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THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING: Synopsis

Synopsis:

THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING

 ( Writer’s Digest Books)

 

Eighty years ago, during the Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Faulkner golden age of American fiction, perhaps a thousand novelists were competing for publication. The numbers today rival the national deficit.

The New York Times reported that, according to a recent survey, 81% of Americans – 200 million – say they have a book they’d like to write some day. Thankfully, few get around to it. According to a 2002 NEA survey, 2 million Americans published creative writing.

New York Times executive editor, Bill Keller, complains that he is losing his staff because like “cliff-bound lemmings…  everyone who works for me is either writing [a book] or wants to,” in spite of his strenuous effort to persuade them that the process is “agony.”

“Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea,” writes Garrison Keillor. “18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives.”

Literary agencies receive hundreds of submissions a week. Their stated rejection rate is 95 to 99%. Three decades ago the U.S. had 50 MFA programs in creative writing; now there are 300. 20,000 apply annually, 95% are rejected. The New Yorker magazine logs up to a thousand unsolicited stories per week. None have been published in years.

Meanwhile, the demand for serious fiction is in severe decline. In the 1920s, 6 of 10 bestselling titles were literature. By the ‘60s, 3 of 10.  In the last decade, 3 of 100.

Responding to the literary population explosion and the long odds of its dark horses, countless self-helpers have been released by industry bookies. Amazon currently lists 1,636 titles in fiction writing reference (up from 668 in 2009). They include “Essential” guides on how to put your passion on paper, the 100 ways to improve your writing, the 38 most common fiction mistakes, the 28-day bestseller, the damn good novel, writing the bones, bird by bird, on both sides of the brain.

Marketing manuals by “insiders” also proliferate: how to land a dream agent, write the perfect query and bulletproof proposal, and how to escape the slush pile. Making the writer’s self-help genre even more irresistible are American Idol offerings such as Damn! Why Didn’t I Write That? How Ordinary People are Raking in $100,000.00.

While some guides admit the difficulty of the profession, many are so gingerbreaded with optimism and pep talk that the SASE scribe goes postal when he or she still can’t get published.

So, the question for the struggling scribe of the 21st century boils down to this:

Do I want the truth?

Or, do I want more smoke blown up my ass?

 

***

R.R. Bowker reported 316,480 new traditional book titles for 2010. 15% — 47,392 – were novels. Statistically, about nine of ten novels do not sell out their first printing and are remaindered.

The 4,700 successful titles almost equals the number of times Mt. Everest has been summited (5,104 since the 1953 Sir Hillary ascent). Nearly ten times more competitors (43,000) finish the annual marathon in New York, the capital of publishing.

So, today’s Dickens is well advised, for the sake of his or her own sanity, to lower great expectations about winning the Publishing Clearinghouse and becoming the next King or Rowling.  But even these talents had to overcome formidable obstacles, as did their predecessors from Dante to Daniel Steele.

The stories of climbs to the top by these masters and others will be told here. In search of the practical truth about how to storm the literary Bastille, we will not depend on the commentary of sideline quarterbacks, but on the words of historic authors themselves who lived and died for literature.

Writers –journalists, screenwriters, speech writers, ad copy writers, catalog writers, greeting card writers — have always been, on average, the lowest paid professionals in the work force. Novelists and poets are at the bottom of this food chain.

Said Mario Puzo: “For hundreds of years, writers have been giving it away like country girls in the big city, and it is not astonishing that their lovers (that is, the publishers) balk at giving a mink coat when a pair of nylons will do the job.” He got nylons for his first three novels, then a $5,000 advance from the Putnam godfathers for Godfather, which paid them about $200 million (not counting movie rights) for the 12,140,000 copies they sold in six years. But from Godfather on, Puzo got mink coats, earning $2.55 million alone for the paper rights of his next novel, Fools Die.

Which brings us to the historical disparity between the haves & have-nots. In 1667 publishers paid Milton £10 for Paradise Lost; in 2002 Zondervan tithed $30 million to Reverend Rick for The Purpose Driven Life. In 1841 Graham’s Magazine fronted Edgar Allan Poe $56 for the world’s first detective mystery, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”; in 2010 Little Brown paid former advertising exec, James Patterson, $150 million for more Alex Cross retreads.

