Tag Archives: publishing

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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Psst. Over here. There’s a naked man with a book to sell.

Today’s a tentpole day in the world of British literature, or so I like to think.

Despite the fact that the publishing industry is crumbling around our ears, and even though spotting someone reading these days is about as rare as restaurants that still have unicorn burgers on the menu since the ban, I can reassure you of one thing at least: quality books that are worth your time and money are still occasionally being published.

That said, allow me to draw your attention to the following:

Today in the UK, John Blake Publishing Ltd, the noble and esteemed institution behind such instant classics as Ant and Dec: The Story So Far and Chopper 10: A Fool and his Toes are Soon Parted, is releasing the British version of my travel book Naked in Dangerous Places, which they have decided to call Stranded in Dangerous Places. Same book, but with one big difference. Can you spot what it is?

Anyway, it’s about a grueling 15 months I spent living with various tribes and cultures around the world, from Cambodia to Dubai, Russia to Australia, a journey that scared the bejesus out of me, put me in hospital three times, and eventually led to me having an organ removed. Now seriously, who wouldn’t want to read about that? Though in case you’re still on the fence, the cover carries a depiction of me running naked with my underpants around my ankles, making it an instant collectors’ item.

Stranded in Dangerous Places by Cash Peters –  read it, love it, buy a second copy as back-up, in case you soil the first one laughing.

In fact, I’m so convinced you’ll laugh at this book that if you don’t, the publishers will give you your money back. Probably. Just check with them first to make sure that’s the case.

TV Swami – he support this message.


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There’s something weird happening on the Moon.

Yesterday was the beginning of the End Times for the book industry.

I said it would come. In fact, I’ve been promising a revolution for years, I just didn’t know how soon or what form it would take when it got here. Only that the book industry as it’s been for the past few decades had to die a grisly, horrible, humiliating death and that this would begin the moment something better came along to replace it.

Well, yesterday that something came along. It’s called the Kindle DX.

Basically, it’s an ordinary Amazon Kindle, the flat-screen, glareless reading tablet that made its debut, I believe, in 2001. Not the year, the movie. And which lets you read books, magazines, flight-paths, and articles about mysterious happenings on the Moon all in one handy gadget. Only now they’ve DX’d it! And when you DX something, you make it bigger and slicker and suitable for reading newspapers, PDF files, and text books too.

Also, if you’re too lazy to read the stuff you’ve downloaded, the Kindle DX becomes all masterful and starts reading it to you in a spooky robot voice, like the one on the GPS in my car. Or Hal in 2001.

Another thing I predicted – I’m always predicting things, then conveniently forgetting the ones that don’t come true  – was that the moment the current younger generation found a gadget that would help them avoid lugging a stack of cumbersome text books around campus in a backpack, then the book industry as we know and despise it would be screwed and collapse like a faulty card table.

Well, bingo! That’s happening right now.  The Kindle DX, and the flood of  similar devices that will follow it, are the book industry’s Kryptonite.

Here’s why.

Bookstores will eventually disappear. They’ll have to. We won’t need them any more. Have you been inside one lately? They’re already like graveyards. I visited my local Borders recently and had trouble finding where the books actually were. Instead, the place seemed to be filled with DVDs – another technology that’s on the way out. So it’s only a matter of time – years, maybe, but not too many – before these stores are no more.

This follows a business model I like to call ‘The Music Industry’.

We used to have a giant Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard here in Hollywood. That’s now gone. Closely followed by the Virgin Megastore. Why did they close? Because we started bypassing their overpriced merchandise by downloading music instead of buying CDs.

And why did we prefer to do that? Because the music industry was exploiting us. It had become smug, inefficient, bloated, and more about business than artistry.

CDs were not only bad value, but they usually contained only one or two good tracks – the ones that became singles – while the rest were mediocre if you were lucky; utter crap if you weren’t.  Then along came Napster, illegal music-sharing, bands giving away whole albums for free, and finally, with iTunes, a new form of democracy where the consumer actually grabbed back control and only bought what he wanted to buy. As a result, we got to download the songs that were any good, while the crap ones got ignored (are you listening, Elton John?), which is how it should be. In consequence, the music “industry” is now bordering on extinction.


The same will happen with book publishing. These days it’s become more about business than artistry, and someday soon, trust me, that’s going to cost the boring, scheming weasels in suits who run these ridiculously top-heavy enterprises their very livelihood.

I mean, have you tried to get a book published in the last few years if you’re not already famous or influential in some way, with a built-in audience? It’s beyond difficult, verging on impossible. I hear this all the time from writers.

Gone are the days when a brilliant, well-written manuscript would sell simply because it was good and deserved to be published. Now it’s become a labored committee process. Accountants are involved. Marketing people are involved. Publicity people are involved. Lawyers are involved. And a whole bunch of other faceless nobodies, none of whom could write a book themselves if their life depended on it.

I recall, when I put together my handwriting book Instant Insight a few years ago, I had to fly over from England to New York at my own expense and actually audition for a boardroom full of people in suits before I could even get a commission to write it. It’s nuts.

At our radio station in downtown LA. we have shelves and shelves filled with books. Books that flood in every day. Books that hold no interest for anyone. Tedious, badly-written, total-waste-of-paper books that publishers put out year after year in the hope that someone somewhere will open them – “Please? Somebody? Aw come on, see how glossy the cover is!” – and take a look inside. Books that sit there in our office until there’s no more room for them, then they get jammed in boxes and tossed out. What a waste.

