Paywall

They were my former employer, for goodness sake!  Here’s how it happened.  It begins with research.  Nobody is born knowing all they need to learn.  Research teaches you to question what you read and check sources.  That’s how bibliographies are built.  So I came across a reference to an article I needed to read.  The problem was it was behind a Taylor & Francis paywall.  (Taylor & Francis own Routledge.)  The cost to read one article in an academic journal?  $45.  That’s usually my upper limit for buying an entire book.  Working in publishing I know the reason for this.  They want you to go to your library (I don’t have one) and ask them to subscribe.  If you need access, probably somebody else will too.  This particular author isn’t on Academia.edu.  Should I risk Sci Hub? I mean the article is right there, but I’m not allowed to see it!

I did find that you can ask the author for a copy on Research Gate.  First you have to join Research Gate.  They want your institutional email.  My email doesn’t have a .edu extension.  I therefore had to go through a lengthy process of verifying that I am a researcher.  I had to claim papers I’ve authored.  I had to explain why I don’t have an affiliation.  I had to have them email me, twice.  Each time I had to provide further information.  I swear, it’s like getting a Real ID all over again.  All this so that I can ask an author for a paper that’s only available for $45 on the publisher’s website.  Every time I start a new research project I ask myself why I keep at it.  I guess I want to be part of the conversation.

The open access movement is gaining steam.  The idea is that research should be free.  Very few object to paying nominal fees for access, but often prices are extortionate.  Publishers are caught in this web because overheads are so high—they have to pay employees—and the cost of materials isn’t cheap.  Traditionally this has been overcome by passing some of the expense on to customers.  That’s why academic books are so pricy.  With journals, such as the one I need, the scenario’s a little different.  Journals are purchased by libraries via subscription.  “They wouldn’t subscribe to them,” so the argument goes, “if researchers could get the contents for free.”  Still, putting in place a free article or two before dropping the price bomb would seem to be in the best interest of actually moving knowledge forward.  Hey, T&F, don’t you remember me?


Eve’s True Desire

Psst—don’t tell anyone!  There is a free copy of my first book available on Academia.edu.  I thought I was kind of radical for doing that, but people who write books want people to read them.  Having a book priced $70 or more, heck, even $30 or more, means only diehards will buy it.  Nightmares with the Bible promptly sank at $100 cover price, released during a pandemic.  I’ve always admired scholars who’ve bucked conventions to make their work available.  Recently I needed to consult a book.  I won’t say what it is because I fear a take-down order will be issued where I found it.  The author, aware the book was hard to access, actually photocopied the entire book and put it on a website.  I stand up and cheer!  Photocopying an entire book is a lot of work, a labor of pure love.

Now, I’m all for authors getting royalties.  It takes a lot of time and energy to write a book.  It can cost years of your life.  You ought to get something back for it.  It seems to me, however, that a different model is required for academic books.  Why are they so expensive?  Not only that, but smaller publishers without the distribution channels often publish worthwhile books, but in small quantities and they go out of print after the initial run is sold.  The academic enterprise (knowledge for knowledge’s sake) has become a captive of capitalism.  There’s no other way to trade in that market.  Books that have willing, even eager, readers are sequestered in libraries only accessible to employees.  Is there anything wrong with that picture?

Academics at less wealthy institutions often find ways around the rules.  I did my research for Weathering the Psalms at a small seminary that had trouble getting unusual items on interlibrary loan.  Bigger schools were distrustful of this tiny enclave called Nashotah House.  Would they ever get their rare property back?  Meanwhile worldwide mail service crisscrossed with offprints sent for free from scholar to scholar.  It was like your birthday, or Christmas, when a long-awaited piece of research landed in your mailbox.  Nobody was in it for the money.  We were beguiled by learning.  Eve looking wistfully up into the tree.  Now it’s all business suits with dollar signs for eyes.  The academic who puts their book up for free on the internet is nothing less than a saint.  Seeking knowledge is never really a sin.