So .001% of today’s scribes have indeed gotten raises. But as one, James Michener, complained, “In America you can make a fortune as a writer, but not a living.” Even so, the less fortunate are still on the Poe pay-scale. With no health insurance, retirement, or golden parachute even in Right to Write states.

What about editors, many of them writers themselves? They average $50,000 for their day job – or about $15 an hour for 60-hour weeks. Some throw in the towel and become agents. Now, as Jerry McGuires, they work longer hours for 15% of their authors’ 7.5 to 12.5%.

According to a PEN survey, the median annual income of a published novelist is $4,700. Meanwhile, the unpublished work pro bono. Yet more than any other professional, the author is bled for his or her pennies by editorial services, PR and marketing consultants, vanity publishers, MFA and online instruction programs. Literary training now appears to be more popular than dieting: an “Online novel writing” search yields 50,600,000 hits; an “Online weight loss” search an anorexic 40,200,000.

Though, since Homer’s day, scribes have been the most exploited labor group, no united protest has been made, only individual ones.

When he thought he’d been cheated on a movie deal for his novel, An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser threw hot coffee in his publisher, Horace Liveright’s, face at the Ritz restaurant. Upset with Alfred Knopf, Shirley Jackson — who had studied witchcraft for her famed story, “The Lottery” — made a voodoo doll of him, impaled it with pins, and the publishing patriarch soon suffered a serious ski accident. When an Irish publisher cancelled his contract for Dubliners, Joyce complained fruitlessly to more than a hundred newspapers, then to King George himself. At last, he threatened to buy a pistol and “put some daylight into my publisher.”

But Dreiser, Jackson, and Joyce never tried to rally their colleagues for a mass Mutiny on the Bounty. And their successors have never collectively demanded a piece of the publishing Occupie.

But hope springs eternal. The masses are restless. The tectonic plates of publishing are shifting. As today’s queen of agents, Binky Urban, predicts: “I think we are in the midst of a revolution. Bad things happen in a revolution, but revolutions always give rise to opportunities.”

So, writers, throw off your chains. Unite. And remember Thoreau! The penniless Walden author refused to pay more taxes. Visiting him in the Concord jail, his friend, Emerson, demanded:

“Henry, what are you doing in there?”

To which the fed-up Transcendentalist replied: “Waldo, what are you doing out there?”

 

***

 

The Insider’s Guide to Publishing is cross-genre. It marries History, Self-Help, Horror. And Humor.

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane,” said Robert Frost.

Beyond genre, this manual is the first 99% solution for fed-up, starving writers – debut literary novelists in particular.

To this end, it is an MFA Gonzo Crash Course. Covering every dimension of publishing reality and problem-solving, it provides a full revolutionary curriculum: in Lit, Linguistics, History, Econ, Psych, Poly Sci, and even Religion. In short, it will deconstruct the Bastille brick by brick, each chapter being a super-condensed book in itself.

Who is behind this madness and what are her credentials? the reader rightfully demands.

Your humble Deep Throat – your host and moderator — has spent thirty years in the belly of the literary beast, and decades perusing publishing titles, periodicals, blogs, biographies and too many novels.  He gives the floor to her superiors, his guest Che Guevaras, the most celebrated novelists of the last five-hundred years. Having long awaited this open-mic forum to air their views, caveats, and grievances, Nobel and Pulitzer laureates, as well as their esteemed editors and agents, will be doing the lions’ share of the debriefing and deprogramming.

This self-helper, as promised, is the first no-smoke or spin zone for survivalists. Those who tough out our school of hard knocks and save two-hundred grand for an MFA will take the Bastille, claim its cake, and eat it too for the Occupy ala Mode.

At commencement, the graduate, even if still unpublished, will throw his or her cap to the sun and repeat after Gustav Flaubert: “Writing is a dog’s life but the only one worth living.”

On that note, the call-to-arms of another revolutionary member of our faculty, Henry Miller:

“For a hundred years or more the [literary] world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off.”

