Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Publishers and some of the horses they rode in on...
Just some things on my mind that keep me awake at night…
As I’ve been doing this writing and publishing thing for a long time, I’ve been fortunate enough to make some friends who have access to the powers-that-be in publishing. From those folks, I’ve learned things that aren’t taught in MFA programs or how-to books or at writing conventions. And much of what I learn disturbs me. Actually… it doesn’t disturb me—it flat-out pisses me off.
When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a writer. I deemed it the most honorable of all professions. Good books—I was taught—were the source of knowledge and of truth. It was that truth thing that really attracted me. I was born into one of those dysfunctional families most of us writer-types seem to come from—one of those families in which truth was somewhat deficit from in our daily dealings with each other. For instance, I was abused in a variety of ways by a religious fanatic of a mother and by a father who abused me in another variety of ways. Not trying to make a victim’s case here—just laying out the way it was. It was about a year ago that I finally discovered that my father wasn’t going to show up in my DNA. After 68 years, I finally learned the truth about the man. It wasn’t that my mother suddenly felt the urge to confess. Nope. I learned the truth from having a DNA test done with myself and one of my sisters. Last I heard, my mother was still rewriting the story she laid on me…
Anyway, the truth has always been my standard. Why I became a writer. Why I had a personal agenda to always tell the truth in my fiction, no matter how it might make me look to others. A long time ago, I came upon a piece of wisdom that I’ve always believed—that the greatest of writers are those who are willing to go deep inside themselves and expose that part of us that most people try to keep hidden. That place where real truth resides.
I’m saying all this in preface to what’s keeping me up at night. For years, it seems, I’ve been more than a bit naïve. I’ve simply taken it on faith that publishers had the same impetus as I have—to search for truth and present it to the world. A noble thing, both for editors and publishers and writers.
And, I was wrong. Or, maybe I was right at one time but things have changed a lot in our culture.
A close friend of mine who is close to the decision-makers in publishing recently told me a couple of very disturbing things. It was concerning a book of mine, THE BITCH. I consider it the best thing I’ve ever written and I’ve been extremely gratified that a whole boatload of people I admire and respect—fellow writers—quality writers—have agreed with my own opinion and have been gracious enough to say so in public. I wanted desperately to see it in print, but alas, so far have been unable to attract a print publisher. It is in ebook form and I’m grateful for that. At least it’s out there for folks to read.
But, what’s disturbing me is that my aforementioned friend had earlier championed it among print publishers. What he told me is what keeps me up at night. Two instances.
One concerns a publisher of crime novels who agreed with my friend that the book was, indeed “brilliant,” but passed on it saying “it had too many elements that could be considered politically incorrect. (italics mine). Excuse me… but what the fuck? A publisher who even considers if writing is or isn’t politically correct? This isn’t a publisher at all, in my opinion. This is a bookseller who wants to be seen as a publisher. Probably wears those jackets with leather patches on the sleeves and hangs out in writerly bars in Gotham City. But, a guy who proclaims himself a publisher and won’t publish something because it’s “politically incorrect?” Excuse me, but when I was in the joint we had a name for folks like this. The name was… punk. I understand all about protecting one’s livelihood, but we’re talking about a publisher, not a life insurance salesman. (Nothing against insurance salesmen!). This is what I always assumed publishing was all about. Putting out books that spoke the truth, no matter how inconvenient. And, truth is more often than not inconvenient.
This guy’s attitude just pisses me off. What really irritates me is that he isn’t exposed for the poser he is. Most writers aren’t aware of his attitude. I really wish I could name him and call him out, but the lawyers on my block tell me that isn’t a wise move.
The other person that keeps me tossing and turning is the guy who was the editor of a Legacy 6 publisher. Who told our mutual friend that he’d love to publish THE BITCH, but he couldn’t because his boss told him that if he signed any book that earned a dime less than $30,000 he’d be fired. Not chewed out or had his charge card suspended for a week or banished to the office without the window, but fired. So his “brave new imprint” that was going to publish “new, original and exciting talent” couldn’t for fear of loss of his corner office and he thereafter only considered brand names. Instead of finding that new or unknown talent he proclaimed to the world was his intent, his days consisted mostly of trying to snatch brand name writers away from other houses. The more I talked to others in the industry, the more I discovered that this was becoming a standard for an awful lot of publishers. This guy, like the first guy, showed his own level of courage. Which was tied to his wallet. I understand this in many trades and professions but always thought publishers and editors looked upon what they did as a “calling.” Turns out it’s about as much of a calling as wearing an animal costume down at the fast food restaurant for minimum wage. (Nothing against the folks who wear animal costumes—they’re very honest about doing it for the bread only.)
What these guys don’t realize is that this kind of attitude is what is going to be their downfall. They’re becoming punks in jailhouse vernacular. And, their fate will be the same. It’s their current mindset and publishing policies that will spell their eventual doom. For what’s happening is that there are publishers out there who do believe in truth and who do believe in writers who are courageous and who are themselves courageous in the books they publish.
Right now, they’re small. But, they’re growing. Publishers like Snubnose Press, New Pulp Press, Bare Knuckles Press, StoneGate Ink and several others. I’m sorry to omit listing them all and apologize for that omission. They’re growing and there’s a reason. They’re not afraid to publish something that might be controversial.