Tasty fruit of knowledge

Strange Happenings

It all began with a lazy Saturday, back in those days of trying to make a living as an adjunct professor.  People often ask why such folks don’t do more publishing, but the fact is that as an adjunct most of your time outside class prep and teaching is spent looking for a full-time job.  On a weekend, after all the job postings had been examined, I’d sometimes head to the local FYE and look through the bargain bins.  I’d taken to watching horror as an inexpensive kind of therapy years before.  I came home with a two-fer A Haunting in Connecticut and A Haunting in Georgia.  I hadn’t heard of either one, but hey, this was bargain bin entertainment.  It turned out they were television movie documentaries and they were scary, but not what I was looking for.  I resisted watching the theatrical movies when they came out.

Eventually curiosity got the better of me, and I watched The Haunting in Connecticut and its sequel long after their release.  The strangely named The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia dramatized the story of Heidi Wyrick almost beyond recognition.  Since the documentary had been based on a true story I wondered what had happened.  This wasn’t an Ed and Lorraine Warren case, so I turned to The Veil: Heidi Wyrick’s Story, written by two of Wyrick’s aunts.  Much of the book follows the documentary, only, strangely, with less detail about some of the hauntings.  It’s a quick read, and it’s fairly well paced.  It is, however, self-published.

A real dilemma, I imagine, for anyone wanting to publish their paranormal activities (unless they’re already influentially famous), is how to find a publisher.  From my own experience (and I work in the biz), finding a publisher isn’t getting any easier.  Self, or vanity publishing offers a physical book, but the usual gateways to believability (editors, editorial boards, etc.) are missing.  Established presses have reputation to worry about, and why take a chance when you can afford the luxury of buying projects that come to the top of an agent’s pile?  I enjoyed The Veil—I appreciate the effort of those who have a heartfelt story to tell.  But I couldn’t help thinking how much better it could’ve been with an editor’s guidance.  Those of us who write are often too close to our own work to see the problems—this is the real danger in self-publishing.  Hiring an editor is expensive and you need to have the income to do so, often creating a cycle of unaffordability.  I’m curious as to what really happened in Georgia, and I’m still curious after both the book and movie.


Clash of the Titles

Well, it seems I may be stuck in publishing for a while.  At least it’s a place to learn.  The inside story, it turns out, would be very helpful for authors to know.  Let’s take titles for example.  An editor sees a basic misunderstanding on the part of many academic authors.  Hey, I’ve even done it myself.  To correct this misunderstanding it’s important to see that academic publishers see different basic kinds of books.  One of them is the academic monograph.  No matter what the author thinks (I know the feeling of working on a book for years and supposing everyone else will be interested in the topic) academic books are of limited appeal.  Their main buyers are academic libraries and academic librarians want to know at a glance what the book is about.  The title has to say this, even before reaching the subtitle.

We’re all used to the idea of seeing books with clever titles in the bookstore.  (Remember bookstores?)  These are trade books.  Some of them are from academic presses, but these are books that have often been worked over by editors and marketers and publicists to make them more appealing.  The title can be clever, with an explanatory subtitle, because the target buyer is a bookstore rather than a library.  It’s difficult for an author to admit that this tome that has consumed your waking life for years, and maybe even decades, is primarily something a couple hundred libraries only will buy.  And family and friends who feel they need to support your efforts.  It’s a hard reality to face, but it often comes down to title.

What are you going to call your book?  My own most recent effort, Nightmares with the Bible, was written for a trade readership.  The publisher, however, had the library market in mind.  For success in the library market, the title works against the book.  No matter how accessibly your book is written, no mere mortal will pay $100 for it.  (Some of us will feel compelled to dish out that kind of cash for a title we really must read, but we are the exception rather than the rule.)  I like my title, but it was a mistake.  It should’ve probably gone by its subtitle, slightly modified, The Bible and Cinematic Demons.  In my mind as I wrote it, I had an educated but popular readership.  The publisher had different ideas, unclear to me when the book was put under contract.  Now it’s time to give this post a popular title so that it will be read. And hopefully taken to heart.


Discount Nightmares

Now that we’re past the equinox it’s officially okay to obsess with monsters, right?  (Any excuse will do.)  Nightmares with the Bible was officially a pandemic book.  Academic publishers (especially) found out that books released in 2020 tended to flop.  People weren’t thinking about much other than the pandemic (or crying about losing an election fair and square).  Books, of course, take a long time to write and a long time to produce—it’s not as simple as it looks.  And if your production schedule falls during a pandemic, well, be prepared.  In the case of Nightmares there was the added burden of price point.  When all you’re thinking about is survival, cashing out a Franklin to read about demons seems hardly wise.

