The Wall: about the Publishing Industry (and Pink Floyd)
It would be a salutary, uplifting experience to revisit Pink Floyd’s The Wall, precursor to music videos, and a piercing invite to a call to revolution which fell flat, not to say flaccid. Similar to Supertramp’s “Logical” and another called, Rise Up, none of these seemed to catalyze a generation which ended up living with indulgent parents until into their 30′s or later and harbouring a sense of entitlement close to Roman centurions and other historical middle managers (the level which gets purged first in any company lay-off). The only other global advert I can think of that came close was the 80′s Apple commercial featuring an Orwellian outspeak against the Microsoft/IBM techno-conformism. Here’s the thing: I don’t regret self-publishing. I had a deadline in mind, wanting the book out at the same time as Disney’s Secretariat and to coincide with what I thought was the imminent release of Saving the Nation’s Horses by Humanion et al (see links). That didn’t happen because, as professional as Xlibris my publisher was, they don’t have an editor on payroll half as good as those first-year Carleton business students I used to teach way back in the mid-80′s. Oh well. If you think “sincerly” and “your’s truly” are spelled so, you really need to buy “Fun with Phonics”. As I well know from experience, that’s why high-placed execs have exceptionally literate but underpaid secretaries: word-check on your computer just doesn’t cut it. (And I know about this from direct experience too).
What’s been really interesting to me is that francophones have been more helpful in locally marketing the book than anglophones (Curves and Argo excepted; more on that later). Some have been bilingual but many not, yet wherever I have tried to place or consign the book, francophones have been more welcoming, more easygoing, more “yeah, cool…it’s about Quebec; I’ll display it for you.” Since they couldn’t read the book, they just took my word about what the book is about, but it seems all they needed to know is that it’s about Quebec. Anglophone groups, like West Island libraries and bookstores, have behaved–not badly–but officiously. In other words, their attitude is either a) go through the proper channels; or b) can’t display or sell the book because you don’t live in our municipality/township/area. Well…to be expected by bureaucrats who are viagraless versions of truly powerful bureaucrats, I suppose. (And let’s face it: there are bigger and smaller miles gloriosus out there, the latin referring to self-glorifying soldiers.)
The two traditional but small publishers I applied to before deciding to go with Xlibris in Indiana represented two ends of the spectrum (…I guess: the industry has changed so much, I’m not sure the following is valid). Vehicule Press liked the book but decided it wasn’t worth the risk…maybe they were scared of “the political overtones” as they called them, or of animals talking. Hard to say. Most of the readers who have reported back to me say they like that the animals express themselves and have opinions. About a third report loving Zia; another third love Toby the Blue Jay (and after all, he is the true hero of the piece, a feathered Mighty Mouse, so to speak). I didn’t bother sending to the big publishers: they don’t accept “unsolicited” manuscripts and anyway, you need a literary agent for that and they cost money with no guarantee that your book will reach the right ear. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as an unsolicited manuscript ( how do you think one-time or new authors’ works ever saw the light of day?). And they did have “slush piles” which junior editors could plough through, and thereby often discovered diamonds in the rough which went on to become bestsellers. Maybe next time I’ll skip over all the marketing I’ve had to do single-handedly on Ground Manners, and just wait a few years for another sleepy, pandered-to publisher to notice my work and publish it (they are just too damn slow and too damn scared–the physical book industry is dying and they know it). The book publishing industry is a wall, and like the song says, my book would have faced many “bricks in the wall” before being published. Hey, I was in a hurry! It’s doing well on the online booksellers, like Amazon, and locally, so that’s enough for now. Just as an addendum: look at how Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen got published. The big publishers wouldn’t touch the book because they couldn’t classify it within traditional genres (is it history? fantasy?–makes me think of an episode on Third Rock from the Sun when the aliens first encounter shivering Jell-O: ’what do you think it wants?’). I mean, really. Would we ever have read The Well of Loneliness, Animal Farm or so many other great works if the publishers were such officious scaredy-cats? Water for Elephants is Sara’s third or fourth book, and I say, ‘you go, girl…I’ll catch up with you later.’
Translating the thing is another issue. If I were given a penny for every time someone asked/entreated me to have the book translated, I would be rich right now. That is coming…we shall see, said the ancient soothsayer, what we shall see.