Among Friends is “a history of an industry transformed by consolidation and shifting tastes.” Recently published, since it costs two hundred dollars, I’m not likely to read this fascinating history of the recent publishing industry.
That said, I have been part of the industry since 1968, when my first book, Things That Sometimes Happen, was accepted for publication. Before actual publication, that book had four editors because the editors kept switching their employment from one publisher to another. That was possible because there were so many editorial jobs available, and the industry was booming.
(In revised—and much better form—that book is still in print.)
Furthermore, TTSH was a picture book but, before the work on the book was completed, the illustrator floated into Mexico for some kind of hallucinogenic experience. The art director (whoever that was) finished the art.
Then by some kind of “mistake” or so I was told, the book was soon pulled from publication.
A different time, indeed.
Such was my introduction to the world of the professional writer. I have no desire to go back to that experience.
Since then, over the years I had much better experiences and developed fond and close friendships (as well as good, lasting books) with several editors such as Fabio Cohen, Dick Jackson, and Elise Howard. I had productive relationships (and many friendships) within publishing houses, in particular Pantheon Books, Hyperion, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins.
I not only knew many of the people involved, from marketing to copyediting folk, but these working relationships were also friendships. Among Friends is a good summary of how publishing used to feel.
Much of that has indeed changed. There are now only four major publishers. The reading public has diminished. Whereas bookstores were vital to the industry, Amazon is the principal source of bookselling. Marketing has radically shifted to social media. The last book tour that had been organized for me was canceled because of COVID-19. The many school visits—where and when I interacted with my readers—have shifted to virtual visits, not so engaging for me. It was not only my readers I met, but teachers and librarians. I don’t just miss them, but all those people helped shape my work. Finally, the time it takes to publish a book has lengthened, with the creative interaction between editor and writer not as effervescent and fun.
And yet, and yet….
My writing of books goes on. The desire for quality and the struggle for that quality has not changed and sometimes is achieved. I have published many books, and more (hopefully) will come.
So, it’s not really my right to complain. Instead, I must adjust to the changes.
In Among Friends there is the story that John Le Carre, whenever he got a good publishing deal said, “Baby will eat tonight.” My kids feed themselves, but I might just as well say to my wife, “Good news! The mortgage will be paid tonight.”
That part has not changed.