Scene Report: Publishing in the Age of Blah, Blah, Blah.


Attended the Publishing in the Age of Blah, Blah, Blah event at Mellville House last night. Pictured from left to right: Lev Grossman, Dennis Loy Johnson, Joe Meno, Sarah Manguso, Heidi Julavits and Myla Goldberg. Not pictured: John Wray, Tao Lin, and Joshua Henkin.

The question of e-books and online publishing has, thus far, been primarily discussed with editors and publishers. But what about the people writing the books? No one seems to be giving a shit what they think about any of this. Why don’t we ask them?

And with that, a panel discussion was born.

I didn’t take any notes, nor did I snap any photos except for the one above (was a little gun-shy as it was a somewhat formal event and I didn’t want to be that weird, scene report, blogger dude, but apparently that’s what I’m becoming), but here’s what I got out of the discussion: e-books and online publishing will not, nor should they, effect the author whatsoever.

Joe brought up an interesting point that if you’re a writer, why wouldn’t you want any possible avenue of distribution at your disposal?

E-books and online publishing is an area of frustration and panic for editors and publishers because it’s strange and new, two concepts that seem to scare them. And it maybe has the potential to fuck with their wallets. Writers make money off of book sales, print or electronic.  But here’s why it’s not going to effect them whatsoever: out of eight authors on the panel only one of them professed to make a full time living off of their novel writing.

Some of your favorite authors, really successful and talented ones, have supplemental income. Teaching, editing, copy writing, janitor, whatever. You know this. Writing’s never been a gold rush industry (though with the amount of people trying to write these days, you could have fooled me). And this was where the night got a little depressing. This panel of critically acclaimed, award winning authors came flat out and said that they weren’t making a livable income off their books.If they can’t do it, what hope is there for us?

But there was also an interesting discussion point brought up that the writer needs to be industrious and entrepreneurial, to be experimental with ways of getting their work out to people. John Wray went served as the “opening act” for Colson Whitehead on his last book tour. And for another book tour he proposed to his publisher that he ride a raft down the Mississippi River.

I used to think that now that the old publishing model was broken people were struggling to find the new one. But I don’t think that anymore.

Our age won’t be defined by finding a new model to operate from. We are the age of constant flux. The age of uncertainty, like jumping form one cracking iceberg to the next, we are surviving, taking chances. Very scary, but also very exciting.

Random notes:

Two separate mentions of the word “codify” were used by two separate people on two separate topics of discussion.

I introduced myself to Tao Lin to make sure there was no bad blood over a recent blog post of mine. He punched me in the face.

Actually, he said he liked the post and I gave him a magazine.


  1. davidpeak says:

    damn. really wanted to go to that and see Joe but was stuck at work. when tao lin punched you in the face, did you catch his fist by chomping down with your teeth? cool if you did.

  2. chris says:

    Yeah, you missed a good one Mr. Peak, Joe was his usual Joe self. Insightful and funny.

    Actually, my double chin absorbed the impact, then it absorbed the fist, then it spat the fist back out, into his face.

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