Monthly Archives: February 2011

Freedom 101: Come, join me in vigorously slapping down the publishing industry.

Today is an occasion in our home. My partner’s new book has just appeared on Amazon. One copy. That’s all. But it’s there, and soon it will be available on the iPad too. Our entire household – me, him, and the cats – is elated.

But it’s way more significant than that. This represents a turning point. Liberation. Rejuvenation.

This is our Egypt.

I hardly need to tell you, the American publishing world is in a time of great transition. We’re entering a literary ice age. Printed books are slowly becoming an outmoded technology. Next week, Borders will announce it’s going into bankruptcy. Our local Borders in Hollywood has a ‘for lease’ sign on the wall, and it’s not even closed yet. Barnes & Noble, once so vibrant, is now a chain of graveyards and shutting down branches.

Many people see this as the last gasp of glory for authors such as myself, before progress sweeps away our livelihood and we’re forced to get real jobs. Within a few years, as the iPad and other tablets rise to consume us, most people will view long-form reading as a drag, an antiquated pastime, and printed books themselves as ridiculously clunky, much like the first cellphones that were the size of housebricks or the first laptop, which actually was so heavy it used to crush your lap and make it hard to walk afterwards.

But this development is really a good thing and authors should rejoice.

Over time, the idea of writers needing publishers to support their work will fade. I’m even setting up a small epublishing company myself this year and putting out my own mystery novel, which is now complete and getting rave reviews from friends, even though they were charged with criticizing it and tearing it to bits, sparing me no mercy. I wanted it to be as good a book as it possibly could be. This way, though, I won’t need to go through the usual laborious process, waiting until 2012 or 2013 to see my work in bookstores (the same bookstores that will by then have closed due to lack of business). Instead, my work can be on readers’ Kindles and iPads by this summer, all cute and pert and lovely and ready to go. I am very excited by this prospect. We all should be.

*

I used to work for a show on public radio called Marketplace. At our office in Los Angeles we had a very long wall lined with bookshelves up to neck height. On these shelves were stacked copies of new books sent to us by lazy PR people at publishing houses in the hope that we’d give them a free plug on the air. We didn’t. And the reason we didn’t was because the books were crap. With rare exceptions, they were poorly written, derivative, boring, badly-thought-through, and exploitative junk. Nobody read them – not us, not even the members of the public they were intended for. At best they were ornamental. Same way they are in bookstores. Eventually, after gathering dust on the shelves for a month, they were thrown into bags and tossed out. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Regularly. Year in, year out.

Frankly, I could stop this blog here. That’s all you need to know.

In that one short paragraph, I’ve explained why the publishing industry in America is gasping for breath, like an old aunt with emphyzema.

Editors were slow to see their own demise. They have continued for years putting out mediocre book after mediocre book, seldom investing in anything good or original. They played safe for fear of losing their jobs, sticking wherever possible to yawn-making celebrity tie-ins, self-help books that made huge promises but which were really just previous self-help books with a different jacket, and shallow, awful novels aimed at dim people who could only take chapters that were four pages long, Beyond that, things were too baffling. In other words, many editors abused their role. They became predatory opportunists rather than creators and instigators, which is what they were meant to be.

Instead of using passion as their baseline, making it a goal to discover and nurture good authors and stick with them from book to book until they attracted a strong following, they became fickle and coquettish, the way debutantes are in costume dramas, putting out any old book that took their fancy. If one author didn’t make it big immediately, the next one might. This same mindless policy was rampant in the music industry for a while too, and look what happened there.

Publishers plowed all their resources into the production of books, but left no budget for marketing them. That is to say, they’d launch a product, then tell nobody at all that it existed. I mean, jeez, what bright spark thought that system up? It’s tantamount to sticking your book in a garbage sack, leaving it by the side of the freeway, and hoping motorists slow down and go, “Hm, I wonder what’s in that bag?” It’s not going to happen.

So the industry is dying. Printed books are heading the way of CDs and newspapers. And it’s their own f’ing fault.

Success right now is a fluke. Without passion as their compass, book editors simply wish upon a star that somebody – anybody – will show an interest in their products; they neither put their weight behind them nor show courage in the convictions of their choices. That is no way to run a business.

I even heard that the marketing team at my publisher once refused to give Oprah a bunch of free books to hand out on her television show as one of her favorite things. They refused to give the Queen of TV 320 measly books. Oh my god. In the Kitty Kelley biography that was out not long ago, Oprah called this “the dumbest move EVER.” And it is. But that’s publishers for you. They have brilliant editors, but often, I think, total morons as publicists and marketing people, and they make one lousy decision after another. Why? Because nothing hangs on it for them. They get paid whether a book sells or not. They’re not personally invested in anything they put out. If they were, it would be an entirely different story.

