As many of you know, I have taken over the publicity duties on a certain book that all of you should own at least 14 copies of (Pooper needs shoes--and he is oh-so-very handsome) -- not because I necessarily wanted to, but because the publisher basically forced me (in that it did a whole lot of nothing, and congratulated itself for the things me and Lump did on our own).
I'm guessing this is a common occurrence for many of us (or soon will be). And what is completely astonishing is that every time I call up said publisher to light a fire under its butt it sighs sadly and says, "people just don't read anymore -- there's nothing we can do -- right now, all of our energies are being put into a Da Vinci Code colorforms collection and Bill O'Reilly Gets those Pesky Liberals -- Again!"
Which depresses me on several levels (even those that don't directly affect my pocketbook). Publishing seems incredibly ready to blame any and all of its problems on readers. This strikes me as clear snobbery -- "My God, the Proles don't know what's good for them, Muffy! Throw them another book by Paris Hilton's dog! And Scott Peterson's mailman!" -- and incredibly counterproductive. McDonalds doesn't bitch about people being more health conscious -- it just comes up with a new McSalad Shaker. And then grinds up a chicken and a cow and puts them in the dressing.
As a writer who cares a lot about writing (and who cares a lot about his students, who are often just looking for some guidance, and actually love books when you get them in their hands -- these very same students belonging to a community college Muffy would never willingly set foot in), this worries me. Those in publishing seem to want to return to some halcyon Eisenhower days where they didn't have to compete with Playstation, movies, and Internet porn. But they can't.
And, to sound like the conspiracy theorist, former X-Files junky that I am, the publisher in particular of which I speak is owned by a foreign corporation. I've started wondering if this corporation views the average American as a barely literate cave person whose deepest wish is to eat a cheeseburger while simultaneously taking a crap, watching American Idol, and dreaming of some nice brown nation to bomb the living shit out of. And, considering the last election at least, we haven't done a whole hell of a lot to prove it wrong.
So, What Would El Gordo Do (fashion-colored bracelets available for three easy payments of $5.95 -- absolutely no money will be given to any downtrodden, sick, or poor person, you can count on that!)? Well, how come America doesn't have paperback first editions? I don't have any money, but I love books. My students always go bananas when I put a book on a list that is only in hardcover, and when they have a choice, they go for the paper. If you could get three books for $30, wouldn't you buy and read all three? And then buy even more? As it stands now, a single book will set you back $30, and you can get two CDS, or a discounted Playstation game and four cookies from the cookie place in the mall for that same price. And since a book costs $30, I don't (and can't afford to) take chances on a writer I've never heard of (and I think most people would agree with me).
But publishing won't change their prices or way of publishing books, so they've tried to up the crap calories of what they do publish to tempt our tastebuds. For example, a major publisher's new "tent pole" book for the new season is a book on how to give blowjobs. And another publisher is handing out copies of Paris Hilton's memoir as if it is proud of publishing it. That's pretty freaking pathetic.
So, what do y'all think? Got any ideas? If others are reading this, and we are some sort of Algonquin roundtable of emerging writers (or at least a pack of fairly erudite drunks with computer access), maybe we could actually help change things.