these years I forget many of their names, but their companies (such as Sterling) live on, now owned by larger corporations which have changed the publishing world and which, no doubt, in fifty years will in many cases have disappeared as well.

The literary life itself has changed.  As a society we do not cultivate great writing; we really don’t.  I am not sure if great writing is still possible.  And this is not because of technology, but in spite of it. More people are writing more books more easily than ever before. There are more writer’s groups,  more writing courses, more “How to be a Best Selling Author” seminars, and more access to getting books published than in any previous moment in history.  So the problem with the lack of great writing is actually neither access nor time to the tools and the profession. The problem, as far  as I can determine, is with the times in which we live.

There is much focus on commercial success and seeming relevance that it is rare for those who read to take the time to cultivate great writing.  Great writing takes time. Great writing takes  rewriting.  Great writing does not ensure commercial success.  The recent release of Harper Lee’s  “Go Set a Watchman” is a case study that proves why there is little if any great writing or great publishing at this moment in time. “To Kill a Mockingbird”  is a great book, it has withstood the test of time.  It will still be read fifty years from now, more than one hundred years after it was published. But I doubt that even five years from now “Go Set a Watchman” will be read. It is not great writing. It was not meant to be published; it required rewriting.  The rewriting is what created the timelessness of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  The editor took time, months of back and forth with Harper Lee, hundreds of hours of thought and comment from both editor and author.  This could never happen today.  Both publisher and author can not  take the time to have a book percolate. There is too much financial gain or loss at stake.  And besides, is anyone other than a few literary critics or erudite publishing industry or academic specialists going to notice the flaws in books not truly gestated, not truly edited, but published for great financial benefit?

I write books myself and they are well written. One, “The Twelve”, has sold more than 500,000 copies. My authored books however are not great writing.  I was not motivated to write a great book. I hired an outside editor. I had a wonderful editor provided by the publisher. They did as good a job as the time and money allocated justified. Readers have enjoyed my books, and I receive wonderful compliments from them. For some my books have changed their lives for the better.  They are good books, just not great.  In the fullness of time my books are unlikely to survive.  Only truly great works of art survive.

I recommend that those of you interested in writing strive for greatness. It will not be easy, there will be distractions. You will have to find great editors and you will have to pay them.  You will have to allocate time. You will have to be unattached to the financial results.  You will have to cut back on your social media and dedicate all of your creative energy to the book itself and not the marketing. You will have difficulty finding a major publisher. But if you write a truly great book, your words may live forever.

Now, that would be a true literary life.

Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to be Attorneys

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Life is going splendidly but being human I still find that there are minor irritants in my life.  Even though some claim that when true enlightenment is reached even minor irritations cease to exist, I doubt that this is the case.  But before explaining why, let me share one of the fortunately infrequent but repeating irritants in my life—interacting with

There are few attorneys who understand the nature of the book business. Calling the book business a business is a stretch. Billions of dollars are generated from the creation and selling of books, but book publishing in general has rarely been operated as a business.  Back in the day when my father was publishing books through Arco Publishing and interacting with the founders of Simon and Schuster, Crown, Sterling and the other mid and in some cases rapidly growing New York based book publishers, we considered book publishing a gentleman’s profession. Handshakes were common as all that was needed to reach agreement. Attorneys were rarely consulted and the relationships between authors, editors and publishers were often paternal. My father was a bit of a maverick and more focused on generating profits than fame or prestige than many of his competitors. This was clearly an advantage for him. At the same time, even for my father money was never considered the primary reason for being a book publisher. (more…)

Unemployment and the Future of Book Publishing

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Life is full of surprises. Life is constantly changing. Good news often brings as many changes as bad news. Sometimes it is hard to know the difference between good news and bad news.images

My wonderful assistant Vanessa recently wed. No doubt this was good news. The bad news part of it for me is that Vanessa’s new husband was just offered a wonderful position in Northern California and she will of course be joining him. Although we continue to go digital, not every function of an assistant can be performed from three hundred plus miles away, so we need to replace Vanessa.

In this modern age the quickest way to find potential employees is to advertise with Craig’s list. Given how much of today’s business is actually digital, the hours required to be my assistant are down to no more than twenty per week. So we put out an ad and in less than 48 hours we got more than 100 resumes. Perhaps half were people fresh out of school, but at least ten were from highly qualified candidates with significant and meaningful work experience. (more…)


Friday, May 17th, 2013

Good or bad? The word  Playboy growing up suggested success . Success with women and  living a life of  excitement, living a life of play and not work. Of course  as I grew older I learned that being a playboy had its limitations. It implied a lack of commitment, a lack of maturity.

I would never consider myself having been a playboy but I certainly had  years of not being serious and I like the idea of playing.

Yesterday I had lunch with  my good friend Scott Flanders. Scott  happens to be the CEO of Playboy Enterprises. Yes, the  Playboy  company created by Hugh Heffner. The playboy company with the magazine with the pretty girls.  The nude centerfolds, the sexy jokes and the  often well written articles.

Scott has only been the CEO for the last four years. Before that he ran  Freedom Communications, the company that owned the Orange County Register and many other local newspapers. Before that Scott ran Columbia house and before that Scott  was the publisher of Que , one of the leading computer book companies.  That was close to twenty years ago. That was when Scott and I   used to go to conferences together  and in the beginning compete for the best computer book authors and later  collaborate on creating some highly profitable book series. (more…)


Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

It has been said that the character of people is revealed when things go wrong. Sometimes I think that character is not revealed, but made when things go wrong. Ever think about how you respond when life throws you a curve ball? Ever consider if you react to the small things as if they were huge? Ever consider the reason for your responses?

My world has revolved around publishing. Things go wrong a lot in book publishing. I get to see many disappointed authors. Lately, many of these disappointments are directly related to Amazon. Amazon has policies which are excellent for Amazon, but not always wonderful for authors and publishers. Amazon has isolated its publishing employees from authors and publishers. They are not allowed to have direct voice contact. There is no way, other than electronic communication, to notify Amazon of errors related to the details during the publishing process. Changing a price, correcting a date, or even the misspelling of an author’s name can take up to a week or more. In the big picture, I have learned that such errors are not going to alter the course of history, or in these cases, the eventual destiny of sales for a particular book. However, first time authors do not know this. They have put their hearts and souls into their book and believe that everything related to the launch of their first book is vital. (more…)


Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I love the publishing industry and have spent my life finding and supporting new talent; I love sharing what I have learned along the way.  This weekend I got to do that once again speaking to a large crowd at Author 101 – my reason for being a day late with this blog.    It was a wonderful weekend in LA with several hundred authors, some top agents, and book publishers exploring and explaining ways for authors to either self-publish or break in with traditional publishers. I represented the more conservative view that this is not the best of times for authors and publishers, but many speakers disagreed. Their logic was that since more books are being published than ever before and since more money is being generated from book sales than ever before, this is a wonderful time for authors. They also pointed out correctly that the cost of entry to self- publishing is down to almost zero from twenty-five thousand dollars or more just a decade or two ago, before the invention of print on demand. (more…)