On the Business of Publication
Years ago, when I was merely nineteen and earning a make-shift living by washing dishes at a Smitty’s Pancake House in Pullman, Washington, I once told one of the rather motherly older waitresses that I had a dream of becoming a publisher, of having my own publishing company wherein I would make those lordly editorial decisions concerning the fate of some new and unknown writer from time to time. She was bemused by my ambition, and smiled in a way that seemed both warm and comforting toward the impossibility of such a lofty aim. I then also told her in a somewhat self-deprecating way that I also hoped to become a film director—but even I knew such a dream as that was utterly ludicrous. And she laughed at this, and then we both went back to work.
Ever since that time I worked with intermittent schedule and dead earnestness to become an author; and indeed, I have managed to pen six books, two collections of short stories and four novels—and none of these have ever been published in solid book form, the precise form most sought after by a writer. Nor has any of my work ever appeared in a magazine or even an obscure literarly journal.
Literary agents, whom I regard as failed authors who then chose to occupy the role of middle-men and middle-women in the publishing industry, have been required for some time now by the main publishing houses. Long gone are the days when a fellow could send a carbon-copy of his novel, tapped out over a year on a Remmington or a Smith-Corona, directly to a publishing house and even hope to have it glanced at before the messy type-script was tossed onto the every-growing slush pile.
But now publishing houses are feeling a sense of financial trepidation—not merely because the theoretical wealth of America was suddenly and mercilessly halved right in the very middle of this recent holiday season. No, that is not the only reason for their malaise. They are all now contending with books and essays (such as this one) in electronic form displayed on one web-site or another. The very notion of paying money in order to read (which once had been circumvented by the inception of the lending-library) is now once again under attack from The Internet, and a far more serious attack it truly is.
An author in my situation, that is to say, an author who has never, ever, been published, and in all likelihood never will be in the traditional manner, may find himself or herself in the position where one might just be inclined to forego any kind of remuneration at all for those long months and years spent at a table or desk. Yes, forego any payment whatsoever, obtain a copyright by paying a nominal fee of say fifty dollars or so for this so-called protection, and then merely display one’s work at Open Salon, for example. Obviously, this is precisely what I have begun to do.