Another instance: years ago, when my book Gullible’s Travels– which was a really funny book, and went on to win the Benjamin Franklin Award for Humor – came out, the marketing department at Globe Pequot, the publisher, mailed 150 copies to the press. But only in theory. In practice what they did was write their own address on the label. So within days all 150 books came back again. By the time they were sent out a second time, momentum had been lost. It was a tragedy.

With the US version of Naked in Dangerous Placeslast year, another piece of work I’m extremely proud of, about the amazing adventure I had making my TV travel series, the complacency of the PR people charged with promoting it grew to become the stuff of legend. The miniscule effort they did put in was the equivalent of going over to the window, leaning out, shouting, “Hey, everyone – look at us. We’ve published a terrific travel book,” and closing it again before anyone could catch the title. Result: not one radio interview, not one review of note, not one mention in any major magazine or newspaper. Nothing at all.

And you know what? They don’t care. Since Naked came out, the same company has published about fifty thousand more books. Some of them may even be good. And I bet they’re neglecting those as well.

“How the hell do these people still have a job?” I kept asking myself.

Well, actually, they won’t soon. That’s the gratifying part. Due to a gigantic volume of idiocy, greed, and short-sightedness that’s gone on for years, a fine industry is on the ropes, and before they know it, a good many of these apathetic losers will be out of work. When that happens, we mustn’t feel sorry for them. Remember, they slit their own throats.

For too long authors have been writing their books in order to appeal to, not the reading public as you might expect, but editors, trying to second-guess what editors would like, in the hope of pleasing them and getting an advance for their work. That’s the wrong way to go about things. It stifles passion.

Strangely, the editors, for their part, were not interested in quality or uniqueness. They showed interest only in books whose author had an established following. This system existed, again not for the benefit of the reading public, but because marketing people were drop-dead lazy and couldn’t be bothered to publicize their products, beyond sending out a press release or making a couple of phone calls between coffee breaks. This, thankfully, is about to change too. In time, authors will be empowered to take over the process and market directly to their readers, cutting out publishers entirely.

*

And that’s why I’m so proud of my partner. He put his money where his mouth was and produced his own cookbook. A cookbook stuffed, crammed, jammed with fine recipes, each one of which we’ve eaten about two dozen times while he refined, played with, and photographed it (OMG, his cheesecake is the absolute best, and I’m not just saying that!)

The result is called Completely Delicious, and every ounce of the love and patience and caring he put into it is on display. It’s the real deal. I know I’m biased, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and any other professionally-produced cookbook out there.

Now, he’s lucky, of course – he has his own store in Beverly Hills, where he’s currently shifting several copies every day! But even so, what a coup. Here’s a guy who’s never written a book before and he’s beating the system. I hope more authors are inspired to do the same.

Inspired by this, I’m following him into the trenches. I’ve hired an illustrator, who is currently turning out fabulous work for the cover of my novel, and a designer is waiting to put it all together. Expect it to be available this summer.

Seriously, this is the future, people. A bright, shiny, new democracy. Where we, as authors, no longer have to hand our work over to companies that don’t respect it or have passion for it, the way we do, and where we can finally take control of our destiny, make our own decisions, and our own money. Remember, when you publish your own book, ALL the money goes to you, not just the measly 12% royalty the publishers decided to give you. That’s incredible.

So you see why I find this period of change so intensely empowering. I get tingles in my legs just thinking about it, although it may be the onset of diabetes from eating too much cheesecake, I’m not sure. But I’m betting that this is how the people of Egypt are feeling right now, and they haven’t even got a book out!

TV Swami – he get sidetracked today. But he have a point to make and he feel strongly.

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Hey, wanna be on a list?

It’s pretty well known by now that the live TV Review slot I do each week on BBC Radio has acquired cult status in Britain. And by cult, I mean that we have 15 listeners. Tops. Seriously, that’s it. Due mainly to the fact that the show is broadcast during the night at a time when anyone who might find it remotely entertaining or interesting is past caring and has dropped off to sleep already.

Surveys suggest that our audience at that hour consists of truck drivers and nurses, and then only because, if they didn’t keep the radio on, they might fall asleep and kill someone. Plus a few students who were too drunk during the day to study and are having to stay up til dawn, cramming facts into their mind like wet socks into an overfilled tumble-dryer.

Then there are a tiny minority who actually enjoy the show and listen for its own sake. Many of these are institutionalized. For them, the sound of me talking on the radio simply helps drown out the voices in their head. Or the dull drone of their cellmate’s snoring.

Anyway, once we reached 15 regular listeners, a golden number, I thought it might be nice to compile a list of their names.

Two reasons.