Just yesterday I received a flyer, that I’m passing along to you, for the book.  It has a discount code on it (look at part 2 below) so that the book is merely expensive rather than very expensive. Nightmares is part of a series titled Horror and Scripture.  The series, published by Fortress Academic and Lexington Books, is now coming out with its third volume.  The publisher, starting to recover from the pandemic, is promoting all the books in the series.  You see, Nightmares was not only a pandemic book, it also missed that highly sought-after pre-Halloween release.  Books that deal with horror get a boost during the holiday season.  Ironically the same thing happened with Holy Horror.  Both books came out in December when nobody but Charles Dickens is thinking about scary things.

Academic book pricing is based on a model that’s beginning to crumble.  It’s that capitalistic trope of what the market will bear.  The market is academic libraries, and it has been demonstrating lately that even they aren’t made of money.  I don’t know if libraries get to use discount codes or not—it can’t hurt to ask your librarian.  Fully employed academics, however, will sometimes pay a hefty price for a book they really want or need.  My shelves upstairs are filled with books that were overpriced but were required for the books and articles I wrote when it was an expectation of my job.  My next book, which is now in the negotiation stage with the publisher, will be more reasonably priced.  It will likely have a smaller appeal, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  I sincerely hope I’m through writing hundred-dollar books.  Please pass the flyer along to all your rich friends—it’s just in time for the haunting month of October.


Moral Compass

Where have all the morals gone?  Well, not exactly song-worthy, but it is a question I think about a lot.  You see, I work in publishing.  Publishing, above all, is a business.  People make their livelihood at it, and so they have to find a market that pays.  Money and morals don’t mix well.  A recent New York Times story pointed out that the political polarization that’s tearing America apart is reflected in bestsellers.  Political nonfiction bestsellers have topped the charts since Trump was unfortunately elected.  Books both pro and con have flooded the market.  What’s this got to do with morals?  Well, I believe publishing should be in the business of educating.  If you’re going to publish nonfiction, it should be material that doesn’t cause more problems than it helps solve.

When I look at a book, after checking the title and author, I next look at the publisher.  Some publishers are conservative, and that’s fine.  That’s what they do.  Most, however, consist of highly educated professionals who realize the severe, and continuing damage that Trump caused.  These publishers, however, will produce pro-Trump books if the numbers look good.  There’s gold in them thar hills!  I often have these scruples working for an academic press.  Some ideas are clearly distorted.  I’m no elitist—I’m still pretty much working-class all the way down to the bones—but education reveals when something very bad (fascism) is happening.  Others see it too.  Still, the temptation of all those dollars… it’s a real pressure, almost like being at the bottom of the ocean.  There’s money pressing on us and we want it.

The gray lady story bothered me.  Instead of publishers looking out their windows and seeing the political grand canyon of this nation, they see profits.  This is business, after all.  Just business.  Is there any such thing?  Morality informs the way you live, the choices you make.  Do I promote education, reflection, and sound reasoning or do I promote a very real 2024 threat of a man who leads by refusing to lead?  After elected Trump immediately began campaigning for his next term, loving the rallies, the cheers, the adulation.  Who doesn’t want to be worshiped?  But is that what we want to see three Novembers from now?  I remember the shock the morning after election day 2016 in New York City.  I see the damage four years of environmental degradation caused just when the effects of global warming were becoming obvious.  I see women demeaned.  I see voting rights quashed.  And now I look at the bestseller list and wonder where the morals have gone.


Paid Reading?

It’s like when you slowly pull a cotton ball apart.  Interrupted reading, that is.  Some people never cotton onto reading—we’re all different—but some of us find it such a beguiling exercise that we neglect other aspects of life so that we can engage it.  Almost an altered state of consciousness.  That moment when you have to close a good book, though.  There’s nothing else like it.  It’s difficult to pinpoint whether images or words make up the continuity a reader experiences.  For me it’s like a continuous conversation.  Since my life may be too regulated (“nine-to-five” jobs are like that), every day at work begins with interrupted reading.  If you’re awake early, you’ll find there’s no other uninterrupted time like it.  No librarian has to shush anyone at three a.m.

