Publishing is Not Easy

When I was just starting out in publishing, I had the privilege to have a private meeting with legendary William Morrow editor (and now author), Will Schwalbe. I recall him being incredibly, smart, compassionate, and an excellent listener. Our paths diverged soon afterwards. Then, a few years ago, I saw Will speak at Book Expo. As he shared stories from his career, the same candor and compassion came through. One story stood out to me. He talked about the  book he had ever had the opportunity to publish. It was hauntingly beautiful a memoir about the Vietnam War written by someone from the communist side. He spoke about the energy and passion he put into getting the text and cover just right. He pulled out all the stops only to see the book fall flat on its face when it came out a few months later. I think he said it sold only 750 copies. Everyone who has worked for even a little while in book publishing has a similar story. Mine goes back to 2000 when I had the opportunity to work on a book called Out of the Depths about a small group of women living under the Iron Curtain who were secretly ordained as Catholic priests by a local bishop so that they could minister to fellow women in the gulag. We got some great press for it, including a 2-page spread in a major newspaper, but the book failed to catch fire. I don’t know what else to say–it’s a fact of life in publishing–sometimes the best books don’t quite make it. Onassis alliance Review

My Favorite Books I Managed to Read Last Year

Peceful image of open book resting on a arm rest of a couch. Warm fireplace on background.
Fotolia, Blindfire

Fire in the Ashes by Jonathan Kozol (audio version / read by Keythe Farley). It made me cry and want to do something about poverty in America.

The Magus by John Fowles. Blew my mind and made me want to re-read Shakespeare.

Backbone by David H. Wagner. A self-help book for men that’s not cheesey. A must read!

The Phoenix Generation by Kingsley L. Dennis. Gives me hope that these tough times we’re going through have a deeper purpose.

Leadership Landscapes by James P. Keen. A business book that I actually read from cover to cover and that I have referred to again and again.

Understanding Human Design by Karen Curry. She makes a really complex subject, well, understandable.

Complexity by M. Mitchell Waldrop. Taught me how the universe actually works. Practical applications are everywhere. The science of hope and the hope of science.

& Sons by David Gilbert. A well-told novel with some very nice turns of phrase.

Books I’m still working on because I don’t want them to end:

The Gene Keys by Richard Rudd

Revolution in The Head by Ian MacDonald

In the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Law of Light by Lars Muhl

Mindfulness by Ellen Langer

Review of “Why We Read What We Read”

I just finished the book, Why We Read What We Read. It is the fourth book I’ve read in the past year or so on the publishing industry and reading culture in England and North America. (The others were Merchants of Culture, The Late Age of Print, and The Times of Their Lives). All of these books are ambitious, but Lisa Adams and John Heath’s effort is perhaps the most ambitious of all. Their goal is to get an inside read on the psyche of mainstream America. To accomplish this they waded through nearly 200 of the books that appeared on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists from the years 1995-2005.
It was a particularly fertile period from which to draw a sample: it saw the rise of Harry Potter, the birth and death of The Oprah Book Club, and the apotheosis of Dan Brown. The book is organized by genre: self-help, adventure novels, political non-fiction, romance, religion & spirituality, and literary fiction (e.g. The Kite Runner). The Da Vinci Code gets a chapter all its own. What came through all that reading is a culture that is hooked on quick fixes and simplistic answers to thorny problems. One that would rather take the advice of a huckster than think for itself. Even so, Adams and Heath are not complete scourges or prophets of doom. For example, they give a stiff defense of Oprah’s book club (she got people reading, after all, and there are even one or two enduring masterpieces on her list.) Adams and Heath also remind us where Oprah may have went wrong (it wasn’t that her books were too easy or two girly, but that she and her audience read not for reading’s sake but to gather insights into their own biographies). In their conclusion, Adams and Heath pine for a culture where deeper, more complex, and realistic books take a front row to the current fare saying, “If we can wean ourselves from the destructive and useless quest for easy answers, devoting ourselves instead to a genuine search for truth in all its complexity, we can change the substance of these [bestseller] lists.” True! Nevertheless, what Adams and Heath fail to take on board is that the success of authors like Dan Brown funds the professional publication of dozens of serious and experimental novels at big publishing houses–even poetry. To paraphrase the futurist, Kingsley L. Dennis, “Change always comes from the margins, not from the center.”

Why We Read What We Read
Why We Read What We Read

TV Coverage

On Monday, WGNO in New Orleans ran this segment featuring one of the books that I doing publicity for. The title of the book is “The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam.”

 

Charlie Company Sergeant Steve Hopper said, “We just loved one another, we really did and we trusted and there’s just a tremendous amount of faith among our group that I think keeps us coming together today.”