Thursday, March 10, 2011

what you should know

I'm sitting here in my apartment in Manhattan and it's pouring down rain outside. I like to write at night, and it's 12:47 am at this moment. I decided to start a blog to tell people what it was like to publish 100 books. I plan to finish the 100th book tomorrow--at least the first draft--and it's kind of a celebration for me. Not just because it's my 100th, but because I wrote it without any intention of trying to get some ink-and-paper publisher to accept it.
Mind you, I did get something like 99 books published in that format, and all of them had publishers that paid me for the privilege. Knopf, Putnam, Little Brown, Philomel, Macmillan, Silver Burdett, and a whole bunch of other publishers that are not so well known. But I no longer have to depend on ink-and-paper publishers to get my work out to readers. And neither do you.
Starting with this post, I'm going to tell you what the ink-and-paper publishing industry is really like, and why you shouldn't bother with it--at least if you're a writer who wants to get his/her book published. I'm not going to charge you for reading any of this, and I have nothing to sell--except, naturally, that 100th book, which you can't even read or buy just yet.
I came to New York as a young man. I wanted to write for a living, but since I hadn't actually written anything yet (at least not a novel), I decided to support myself by finding a job as an editor. I was an English major, editor of my college paper, had in fact earned money by proofreading at my father's printing business. So I felt I was qualified to be an editor.
I found a job at an educational publisher called Globe Book Company. An educational publisher publishes books that are primarily intended for schools. Textbooks, of course, and supplementary books for classrooms and school libraries. The company was owned and operated by two men, brothers, whose father had started the company decades earlier. The father had based the business on one simple principle: If he published books that were written by administrators in the New York City public school system, those same administrators would adopt those books for the New York City school system, which would mean that every student would need them. And presto! the Globe Book Company would make money.
One problem was that the administrators of the New York City public school system didn't really have the time to write books--and maybe they weren't capable of writing books, even if they had the time. So that meant the Globe Book Company would have to hire "editors" like me, whose job was to write the books that would be published under the administrators' names. The administrators would be paid royalties, the company would make money, and we editors were paid, as I recall, something like $11,000 a year. In those days you could live on that--barely. Of course it was very little compared to what the owners of the company and the New York City school administrators were getting paid for the work we did. That is the real secret of publishing, and one you should never forget: the writer, the one who does the work, is the one who gets paid least--at least, in ink-and-paper publishing.
Next time I write, I'll tell you about Bernie, the editor-in-chief of the Globe Book Company. He was one of the two brothers who now owned the company. And, quite honestly, he was the dumbest person I had ever met up to that time. (Of course, since I was in publishing, I would meet many others like him.)
Don't worry. This blog won't all be about educational publishers. We'll get to trade publishers, the "real" publishers, soon enough. Stay with me!

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