A response to the New York Times article of 1.5.09: Putting off the Ritz: The New Austerity in Publishing.
I have a challenging and inspiring job -- I'm a literary agent. I've been in publishing for four and a half years, and have been agenting for roughly two of those years. And now with a new year, a spring in my step, and a slew of newly read manuscripts, I naturally look towards the future. In the air is an eagerness for Obama, for the gloom of late 2008 to be over, and an optimism to find the next cat book, or dog book, or vampire book, or the latest literary wonder, whatever works... Monday, January 5, 2009, the first day back at work.
First things first, check for any urgent e-mails and then go to the New York Times book section. Anything up?
Another article informing me about the impending death of the publishing industry. Hmmm, like I needed a reminder? Whether we kept our jobs or not, we know. Black Wednesday wasn't so long ago that we already need a recap. We've spent part of our vacation searching for great free lance work for our beloved editor friends who were laid off. We know the holiday parties were canceled, because we didn't go to any. And by the way, is it so depressing that Random House can't go to Bermuda this year? Not in my opinion -- I'd rather they buy five new debuts instead, any day. Or perhaps those expensive lunches can be put towards publicity for the titles already scheduled. It's fine to point out how the glory days are over, and to be honest, they have been for a while -- I don't have any colleagues -- senior or junior that take regular limo rides or go to The Four Seasons. Bread Bar at Tabla or a cocktail at the Grand Central Oyster bar are some typical dates -- and that really only feels appropriate when there's an actual book deal. We should take more advantage of our nice offices and make a pot of coffee to talk shop instead. I'm all for it.
Publishing shouldn't sound so grim so much of the time, because after a while, it can be discouraging -- to people in and out of the business. Let's take a minute and think about who reads the book section of the Times. I haven't done a focus group, but my best guess is that the readership largely consists of people who read books, and the people who make books happen. So why not add in something, anything to inspire people who read books to read more? And why not inspire the ones who work for books to avoid crawling underneath their desks. Instead we are officially informed that the publishing business is suffering. Mission accomplished. Again. Remember the September New York Magazine piece, THE END?
Anyway, instead of how everything is miserable and no longer glamorous, why not report about some wonderful little novel that was sold for $20,000 -- and from a small press, please? Why not talk about how a more discriminating editorial board will produce finer fiction or more commercial fiction -- hey, I'm no book snob. How about a piece about how two movies, Revolutionary Road and The Reader were both made from even more glorious novels? I don't know, some light, please? I don't suggest a state of ignorance, but let's round out the equation and look at the bright side -- just every once in a while. Let's plump up the book section with some news about books! Because I worry that the more you talk about how books are going down the tubes, the more they will. It's bad press and it's not the whole story.