RARA-AVIS: Re: NYC Publishing & Noir

From: davezeltserman (Dave.Zeltserman@gmail.com)
Date: 12 Mar 2010

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    Sandra, I wish I could remember where I read this. I think it was on Salon as part of the aftermath of the James Patterson NY Times article from a few weeks back, but I'm not positive. Anyway, it was a fascinating article about both the changes to the publishing world due to publishers being swallowed up by the large conglomerations, and more, how dependent these publishers got with the large retailers, and how it created more of a blockbuster mentality with these publishers as they chased after limited floor space with these retailers as they needed them to create these blockbusters. From this article and others I read it was pretty clear the publishing business changed dramatically at its core. A lot of this stuff is anecdotal but you can see many of the biggest sellers today were given time to develop--James Ellroy, for example, didn't start selling big until I think his 7th book, and it also took Michael Connelly a number of books before he caught on (I heard him recently say that it wasn't until the movie Blood Works came out that he could quit his day job). I know too many very good writers now who are being dropped after their 1st book because these books didn't meet expectations which they had no chance of meeting since they weren't being given the marketing push necessary to meet these expectations. So yes, this is anecdotal about writers being carried more in the past and given more time to find a readership than writers today, but it sure seems that way from what I've heard and what I'm now seeing.

    About your contention about John McFetridge probably being better served if he had gone with a good independent (like Tyrus/Bleak House) instead of one of large NY houses, I agree with you that this is probably true for most new writers. Many of the good independent houses act the way the larger NY houses use to act--giving writers a chance to keep publishing and developing a readership. Now it almost seems as if NY has this insatiable demand for debut writers, but they spit them out after one book if they don't miraculously break out and meet unrealistic expectations, and the damage being done to these writers is significant.

    A lot of my posts here on this subject is really me trying to come to grips and better understand how these NY houses and today's publishing works (even if it may not sound that way). The reality is I consider myself incredibly lucky that I ended up with Serpent's Tail instead of one of the corporate NY houses. With the type of stuff I write, if I ended up in NY instead, my writing career probably would've been over after 1 book (although maybe that would've been a blessing!), but being with Serpent's Tail and Overlook Press, I have a chance to hang around for a while and at least have a shot at developing a readership.


    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, Sandra Ruttan <sandraruttan@...> wrote:
    > That's twisting it more than a bit, Dave. I said at its core, it's no
    > different. The root intent of a business is to make money. Businesses
    > follow trends. They follow the market. At a fundamental level, that has to
    > be true of any business, or you stop being in business. It would be much
    > easier to make a list of the businesses that haven't changed in the past 50
    > years, if you can think of any, if you want to look at simple execution.
    > Much shorter. But the fundamentals are what they've always been.
    > Publishers are trying to make money. They aren't going to publish stuff,
    > no matter how many people think it's amazing technically, if they don't
    > think they can sell it.
    > You can't say someone's publishing more or less of anything, unless you do a
    > complete inventory of everything published in the given years, categorize
    > things by strict definitions - if you want to retreat behind a true noir
    > definition instead of dark then you have to stick to it when you make your
    > own arguments - and then compare percentages. Maybe we can go back X years
    > and list a solid handful of classics, amazing books that have endured
    > somehow and we think there was a boom for noir fiction, but what if those
    > books amounted to only .01% of the total books published in the given year?
    > My problem with these discussions is that it's easy for all of us to make
    > generalizations, but if you want me to believe there's been some massive
    > shift in NYC with regards to noir, then I want numbers. And I don't mean,
    > "Jim Thompson sold 750,000 copies of some book in 1951 and Author X only
    > sold 9000 copies of some book they wrote in 2009." I mean prove that in
    > 1950 3% of what NYC publishers published could be classified as noir under
    > your definition, and that today only 1% fits that definition. That's
    > proving a shift. Truth is, a lot of these old, classic writers that get
    > talked about here all the time had a huge resurgence because of works being
    > reissued.
    > We also don't even begin to talk about how readily available books were 50
    > years ago, how you could buy these cheap paperbacks for nickels. They were
    > like magazines. Those authors weren't getting the payouts that the
    > successful authors are getting now.
    > As for talking dark... yeah, it's a whole other discussion, isn't it? But
    > I'm okay standing by my opinion that at the core, not much is different from
    > one business to another. It's how people do business that changes.
    > Publishers are interested in producing books they can sell. Period.
    > They'll fall in love with whatever genre or subgenre is popular at the
    > moment in order to do that - hence all the DaVinci Code knock-offs and Harry
    > Potter spin-offs and current vampire love we see. It is the independents
    > that seem to commit themselves to the product first, and bring a quality to
    > what they do that's worthy of note. I absolutely think John McFetridge
    > would be better served by Tyrus than a big NYC publisher. It was different
    > before his editor left, but without the editor to argue for the art, there
    > doesn't seem to be anyone left in the equation that knows how to sell it.
    > St. Martin's has been abysmal in how they've managed promoting Dennis
    > Tafoya.
    > On a really simplistic level, it's like the difference between big budget
    > films and independent films. You don't go to the indie films for their
    > special effects, but what they know how to do, some of them do extremely
    > well, much better than the big guys ever could.
    > Just my 2 cents,
    > Sandra
    > On Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 3:10 PM, davezeltserman
    > <Dave.Zeltserman@...>wrote:
    > >
    > >
    > > About your observations that publishing is no different than it was 50
    > > years ago, well that's clearly not true. 50 years ago you had large
    > > publishing houses, now these same houses are part of gigantic
    > > conglomerations, with headquarters for at least one of them housed in
    > > Europe. And then you have the large retailers like Walmart, Costco, Target
    > > and the changes they've brought. And now the changes ebooks are bringing.
    > > IT's definitely a different world for them and the dynamics have changed
    > > dramatically. What would be interesting, and I'd love for many reasons to
    > > see a study on this, is how have readers' taste changed over the last 50
    > > years? Are we all anomalies here on rara avis still digging noir crime
    > > fiction, while the rest of the world has moved on??
    > >
    > --
    > LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS Dec 09 Dorchester
    > http://www.sandraruttan.com/
    > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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