Actually, several someones. My fantasy starts with the Fulton County (Georgia) school system, which recently expelled a high school freshman for writing a fictional tale in her private journal about a student who dreams she kills a teacher.
I saw this girl, Rachel Boim, interviewed on CNN today. You couldn’t ask for a more intelligent, articulate, and mature 14-year old than Rachel—who undoubtedly surpasses the Fulton County school administrators in all of these qualities. When asked if she would write the tale again, given what has just happened, she wisely said, “Of course I would. It was just a story, something I made up, not anything I would actually do.” Today her suspension was rescinded, thank heavens. I’ll contribute to her defense fund, if asked, and buy a copy of her story if she gets it published.
Which brings me to my next fantasy set of killings. I say “set,” because this is would be a massive publishacide, encompassing everybody who had anything to do with setting up the book publishing “system” (using this term in the most ironic sense) in this country. I suspect that if Rachel continues with her writing—her parents describe her as a gifted writer—she eventually will share my publishacide fantasies. The book publishing business is similar to many ways to the U.S. health care system: when it works, it works really well (for some people); when it doesn’t work, it works really shitty (for lots more people than for whom it works reallywell).
In my never-ending quest to explore publishing options for my four books, two of which haven’t been published yet, commercially or non-commercially, I’ve been delving more into the world of POD (print on demand) and self-publishing firms. Not that this is my first choice for my books, as I’m still pursuing a traditional publishing approach, which, practically speaking, requires an agent, and a quasi-traditional “co-publishing” approach, which requires some money. If both of these avenues fail to pan out, then POD and self-publishing are viable alternatives.
Clea Saal has self-published, using print on demand (POD) technology, a helpful book, “The Clearly Confusing World of Self-Publishing & POD.” She also has an equally helpful web site that lists and critiques the major POD/self-publishing firms. I’ve poured over most of these firms’ web sites, and have learned a lot about the clearly confusing world of which Saal writes. Confusing, largely because the publishing business at large is so confusing.
Distributors. Wholesalers. Publishers. Authors. Bookstores. Online book sellers. Readers. How the heck do all of these fit together? Not very well, that’s for sure. Like sausage-making, the more you learn about how the book business works, the more you question whether you really wanted to know what you’ve learned. Very much like the health care system, lots of money flows around the book publishing industry, but few people are happy with the system. The rare success stories of publishers or writers who hit it rich grab our attention. However, the system as a whole is frustratingly illogical and inefficient.
Publishers often print many more thousands of copies of a book than will ever be sold. POD technology allows books to be printed one at a time, after an order is made, just like Dell makes its computers. No waste this way, which makes trees happy. But most bookstores won’t order POD books, even if a customer asks for one, because they usually can’t be returned. Bookstores often return books, since they don’t have to pay for the books they order until they are sold. So a publisher may think they’ve sold lots of copies of a book, and then the copies come back to them months later—sometimes with covers torn and all beat up, but still returnable.
Few “real” publishers use POD technology, in part because this is the way almost all self-publishers (a.k.a. “vanity presses”) print their books. So they don’t want to be tainted with the print on demand stigma. But often it’s the most efficient way to print books. And many POD books are better written than their traditionally published brethren. True, many aren’t, but can’t the marketplace decide which books are worthy to be bought, and which aren’t?
Do we look down on painters, or potters, because they don’t sell their creations through an established art gallery? When you go to an art fair, and look at artists in their booths, do you think, “What losers…they couldn’t sell their stuff in a real store, so they have to do their selling on their own.” I don’t think this, because I can tell that these artists have more talent than a lot of the kitsch you find in a “real” art gallery. So why is it that the pejorative term, “vanity,” is attached to writers who publish their own books? Why don’t we call painters or potters who produce and sell their art themselves “vain”?
Part of me wants to go a non-traditional publishing route with my books, because the usual way of printing, marketing, and selling books is so screwy. But I’ll admit that another part—a pretty big part—would be happy to sell out and join the current system. Make me an offer. Everyone has their price. Writers are pretty cheap. Will work for coffee, a laptop, and a high-speed Internet connection, only two of which I enjoy now.