Print publishers think they’re losing sales due to the cheaper costs associated with ebooks. That’s a part of it, but another reason is that readers also want quality for their purchases and don’t find enough originality in the same old books they’ve had available before. There are just some new and exciting things out there and it’s the new guys on the block who are providing it.
Writing that appeals to everyone isn’t writing. It’s typing. If a book doesn’t piss off at least some readers, I maintain it isn’t worth much. It’s Pravda.
There. That’s my rant. I feel better now.
I hope you’ll consider buying a copy of THE BITCH. If it somehow becomes such a seller that a print publisher wants it, I’d love that, but I’ll also tell you that I won’t let it go to one of the kinds of publishers described above.
Here’s what some of those respected writers had to say about it:
THE BITCH is the kind of raw crime fiction that's right up my alley, like sandpaper for the brain. Edgerton has got the chops. Mad chops. Gonna make us all ashamed of our puny efforts one day.
--Anthony Neil Smith, bestselling author of Choke on Your Lies, Psychomatic, Hogdoggin’, Yellow Medicine, The Drummer, To the Devil, My Regards, Devil Red (Hap and Leonard) and others.
The Bitch is a vicious barnstormer of a novel, a noir rollercoaster that won't let you unbuckle until that final three-word smackdown. Les Edgerton is Eddie Bunker's pulpy cousin and Eugene Izzi's soul brother, and with a spiritual family like that, you can't go wrong. Pick it up immediately.
--Ray Banks, internationally bestselling author of Dead Money, Beast of Burden, The Big Blind. Saturday’s Child, Donkey Punch, No More Heroes and others.
Les Edgerton doesn’t pussyfoot around. He writes about real people drowning in desperation in THE BITCH. He’s got a story to tell you so get ready; it’s coming at you fast. Get ready… —Linwood Barclay, international bestselling author of Never Look Away, Clouded Vision, The Last Resort, Fear the Worst, Too Close to Home, No Time for Goodbye, The Accident and others.
Les Edgerton’s brilliantly hardboiled THE BITCH is the tense and hard hitting story of Jake Bishop, a reformed ex-con whose dark past drags him back into a life of crime like an umbilical cord tied tight around his neck. —Paul D. Brazill, author of 13 Shots of Noir.
I liked THE BITCH so much that I wanted to publish it. But we lost out and Bare Knuckles Press got a hell of a book. The Bitch is a dark crime fiction story that never once pulls a punch or ducks behind some bullshit like “happy endings” or “closure.” The Bitch isn't afraid to stay dark until the very end. —Brian Lindenmuth, editor/publisher of Snubnose Press and Spinetingler Magazine.
From its opening sentence to its last, THE BITCH is an engrossing journey into some very dark places. Les Edgerton writes like a poet with a mean streak, and his prose goes down easy and smooth like good liquor as it carves up your insides. —Henry Perez, author of Mourn the Living and Killing Red.
Imagine, if you will, Les Edgerton, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler sipping straight whiskey while swapping lies in the back booth of the Linebacker bar as the “noir” legends welcome Edgerton into the brotherhood of broken dreams. With THE BITCH, Edgerton earns his way into this special literary brotherhood. No, The Bitch isn’t a wild woman, but prison slang for “ha-BITCH-ual criminal.” This is a taut tale of double-cross, death, diamonds and destruction as Jake Bishop fights to protect all he holds dear—his freedom, his pregnant wife, and his teen-age brother -- by holding The Bitch at bay when trapped into one last job. Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe could learn a thing or two from this hairdresser.—Bob Stewart, author of Remorse (Pinnacle) a True Crime Book of the Month selection, Hidden Evil, and others.
Les Edgerton. I just read his newest hard-boiled effort, THE BITCH, and I realized I didn't once breathe through the entire thing. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it is one of the most fun, dangerous, if not pyromanic literary performances of the past year (word up is that parts of it are taken from Les's own life. Holy crap, this guy shouldn't be alive!). Like Les's previous bestselling nonfiction effort on writing, HOOKED, this novel is a sure bet.—Vincent Zandri author of The Remains, The Innocent, Moonlight Falls and The Concrete Pearl.
THE BITCH is superb. Edgerton’s hard, pitch-perfect prose and relentless plot provide a one-two knockout punch of crime novel perfection...the real bitch of THE BITCH is that I tried to buy this priceless work and publish it under a new imprint and I couldn't afford the damn thing. Now it’s gold in someone else's pocket.—Cortright McMeel, author of Short (St. Martin’s Press), founding editor and publisher of Murdaland Magazine: Crime Fiction for the 21st Century and Noir Nation: International Journal of Crime Fiction.
Every crime novelist remembers how his breath was literally taken away when he first started to read the early novels of Elmore Leonard. Les Edgerton has used the time he served in prison well. Years from now many future crime writers will also remember discovering him. His first crime novel, -but not his first published book THE BITCH is a realistic crime noir kind of novel that reminds me of Unknown Man 89, La Brava, Stick, and The Killer Inside Me (Jim Thompson). —Joseph Trigoboff, author of The Bone Orchard and The Shooting Gallery.
These guys’ opinions mean something to me. The guy who’s afraid to publish a book that may be “politically incorrect?” Not so much…
Thanks for listening to my rant! I’d be interested in other writer’s stories about their publishing experiences. Now I can maybe get some sleep tonight and rest up for the forthcoming Bouchercon.