Category Archives: Publishing

A few marginal comments on a sanity check for publishers

Joel J. Miller: Author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere-Sanity Check for Publishers.

A few thoughts come to me, perhaps all of which are redundant with what Joel is saying. Consider this public print processing (and then say that three times fast).

  • The advice to provide content reminds me of the urge to increase interest in church by providing entertainment. The Church is never going to be more entertaining than my Nintendo Wii (except when it has bricked as it has this week, but you see my point).  You can try to get people intrigued or interested, but they have to want something that church actually provides as church.  Anything that gets in the way of the church doing what it does as church isn’t helping church survive or grow; it is morphing it into something else that people  (allegedly at least) want.
  • Books compete against many things.  They compete against movie tickets, dvds, coffee, and beer.  Proposing that publishers also distribute for microbreweries is not helpful advice for publishers.  Stock holders diversify.  People with a vocation do what they think they are called to do.  If they need to switch to another line of work because of market realities, then they need to admit that they can no longer work in the publishing industry.
  • Publishers cannot do much to control how much of the population is literate.  There is no point in agonizing.  Either there are enough readers to support a healthy publishing industry or there are not.  If people prefer gadgets to reading, so be it.  Don’t confuse a decision to get out of publishing and sell programs with gadgets with innovation in publishing.
  • People who bring a new product to market are sometimes amazing entrepreneurs.  We hear about those people.  We don’t hear about the many more whose innovation was a failure in the marketplace.  It may be true that someone is going to come up with an audio-visual content on a device that will attract readers from books in great numbers.  But that person is taking an immense risk.  Personally, I would stick with books.  Maybe I’m just not courageous enough.  Whatever the case, taking a fantastic risk in the marketplace should not be mistaken for the claim that there is a great wave of change sweeping through the industry that demands that everyone adapt to, or die.
  • I seem to remember a decade or two ago that cd-roms were going to be the most amazing thing ever in educational content.  Did it happen?  There are a few products that people buy, but it hardly transformed the world.  I can’t help but wonder if the recent things that Joel heard are simply another version of the cd-rom hype–this time applied to small computing devices, perhaps.
  • And to repeat a point I’ve made before, there is no comparison between music and books not only for the reason Joel mentions, but because music has always required a player. Unlike recorded music, books have been around before the twentieth century.  It is not as obvious that they will be surpassed.
  • Personally, I think book publishing took its big hits with the invention of the radio, motion picture, and television.  I don’t think the recent stuff is that big a deal.  We’re past the real hurdles already.

Today’s scribblings

Thanks to meeting my goal regarding wake-up time, I now feel cranky and uncreative. Getting started on my Ephesians commentary today seems impossible.

I walked so so slow for thirty minutes that I am embarrassed to even mention I did it at all. But I’m going to stick with my assumption that if I nail down the practice as something I do every day I can improve on it later.

It occurs to me I could take some of my stuff on Ephesians and try to get it publshed through a reputable (make that paying) publication of some sort. But I think I would have to edit and rearrange and reread so much that I wouldn’t really save any time. I wouldn’t really be “re-using” the same material. I would be better off to come up with something new.

Earlier this year I bought the Writer’s Market and I have not yet used it. It is much more profitable to find people who will contract you to write rather than produce a work to submit in the hopes of making a few cents a word. All my best work has been done when someone asked for something specific. I have new writing ideas all the time, but I’m too risk-adverse to invest in them on the basis of a mere hope they will be published (and paid for).

My Dad was able to write a hefty novel in his spare time simply because he liked the characters. I have some idea how he did it–I can relate to the joy of creation–but at this stage in my life that kind of accomplishment is simply out of my reach.

Obviously, I’m too tired right now to do a proper blog entry. I started one, but it will have to be finished some other time.

The hastening death of the theological journal

On my blog that I refuse to name or link from here any more, I mentioned something I think I can helpfully point out here.

Jandy has a really helpful review of blogging and 18th-century periodicals. What I want to point out is that the technology and the aura of institutional authority go hand in hand. I’m not going to reduce authority to technological monopoly, but I am saying that the technology helps a great deal.

