The ebook seems to be devouring print. Writers are bidding adieu to agents and publishers for new freedom and hoped-for improved income through self-publishing.
Although through the better part of my life I made a decent living from writing (in ad agencies which overpaid us and under-worked us) I looked at myself more as an idea man or a concept developer, and never really considered myself to be a writer - even though I had written and sold radio plays while still in high school and TV plays in the pioneer days of live-TV.
I never had any ambitions to write books. My heavy fiction book reading days ended when I reached my teens and in my mature years I read mainly reference material and trade journals.
I specialized in TV on Madison Avenue and didn’t write my first screenplay until later in life – and that only because two friends kept pestering me to do so. My first passionate screenplay writing came about when I was struck by a comical idea when Spielberg’s “Jaws” became the industry’s first instant blockbuster film. The idea was: “How many hapless producers might there be who had turned down Benchley’s book, Jaws, and so I focused on a fictional producer who turned it down with the comment, ‘Who wants to make a movie about a dumb fish?’”
I sent an outline to a story editor at Columbia Pictures and immediately received a reply asking for the screenplay and the budget at my earliest opportunity. That filled me with jet fuel. I locked myself in a den in the basement and ground out a 140 page screenplay in 12 days. (I later gained knowledge and cut it down to 120 pages)
But I considered authoring a book to be “real writing” which required talent, a schooled background, a vast vocabulary, mastery of grammar; all the elements that Madison Avenue copywriters and Hollywood screenwriters lack. The latter may develop a keen sense of structure and dialogue but couldn’t match a single page of Dickensian prose if their lives depended on it.
But then a small publisher who had been given a copy of a screenplay I had written came to me wanting a book adaptation of that screenplay. I had little time and less interest and turned down the offer. She then offered to have it written by a ghost writer while paying a decent royalty and I agreed.
I regretted this quickly. The publisher, a culturally deprived, former writer of sleazy romances ended up writing the adaptation herself. It was artless and suffered in every way imaginable, which I found depressing. I edited it and she ignored most of my edits. I created a cover which her people also messed up. Adding insult to injury, some eight months later she pulled a bogus bankruptcy owing royalties to a dozen authors. All in all, it was an emetic experience.
Whenever I have a bad experience, I am prompted to repeat whatever it was, and to do it right the second time. This was the first time that I gave some thought to actually writing a book. I had no idea of what I wanted to write about but the thought settled in the back of my mind, to write an interesting book and find an effective publisher.
I recalled lecturing other writers about gestalt in the writing game. Advertising copywriters on the whole can be classified as losers who build nothing for themselves and are dumped by the industry as frequently as the kitchen garbage.
Screen writers, though, one of the most important elements of the film production process, are largely ignored once they’ve handed in their effort. Ultimately, their screenplay functions as an outline for the director whose vision may distance itself light years from the writer’s original concept.
But when the writer writes a book he wears the mantle of author which automatically elevates him, and if the public accepts or adores his writing, he becomes king of the castle. He has won the game. He has created a work that is his alone; that represents the first window in the world of content. The next window would be the motion picture and subsequently TV, on and on down the line.
His gem is now judged by the ultimate jury; the book buying public, while gems he produced of the same quality for Madison Avenue or Hollywood could have been relegated to the waste basket by a single empowered potz in the organization’s pecking order. And once that took place, his gem could never again surface for a chance to be appreciated by others.
Granted, these powered potzes also existed in the book publishing world; myopic agents, editors who were editors because their uncle was publisher, various individuals with bad taste and judgment, in some cases, perhaps, folks whose lips moved while reading.
But now we have the e-book and Amazon and Kobo and self-publishing and Democracy in the world of Literature. Now each writer gets a chance to become king of the castle without dumb agents or editors or supervisors of one sort of another to meddle or mess with the golden words that express the author’s brilliant imagination and ideas.
Oh-oh! Did I cheer too soon? Yes, I’m afraid so. And this takes me back to 1954 when I had been invited by MCA to come to New York to discuss I Married a Genius, a TV pilot I had written and submitted to them. The agent who interviewed me asked what my immediate plans were since I still had my family in Toronto.
I said, “Well, I want to get a job in an agency here in town, and then I’ll bring my family down and write the series at night.” I couldn’t think of any other way to work. You took a job, any job that paid the rent and put food on the table, and at night you wrote whatever you wanted to write which was all speculative work.
The agent reacted with shock. “What do you mean a job in an agency?” he demanded. An “agency” to him meant a talent agency. He didn’t deal with advertising agencies. He said, “Come on! What can you make in an ad agency? Ten, fifteen thousand? Let’s get this show sold and then you’ll come up with other shows; let’s get you established!”
My head was swimming. I had hoped to get six to eight thousand in an ad agency and he was piddling on ten or fifteen thousand as if that was alms for beggars. (In today's dollars you need to multiply these amounts by ten)
Well, it didn’t happen. He left MCA to join Marilyn Monroe productions and his replacement didn’t know what to do with my pilot. I ended up in an ad agency and at night I started writing songs instead of plays or books.
But, guess what? Today’s emancipated; self-published writers need to do the same thing. There is no free lunch in this world. New books don’t capture the world’s attention by themselves once uploaded to Kindle or Kobo.
YOU have to promote them and that takes time. Now YOU are a publisher as well as the writer. Granted with e-books there is no concern about printing costs or shipping costs or remainders; but to do it properly, promotion will take full days. That becomes the self-published writer’s day job. The creative writing has to be done at night.
What we really need are 36-hour days and the energy to make it on two hours sleep.