First, because the day might come when we need a bunch of people to go and do something for us – storm town hall meetings, picket book-signings by celebrities we don’t like, or just to form a touring riverdance company. At times like these, 15 loyal listeners can come in very handy indeed. But also, by finding out who they are, I thought it’d make it easier to round them up and pop them off in the event that they become unruly or threaten to migrate to a different radio network.

So let me publish the list here. That way we’re all on the same page. At some point in the future, badges may be issued to these people, or possibly mugs, I haven’t decided, to commemorate their membership of this prestigious unit. In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can follow our progress on Twitter @cashpeters, and on my Facebook page.

The List of the Loyal runs as follows. Let the record be struck, let the record be respected.

#1 Simon Best

#2 Marc Fearns

#3 Paul Simpson

#4 Alastair Treliving

#5 Dave Shephard

#6 Tony Schumacher

#7 Craig Hirst

#8 Garry Strutt

#9 Samuel E. Robinson

#10 John Burdis

#11 Ethan Rayne

#12 Mark Cunnington

#13 Johnny Phipps

#14 David Harrison

#15 Gerard Thompson

There they are. Those are the 15 long-time listeners that we broadcast to every week. All of them men, for some reason. Maybe women see a certain futility in this exercise that the rest of us don’t. At least it’s now a matter of public record. Indeed, I believe this blog post is considered a legal register of their membership under Finnish law.

15, I know, is not a big number. Actually, by the standards of some lists – the list of people waiting to vote the present government out of office, for example – it’s quite paltry. On the one hand not enough to make an army, but, on the other, certainly more than we need to patrol a neighborhood and prevent looting, or to disrupt a taping of Strictly Come Dancing.

But wait – there’s more.

During the arduous months-long process of compiling The List, other people started asking to be on it too. Well, of course, that’s not possible, and I told them so. On a list of 15 people, there are only 15 places, any fool can see that.

However, the pressure was great and my resolve as weak as a 95 year old arm-wrestler, therefore I’m compiling a second list. A standby list, which is also official under Finnish law, for people who would like someday to be on the main list, and also for anyone who simply enjoys having their name on a list. Those who register for the Standby List are not without responsibilities. They will be expected to sit quietly, possibly for a considerable while, yet be ready at all times to step up and be counted if one of the original 15 should die, collapse from exhaustion after our riverdancing tour of the Pacific Rim, or get eaten by bears. You laugh, but it’s a real danger.

This, then, is the Standby List, as it stands right now.

#16 Victoria Diamond

#17 Ian Merridan

#18 Joy Ritchie

#19 Siobhan Hill

#20 Jonathan Matthewson

#21 David Hadfield

#22 Andy Carr

#23 Tariq Latif

#24 Carol Brown

#25 Sarah Jasmin

#26 Catherine Lister

#27 Bruce McDonald

#28 Ruth Kaye

#29 David W (last name to follow, if we can winkle it out of him)

#30 Mary August

Done.

A good and strong crew, born for greatness, but somehow sidelined to make way for other people who asked to be on The List before they did. Let the record be struck a second time, let the record be respected.

If you wish to be put on The List yourself and enjoy the obvious benefits, then contact me on Twitter @cashpeters, and I’ll make it happen. Please note: we are an equal opportunity group – it just doesn’t seem it.

So what are the benefits of being on The List, then?

Good question, thanks for asking. Well, the benefits are fivefold. Please fetch a pen, you might want to write these down. They are:

  1. Exclusivity. That special feeling you get from being involved in something that only everyone who ever applies can be a part of.
  2. Camaraderie. It’s a form of social networking, but without the networking part, so you can actually be quite anti-social and aloof if you want to, we don’t care. It’s not all about you, you know!!
  3. Belonging. There are very few things you can be sure of any more. The whole of life seems to be in flux. But when you’re on The List, you’re on The List. That’s the end of the matter. Once you have your number, nobody can take that away from you. Unless you misbehave, in which case you’ll be stripped of your status and set upon by other people on The List who’ll thrash you like a Victorian orphan.
  4. Order. The List is strictly numerical. What’s more ordered than that?
  5. Finally, the really great thing about being on The List, as well as the Standby List, is that you could be mentioned at any time during the BBC broadcast each week, or, just as likely, not. This express lack of commitment on my part only adds to the excitement, I think.

So tell your friends. Spread the word. Get them on The List too. Let this be the kindling that sparks an entire self-combusting movement.

For anyone who, by this late stage, still has no clue what I’m talking about when I mention my BBC slot, you can tune in Tuesdays at 6.35pm (in the US) or Wednesdays at 2.35am (UK time) on BBC Radio Five Live and listen to Cash Peters’ TV review slot on Up All Night. I would, if I were you. How else do you stand a chance of getting on The List?

TV Swami, he proud of his followers and give them 5 magic carpets out of 5.

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