Garrison Keillor Says The Publishing Industry is Cooked

Well-written, fun piece about going to a swanky industry party in Tribeca; feeling the end.

"I ran into my daughter's favorite author, Mary Pope Osborne, in New York the other night, whose Magic Tree House books I've read to the child at night, and a moment later, Scott Turow, who writes legal thrillers that keep people awake all night, and David Remnick, the biographer of Obama.

Bang bang bang, one heavyweight after another. Erica Jong, Jeffrey Toobin, Judy Blume. It was a rooftop party in Tribeca that I got invited to via a well-connected pal, wall-to-wall authors and agents and editors and elegant young women in little black dresses, standing, white wine in hand, looking out across the Hudson at the lights of Hoboken and Jersey City, eating shrimp and scallops and spanikopita on toothpicks, all talking at once the way New Yorkers do."

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As someone else pointed out, Keillor who writes nostalgia for radio is not the best spokesperson for innovations in publishing.
Nice little nostalgia piece, as IJ says. And I fear he's ultimately right--to the extent that the future of the publishing industry depends on YA vampire shit (and it does), we're screwed.
Yeah, I think he's too pessimistic. If everything were self-published, readers would have a tough time finding something to finish.
There's probably a lot of truth in that, though I doubt Keillor considers himself much of a prognosticator. I think he got a feeling from the party and had some fun with it.

What I took as the most important part is the setting, the party with the literary hoi polloi. I'd credit whoever I'm stealing this from if I could remember who it was, but publishing is not a limousines and caviar type of industry; there's not that kind of money in it, certainly not in the current business model. At some point, certain key players--authors, editors, publishers, bean counters--get a whiff of the rarefied atmosphere at the top and decide that's where they want to spend there time. Unfortunately, that's not where the work gets done. I don't think of those folks as being involved in publishing. I'm not sure what it is they're involved in (celebrity, and its care and feeding), but it has little to do with putting works on paper to be read.

However books end up being disseminated, the cream will always rise to the top, and profitable niches will be created. People are twice as creative when it comes to making money than they are at any "creative" endeavor.
I think you're right. I think he'd have quite a different feeling if he went to Bouchercon and saw a couple thousand people who love to read books and a few people like Barbara from Poisoned Pen Press and David from Busted Flush Press who love to publish books.

Or, he could spend a little time at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

What he described is a movie party. The publishing world has been acting like the movie business for a while - ever since "media" companies bought publisers twenty years ago, but it's an uncomfortable fit. If that kind of publshing comes to an end... well, most writers aren't very comfortable at those parties anyway.

We used to hear all the time that publishers needed blockbuster bestsellers to finance the rest of their operaions that discovered and nurtured many more writers. Well, we all know that model doesn't work anymore (and maybe, really, never did), but there are plenty of small presses and alternaive ways to sell books that won't finance Hollywood-style parties but will still work.
John, on the other hand, what's the likelihood of a new writer starting out now (or even over the last five years) being able to make a living as writer in this genre? I'm sure a few will, but man, it sure seems bleak for 99.99% of the writers now. Just looking back over the last 5 years of all the hot emerging new writers in the crime/mystery space, some of whom I thought deserved every bit of the hype they got, and now seem as if they're gone after only 1-3 books, and it makes you wonder if it's at all possible if you don't get lucky with a film deal or hit it right with foreign deals. As the midlist is rapidly being wiped out, it's like everything else now as the gulf between the haves and the have nots just keeps growing--same as in sports and everything else--you've got the megastars who make the bulk of the money and then everyone else struggling to make a go of it.
Yes, that's all true, Dave. What I'm hoping is that new technology (e-books and POD and so on) will make it more feasible for smaller, niche publishers to be profitable and pass on some of those profits to authors.
I think many small publishers will likely be wiped out by the whole ebook phenomenon, simply because they won't have the marketing muscle to get prominent placement on big ebook retail sites like Amazon or iBooks. In the current model they survive because of library sales and niche indie bookstores that are willing to stock their titles, but as ebooks kill off the indie bookstores, so go the small/indie presses.
Maybe. But all of bookselling is going to change. Have you heard Richard Nash (the founder of Soft Skull Press) talking about his new venture, "Cursor." He says, "Cursor is a social approach to publishing that focuses on the establishment of powerful, self-reinforcing online membership communities made up of professional authors, reader members, and emerging writers."

If he hadn't been the founder of Soft Skull I'd dismiss that as internet huckster double-speak.

Still, I have my doubts. I think what he's talking about is something like Crimespace but I think he'll run into the same thing that Daniel has said about Crimespace - it was supposed to be a place for writers and readers to meet (Nash says, "reader members") but so far it's almost all writers. Which, again, is like Bouchercon - sure lots of readers and writers are there but they don't mix. So, we'll see.
Actually at Bouchercon, readers meet authors during the presentations and afterwards at book signings. If they go to meet specific authors, they can easily find them that way.

As for our site: we have non-authors, but they are more on the reading thread. It's an interesting thread where you can learn quite a bit about their tastes. I feel strongly that authors should not forget that they are readers, too. Perhaps we need some eye-catching threads there. Or maybe we could run a separate section on genre. Readers are very particular as to what sort of book they want.
I think he'd have quite a different feeling if he went to Bouchercon and saw a couple thousand people who love to read books and a few people like Barbara from Poisoned Pen Press and David from Busted Flush Press who love to publish books.

Okay, but Keillor's talking about a generational shift from books to screens, from traditional publishing to DIY publishing. What was apparent at the two Bouchercons I've attended is that our readers--and maybe readers in general--aren't exactly kids, and that kind of reinforces what Keillor's saying. Older people read have a sentimental attachment to books; younger people have a whole different experience of reading. Older writers like the traditional publishing model with its advance checks and the affirmation (not to mention groceries) they confer, younger people see the whole gatekeeper function of the publisher as a meaningless obstacle. To the extent that publishing as we know it is likely to die off as my generation fades away, it's already dead. Keillor's right about that, I think, but it may also be true that other ways of making money as a writer will evolve from the primordial ooze of self-publishing via ebooks. So far that business model doesn't exist, though, and may become less likely to emerge as readers are trained to expect a lower and lower price point for those ebooks (as in free of charge).
Yes, there was supposed to be a generational shift away from live theatre to the movies and then from movie theatres to TV in every home. I was at a sci-fi convention about twenty years ago and one of the panel discussions was, "The Greying of Fandom," everyone talking about how the readers were all getting older and there were no younger people coming on board. I have a feeling more sci fi books sold last year than in any previous year.

But I do think you're right that other ways to make a living as a writer will emerge. I think the business of e-books - even prose e-books - isn't going to look like the business of print publishing soon. Something quite new will evolve. Maybe it will look more like the business of TV writing because the online world and its constant demand for new material seems to have a lot mor in common with TV than it does with books, I think.

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