Unbeknownst Are The Ways Of The Book Gods

Anon Book SculptureEvery so often, the New York Times columnists or editors throw their hands heavenwards and lament about the publishing Garden of Eden closing its gates into the sad faces of  ever greater number of aspiring writers.

The title of this post is pretty much the idea, expressed  by James B. Stewart in his Long Odds for Authors Newly Published, written for the  Common Sense column of the New York Times Saturday Business section.

The business is publishing business. The author rekindles a somewhat stale story of the latter days great revelation: a detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was actually written by J. K. Rowling. So now we know.

There are no great revelations in the article, per se — same oft-repeated stance about the power of the author brand recited by editors and booksellers, and the numbers, of course: the number of books sold before and after the J.K. Rowling acknowledged authorship.

More interesting were the comments,  numerous, resentful, bitter, resigned — speak of emotions! Book readers, book writers, those who read a lot and write a little and those who write a lot and read little, writers published, soon to be and/or never.

Some like J. K. Rowling and everything she wrote — Harry Potter and beyond — and  bought and read The Cuckoos’ Calling as soon as it was revealed that the book was penned by Ms. Rowling. Others call everything she ever wrote mediocre and express disdain over the state of publishing in this country.

“If the book is as good as critics are now saying it is, why didn’t it sell more copies before?”

Many of those belonging to the first category are of the opinion that the revelation was a clever marketing ploy to boost The Cuckoos’ Calling unremarkable sales and Ms. Rowling indignation over the disclosure was all fake.

“Ms Rowling was stung by the reviews and reception of “The Casual Vacancy” and needed to get her confidence back.”

“Stewart misses the instructive angle here: if Robert Galbraith had written anything memorable, substantial or insightful, we would be talking about the contents of the book rather than the identity of the author.”

Many have resigned to accept the unfairness of it all:

There really are no answers in publishing. Books get pushed all the time that go nowhere; books from nowhere suddenly hit the jackpot. Publishers know very little about what book will stand out because it’s such an inexact science.

The Rowling/Galbraith episode reveals the ugly truth about the publishing business and the struggle of writers to survive within it. Making a living in the arts in the USA is not an undertaking for the faint-hearted.

I found this somber assessment to be true:

Entertainment (which incudes books) is an endless river of books, TV shows, movies, play and etc. The volume continues to increase year by year. It is no surprise that most of the output is rarely marketed and rarely catches fire by word of mouth; and most of the output is mediocre, derivative and will quietly pass away from the gaze of most folks. It is also no surprise that relentless marketing can hype a TV show, book or movie to fleeting fame or continued attention; the efforts are just variations on the endless commercials and other ads we see on TV, on the web, on the back of book covers, in the book reviews and in the movie theatres. There is always more push than pull for demand. Sometimes quality is noticed and attracts a following, but often it is the star power of the author or actor that does the work of gaining the audience. Nothing new here. (Jack Belicic, Santa Mira).

The conclusion of Mr. Stewart’s article is rather ominous:

New authors can still make the best-seller lists, as Ms. Rowling herself did with the Potter books, or E. L. James with the erotic “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But they are extreme exceptions. Mr. Entrekin [the president and publisher of Grove Atlantic] agreed that many good books don’t achieve the success they deserve. “There’s no formula,” he said. “A publisher can only do so much. A book’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the book gods.

And no, the New York Times does not suggest a good prayer that the Book Gods would listen, have mercy and respond with divine generosity.

Previously, I’ve written about the New York Times touching concern about the bleak future of publishing in Rejoice, Writerly Brethren!  and  again in Rejection: Projection Of Dejection on TFW blog page.

Although there isn’t much to smile about, still my long neglected Smile page is updated.

J. Jerka

Painting of Jacek Jerka


2 comments on “Unbeknownst Are The Ways Of The Book Gods

  1. In the painting a cistern made of bookshelves is filled to the rim, which seems to suggest (?) an urgent need for more books and shelves.
    So roll up your sleeves, aspiring authors.

    • What a brilliant observation! I didn’t see it like this. As I look at J. Jerka’s painting, my thinking is this: never mind that there are so many books already. Keep your head up and see the life — and get life! — and the life is beautiful and everlasting, both in the books and BEYOND.
      Thank you for your comment.

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