My job is largely reading.  It’s also a good deal of customer service.  As an author myself I guess I get that.  Content is what the world wants, and if you find a writer who does what your press likes, well, you try to keep her happy.  Why doesn’t enforced reading feel like reading by choice, though?  It’s that reading before work that feels like the pulling apart of fibers that’ve organically grown together.  By nighttime, which is still light in summer, it’s not so much pulling apart cotton balls.  Bedtime reading is more like stumbling through a forest.  When you come to that part of the path you know you’ve been on before—perhaps multiple times—it’s time to put the book down and hopefully reboot.

There may be jobs which consist entirely of reading for pleasure.  If there are I never learned about them in high school or college.  I have a friend who’s a musician.  Many years ago I asked him what he like to play for fun.  He looked at me and said “Music, for me, is work.”  I have to believe that somewhere deep inside he still found it enjoyable, but I instinctively grasped what he meant.  Once you take your passion and convert it into a source of income the magic goes out of it.  Once I get out of work the thing I want to do immediately is read, but what I want to read. And although studies show that the reasonable way to get your best work out of your employees is to give them more time off, employers tend to disagree with the data.  The more hours you put in the more “dedicated” you are.  But then, some of us are in publishing because we love to read.  But even now, as work time approaches, the cotton ball begins to shred.


Building Trust

Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the Trump presidency was the four years of eroding trust.  People, it seems to me, no longer trust each other.  I’ve noticed it most since the reign of a pathological liar.  It’s kind of like a nation of children of alcoholic parents—trust is a real struggle.  I regularly deal with academics.  Now, critical thinking tends to make a person skeptical, at least to a degree, but it seems to me people would trust a very old, highly regarded institution.  Lately I’ve noticed that trust eroding in various ways, and that puzzles me.  If we can’t trust those who’ve done the heavy lifting of keeping a solid reputation for centuries, well, who can you trust?  It’s a real dilemma.  Maybe it’s because we had four years of equating “my opinion at the moment” with “facts.”  The damage will take many years to repair.

The basic way that civilization works is with trust.  We tend not to pay our money for something unless we believe it’s worth what we’re spending.  Skepticism, in appropriate measure, is a good thing.  So is trust.  One way that I often see this is in the hiring of contract managers.  Yes, there is such a thing!  Many younger academics now hire companies to make sure the publishing contracts they sign aren’t cheating them.  When I was in academia you simply went by the reputation of a publisher.  Everyone knew who had a good reputation because of, well, their reputation.  What a publisher represented was well known and respected for what it was.  Perhaps I’m mistaking the desire for personal advantage for lack of trust.

Companies sometimes engage in trust-building exercises.  Getting beyond someone’s politics to the person beneath seems to be a dying art.  Deep divisions are difficult to achieve when people trust one another.  Consider the anti-vaxxers who are now feeding the delta-variation of Covid-19.  They’ve been taught not to trust the scientists and officials who offer a way to ending this pandemic.  For free.  They even don’t believe the post-presidential interview with Trump where he encouraged (far too late) his followers to get vaccinated.  Trust has to be built slowly.  Over centuries sometimes.  One man’s selfishness tore down the modicum of trust that had been slowly growing since the 1860s.  Now uninformed skeptics think critical race theory is some kind of plot.  Trust isn’t a bad thing.  It is the only way to move forward.  Trust me on this.


To Write in Black and White

It can be seen as a black and white issue: either you’ve written a book or you haven’t.  Many people do write books.  Many more want to.  In a survey I saw sometime in the past few months—I can’t recall exactly where—a survey indicated a high percentage of Americans wanted to write a book.  What exactly does that mean?  There are many different kinds of books and several motivations for writing them.  And, depending, your work may or may not be taken seriously, even if you publish.  As someone who’s published four nonfiction books, all of them obscure, I often think about this.  Working in publishing I have some privileged access to the ins and outs of how this works, but that doesn’t necessarily help in writing success.  So what are the motivations?  Is there any way to tell the difference?