This book is dedicated to that challenge.

 

***

Contents:

THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING

INTRODUCTION

I. PUBLISH & PERISH: Into Belly Of Manuscript-Eating Beast                                      10

1. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

2. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-SIX

3. CANARIES IN THE CONGLOMERATE COAL MINE

4. SURVIVORS: THE ROBINSON CRUSOES

5. SUPER PACs: THE PUBLISHER CONGLOMERATE CASTE SYSTEM

6. CATCHER IN THE STY: (Shit, My Editor Says)

7. THE PUBLISHER’S FICTION LIST:  THE BULL OF PAMPLONA

 

II. WRITER 911! Burned, Banished, Blocked                                                                       50

1. THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

2. SAVE A TREE, BURN AN AUTHOR

3. MS.CARRIAGES & HYSTERICAL PREGNANCIES

4. WHY SHITTY THINGS HAPPEN TO IRREGULAR WRITERS

5. THE SACRED DISEASES

 

III. THE DUES TO PAY THE MUSE                                                                                    72

1. THE LIONS

2. THE WONDER

3. PINK SLIPS

4. THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE

 

IV. LUCK, SUCK, & PLUCK: Secrets of Literary Success                                                 97

1. LUCK

• The Joyless Luck Club

2. SUCK

• The Top 10 Literary 69s

3. PLUCK

4. LSP TRIFECTA

 

V. “THE BUILT-IN, SHOCK-PROOF, SHIT DETECTOR”             131

1. TALENT

2. “AN APPEAL TO THE GULLIBLE”

3. THE ELEMENTS OF BILE

• Top 10 Style Tips from the Masters

4. THE KENTUCKY FRIED BESTSELLER

• KFB Recipe

 

VI. SCHMOOZING THE MUSE                                                                                          155

1. THE MFA MaFiA

2. HEADS WE WIN, TALES YOU LOSE: Contests & Grants

3. KUMBAYA CONFERENCES

4. % OF YOUR BACK-END: Hollywood’s Return of the Screw

 

VII. THE MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WRITER                                                                        176

Introduction: THE CUCKOO’S NEST: AN OVERVIEW

1. MEGALOMANIA

2. MISERABLE & MANIC

3. MASOCHISTIC

4. MAD

 

VIII. BARDS BEHAVING BADLY                                                                                        200

Introduction: WRITERS ROUGHHOUSING

1. POE vs. ENGLISH

2. LEWIS vs. DRIESER

3. HEMINGWAY v. CALLAGHAN

4. MAILER vs. CAPOTE vs. VIDAL

• THE LAST WRITER STANDING: Bon Mo’s, Broadsides, & Sucker Punches

 

IX. AGENTS OF NORTH AMERICA                        225

1. AGENT GENTS

2. AGENTS AND GENTLE WOMEN

3. THE AUTHOR-AGENT MATING RITUAL

4. THE BIG FOUR: A Sporting Writer’s Bestiary

5. HOW TO BAG AN AGENT WITHOUT GUNPLAY (Romancing the Stone)

6. THE QUERY FAIRY SPEAKS

7. ON THE ROCKS: Agent-Author Divorce, Alimony, & Child Custody

8. HOW TO DIVORCE A REP WITHOUT REALLY TRYING

• The Agent’s 10 Commandments

 

X. MS IMPOSSIBLE: The Challenge for Today’s Novelist                                    250

1. BRAVE NEW21ST CENTURY BLOCKBUSTER

2. BRAVE NEW MASTERPIECE QUERIES

3. PUSHING THE SAS ENVELOPE: The New Myth of Sisyphus

4. CRASHERS AT THE VIC LIT GOLDEN GLOBES

5. 99% GUERILLA MARKETING

6. THE MAD SCIENTIST OF M.I. PUBLICATION

 

XI. TAKING IT IN THE SHORTS                                                                                    279

1. BACK STORY TO THE BIG BREAKS

2. THE GREATEST STORY NEVER SOLD

3. GOTHS AT THE GATE

4. THE NEW YORKER NOSEBLEED

 

