Tuesday, September 16, 2008

So much to read!

And I'm not just talking about in my tbr pile, people.

I blame BookNinja, who put up many links to end-of-publishing articles today. I just can't get to them all right now, but I want to make them available to anyone who passes through here so you can get started as well. I hope to throw up comments to these as soon as possible.

Ironically, I scanned this article by John Walsh from the UK Independent, and I appreciated what he was doing but feel he may be trying to be a bit extreme. At one point, he explains how Victorian literature is full of slow narratives, because readers slowly devoured books: "readers would settle in for long evenings letting Barchester Towers or Our Mutual Friend wash over them. This was the period when, say, William Gladstone could tell friends, with every expectation of empathy, that he had stayed up all night to read The Woman in White." While I appreciate that this isn't entirely normal, I do have friends who will stay up too late reading a novel, showing up at work the next day exhausted. And in fact, look how many children and adults spent whole weekends or evenings reading Harry Potter books. I see his point, I just don't like this dichotomy being too strict.

What I really like in this article is the second half, when different bookish folks are interviewed about our changing reading habits. Agent Clare Alexander makes a point I've seen firsthand: agents spend much of their time bickering with publishers over digital rights based on fears of what's to come. I also appreciate Richard Ovenden the librarian's point:
"Our reading rooms are still as busy as ever: the most high-quality digitisation does not replace the power of seeing the original artefact. However, people are now more aware of what we've got: a recent report identified a generation that felt that if something wasn't online it didn't exist. So if you digitise things, it does exist to that generation."

That puts things into perspective a bit. Jeremy Ettinghausen, publisher at Penguin, follows Ovenden and mentions "Spinebreakers," Penguin's website for teenagers. (The name makes me a tad uncomfortable, perhaps in its violence.) His piece makes clear the point that publishers, like many media companies, are trying to engage people online as a way to capture them as consumers. "In the past it's been hard to talk to teens – so we gave them a platform where they could talk to each other about books." This is where the internet has this creepy quality, kind of like a church that gives teenagers a place to hang out and then quietly proselytizes. It's too cold to play basketball so they go inside, but when they come out... they're Methodists!! WTF?!??!

I don't entirely buy Andrew Cowan's discussion of his MFA students: "Ahead of this interview, I talked to them about digitisation and not one of them had heard of Twitter, and they were all hostile to the idea of e-books." That's weird. His next point I believe - and appreciate: "They're not immersed in digital fiction, either – some have been published online, but feel it's second-best; they're concerned about the lack of editorial control on the Net and only pursue it because there is a dearth of [print] outlets for short stories."

So I guess I did cover that article, but I cannot get to this lengthy article from New York magazine by Boris Kachka, which opens with a visit to Bob Miller and his exciting new project, HarperStudio. I know I rail against corporate publishing much of the time here, but I'm really intrigued by this HarperStudio and will keep an eye on it. I appreciate the concept, and Miller is obviously an incredibly smart guy. On their blog, in this post, they jump off the New York article to get into publishing issues. The blog seems quite well done.

So I'll try to get my head around that long article and write on it soon.

Then there is this UK Telegraph article by Alex Clark, editor at Granta, about editors. I did read this because it's relatively short, so I can comment on it now. It's sweet. Clark writes about the value of editors, jumping off from the sad news of Robert Giroux's recent death. Summing up the editor's role, he says:
But there is something special about the peculiar skill of editing - which requires the patience to pore over a succession of drafts and redrafts until no further improvement seems possible, plus the tact integral to encouraging and containing writers (rumoured, occasionally, to be highly strung creatures) and, finally, the self-effacement to bring to fruition someone else's work without much public recognition.

Yeah, I'll admit it: I miss editing. I did well at this role, and wouldn't mind a chance to do it again in some capacity. For now, I'll keep trucking along with this blog to stay in the publishing loop.

Clark talks about the value of editors to writers, even as we usher in this digitial age - going back to the point Cowan makes about young writers still being skeptical of getting published online due to the lack of editorial control on online content. Writers who spend time on their craft, as compared to those who throw everything they write right up online and demand readers, will continue to appreciate the rigorous feedback they get from a good editor.

Thanks to BookNinja for these links!


Debbie Stier said...

Hi. I'm so glad you're checking out our blog. Would love to hear any of your (very honest) feedback about what we've got going on. As somone who's been in Corporate Publishing for 20 years....I have to say, HarperStudio is a lot of fun!

Andrew Cowan said...

Brian, it's true. The journalist at the (UK) Indepedent on Sunday kindly sent me an email setting out the kinds of questions she'd like to ask me. I took that email to a meeting with my MA creative writing group at UEA - 12 students, average age 24 - and they were genuinely, unanimously hostile to (and in some cases entirely ignorant of) digitalisation issues, e-book technology, online publishing, etc. They grew up on books; they want to be published in books. Possibly what makes them anomalous (if they actually are) is that they're on an elite course with a long history of producing the kinds of writers they read and identify with (eg McEwan, Ishiguro, Anne Enright) - if they were more interested in digital publishing etc maybe they'd have gone elsewhere. But principally, yes, you're right, while they're with us what they want, and what they get, is hands-on rigorous editing of words on pages. What they want afterwards is their name on the spine of a pile of paperbacks in a high-street bookshop. Digitalisation would be supplementary or secondary to that.