Obviously, I can’t speak for others’ motivations but I can see the results.  Most of the writers with whom I work are academic writers.  Their books are generally written for fellow academics and they’re the result of years of research in specialized libraries often off-limits to non-academics.  Those are pretty easy to tell at a glance.  Another class of nonfiction writer is the journalist.  It’s assumed by the industry that someone who majored in journalism is a talented writer.  If, after reporting on a topic for a few years, a journalist wants to write a book based on experience, that frequently gets a publisher’s interest.  The results may not be academically reliable.  I recall that as a grad student it was assumed there were even certain established publishers not to trust—mainly those that weren’t university presses, but not exclusively.

The self-published book has a more difficult trajectory to trace.  Some authors, no matter how good or insightful, just can’t get a standard publisher’s attention.  Others are convinced of their own wisdom and now have an easy route to become a published author.  Yet others realize some money can be made from writing (although making a living at it is very hard work).  I’ve been reading a book by a journalist that has lots of factual errors in it.  I try not to judge, but I do wonder when I know it’s shelved as nonfiction.  Now, these aren’t the kinds of errors that will cost a life if dosed incorrectly or will set off a war between dominant personalities that are heads of state.  I also know that most books do contain inadvertent errors—books are written by humans and we don’t have all the answers yet.  Still, I think of the readers and how we define nonfiction.  What counts as a book anyway?  Things are seldom black or white.

Writing my first book

Irony

It’s a funny old world, as the saying goes.  I don’t deal, as an editor, with many agents.  In fact, having been in publishing for nearly a dozen years it’s only happened three times.  The most recent agent is one to whom I sent a pitch for Holy Horror and from whom I never heard back.  The book he sent me isn’t too different from what I was doing in said volume.  That’s the way it goes, you say.  Indeed, I don’t disagree.  But who doesn’t like a dose of irony in an otherwise stainless steel world?  As I’m reading through the proposal I see that it cites the interest in the subject because of the great popularity of the Religion and Monsters sessions at the American Academy of Religion.  I was responsible for getting those sessions started.

Since irony loves company, none of the people I recruited to get that session rolling read my blog.  I’d been meeting with various scholars over the years and started to notice a common interest in religion and monsters, which I personally share.  I suggested to one of these gainfully employed scholars that we should apply for such a session.  She agreed and we invited another gainfully employed academic to join us.  I wrote the initial proposal.  The session was approved (the proposal being helpfully revised by my colleagues) for three years running.  Now it was being cited as objective proof of an idea that this very agent had dismissed when I presented Holy Horror to him.  Our society very much thinks having a university post means you have something to contribute.  No post?  No interest.

I’ve been working on religion and monsters for (conservatively) a dozen years.  I’ve written two high-priced books on the subject and I’ve received almost no traction in the field because I can’t put a university, or college, or seminary, behind my name.  I was formerly an associate professor, but who you are speaks louder than who you were.  Institutions speak even louder—much louder—than individuals.  The thing about privilege is that it works.  So in this funny old world I’m bemused to be watching my own idea helping propel a colleague’s case for an agent.  I’m working on my fifth book, and I sincerely hope this one will retail for less than thirty dollars.  That’s difficult to do without an agent’s intervention.  I know agents are swamped with proposals.  I know they’re very selective.  And I also know that the irony of being a biblical scholar interested in monsters will catch their attention.  Only, however, if you have an institution behind your name.  Funny, isn’t it?

Even the monster smiles

Online Research

Given my current lack of a university library, and my continued rapaciousness for research I’ve had to sample internet offerings.  There’s a reason academics are skeptical of the internet’s research reliability.  Just about anything you want to verify brings you up against a paywall where you can sometime buy an article you could read for free if you were a professor, for about $15 or $20.  The privileging of academic information.  (Hey folks, I give it away here!)  In any case, I often run into websites on the topic on researching that give “facts” with a breezy assurance that isn’t followed up with footnotes, making me wonder where they got their information.  Who was the publisher?  Who says they know what they’re talking about?  No wonder alternative facts rule the day.

One of the things I learned in the course of my doctoral work is that those three insignificant letters, if applied correctly, indicate that you know how to do research.  Earning a doctorate is often considered (and sometimes is) a matter of becoming a specialist.  Those willing to peel back the top layer realize that underneath what’s going on is a transformation of your way of thinking.  You can find facts, but you can also weigh them in the balances.  You take no one’s word for it.  Unless, of course, they’re published by a prestige press.  And even then, if the lesson really sunk in, you’ll have your doubts.  The internet is a frustrating place to try to find reliable information.  Oh, it’s great for looking up phone numbers, and even for getting directions.  Just don’t trust it with history.

