Prebreakfast rant

Go on, write  another blogpost about Peanut.

But I haven’t had my damned breakfast yet.

Just do it.

Oh, fine.

Well, much as I love to draw, I also love to write. So this book, Peanut, the first one I’ve published that’s all about the writing, is like my shy bookish child who generally doesn’t come out when company’s around but is rather in a corner, nose between the pages, building up a steamy head of potential and finally stepping into the limelight to get her due. Now, you might say, if she’s so great why is she appearing on Blurb rather than on the front table of your corner Barnes & Gobble? Is she somehow lesser? Does her picturelessness make her somehow less worthy of someone’s hard-earned pennies? Seriously, there are gazillions of paperbacks clawing at the  eyeballs of readers, jockeying to be read, and here you come with some sordid little manuscript and expect people to drop their kindles and snap it up? Be real, man, your illustrated books are being sold in Chinese bookstores, this is penny ante stuff. This little amusebouche isn’t gracing the front page of the Times Book Review. It’s not being chatted about on Morning Edition. Oprah hasn’t put her imprimatur on its cover.  You dont see Jonathan Franzen uploading his books to Blur, do you?

True, true and true. The fact is the publishing world has a mighty machine built over a couple of centuries for grinding out books and profits and making sure everyone everywhere gets to read the same stuff at the  same time. And the next fact is that self-publishing or ‘vanity publishing’ is a grimy little by-way a salon de refusés, full of conspiracy theorists and weekend poets that drizzles out awkwardly typeset drivel with badly designed cover art.

But here are some more relevant and freshly made facts. Thanks to the publishing colossus, it’s impossible for 99% of writers to survive as writers. Even really good ones end up spending most of their time teaching in creative writing departments of lesser-know midwestern colleges or cranking out reams of ad-copy or making half-caff lattes or flipping burgers or just giving up altogether. Now, no one owes writers a living as writers and the prevailing ethic in our society is that if you were any good you could make a living at your craft, but a glance at the Times Bestseller list shows that to do so you have to be James Patterson or Nora Roberts to make ends meet in the publishing world and that the majority of people who get to spend their-full time live making books are editors, publishers, printers, publicists, and agents — not writers.

Now, I love all of my editors and publishers and printers and such, but not so much that they deserve to get 92% of your money whenever you buy one of my books. I mean, I put up with it, but come on. 92%?

Writers have bitched about this inequity since Dickens’ day and finally we have an alternatives. In today’s Times, you can read about Susan Orleans venture into Amazon Singles where she gets 70 cents on every dollar. (She’s a big deal writer of course and is able to get a big article in a big paper to promote her little book so she’s hardly typical). E-books give writers a slightly larger bite of the pie. We get 25% royalties on all the books that publishers don’t need to print or  warehouse or ship or even lift a finger to reproduce.  But, as has happened in the music business, the real opportunity for writers is to short the chain that connects us to our readers. To make books available without all the middle men. That means readers get books faster (it can take over a year or more for a book to go from the author through the production machine and into your local bookstore) and cheaper (seriously, $30 for a new hardcover?) and more. More because when your favorite authors can focus on making books instead of burgers, you end up with more books you love.

It’s all up to authors to take more leaps into the new order of things and try their hand at self-promotion and self-production. And that is possible and fairly simple when you make a book that’s all text. Most of my books, illustrated, four-color, beautifully printed, are partnerships between me and a group of editors and designers who really add value and earn some (if not all) of their 92%. But when it comes to a straightforward book like Peanut, well, it’s not that hard to make it available to readers in an edition that is virtually the same as they’d find  in a  bookstore,

There are still a lot of things to be worked out. publishing on demand is still a fairly expensive model. And I have no idea if most of my readers have kindles  nooks and ipads and such. If they did it would be easier to make sand distribute electronic books that include color and even video demonstrations and commentary. That may be a few years away and frankly the publishing world doesn’t have that much incentive to make it happen. Instead, we, authors and readers can make that more common and available by supporting authors who show interest in inventing new ways of distribution.

I hope I haven’t created the impression that I am begging for your money here.

Believe me, I do fine toiling in the salt mines of advertising and will hopefully do so for some time.But it would be nice to think that an author who has a base of loyal readers might be able to connect with them directly and together they could provide an atmosphere in which writers could spend more time and effort making the books we all love.

I also realize that none of this is a particularly persuasive reason to buy and read Peanut in particular*. The fact that it’s self published on Blur (like many other books I probably wouldnt read), shouldnt make it a must buy. But if you like my writing, and the idea of the book, and have looked at a few pages in the free sample preview, then don’t let the fact that it is coming to you through this more untraditional venue hold you back from buying a copy.

You will be joining me at the barricades, striking another blow for creativity liberty, and breathing heavily down the hunched backs of the  capitalist running dogs. Vive la revolution!

Alright, now can we eat breakfast?

No, first, ask them nicely to buy a copy of  PEANUT here.

I think I’ll have marmite on toast….


* Il’ll try to do a better job of selling you on  Peanut, in the days ahead.