Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wylie's seismic venture + Writers' homes + Better writing? Start blogging

It was only a matter of time before an agent took this step, and unsurprising to anyone deeply familiar with the Anglophone publishing world is the person who's done so: Andrew Wylie. Bypassing the major publishing houses, he's established a deal with Amazon to produce and publish ebooks, under a new imprint he's founded, Odyssey Editions, by some of the 700 authors under his representation, including some of the best known in the world, like John Updike, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Salman Rushdie. Odyssey will start with 20 ebooks, including Rushdie's award-winning Midnight's Children.

Publisher Random House, part of the Bertelsmann publishing conglomerate and print publisher of some of Updike's, Roth's and Rushdie's books, is so upset at Wylie's tack that they are refusing to conduct any new business on English-language books with the Wylie Agency. Other print publishers of his authors, like Simon & Schuster (part of CBS), and Penguin (part of Pearson), remain mum.

Quoting the article,

"The Wylie Agency's decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor," Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum said in a statement.

"Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved."

Since this cuts print publishers out of what is increasingly the most viable and lucrative area in publishing, people in the industry are extremely worried, and, as Kenneth Li's recent article in the Financial Times notes, it could be the end of the 500-year-old publishing industry at it's evolved.  Supposedly Wylie's authors and author estates will receive 50% royalties, which would represent a windfall over the 25% royalties they now get with standard ebook contracts, and the 12%-15% they get with standard print contracts.  As Li's article notes, the threat of this sort of action has led some publishers to negotiate generous ebook royalties with other agents, like Amanda Urban.  Yet Wylie's prominence is such that other agents will likely follow suit, and this opens up possibilities not only for writers with agents, but perhaps even more so for non-agented writers who have access to proprietary software or to independent publishers, have or can create a readership, and can strike deals with the online sellers. A brave new world of publishing indeed.


A work of art? Sort of. A bit disturbing, nevertheless, wouldn't you say? Actually, it's an image of a piece in Edward Gorey's house (aha--now it makes sense), one of many in A. N. Devers' Writers' Houses, an online collection of images and texts about writers' dwellings.  According to Madeleine Schwartz at The New Yorker's book blog, which is where I learned about the database, the featured homes include Edgar Allen Poe's, Pearl S. Buck's, Emily Dickinson's, John Steinbeck's, James Merrill's, and yes, Edward Gorey's.

Devers is deeply interested in writers' living spaces (that is, more than the particular rooms in which they write, which Susannah Raab has photographed, and Diana Fuss, among others, has written critically about) and encourages visitors' images and accounts of pilgrimages to them.  (I'm assuming she means writers no longer with us.)

Almost everywhere I visit I associate with the writers and artists who've lived there, but I only occasionally seek out the homes--especially if they're not house or apartment-museums--of these figures. I did visit Poe's room during my years down at the University of Virginia, and like many a schoolchild in St. Louis, I was taken to Eugene Field's house, which is a famous museum. Last year when I was in Cuba I did try to visit José Lezama Lima's house, which I was told was a museum (I also thought of the Havana homes of Reinaldo Arenas, Severo Sarduy and Virgilio Piñera, neither of which I imagine the government would be happy to have on maps), but I wasn't able to find it, though it turned out that I was staying only a few blocks from it. On the other hand, one of the hotels where I stayed was the home-in-exile, for some years, of the great Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, and I did photograph the commemorative plaque in the lobby, though I wasn't able to find out what rooms he'd stayed in.

If you could visit the homes of 2-3 non-living authors you admire, who and where would they be?


Someone is always slagging off on blogging and online writing, but not everyone thinks it's such a bad idea. Blogger and online writer Mary Jaksch, for example, solicited ideas to improve her writing, and the common aspect of the responses she received was, no surprise to anyone who writes regularly or teaches writing, was that practice makes perfect. At the top of her list of 73 helpful responses and suggestions on becoming a better writer was one that will probably make Andrew Keen (no relation) and Lee Siegel explode: to blog. Blogging, and regularly doing so (as I once used to do!), was, she thought, a surefire "winner." I agree, though I think it's probably best if it doesn't crowd out other projects (fictional, poetic, dramaturgical, essayistic, a mélange of all of these, etc.) that you're working on. Some other commonsense suggestions from Jaksch:

13. Write in different genres: blog posts, poems, short stories, essays.
14. Read grammar books.
15. Write without distractions.
16. Challenge yourself: write in a crowded cafe, write on the toilet, write for 24 hours straight.
17. Take a trip. Road trips, beach trips, bus trips, plane trips.
18. Watch movies. Can you write the story better?
19. Write. And then write some more.
20. Read, think, read, write, ponder, write - and read some more.
21. Read your stuff aloud to anyone who can stand it - including the cat.
22. Go back and cut 10% from your word count.

One small note about this last point: anyone who's ever submitted her work to an editor knows that cutting can be one of the most difficult things to experience, but my personal experience has been that editorially suggested brevity almost always produces a better final piece--except twice, when an editor thought that commas I'd been using (in part in homage to John Edgar Wideman's style, which I adulated when I was in my early 20s) should be converted to periods, transforming a story into near-gibberish, and another time, when a review of Gary Fisher In Your Pocket was hacked down so much that it verged on nonense. When the writing program's 2010 visiting fiction and creative nonfiction writers--George Saunders and JoAnn Beard, respectively--were discussing their experiences with The New Yorker, both noted the sometimes brutal editorial cuts they'd suffered and battled over. In the case of both authors, I don't think there's any question that the resulting works, published in the magazine, weren't at least somewhat stronger than originally submitted. Of course editing doesn't always work out so well, but if you do it enough, on your own work as well as others', it can often prove fortuitous.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of editing, can you recommend any really good books on editing fiction and poetry? I'm trying to expand my skills and discovering very different requirements from critical prose.