Currently at work on my fifth book, I’m finding research somewhat of a hurdle.  I’ve reached out to local universities and they seem only to want to let you in if you’re an adjunct (which is considered a conflict of interest in my current post).  You’re therefore locked out of knowledge.  I recently learned that JSTOR may be offering a fixed number of free articles to independent scholars.  If so, that is a great and farsighted boon.  You see, the problem is you need to look at the footnotes to know which articles are actually based on solid research.  There’s a move afoot that makes academic presses shudder.  The move for free information.  It’s the business of academic presses to sell it, of course—that’s where the money comes from.  So I sit here facing another paywall and I wonder is wisdom can ever truly be free.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Post-Literate?

Who would’ve thought that publishing could be a scary industry in which to work?  Apart from the constant changes, that is.  Or maybe the changes are the reason it’s scary.  Our society has never been through a revolution quite like the tech revolution.  Yes, writing was pretty radical when it was invented, but it took millennia before literacy got to the point where it created widespread change.  Tech changes everything, and it does so very quickly.  Writing changes everything, but does so over the longue durée.  It began in a pretty humble way.  Crude drawings, called pictographs, came to represent things that mattered to pre-capitalists.  Take an ox head, for example.  It could represent the entire animal.  While some pictographs can be discerned in cuneiform (just as they can in some Chinese characters), the best example is perhaps Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Photo credit:: Jon Bodsworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether wedge-headed oxen or beautifully stylized hieroglyphs, both writing styles came to be representative for phonemes.  Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing tended to be syllabic rather than strictly alphabetic, and indeed, the invention of the alphabet made learning to write simpler.  Even after this innovation, however, it still took over a millennium before its practice became widespread.  Writing meant that ideas could be preserved beyond a lifetime.  Instructions and history could be recorded.  When a mistake was known and noted, remaking that error could be avoided.  (This seems to be a feature that has been lost to history, judging by recent fascist political parties.)  One of the great advantages to writing is the precision with which ideas could be expressed and preserved.

So how does this make publishing scary?  Some analysts are now claiming we are in a “post-literary” society.  Reading is no longer necessary.  We download visual content to gain the information we need.  When ideas need to be expressed in writing, we have emojis.  What happens, however, to synonyms when emojis take over?  Our humble ox head that eventually morphed into the capital A may now be represented by a stylized cow.  Or is it a bovine?  What does that cow image convey?  Books—novelties at the moment—are being written with emojis.  Learning to read is difficult.  It takes years and changes our brains.  Technology is encouraging us to become post-literate.  Even blogs are now becoming outdated.  Yet, looking at those emojis we see the history of writing moving in reverse.  From the precision of clear and accurate description to vague notions that look cool but leave us guessing otherwise.  Perhaps those ancient scribes scratching sketches into clay had it right to begin with.


You Have the Right to Remain

It’s strange sitting in a meeting where you’ve written a book on the topic under discussion and nobody knows about it.  This is one of the problems of publishing with an academic press.  Books get lost and buried.  Maybe the other way around.  A problem we academic editors frequently run into is that authors tend to think a book is a book.  Publishers recognize several different kinds of books, well represented among them those that are destined for the “library market.”  You can tell them by the way they’re priced.  Now I must confess that I’m behind the times in this regard.  I still tend to think twenty dollars is a lot to pay for a book.  I say this even though my job, day after day, includes pouring over book budgets to see how an academic book can be made not to lose money.

It costs a lot of money—most of it overhead—to produce a book.  In order not to run a publisher bankrupt, it needs to sell enough copies to cover its costs.  Library market books are priced that way because they are expected to sell only to libraries.  Certainly, if they were priced lower some academics would buy them, but the truth is not many academics do.  I realize I was an outlier when I was in the academy.  Without a research budget I would spend my own money on a book priced a hundred dollars if I really needed it for my research.  I was aware, even at that time, that others seldom did this.  As an academic colleague once told me, “I like to buy shoes.”  And let’s face it, there are just too many books out there to buy.  “Publish or perish” has more than one meaning.

