Death of a Bookman – a series of essays/rants/exposes from a writer/translator/publisher who wants to burn bridges, dig up corpses and dissect done deals, all in the name of books for the 21st century.
LinkedIn recently flagged up that I have been in the publishing game for four years. Thanks, LinkedIn, you virtual chat room full of virtual business folk literally foisting their virtual business cards upon each other, so what? Is four years a long time or a flash in the pan? How long do most publishers survive? Why and/or why not? Being a thinking man in a thinking man’s game, I have been getting more and more emotional in nearing answers to the question – what the hell have I been doing with my life for the past four years?
A year ago, Martin Rawson, the legendary political cartoonist, opening the Inpress Independent Publishers conference, addressed the gathered throng as “the worst business people in the world” (or words to that effect). What did he mean? Rawson has had his work published in over 20 books, with presses big and small, and in his wonderfully humble and pithy way, he slagged us all off as one. Lack of dialogue, forward thinking, respect for the art, respect for the artist, but most of all – these words keep ringing in my ears – respect for the reader – is what typified the publishing game for him.
Rawson said we suck because unlike all other business sectors which, in order to make money giving the customer what they want, ask the customer what they want, the book trade don’t do any of that. In fact, we do the very opposite. A cliquey cartel made up of academics, editors and critical gatekeepers, instead of listening we insist on telling the book-buying public what they should be reading. We keep on ignoring why, how and what it is they actually like to read, refusing to open up about the true sums, processes and patterns within the trade, creeping towards an impending death caused by the triple-whammy demise of paper, bookshops and reading abilities.
Well, I for one do not intend to go gently into no good nights.
I grew up loving books, and now I am grown up, books are telling me that we have betrayed them. Books are not toys, but portals away from the age of toys, the most miraculous objects our civilisation has thus far managed to produce, and yet we treat them with a lack of passion, imagination and respect they so desperately deserve. Not kids who don’t read, not teachers who don’t teach kids to read, not parents who don’t buy any of them books – we, the book people.
Hence, to light a fire under this game of paper thrones, I plan to turn this column into a weekly dissection of all that I have learnt in the last few years of designing books, binding them, editing, selling, networking, bitching, howling, laughing about them and now, hopefully, evolving into a place where I can start again and do good work instead of wasting giant amounts of time, talent and bookbinding tape.
Everything you will read here will just be an opinion. Nothing more. OFF_PRESS is totally non-profit, totally independent and totally free to speak its mind. I want to lift the lid on how funding works, distribution doesn’t, how deals are made, how reviews are written and, worst of all, how we came to believe and accept the book is as good as dead. I want to evolve, else I too will go down with the howling beasts and, friends and book lovers, the dozen or so titles I have selected, translated, edited and bound with my very own pinkies in these past few years are way prettier than my bare bones – I’d rather the former be picked over by future archeologists and displayed in museums.
Bones are just calcium. Books are so much more than paper. Let’s see if we can’t give them a breath of phoenix air.
Marek Kazmierski, founder editor