Prophesies and publishers . . .
Many years ago in a very different incarnation, probably one of my favourite incarnations, I worked in the ABC Shop in the Melbourne CBD. It was the retail outlet for all things written, recorded, played and mentioned on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In those early days, the 1980’s, one of the most sort after audio-tapes and then books, was the Lake Wobegon series by Garrison Keillor. I wondered what held people’s interest, but then I heard the homely ‘Prairies Companion’ voice, as if the listener sat out on the porch sharing a moment privately with the man, and I could see why.
Then for years I forgot about him. Last year, at a stumpwork masterclass, Mary-Anne, the owner of the embroidery shop sat out front manning the counter whilst we all struggled over the detail of thread and needle and I heard a voice I knew and which bought back memories. Mary-Anne was listening to Garrison Keillor, I’m not sure if by Podcast, or her own CD-rom through the computer, but it was a pleasant enough thing.
Most recently I read an article in the New York Times by that same man and he speaks with the authority of an elder statesman from the literary world and I found his words pointed, if not prophetic. For the detail, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/opinion/27iht-edkeillor.html
But if you want a brief look at the prophesy:
“Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea. We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers . . . And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a Web site. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you’ve got yourself an e-book. The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest . . .
Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I’m sorry you missed it.”
It’s an interesting take on the digital age from a man who sounds world-weary and has seen it all.