So I’m sitting in a meeting where the topic of discussion is something on which I’ve written a book.  My opinion is not asked—my book is priced for the library market and I know it—so I don’t really expect it to be.  The question is whether general readers will find the subject compelling.  Speaking strictly for me I’m pretty sure they will.  I signed my contract for Nightmares with the Bible before I knew the series would be priced for the library market.  That designation also indicates minimal marketing.  What publisher is going to try to push a book that costs that much when they know individuals can’t afford it?  So I sit in the meeting and keep my mouth shut.


Pricing out of Business

Maybe you’re like most normal people and don’t pay much attention to who the publisher of a book is.  If you read a lot, and can get behind the glitz and glam of an Amazon page, you might come to trust certain publishers over others.  The fact is, despite the difficulty some of us have getting published, there are a lot of presses out there.  Some are clearly self-publishing vehicles, but many are small, independent houses that focus on specialized topics.  The sheer numbers can be bewildering.  I was looking for a reputable book on a certain subject the other day and, given my job, I always check the publisher.  Several in a row came up that I had never even heard of before.  I guess there is money to be made in publishing yet, if only one could find the matching pieces.

With academic publishing you can spend five or more years of your life writing a book and you’ll earn royalties that literally won’t cover a month’s rent when you’re done.  Even while this is happening there are people who make a living publishing books with presses you’ve never heard of.  They know how to get average citizens to buy their books.  I’ve been working in publishing for over a decade now and I guess I still don’t have it figured out yet.  It’s complex, and even with online publishing helps like agent-finding sites or Duotrope, you’ll find that each day brings its own changes.  I’ve learned through personal experience that many publishers simply don’t last.

What many of these fly-by-night publishers understand better than established academic presses is that price matters.  Well, let me put that in more precise terms, for all publishers need money—fly-by-night publishers know that average people will buy only the books they can afford.  These presses I’ve never heard of sell books for the industry standard of about sixteen bucks.  My least expensive book sells for about twenty-two and I’ve been told more than once that it’s too expensive for most mortal budgets.  Collectively, my four books cost almost $250, averaging out at sixty per pop.  Two of them were written for general readers who have no hope of being able to afford them.  I tried to find an agent for one of them, and the other was a series book (no agent will touch such a thing).  Perhaps I should’ve tried a lesser-known press that could afford to offer my books at affordable prices.   You could do worse.


Literary Life

Trying to live a literary life is, I suppose, irresponsible.  Especially if your efforts and writing bring basically no money.  It takes considerable effort to make daily time to read and write, and so much else remains to be done.  At times I feel guilty for trying.  My books have all been published, for various reasons, with academic publishers.  Academic publishers don’t try to sell many copies of an individual book, relying as they do on the long tail philosophy.  Most academics have good paying jobs that expect research and writing in return.  For the outsider, however, there are other pressing matters.  The nine-to-five being the largest among them.  And any social organizations you join to keep you sane and connected.  Then there’s social media to take your time.  And the lawn’s ready for mowing.

I’ve always believed lack of time was (is) a theological problem.  I came up with that when I was an academic and had time to ponder such things.  Unlike many of my colleagues, I did research and write.  Now I want to move into that world where you might earn a little from all the effort.  And yet, that old Protestant guilt has a way of getting its talons around you.  You’re reading?  Shouldn’t you be doing those minor repairs you can handle without a contractor?  (Or at least think you can handle?)  Or maybe shouldn’t you be looking for a job that pays enough to hire someone to do such things?  And don’t you dare let that word “retirement” anywhere near your head.  What are you, irresponsible?

Reading takes commitment.  I try to read, on average, at least a book a week.  It requires a lot of time.  And a literary life includes giving back.  You want to share your writing with the world.  Hoping that either your fiction or nonfiction might eventually bring you some notice.  That’s the plan anyway.  The starving artist paradigm doesn’t feel so comfortable when you’ve got a mortgage.  Still, the imagination refuses to be tamed.  I’ve often said I could be content on a desert island as long as I had a huge stack of paper and never-ending supply of pens.  But that’s not the reality I inhabit.  That mortgage pays for a roof over my books and writing computer, always complaining it’s full.  It may not be glamorous.  In fact, it’s about the exact opposite of that.  But it is, after all, a literary life.