XII. MOONLIGHTING                                                                                            300

1. ODD JOBS OF THE MASTERS

2. YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT? Best 9-to-5s for Today’s Novelist

3. THE PEN AWARD: Of Lit & License Plates

 

XIII. VANITY OF VANITIES? THE P.O.D. AND E-REVOLUTION                            316

1. DEMAND FOR PRINT ON DEMAND

2. E-GOLD RUSH

3. BDSM CINDERELLAS

4. LUCK, SUCK, & PLUCK 2.0

5. E-ROMANCE: THE NEXT CHAPTER

6. THE FINAL FICTION E-FRONTIER

 

XIV. $UCCE$$                                                                                                            350

1. DANTE’S HONEYMOON

2. THE SEVENTH CIRCLE OF SALES

3. THE GOD ALMIGHTY DOLLAR

•Fiction Freakonomics: How Much The Masters Made

4. THE NOBEL JAR

5. THIS SIDE OF PUBLISHING PARADISE

6. IN DEFENSE OF FAILURE (Or, How Success Is Overrated)

•Failure: The Silver Lining

 

XIV. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOL                                                                         376

1. PROMETHEUS’ LIVER

2. I DRINK THEREFORE I AM

•The Old Man and the Seagrams

3. WRITER’S PSEUDO-ANONYMOUS: The 5-Step Program

4. THE WRITER’S 23rd PSALM

 

 

DAVID COMFORT: Biography, Publications, Honors

DAVID COMFORT

Simon & Schuster published David Comfort’s three popular nonfiction trade titles: For Dogs Only, The First Pet History of the World, Just Say Noel. In 2009 Citadel/ Kensington released his The Rock And Roll Book Of The Dead, The Fatal Journeys of Rock’s Seven Immortals — a study of the tempestuous lives and tragic ends of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and Kurt Cobain. The author’s pop culture blogs appear in The Wrap, Culture Catch, and BlogCritics.

Comfort’s upcoming publishing industry exposé, The Insider’s Guide to Book Publication, will be released by Writers Digest Books in November, 2013. Excerpts from the title appear in Pleaides, The Montreal Review, Stanford Arts Review, InDigest, Writing Disorder, Eyeshot, Glasschord, and Line Zero.

The author is a Pushcart Fiction Prize nominee, and has been a finalist for the Faulkner Award, Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren, America’s Best, Narrative, Glimmer Train, Helicon Nine, and Heekin Graywolf Fellowship. His current short fiction appears in The Evergreen ReviewCortland Review, The Morning Newes, Scholars & Rogues, and Inkwell.

Comfort self-published his satiric novel, The Reborn Bible 2.0, The 2nd Coming of the American Rapture, in the spring of 2013. The author is represented by Don Fehr of Trident Media.

 

Nonfiction:

• THE INSIDER’S GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLICATION

(Writers Digest Books, Nov. 2013) (Prescriptive nonfiction)

 

THE ROCK AND ROLL BOOK OF THE DEAD: The Fatal Journeys of the Seven Immortals

(Citadel/Kensington, 2009) (Narrative, historic pop nonfiction)

 

JUST SAY NOEL: A History of Christmas, from the Nativity to the Nineties

(Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1995) (Light Reference)

 

THE FIRST PET HISTORY OF THE WORLD

(Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1994) (Light Reference)

 

FOR DOGS ONLY: How to Live with Human Beings

(Pocket / Simon & Schuster, 1989) (Humor)

 

RECENT WEB & LIT MAG PUBLICATIONS

• Exodus Redux                                                                        Evergreen Review

http://www.evergreenreview.com/121/exodus-redux.html

• White Rabbit:                                                                        Cortland Review

http://www.cortlandreview.com/issue/54/comfort_f.php

• God’s Privates                                                                    Scholars & Rogues

http://scholarsandrogues.com/2013/02/13/scholars-and-rogues-fiction-gods-privates-by-david-comfort-2/

