Sunday, February 13, 2005

It was Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago this February, my book The Malling of America was first published. "It's a famous book," Michael McClure said to me when I interviewed him last year. "It's a famous title," I said, and though that's more accurate, the content has maintained a presence over decades. Untold classloads of students have had to cope with a chapter on "Kids in the Mall" that has been reprinted in dozens of scholastic readers over these two decades, one of which arrived in the mail today. It continues to provide a little income--- and it is still a little amazed to find itself between the same covers with Thoreau, Shakespeare, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jim Harrison and James Baldwin.

The paperback edition of The Malling of America that I updated, edited and published through Xlibris in 2002 continues to sell a few copies each month. I just got my latest royalty check. I don't want to boast but it's in the mid two figures. Getting it back into print became a personal necessity, and the experience of doing so summoned up raw memories surrounding the book's publication that I shaped in several new chapters I added. Though not much response to those chapters has gotten back to me, I hoped they would open a window to the processes---the quite different processes---of writing and publishing, which are imbued with so many illusions.

That these illusions persist in 2005 is evidenced by a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, by a first-time nonfiction book author whose eyes were opened to the realities of publishing today. As much as I thought I knew already, I learned even more from this piece, which you can find here.

For one thing, I learned that the relationships of authors, agents and editors has, let's say "evolved." It used to be that agents were the writer's advocate, and editors were the customers, but basically it was editors who dealt with content. Today it's apparently the agents who deal with content, working with prospective authors to shape proposals, before any editor gets involved.

So it's no wonder that prospective authors spend more time and energy writing proposals. It's unpaid work, done with only what resources they can muster for research, so almost all non-celebrity authors are otherwise employed. I've written several books worth of proposals over the past twenty years, all seduction and no experience. Everyone knows that the book is discovered in the act of writing it, but nobody much is willing to invest in that anymore.

Unless of course you are a celebrity, which means a defined and apparently established market (though the quantities of celebrity-authored books in the remainder bins belies that assumption in many cases.)

I continue to think up book ideas, which I sometimes worry about: could it be my version of Tourette's syndrome?

Book advances also seem to be slipping into inconsequence (again, for non-celebs), which leads me to place this ad before you all:

AUTHOR FOR HIRE to busy celebrities in all fields, as well as to freaked-out editors with a deadline and an unpublishable manuscript. I write, I edit, I work to perfection and deadline. I've got the skills, you've got the money: let's talk. Nonfiction, fiction, Mr. In-Between, I can do it all. HAVE LAPTOP, WILL TRAVEL. Email:

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Much of my writing these days goes into these blogs (even if published first elsewhere.) They present different challenges, and besides, unlike some writers, I enjoy reading my own writing. (And yes, it has occurred to me that this might not be a good thing.)

Very recently, however, I installed invisible counters on my various blogs---they count the number of "hits" and visitors, and give some other general information (not names or addresses or anything.) After only a week or so, I have detected some patterns.

By far my most popular blog, with the "greatest hits," has been Soul of Star Trek, with several hundred visitors in the span of a few days. It's also my most international blog, with visitors from Canada, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Poland, Italy, France, Germany and Namibia so far, as well as from all regions of the US (including Shawnee Mission, Kansas.)

Next in traffic is my newest and most local, This North Coast Place. Most of the traffic is from the North Coast of California, as is appropriate, but since a recent post describes a community forum here in Arcata conducted by members of the Humboldt State University geology department on the recent South Asia earthquake and tsunami and its lessons for our locality (there are many),there have been several visitors from Indonesia.

The portal and political blog, American Dash, the one on which I post every day, is in the mid-range, with this one, Blue Voice, getting fewer hits. I haven't sent out my group emails in awhile, not wanting to contribute to in-box clutter, but I suspect there's a lot of people who haven't yet gotten in the habit of bookmarking and visiting sites regularly.

I will probably be making changes in response. For example, Kowincidence got some early hits, so I've added "Numbers" (which was here, and still is, down there before the Cat Blogging gets started.) It's clear that some hits are the result of searches for something else, and the visit is just long enough to demonstrate that this isn't what is being searched for. I suspect that's been the case especially for Shopopolis. But I can't account for many others. They're just the mystery of the Internet, and of people using it.

My book review blog, Books in Heat, is the first to be mentioned in a print newspaper and their website (at the end of my SF Chronicle book review) and also the first to be quoted. So far it is also in the mid-range of hits. The last two reviews I posted were of new books, and I emailed the publicity directors of the presses. The morning after the most recent, I noted hits from both the city where the publisher is, and the city where the author lives. Maybe that blog is my way of honoring the process of writing and publishing. Mostly of writing.

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