10 years after The Business of Books by Andre Schiffrin
I did not read The Business of Books by Andre Schiffrin until this week, 10 years after its publication. I remember seeing interviews and reading articles about it, but failed to sink my eyes into the pages of this worthy description of the publishing business, and how it has been corrupted by corporate interests and political influence, and how the number of publishers has shrunk into an oligopoly enterprise. The consequence is freedom of speech has been compromised and struggling writers, some worthy and others less, have lost their book channel.
I began a project to write a book for Wiley Publishing with a proposal in late 2008. I wrote like crazy in 2009 and produced a 200,000 word tome. By spring 2010, it appeared in print. If had to make a living writing books, I would have died during proposal submission from starvation. I love my publisher, and after having read the Schiffrin description, I feel grateful that they took me on.
I have five more books in my head, but getting the next one in the hopper does not appear any easier than the first. I have discovered blogging, of course, and NowPublic provides a chance for me to interact with an audience and fellow writers.
I also signed onto WeBook.com and they published a story that I wrote about the Obama inauguration, January 20, 2009. I posted my 23 chapter autobiography called Patchwork And So Forth. I did this after failing to land a New York publisher for my work that I am certain might inspire a screenplay. Check it out, it is free and you can comment.
Anyway, because I have been a magazine publisher for The American Broadcasting Companies, a publishing executive of my own firm, now sold, Talon Publishing Inc., and having published 150 professional articles in journals as well as the Smart Data book for Wiley, I too have some stories to tell about magazine publishing. My stories would be the flip side of Mad Men, as I had some experience in that business too as a hack.
Andre Schiffrin didn’t paint a very bright future for traditional book publishing though offered a glimpse into internet publishing. For me, I am contemplating self-publishing handmade books, a throwback to Kenneth Patchen. Anyone familiar with this poet, artist, and publisher?
“Kenneth Patchen (December 13, 1911 - January 8, 1972) was an American poet and novelist. Though he denied any direct connection, Patchen's work and ideas regarding the role of artists paralleled those of the Dadaists, the Beats, and Surrealists. Patchen's ambitious body of work also foreshadowed literary art-forms ranging from reading poetry to jazz accompaniment to his late experiments with visual poetry (which he called his "picture poems").”
“Schiffrin is the son of Jacques Schiffrin, a Russian Jew who emigrated to France and briefly enjoyed success there as publisher of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which he founded, and which was bought by Gallimard, until he was dismissed on account of the anti-Jewish laws enforced by the Vichy regime. Jacques Schiffrin and his family had to flee and eventually found refuge in the United States. As the younger Schiffrin recalls in his autobiography, A Political Education: Coming of Age in Paris and New York (2007), he thus experienced life in two countries as a child of a European Jewish intellectual family. As an anti-Communist socialist Schiffrin opposed both the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the U.S. war in Vietnam. He was one of the founders of the organization that became Students for a Democratic Society. For nearly 30 years Schiffrin was director of publishing at Pantheon Books, where he was partially responsible for introducing the works of Pasternak, Foucault and others to America. Schiffrin quit Pantheon in 1990 and established the nonprofit The New Press, explaining that he did so because of economic trends that prevented him from publishing the serious books he thought should be published. Schiffrin discusses what he regards as the crisis in western publishing in his book The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000).”
With just a little encouragement from my NowPublic friends, I will write a book about magazine publishing in the 1980’s that is full of comedy and tragedy and inspiration.