• The Kiss                                                                            Inkwell

http://www.inkwellmag.com/post/44294198502/vol-12-home-david-comfort-the-kiss

• It’s Complicated                                                                        The Morning News

http://www.themorningnews.org/article/its-complicated

• Secrets of Lit Success: Luck, Suck, Pluck                          Eyeshot

http://eyeshot.net/comfort.html

• Taking It in the Shorts: The Greatest Story Never Told Montreal Review

(New Yorker magazine exposé)

http://www.themontrealreview.com/2009/The-New-Yorker-Short-Story-of-Short-Story.php

• Divine Madness: Brief History of Literary Lunacy   Stanford Arts Rev

http://artsreview.stanford.edu/?p=9163

• Writer 911! Historic Tales from the Literary ER    Writing Disorder

http://www.thewritingdisorder.com/nonfictiontwo.html

The Best Fiction and Nonfiction of 2012 print anthology

• The Pen Award: Of Lit and License Plates InDigest

http://indigestmag.com/blog/?p=17467#.UGyi5vl26m0

• Death of a Literary Salesman                                                Glasschord Pending

Commerce Issue: Fall 2013

• Lazaruses in the House of Lit                                                Line Zero Pending

• The Dues to Pay the Muse                                                            PleaidesPending

 

HONORS

2012                                 Top 10 Finalist: Narrative Fiction/ Nonfiction Award

2005                                 Top 25 Finalist, Glimmer Train Fiction Award

2000                                 Finalist: America’s Best (short story: “Fields of Heaven”)

Finalist: Faulkner Awards for short fiction (“Treemen: the Movie”)

1998                                 Finalist: Heekin Fiction competition (“Gateway to the Interior”)

1996                                 Finalist: Helicon Nine Contest (story collection, Mother’s Sons)

1995                                 Finalist: America’s Best Contest. (for novel, The Contact Sport)

Finalist: Chicago Tribune Nelson  Algren Award for short fiction

1994                                 Finalist: Heekin/Graywolf Fiction Fellowship for short fiction

Honorable Mention: Belletrist Review Short Fiction Competition

Finalist: Faulkner Awards for short fiction

Nominee: Pushcart Prize

 

1993                                  Top Ten Finalist: Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award

for short fiction (judges: Mona Simpson, Scott Turow)

1991                                  Winner: New England Living Magazine Fiction Contest

 

 

ONLINE COLUMNS / EDITORIALS (2010-2012)

THE WRAP

http://www.thewrap.com/articles/david%20comfort

-The Man Who Murdered Jimi Hendrix

-Making The Case Stick Against Dr. Murray

-Elvis Presley: The Lonely Birthday Boy

-Recalling The Day John Lennon Died

-The Media’s Ground Zero Mosque Follies

 

http://www.thewrap.com/blog/david-comfort?page=2

-The Great Ghosts Of Rock’n’roll

-Janis Joplin: Buried Alive In The Kozmic Blues

-The Mystery Behind Hendrix’s Death

-Revisiting A Legend’s Final Days (Brian Jones)

-The King Of Pop’s Neverland Of Truth (Michael Jackson)

-The King & The Cover-Ups

-Woodstock: A Bad Trip For The Bands

 

CULTURE CATCH

http://culturecatch.com/music/who-murdered-jimi-hendrix

http://culturecatch.com/music/janis-joplin-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/janis-born-blues

http://culturecatch.com/music/jim-morrison-obit-editorial

http://culturecatch.com/music/john-lennon-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/john-lennon-and-immortal-9

http://culturecatch.com/music/beatles-holiday-break-up

http://culturecatch.com/music/jerry-garcia-in-memoriam

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-gladys-rip

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-presely-birthday-boy

http://culturecatch.com/music/elvis-presley-king-christmas-past

http://culturecatch.com/music/michael-jackson-elvis-presley-cover-ups

http://culturecatch.com/music/michael-jackson-conrad-murray-trial-preview

http://culturecatch.com/music/brian-jones-drowning

http://culturecatch.com/music/heavy-metal-music-torture-gitmo-grammies

http://culturecatch.com/music/rush-limbaugh-elton-john

 

BLOG CRITICS

http://blogcritics.org/writers/david-comfort