The Kindle DX will do away with all of that nonsense. The new democracy that revolutionized music is heading for the book industry. Decades of apathy, bad judgements, smugness, and fatcattery are about to be washed away by a cleansing tsunami of consumer power. No more bookstores, no more libraries – they’ll become museums, or just continue to be places where the homeless can go to clean up and take a dump – and no more needless hassle for authors.

I told all of this to the publicist at my own publisher the other day, and she almost turned suicidal on me.  Apparently, none of this had ever crossed her mind. “But I’ll be out of a job!” she wailed down the phone.


There’ll still be publishers in the future, of course, they won’t go away. But the emphasis will shift. In this new world, they’ll be there to help authors hone their manuscripts ready for direct download to the Kindle, or whatever other device comes along, instead of putting up roadblocks to prevent them getting their work to the public, which is what happens now.

In fact, most authors will publish their work directly themselves as glorified blogs without ever going through a publisher, and the emphasis will shift to marketing. Chapters will routinely be given away for free, books will come with video clips and maybe introductory talks by the author about his work – it’s going to be fantastic and fun and energizing and extremely liberating.

For us at least. Not for people currently working in the book industry.


So there you go. We’re in the midst of something huge. To all those frustrated authors out there who can’t get their books in print – I say hang on. Help is on the way.

Speaking for myself, so far I’ve had seven books published. Some were good and still sell even now; some less so, and I wish they weren’t available on Amazon Old and Used.

The new book

The new book

The latest, Naked in Dangerous Places, is one of my very best. My editor and I, and a bunch of others, worked very hard on it for almost two years to make it as good as we could, and I’m extremely proud of it. It is, however, probably the last non-fiction book I’ll entrust to an old-fashioned publisher.

My next one, due out in the summer of 2011, will circumvent all the old ways, all the accountants and lawyers and PR people and faceless nobodies, and use new technology and internet marketing to reach its target audience. I won’t be asking anyone’s permission, I won’t be submitting proposals, there’ll be no committees or debate; it will just happen. Plus, it will be accompanied by a small film I’ll be making, which you’ll be able to download too, to enhance the experience. I mean, come on – how great is that?

I’m sorry? What did you say? What’s the book going to be about? Oh, I can’t possibly tell you. Not yet.

But here’s a clue: there’s something weird happening on the Moon. Astronauts have dug a pit and found a big black tall thing at the bottom of it that talks to monkeys and goes “EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” when you touch it.

Go buy a Kindle DX – I’ll tell you more in the summer.

TV Swami – he say YES to democracy.


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Dying, but having fun doing it.

Only profound excitement prevents me from writing a full blog entry today.  

Friends came to dinner last night. One of them’s a sound engineer, and he told me he’d been doing some recording at the Getty Museum in Malibu over the weekend. While he was there, he found my new travel book on sale in the bookstore and was able to report that every copy had sold out by yesterday. That’s huge.

Huge because book sales generally are declining. We’re in an important period of transition that happens occasionally, moving between an old, tired format – the printed word: books, newspapers, magazines – and a new, sparkly bright one, of Kindles, Sony Readers, and a whole slew of e-reading devices that are in the pipeline and which, in time, will revolutionize our reading habits.

For instance, it’s unlikely you’ll be buying my future books at the Getty or any other store – I’ll be emailing them to you. I may even call you before I write them, to make sure you’re interested in reading them, stuff like that. It’s a bright new world. 

From there, who knows? Some people, down the road, might actually develop a reading habit and start buying books again, where before they were content to waste whole evenings numbing their minds with mediocre television. As standards deteriorate and TV shows become steadily worse, to the point where most of them are just derivative mindless swill (a state known as being “utterly kardashian”), there’s a chance that quality prose, either in newspapers or books, might once again become attractive to a fickle general public looking for thrills.  

Better still, as the next generation emerges, kids will find they no longer have to carry around heavy bags with text-books in, but are able to download them all onto a single thin gadget, a flat tablet that can be tucked in a backpack, their pocket, or even behind their ear. At that stage, quality fiction and non-fiction could become sexy (and profitable) again and find a whole new audience.

Y’know how in history they had major ages, like the Industrial Revolution, when everything in society changed and the human race marched off in a different, unforeseen direction? Well we’re at the start of one of those now. In the future, history books will be written about us, marveling at the way we coped with such cataclysmic changes. History books that won’t be published, mind you; they’ll go straight to Kindle and be deleted almost immediately.  

Within the next five to ten years bookstores will become unviable and close down, newspapers and magazines will cease publication in print form, saving millions of trees and therefore the planet, and we’ll all resign ourselves, some not happily, to carrying around these zippy little flat-screen devices – there’s a new one from Apple on the way this year that will even support video and be in color – in much the same way we carry cellphones and Blackberrys.

Now, of course, when that happens, we’re as good as dead. We’ll be increasing tenfold our chances of contracting cancer from radiation. EMFs are already a major threat to our wellbeing. We each walk around in an invisible cloud of electromagnetic frequencies all day, and it’s only going to get worse. But hey, come on. We’re making history here! Dying horribly by being eaten from the inside is a small price to pay for the progress we now face. 

And anyway, look on the positive side, while we’re lying terminally ill in hospital, these little gadgets will be a godsend, helping us keep in touch with the world by bringing magazines and articles to our bedside. Or – here’s a suggestion – how about my latest book, Naked in Dangerous Places?  There’s a laugh on every page.

Did I tell you it sold out at the Getty this weekend?

By that point, the peculiar act of reading a fold-out tabloid newspaper or a single volume of fiction will seem as astonishing and antiquated as – oh, I dunno…listening to disco on a boombox, or finding something innovative and good to watch on the Travel Channel.   


TV Swami – he say YES to dying prematurely but  informed.



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