About the same time every day I get a phone call. It's almost always a mechanized dialer call -- you can tell by the long buzzing pause. It's most often a woman and she has a cold pitch about a charity or about some kind of insurance scam. Once I goofed and told off my pharmacist because she sounded the same. It's all because I don't have a cell phone and my wired landline is in the phone book.
A few days ago I got a call from a woman who claimed she was going to help get my "book" published. I hung up on her. Nothing daunted, she popped up on email with her appeal, saying she was Patricia Glenwood. She claimed: "We have discovered your book entitled “Bronze Inside and Out: A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver (Legacies Shared)” in the Library of Congress and was reviewed [sic] by our partnered literary agents. We work as an agency for your book to possibly be acquired by a traditional publishing company. We would like to give you an offer for the book to be picked up by a traditional publishing company and to make it available in physical book stores."
Toll Free: 1-800-351-3529
Email Address: email@example.com
Address: 30 Wall Street 8th flr, New York City, NY 10005
So I googled, which is what I always do, though I'm aware it's often like consulting gossip. This time the double word was "look out." One intrepid person went over to this address and discovered it was rent-a-desk, no printing press in sight.
"Note: Unsold copies will not be returned to you, it will be circulated to other bookshops. We deal with five major markets like US and Canada as one, UK, Australia, Africa, and Asia. We will shoulder the republishing cost of your book worth $8,000 – 12,000 and also some marketing ventures stated above. What you need to invest on is the printing of the copies of your book. The more copies of your book the better, this is to ensure that you get a maximum exposure and maximum return of investment."
The pitch sounds like someone speaking English as a second language. Bad antecedents, bad assumptions.
Most of my books are self-published through Lulu.com and Amazon If I wanted to pay a promotion company to make a fuss about my books, I could. This "book-art" outfit is aiming at self-published books because they figure the authors are desperate to sell books or we wouldn't pay to publish them. They don't realize that I have a specialized audience (indigenous people and those who study them) or that I really don't CARE whether I write a best-seller. There was no mention of my daily long-form blog, prairiemary.blogspot.com, which is the real source of potential publishing for legit people who want content of a certain quality.
As it happens, the caller focused on "Bronze Inside and Out", which is published by the entirely professional if academic University of Calgary Press. It is not self-published nor is it wildly popular, though it would do better if it were promoted. What this cold call proposition is relying on is the culturally "promoted" middle-class idea that having a book accepted by a "traditional publishing company" is the road to fame and glory. THIS IS A FANTASY.
There are no more "traditional publishing companies." They died or transformed when the internet was invented. Even libraries are struggling. "Books" as we have known them and produced them are middle-class and middle-income, but had prestige until they started being racked in supermarkets. At the moment Trump is saving those who publish "big books" full of scandal and intricate explanation of corruption, "self-promoted" by the television news cables.
"Bronze Inside and Out" is a biography of Bob Scriver, a Western sculptor to whom I was married in the Sixties when American Western art was popular among the sorts who are now stigmatized as white, prosperous, resource-hoarding men still hypnotized by WWII and fantasies of the American frontier. My gradual separation from him and his life, despite my abiding love of the methods of bronze casting, is the subject. I meant it to be a record worth the attention of people studying the period later, like now.
The record of sending it around is interesting. One art historian, Canadian, recognized and praised what I was doing. Another academic press was anxious to publish, but demanded changes I couldn't approve. Their acquiring editor was someone I had fought and diminished earlier. I pulled the manuscript on principle. The next and final publisher got into a fight with the university and left to found a new publishing house. He wanted me to break my contract and go along. I declined. This stuff is volatile, vindictive, and far less reliable than popularly thought. (No money was involved.)
Originally, when publishing was invented, not as honoring for skillful writing but as producing something that would sell, the publisher would buy content from the author who made a product to be multiplied and sold. Today the hunger for being published is so strong that the publishers require authors to pay for all research, illustrations, math analysis, indexing, fact-checking, and promotion. Companies that do these thing separately have sprung up.
Many of today's publishers are uneducated, opinionated about what will sell, and focused on repeating whatever worked in the past. But New York Book-of-the-Month confines are smashed. One can "publish" many ways, not necessarily even by a "publisher", possibly as sound or video, through social media, through interest groups and not just history societies, and not having to depend on agents who live close enough to each other and the biz to function with working lunches. Now people around the planet can visit over Skype. Anyone can self-interview over YouTube.
Lulu.com is a printer by demand through the mail. You do much of the work but they maintain a list of trustworthy sub-contractors who can design a cover, edit, and promote.
Some people are writing for a local audience and promote through library readings or special events. One friend wrote fishing stories and traveled with boxes of his books in the back. Most shops will not invest, but allow books on consignment if the presentation is nice, a little mini-kiosk.
As we are reminded repeatedly, the skills for writing and the skills for publishing are often highly different. Even the skill for recognizing phonies may be lacking from many writers. Thus, beware out there. Check around.