When those 18th-century journals started, they were an amazing revolution in communication and shook up the status quo with the beginning of a new world. But that new world was still one that encouraged centers of authority. Publishing and circulating journals required money and tools. It also required some inherent prestige because no one was going to pay for a subscription to the What-I’m-Thinking-About-During-Breakfast-on-Tuesday Review written and edited by Joe Blow.

In other words, it was still very much a part and reinforcer of modernity. There was the high-culture of literary magazines and then there was the other stuff, bar songs, weirdo opinions that never got published, etc.

When Charles Hodge attacked John Williamson Nevin in the Princeton Review, it took Nevin two years to get together a forum for responding. He wrote an amazing response. I wonder how many who read Hodge in the Princeton Review ever learned of Nevin’s reply.

Can you imagine what would have happened to Hodge today at the hands of Nevin’s Mac and a blogger account? Internet, google, blogs; they spell the end.

We still see people trying to sneer at the blogosphere and favor some sort of academic pedigree. Peer review and all that. But these same persons find themselves forced to blog and go to comments just to keep up. They can’t just tell people to stop listening to any voice but their own monthly output. If they want to be heard, they have to blog. And so they do. And any pretensions of peer review are clearly unfounded.

There is no peer review beyond people telling you what they think of what your wrote. There is no more high culture of the theological academy. It is over. It is done.

We still see some attempts to do “web magazines.” Why? Imitating what was required for the medium of the era of print simply is not a good use of the web.

So all we have is the ghost of modernity where there was an authoritative culture that could decide whether or not to allow you to reply in their pages to someone who attacked you, and tell you who would have the final reply, and dictate to you what your word count must be. The afterimage burned momentarily on our retinas but fading.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Would Nevin’s reply have been as amazing if he had been able to respond immediately? The sheer pace expected by the medium is probably conducive to carelessness and second-rate work.

Remember this radio interview with Guy Waters? FM radio shows are still great for local outreach, especially drivers. But if anyone is interested and does some google research, suddenly we have a two-part “radio” interview responding to it. No advertisers. No FCC license. Just some guys wanting to get the truth out with some affordable equipment and a lot of hard work. The mystique of “having a radio show” is still around, but not forever.

I’m hoping there will always be some place for theological journals, but if so, the only ones that survive will be the ones that show they are careful about the truth and will give time to those whom they criticize. Only theological journals that could prosper as blogs will make it.

Economic reality for authors

Chris, found this (I guess he checked his feed reader before I did) and it is quite educational.

1999: About $400, from Agent readers
2000: About $1000, from Agent readers
2001: About $1100, from Agent readers and a short story sale at Strange Horizons
2002: About $1000, from Agent readers
2003: About $6000, from Agent readers and from first part of advance for Old Man’s War
2004: About $5000, from Agent readers and from first part of advance for The Android’s Dream
2005: About $15,000, from second part of OMW advance, first part of The Ghost Brigades advance, advance for Agent to the Stars hardcover, and short story sale to Subterranean Press.
2006: About $67,000.

I had already begun to figure out something like this was true because a friend who introduced me to John C. Wright as fantasy writer (I already knew him for space opera), was excited to discover they both work for the same software company.

So remember to keep your day job!


Peter Leithart responds

On Vulgar Language

No pastor has ever been accused of hording smut because he owned a dictionary. Peter’s blog entries do not remotely justify the accusations made against him.

But there is no reason for me to belabor the point since every mature reader or every reader who is not desperately looking for a stone to throw has any doubt about this.

Peter, for the record, is one of the gentlest people I know, and his children are exemplary. The implications being made about his piety and his children on the basis of less than 1/500th of his blog are inexcusable. Any one who knows him knows his speech is God-honoring. For example, I’ve never known him to go all psychotic about people he disagrees with and make up asinine excuses to slur their character. And, on a much less important issue, I’ve never heard him swear in anger (or at any other time).

Peter is an amazing author, writing in a host of different genres from children’s stories, literary guides, theological works, and Biblical surveys and commentaries. He is a national treasure and his presence enriches the Protestant and especially (though not exclusively) the presbyterian world. My wife and I used to actually contract with him for freelance work for Coral Ridge Ministries when we worked there as editorial associates. We can attest he is also very much a professional.